Back in the day, we all knew that communing with God was a priority. My former (evangelical) self strove to have Quiet Time every morning (if I could stay awake), during which I would often run through a checklist of activities designed to bring me closer to God. The list usually included Bible reading, journalling, and praying my way through a number of prayer requests.
I generally enjoyed Quiet Time. It gave me a feeling of closeness with God, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of relief that, come Judgment Day, I would not be on the hook for anyone who didn’t make the cut. Hey, it’s not my fault – I prayed for that person’s salvation regularly – I have the checklist to prove it! If someone sick took a turn for the worse, I could rest assured that I’d done my part to restore their health. Someone else must have fallen down on the job – or God had “other plans.”
But while I love a good checklist as much as the next guy, when I look back on my Quiet Times (especially the prayer part), it strikes me now as very transactional. It feels now like I was giving God a to-do list – sort of “you can do these things or not, it’s up to you, but these are the things I want you to do.”
The right way to pray
I was taught how to “pray within God’s will.” We needed to tie each prayer request to a Bible verse, essentially to prove to God that what we asked for was something he would definitely want us to have.
I’d been taught that this is how prayer works, and God is just waiting for us to ask for things – “ask and it will (or won’t) be given you.” If you come with a list, you can be more efficient, which would be a plus for God. After all, he has lots of other things to do, like choreograph cat puke.
Those times when I felt particularly uncomfortable about the to-do list, I’d shift for a while to A.C.T.S. (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication). That way I could feel like I’d paid my dues before asking for a bunch of stuff.
When evangelical, conservative Christianity began to crumble for me, I felt profoundly betrayed – not by God, but by God’s people – and I was suddenly unable to trust anything about Christianity.
I miss the predictability and consistency of my old spiritual life, when I always knew what to do – but I don’t really miss the practices. I’ve written elsewhere about reading Scripture vs. knowing the radical Jesus, and about how bewildering prayer can be if you really think about it.
It has taken me years to recover (I’m still recovering, tbh), but I’ve learned some new and (for me) richer ways to experience God. At the same time, I have learned things about God and about myself that I never would have guessed in my former life.
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Communing with God doesn’t require an agenda – or even words
A beautiful sunset, a waterfall, a baby, even happening upon a random spider web (the cool kind, not the nasty kind) is a time to just stop. Stop and drink in the wonder. No box to check – not even “praise” or “thanksgiving.” Because now that I think about it, the beauty of creation is for us to enjoy and cherish. It points us toward God, but it doesn’t require a specific response from us.
Have you ever seen a Monarch chrysalis up close? Go ahead and zoom in on this one – or google some images. Every Monarch chrysalis looks like this – with a sparkling, yet perfectly understated gold necklace. (You can see the full life cycle of a Monarch butterfly here.)
I’ve had chrysalises like these in my yard the past few years, since I started growing milkweed, their favorite flower. I love to check them every day, and watch as the magnificent butterfly emerges. No words necessary.
Because…don’t we talk too much anyway? It couldn’t hurt for us all to collectively shush from time to time. Let the moment be about the moment, not about us pontificating about the moment.
In this moment, in the quiet of a butterfly’s birth, or the thunder of a waterfall, or a winking cardinal, it is not necessary to kneel, to speak, to take notes, to quote a Bible verse. It is only necessary to BE.
Then go forth with a heart filled with the peace and wonder that comes from communing with God. It will refresh your soul.
We’ve got a Monarch butterfly at the top, and a chrysalis farther down; I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a pic of a Monarch caterpillar for your viewing pleasure. Below that, please find a link to my newsletter and some other posts you might enjoy!
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OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains how to fix stupid
- A Christian case for gay marriage
- The Beatitudes: what does God require of us?
- The “Narrow Gate” isn’t what they said it was
- Paradigm shift: the Parable of the Diaper
- We’ve made God in our image, and we’re answering our own prayers
FEATURED IMAGE: “Monarch Butterfly Eating” by audreyjm529 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.