I've got a friend who is in lock and step with God. I know, it sounds weird – and no, I am not being super-spiritual – This guy is the definition of someone who has such incredible discernment that he just follows every directive given to him by that still small voice looming so large in his heart.
He calls me regularly, as he feels led, and its always in moments where he's the last person I want to talk to not because I don't like the guy – he's a dear friend whom I love – but because I know that he already knows what's going on in my heart before I've had the chance to even talk to my wife about it. Outside of God, it seems insane. It makes no sense that he would know the things he does about my current state of heart outside of God's leading.
Honestly, and he knows this, more often than not I don't pick up the phone. Sure, most the time I am in the middle of life, or the kids are throwing cooked vegetables on the walls (anybody else? Bueller?) but sometimes I know I am about to hear everything I know I need to hear that I don't want to, because dang it, I'm mad/upset/frustrated/hurt/angry/tired/tapped out/whatever-other-excuse-I-want-to-use. Here's the thing about David: when I don't answer I get a 2 minute voicemail that always covers two things: How much he loves me, and how good God is.
This dude is so genuine in his love for Jesus that I used to think he was faking it.
"Nobody is this happy all the time." I would say.
"He must call me when he's on a sugar high" I would offer other times.
You want the reality? He just loves Jesus. Unabashedly, fully, insanely, not worried what other people think loves Jesus. You know what that makes him? Dangerously loving and in tune with God's leading. I want to love Jesus like David loves Jesus. This dude will talk to anyone about how good God is...including me.
Around 10am today my phone rang. Guess who's name was on the other end? I looked at my phone and didn't hesitate. We've been trying to connect and I needed to hear whatever crazy thing he had to say. In our 40 minutes we shared this morning of brotherhood, he said something that encouraged me, convicted and corrected me, and exhorted me to be better:
"Man, everything has to flow from prayer...from meeting with Jesus...that's gotta be step 1."
You may be thinking to yourself "Sean, you're a pastor, that should be a 'yeah, I know' type of statement." But you know what it did?
I t . s h o o k . m e .
It isn't something I wanted to readily admit, but if you've been to our church or heard me preach, for better or for worse, I tend to not be overly quiet about my own struggles. Even last week as we were walking through Acts 2:42 I shared that. The verse covers 4 things that the new disciples were devoted to in the efforts to spread the Gospel among the people, and my biggest struggle is clear: being devoted to prayer.
I've spent the last 2 days trying to devote time to it. Listen, this isn't to say that I haven't prayed, or don't pray as regularly as possible; but the thought that a pastor is immune to the same sense of empty prayer that you may struggle through is incorrect. David (the King in the Bible) himself struggled with it. He consistently asked God if He had forgotten about him, or hidden himself from him. If you struggle with prayer, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
When David said that, I felt like I was in a movie where the light bulb goes on and a character walks back through every step of every clue that should have shown them the answer to their problem if they had only spent time paying attention.
There is a moment in the movie from the 90's called The Usual Suspects when the detective, attempting to solve a ridiculously intricate case involving a warlord gangster, has the lightbulb go off. Through interviews, investigations, and even spending time with a 'rat', it feels like he can't piece together where this criminal may be. After interviewing the lone survivor of a drug and cartel related shootout, he resigns himself to failure. Suddenly, his partner comes in the room, and as he lifts his coffee cup for a sip, he catches the name on the bottom of the mug, which instantly starts back every missed clue and every missed notion that he should have seen had he only paid attention: His warlord gangster target was the very person in his office for the last few hours, posing as a 'cripple' snitch, fearing for his life. By the time the detective pieces it all together, the warlord has disappeared into the crowd, seemingly never to be seen again.
That is a long explanation to share one incredible truth: Many of us are living in hurt, anger, pain, frustration...our relationships are too hard. Our job is wearing us down. Our kids are acting foolish, and each time they do something ridiculous, you have to repent to your parents. Maybe theres a bigger issue of brokenness that you've been holding against God for years; so much so that for you to give it up would be to release a part of your identity that isn't fun but exists now as a place for you to run to when you need to be mad at the world.
Today I learned the answer that you need to learn as well: Prayer is Step One. Too often when something goes wrong, our main reaction is panic and fear. Out of that panic and fear come anger, control, and a plethora of other natural feelings that lead us to become something we never wanted to be. Today I learned that the main issue isn't that hurt and disappointment shouldn't exist; it instead is that when they do pop up in your life (and they will, don't worry; even Jesus says it in John 16:33) we have to stop and run to Jesus instead of panic. We have to run to the supernatural instead of natural. We have to stop and seek the One who holds the world in His palm instead of tightening our own grip on our façade of control.
Step one is prayer. Step one is Jesus. Step one is recognizing that not only do we not want control, the best thing for us is to recognize that we aren't in control at all. Step one is going TO the Father with our need, so that we don't end up having to run to Him later with the results of our own attempts.
So that's what I am doing. I am working on running to the overcomer of the world instead of trying to force His hand into molding this lump of clay the way I think He should. I would love for you to join me. I would love to include praying for you in my step one. My plan is to come back around for an update in one months time, to include how God has moved in my life and in the moments which He has called me to pray. If you would like to accept that challenge as well, I would love to include any details you want to share. In the meantime, let's stop, take a breath, and make step 1 important again.
Pray, and pray often. Pray without ceasing. Make your requests known to God and He will answer them.
After all, Prayer is step 1.
Learning with you,