And When You Pray

This month I’ve been struggling with what to write for my devotion. Normally, something I see or do in the week before inspires me but I’ve been at sort of a mental block for the past few days (I’ve even taken advantage of the time change to get a little more time to work on this one.)

As I’ve been searching for ideas, I keep coming back to some of the books I’ve read this year. Commuting by metro has given me a sufficient amount of time to read, and I’ve enjoyed using the time to dive into some interesting and fun new authors.

Currently, I’m reading The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. Published in 1942—at the height of WWII—the book is a collection of letters from Screwtape (a senior devil who specializes in temptation) to his nephew Wormwood (who is in training to become a tempter.) Written as a literal devil’s advocate, the book is a mind-bending look at evil and temptation, exploring themes of broken relationships, lost faith, and war, all from the prospective of how to achieve these things.

The last chapter I just read dealt with prayer. There was an interesting dialogue about ways human emotions can cause prayer to be a self-defeating mechanism. Screwtape instructs Wormwood “to turn [the human’s] gaze from [God] towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the actions of their own wills. When they meant to ask [God] for charity let them instead try to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves…when they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.”

I am certainly guilty of this. There are plenty of times that I pray—or read the bible, or try to write devotions—that I just don’t feel it. Jesus talked about having faith like a child, and sometimes I wonder why it was so much easier to feel it when I was young (or when I visited a certain place, or talked to a certain person, etc.) Why do we feel it some days and not others?

Jesus gives his instructions for prayer in the sermon on the mount when he says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others…But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

It’s not about the building. It’s not about the rituals. It’s not about the words. It’s not even about whether or not you feel God’s presence. It’s about the action. Praying is about being vulnerable. It’s putting your trust in a God you can’t see or feel, but that you believe is there. Prayer is not a magical transformation that creates charity, or bravery, or forgiveness; it’s the start of a journey that leads to faith. Because regardless of what you can perceive in the moment, every prayer is a step towards being closer to God.

So let us not judge our faith by an emotional experience or an internal muse, but by our willingness to admit that we don’t always feel it, we don’t always trust it, and we don’t always understand…but we keep taking one more step on the journey, believing that God will meet us on His time wherever we are at.

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For your listening pleasure this week, I can recommend the song “I’ll Just Pray.” The song was written in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting.

Zach Herzog

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