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March 12, 2014
Mark 1: 35-39

I confess that prayer is hard for me. Other aspects of the spiritual life come fairly easy for me. For example, I can spend hours poring over a passage of Scripture to prepare for a sermon and feel very stimulated by it. Likewise, I am fulfilled (ministerially speaking) by visiting the sick in the hospital, or by planning a worship service, or even by returning emails in response to an action plan coming from a recent committee meeting. The active parts of the spiritual life fit my personality.

But the minute I try to sit down in prayer my mind immediately starts to wonder off towards all the other things I need to do. And between my family, my church family, and all the “stuff” I own there is never a shortage of other things I need to do. Isn’t the kingdom better off if I get on with the tasks before me? Let the contemplatives take care of the prayer life.

But Jesus won’t let me off the hook that easy. My compulsion to always be doing is evidence of the extent to which I still have not surrendered full control of my life to God. The heart of the spiritual life is growing into our awareness of our complete and utter dependence on Him. Even Jesus, who had more to do than anyone ever has, found it necessary to draw away and simply be with His Father. Likewise, I have to learn to trust that the universe is not going to come to a screeching halt if I draw away for a little while and “do nothing” but pray.

James Finley writes about a lesson he once learned from Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and spiritual writer. Finley writes:

“Merton told me once to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun. A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting is eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of the true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in God’s hidden action within us.”
– from James Finley, “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere”

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all the ways I continue to withhold full surrender to you. Forgive me of my arrogance in assuming that it is all up to me to make things work out right. Give me the patience to trust in your goodness, which your Father will reveal in His good time. Teach me to pray. And teach me to wait on your answers. By your power I pray, Amen.