Do you understand the spiritual journey yet? Do you get what it means to follow Jesus? How about prayer…got it all figured out now? I mean, with all that is out there that has been written and preached on, surely you got this…right?
A little bit?
Still no clue?
One of the earliest monks was a desert father named, Isaiah (not to be confused with the prophet), who once shared, “When God wishes to take pity on a soul and it rebels, not bearing anything and doing its own will, he then allows it to suffer that which it does not want, in order that it may seek him again (70,”The Sayings of the Desert Fathers”).” We didn’t talk much about theodicy/the problem of evil when we prepared for ministry years ago. I’m not sure we do much better today either. Maybe some time in the desert would be good for us?
Even as I came across these ancient words of a desert father, I found these more modern words equally haunting, that “Once and for all we need to lay aside every notion that the prayer life is easy or sure. The trail is marked with the spiritual graves of those who thought it was (37, “Spirituality for Ministry”). The words from Urban Holmes and Abba Isaiah, separated by over 1,000 years, point to unsettling observation – we still don’t get God and we still really don’t understand prayer.
I say it is unsettling because we should have this figured out by now…or maybe I just think I should. It seems around the internet and from some preachers and speakers and authors, they have it down…or do they? What I know is that I don’t and so when I come across writers and spiritual thinkers who hit on something that hits on the difficulties of prayer and spirituality, I take pause to consider. When it resonates with everyday life? Then I have to stop.
Why is it so hard to think that after all this time we still don’t understand prayer? After all, even Jesus disciples came up to him and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1), and how many sermons and books have come out studying that one single prayer???
I suppose both Abba Isaiah and Urban Holmes are wrong but my experiences seem to travel a similar path. Today there are two things I don’t think the Jesus’ churches are doing a good job at helping people with and that is one, suffering and two, praying. Oh, sure, there are a whole host of other blogs and folks ready to jump on other subjects. Maybe it is just what I keep dealing with but I know people who are suffering without finding support or kindness and people being told to pray without giving any guidance.
The solution for me, what has helped me more than anything, has been to go backward. It has been to detective work to find out who are the teachers and mentors of today’s teachers and authors? Where do the bibliographies of books point us? Who is a teacher a trusted mentor points you toward?
One of my favorite helps has been David Hazard’s “Rekindling the Inner Fire” devotional series. You can get many of these devotional books on Amazon, most used for a few dollars. They introduce you to some of those other voices who didn’t fall in the grave and yet, knew the suffering and struggle of prayer life too.
But what really matters isn’t that you suffer well or that you pray well. This is where we totally miss the mark. What matters is do you look like Jesus more today than yesterday…than last year…than 5 years ago? Does the prayer and life you experience and engage in give birth to faith, hope, and love?
The spiritual life lived well, should put forth signs of new life – a life that looks a little more like Jesus. What do you see? What do other people see and what do they say?