Conversatio Divina

Part 14 of 14

Weakest Link

Larry Crabb

My impression is that many Christians, maybe most, regard prayer as the weakest link in their spiritual journey. That impression got me thinking.

When someone first decides to follow Jesus, prayer tends to focus mostly on petition: God, please do this and don’t allow that. That’s not a bad thing, and God seems to honor it—for a while.

When the Israelites first escaped Egypt, the book of Exodus records that nearly every time something went wrong, God helped them out. No water? A rock became a drinking fountain. No bread? Fresh-baked bread served up every morning. They grumbled; God blessed. Even whiny petitions were granted.

But things changed. When they were farther along on their journey and farther away from Egypt, after they had some experience of God’s faithfulness, their grumbling requests went unheard. Rather than answers to prayer, they received discipline. The book of Numbers records more punishments than provisions.

I think there’s a lesson here: Stay with the Christian life long enough, and like a growing child who is not given a milk-filled breast every time she cries, your pleas will often remain unmet.

God, I believe, is weaning us from that false sense of childish omnipotence (“I wish; it happens!”) toward a mature awareness of our dependency and design. We’re not in charge; God is. And we were designed for communion with him as our greatest joy, not the good life of every blessing we want in this world. God wants us to learn that he is no genie in a lamp; he is the sovereign Lord.

Our prayer life then shifts. Petitions continue, but in their place, after meditation, after worship. We still ask God for things we want, like good health and close relationships with family and friends, but now we think more about God himself. And the more we think about him, the more we yearn to know him. So we open our Bibles more, to study, reflect, and discover who it is we’re thinking about. Meditation supersedes petition.

Soon we realize how badly we long to experience him, to hear from him. So we listen, in lectio, in solitude, in contemplative prayer—not the mindless version in which thought is eclipsed, but the mindful kind in which we intentionally think about him and get lost in the wonder of his beyond-thought transcendence. We begin to know him, not merely as a creed to memorize or a doctrinal statement to affirm, but more like a river that carries us along in its flow, a divine Person on the move.

And we move. Our hearts change. We still want good health and close relationships with others, and we pray for our wants.

But we wake up to the realization that what we most want is God. Whether well or sick, close to others or painfully estranged, we long to know God and reflect his character.

When our celebration of him directs our requests from him, prayer becomes the center of our journey, no longer its weakest link.

Our petition is that this issue of Conversations leads many into deeper communion with God.