November 16, 2005

I Stopped Praying
10 Years Ago


I used to get down on my knees and rattle my way through my lists, and pray for those whom I thought I should, and feel I?d done my bit for the day?s beginning. Then it became unsatisfying--a chore I did not much enjoy.

I had more than 20 books on prayer in my library, and I had read them all. Many of them were classics, and what they said was true: we need to pray. I prayed through the concept of the Lord?s Prayer (using each sentence as a beginning thought). I prayed through the sanctuary. I used the so-called ACTS formula (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) and other formulas. I struggled to learn the art of prayer.

Then one day I stopped. It was meaningless for me. I saw nothing for it. It didn?t change me, and I had some questions about the whole approach. I suffered the anguish of the empty shrine.

It was while struggling in this valley of despair that I realized God did not want the mechanics of prayer. He wanted me! I realized I had probably been closer to God before my conversion, when I sat on lonely hills asking Him if He was there. A morning ritual, built on the paranoia of performance that has become meaningless, has no significance in the spiritual life.

Just Do It!
You want to know the best secret for a good prayer life? Just do it!

I guess I picked up the concept in my early Christian days when I had to get on my knees every morning and work my way through a prayer. The spiritual gymnastics went with the daily reading of the Bible, until I realized that I was part of a privileged class who could read and write in a world where most cannot. Did this then exclude the majority of this earth?s population, both past and present, from a relationship with God because they couldn?t read a Bible?

1546 page5Please do not misunderstand me. Answers to life?s great questions come via His Word. The Bible is full of answers, and my life of faith is based on the answers I found in His Word. But my salvation is not dependent on whether I have a daily Bible reading or not--this can become salvation by works. Abraham had no Bible, but what was he doing under an oak tree at Mamre? The heroes of the Bible did not have Bibles under their arms or on their shelves at home as they staggered from one daunting crisis to another, but they were men and women of faith.

I realized that the Bible laid down no formula for how I relate to God, but rather I found a compendium of godly people who had related to God in very different ways. They became companions for my journey. I began talking to God as a friend would, not on my knees so much as in every part of my life. It was more casual. It was more real, and it was more satisfying.

A Hunger for the Infinite
A relationship that is a friendship with God seems illusive to most, because God cannot be grasped by the senses. Otherwise he would cease to be God. If God were easy to be found, then it would not be God that we had found. And so the hunger of my heart for the hills was only part of the hunger of my heart for the infinite. The instinct of the far horizon was indelibly engraved in my very nature. If the distance enhances the view of a mountain, then my times of solitude intensified the spectacle of eternity and His far beaming blaze of majesty. I once again fell in love with God and His Son, who was my salvation. I began to treasure the moments of closeness when His Spirit drew near.

It?s the quiet moments that bring us close to God. These quiet moments can happen while we are lying in bed with our arms behind our head, walking the streets, reading a book, sitting under a tree doing nothing, or on a high hill. These became my deeply spiritual times. I found these times were better when I took nothing with me except the longing in my heart to penetrate the opening of infinity. Here, alone, the chills of my life melt from within my spirit as my soul is warmed before the blazing fire of His immensity.

And what about you? These are the lessons of spirituality. When you sit at your computer and pause for a moment of spiritual reflection, you are alone with Him. While the builder pauses on his rooftop, sits on the apex, and takes a moment for his God and his soul, he is tapping the source of all creation. While the housewife with hands in the sink takes her sorrows to God, or the student sitting in classes moves from the finite to the infinite beyond the window, there the spirit can soar to the realms of glory where God sits enthroned.

And here?s one of the many questions I struggled with in regard to prayer: How does God cope with all these individual relationships all at once? How could it be just Him and me?

This conundrum passed away one day as I was sitting in church in Brazil, not able to understand a single word. But I was there to worship and to listen to God?s Spirit, and two books I?d been reading that week came together as one indelible thought.

The first, The Luggage of Life, had asked how ?[the One] who created the worlds and inhabits all time can have the patience to hear me speak to Him about my examinations, and my love affairs, and my prospects.?1 And who of us, when we dared to be honest, has not asked the same question about how God can hear millions of prayers all at once. Such questions spring from the fact that we tend to conceive God in our own image, and thus we make Him too small.

1546 page5The other book, In His Image, by Philip Yancey and Paul Brand,2 had discussed the complexity of the human body, particularly the brain. As the authors drew the analogy of the human body as applied to the spiritual body of Christ on pages 109 to 137, I was seeing something different.

The brain, we are told, is performing 5 trillion operations every second, coordinating the catalog of five senses plus all the other vital functions that are taking place, informing my mind of things such as muscle tension, pressure on the joints and tendons. My brain knows the tilt of my head, the bend of my elbow, the position of my left foot. Other senses inform me of lunchtime, bladder and bowel capacity. Below the conscious level there are automatic controls on temperature, blood pressure, infection, and a multitude of chemical processes.

Five trillion operations per second! Apparently, billions of computations are required to recognize a piece of music in just seconds. Recognizing the distance between a ball and the moon is a process that occurs with blinding speed and with no conscious effort. As you sit here reading this article, your eyes are capable of interpreting your environment with a complexity that staggers the imagination and defies the evolutionist, for no evolutionist can explain what a half-evolved eye was doing while it waited eons to be switched on in working order.

I understand that some 127 million cells (called rods and cones) line up in rows as the ?seeing? elements that receive light and transmit messages to the brain. The rods are so sensitive that the smallest measurable amount of light, one photon, can excite them. At optimum conditions the eye can detect a candle at 12 miles (20 kilometers). Your ears are processing sound as you sit here, picking up the slightest movement around you. Your ears are capable of recognizing 300,000 tones. All this is done by vibrations in the auditory canal that the brain must then interpret.

And so we may go on if space permitted. A mere gram of brain tissue may contain as many as 400 billion synaptic junctions. As a result, each cell can communicate with every other cell at lightning speed--as if a population far larger than the earth?s were linked together so that all the inhabitants could talk at once. The brain?s total number of connections rivals the stars and galaxies of the universe. It is as if there were 10 billion bureaucrats constantly ringing one another about plans and instructions for keeping a country running. Every nerve cell in the brain has up to 10,000 of its own private lines!

Then I thought to myself, if this is all going on in my head, consider Him who is infinite and in whose image we are made. If the brain between my ears can process with blinding speed 5 trillion actions per second, how many prayers can God listen to per second? I don?t know. But I have been taken to the edge of the chasm and bidden to look beyond.

If God is great to the point of absolute infinity, it follows then that there?s no stick or stone in all the universe of which He is not perpetually aware and conscious. If there?s a feather or a straw blowing about in the solar system, and which for a fraction of a second has eluded His knowledge or escaped His observation, then, by just that amount, His greatness would fall short of infinity. No sparrow falls to the ground without his notice. The very hairs of my head are all numbered!

And just as every cell must relate to my body and remain in communication with it, so must I (and so can I) remain in contact with God, who made all things, knows all things, hears my every word, and knows the thoughts and intents of my heart. He even hears the unutterable groanings of my spirit (Rom. 8:27).

So I no longer go to the empty shrine. My spirit connects with the infinite, to whom I can come boldly because of his Son, who died for me.

1 F. W. Boreham, The Luggage of Life (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 1995), p. 163.
2 Zondervan, 1987.

Ross Chadwick has been a pastor for 25 years. He is presently at Avondale College in Cooranbong, Australia, updating his theology degree to a teaching degree, with hopes of becoming a Bible teacher in an Adventist school.