Believing God Exists Isn’t Enough for Prayer

God-merciful

I’ve spent so much time worrying about whether or not God exists that I overlooked a more important question. If I believe that God exists, do I believe in a God that I would approach in prayer?

Another way to ask that would be: If I believe in God, do I believe in a loving, merciful God who wants nothing more than for me to pray? Or do I let my imagination create images of an angry, violent, and petty God who is waiting for me to finally mess up enough to justify banishing me from his presence forever?

That latter image haunted my prayers for years. Whenever I struggled to pray, I told myself, “Well, this is it. You’ve finally done it. God has finally turned away from you, and there’s no hope. Prayer may work for other people, but it won’t work for you.”

By imagining a God who could take me or leave me, waiting to strike me down, or to cast me away at the slightest infraction, I made it extremely hard to pray. If I can’t imagine God liking me, let alone loving me and seeing me with compassion and mercy, it’s awfully hard to begin to pray.

Perhaps we struggle to reconcile the God of Hebrew Bible who throws down thunder, hail stones, and fire from the heavens. Perhaps we can’t reconcile those stories with the proclamations of the Psalms:

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.
Psalm 103:8

I don’t know how to create a theological system that seamlessly accounts for these stories and comfortably fits them in with the many verses in the Psalms and prophets where God is described as merciful, compassionate, full of love, and loving for his people like a jilted lover.

Here’s what I do know: the people who seek God in prayer have found more love, mercy, and compassion than they ever would have guessed. When the mystics write about the presence of God, there is awe and even a bit of fear at times, but God is love, compassion and mercy.

The people who have dedicated their lives to prayer overwhelming reveal that the God we seek is the kind of God we would want to seek.

That isn’t to say that our faults or sins aren’t a big deal. Anyone who believes in the cross and resurrection would recognize that these are important problems that God himself has set out to resolve. The point for me is not minimizing my faults, it’s seeing the largeness of God’s love, mercy, and compassion.

My mistake wasn’t underestimating the seriousness of sin; it was underestimating how deeply God loves us.

Over and over again in the Gospels, I see Jesus telling people that God is more loving and merciful than they expect, that more people are welcome than they suspect, and that the supposed barriers between people and God are actually not holding anyone back.

Perhaps the greatest struggle for Christians today isn’t believing God exists, it’s believing that God is merciful.

We do ourselves no good if we believe in a God that we fear, a God we dare not approach, or a God who is so terrible that we fail to open our deepest fears and pains to him.

In the vast reserves of God’s love and mercy, there is room for us to come as we are and to seek healing and restoration. The greatest obstacle to God’s mercy is believing that it exists and applies even to you and to me.

 

Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer

On sale for $2.99

Amazon Kindle | Amazon print | Kobo | B&N

 

Rohr for Writers: Your Downfall Can Lead to Resurrection

 

Rohr forWriters

“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A ‘perfect’ person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.”

Falling Upward

 

There’s a rule that many writers and artists follow: some of your best work will come out of your deepest pain. If I quoted every time I’ve heard that at a writing conference or read books about this, I would just have a blog post full of quotes from other people.

So much of what we crave in our lives comes by first confronting our pain, failures, and struggles.

If you want intimacy with someone else, it will be forged by facing both relational and external struggles together.

If you want to excel at writing, you need to at least face your lowest points in life, your failures, your fears, and your anxieties. This is where some of your most authentic experiences can be found.

By the same token, if you want to grow in prayer, you also need to bring your sins, shame, and deficiencies to God. These are the raw materials of spirituality because they reveal all of the false commitments, false gods, and false identities that keep us from God and each other.

Our pain and failures aren’t just enshrined as a monument to our misery. They are transformed in the act of confrontation. Most importantly, we are transformed as well. In fact, if you want to reach any kind of lasting change that could make a difference in your own life or in the life of anyone else, you need to start here.

No matter what else you stick in front of failure, pain, or fear, these things will keep eating away at that false veneer.

No matter how much we force ourselves to get over it and to move on, we’ll continue limping until the source of the injury is healed.

We won’t experience relief and wholeness until our pain and struggles are transformed. You can’t find a way to go around this, you can’t make up enough rules to keep you safe, and you can’t teach yourself into becoming better or healed.

We’ll have the most to offer others, either through our prayers or our writing if we prioritize the fearless uncovering of our pain before God and on the page as we write. We don’t have to shout our imperfections in the street for all to hear or post them on our blogs for all to read—in fact, please don’t do either of those things!

This is the deeper soul work that takes place in quiet, secret places.

This is the foundation for our lives that determines the power of our art, the potency of our prayers, and sturdiness of our relationships.

Our pain and our struggles are most certainly an affliction in many ways, but that doesn’t mean we should run from them. Our greatest healing, creative work, and ministry to others will come through these very things that we had once seen as our downfall. If we bring the causes of our downfalls to God, we’ll find that they’re the very things that lead us to resurrection.

 

For a bit more about this topic, check out my book:

Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together