If the prayers of the saints are like a sweet-smelling incense to the Lord, I’m afraid that my prayers smell like nearly-two-week-old-Halloween-pumpkin. They are stale, curdled, briny prayers, not fit for my Savior. Have you ever met those self-important people who believe their excrement doesn’t stink? Yes, that’s where my prayer life was a few days ago. Things started to turn around at the retreat, but I was still in a prayer-port-o-potty, until, out of nowhere, God gave me a swift flick to the temple.
Let me back up a couple of days, before the flick of truth. I’m going to invite you to eavesdrop on my prayer of Monday night: God, you know that there is hurting and sadness in this world. I pray that you would take away that hurt and that sadness. I’m hurting now, Lord; I am sad because I need a job. I pray that you would bless me with a job. You know that there are cheaters and thieves out there. I’ve encountered cheaters and thieves in class this week. I pray that you would show them the error of their ways and they would see how right I am to have given them poor grades. Let them understand that I was giving those grades for their own good. Father, you see all things, and I know that you have heard harsh words spoken between brothers and sisters in Christ. Brother X said something hurtful to me. With your help, I’m going to forgive him; I’m not ready for that yet, Lord, but if he were to apologize…
Can you see why I needed a heavenly jujitsu to the skull? Sometimes, I can hear myself and want to gouge out my voice box with a spork. You see, I had some great prayer models. I learned about prayer from people who took it seriously with a capital S, for “Shazam!” because that’s what happened when people like my grandpa or my Nonnie prayed. Things happened. I don’t know where my prayer life started going down the toilet, but I can tell you when I realized it was in the wrong bowl (See Rev. 5:8 🙂 )
I went to a prayer meeting, at noon, on a Tuesday. I was ready to pull on some support hose and try to find new tennis balls for my walker, because I thought prayer meetings were what you attended near the end of your life, in preparation for death. I thought prayer meetings were ways for retired folk to fill their days between Regis and Oprah. In short, I had no idea what would happen in a prayer meeting, but I got a little note from Wendy’s preschool and a reminder from the church that we’re going to be seeking God’s guidance every Tuesday at noon, and I thought, why not? I could use guidance and I have Tuesday lunch hour free.
I was such an idiot! (I heard my sister say “Amen,” there) Why have I not been going to prayer meetings all my life? It was amazing. I mean, there were no earthquakes or lightning strikes; there wasn’t even food at this meeting, but in a semi-dark sanctuary with 13 people, I felt a genuine flick, like someone was turning on a light switch, right in front of my ear. I prayed silently, only, I started with “Don’t let me pray for me. Tell me what needs to be prayed.” Luckily, God helps us remedial prayers out, because Pastor started us off, leading us in a few prayers, and then left it up to us, the assembled few, to call out our own prayers. That’s when I heard the man down front, who should be given an official #1 Prayer Dude button, begin to call out to God and magnify the blessings God had bestowed upon us. And just like that, I knew what to pray.
I learned then, to start with praise, to give thanks, to lift up, to extol, to worship. Then, and only through that mindset of praise, should we turn to the petitions on our list. I didn’t get that before, maybe not ever, but I get it now. I was rushing. I was cramming in all I could before something better came along that I wanted to do, before school, before bed, before meals. As anyone knows who rushes something important, what you get back is only equal to what you put in. I gave crap. That was the sum total of my prayer effort. No wonder! No wonder my prayers were ineffectual! No wonder it wasn’t a sweet-smelling incense but the stench of the incenced.
I used to get angry with God for ignoring my pleas. I would sneer my prayers to him, at times, daring him to answer. That’s no basis for communication. That’s no foundation for a relationship. Thankfully, mercifully, I am discovering how to pray before I trade the smells of DKNY’s “Be Delicious” for the smell of moth balls and geritol (not that there’s anything wrong with that).