The year was 1993. I was ten years old, cleaning up my filthy room when I spotted my younger in the backyard. He was doing something quite peculiar, so being the good big brother that I was – I went to investigate.
As I entered the backyard I realized that my initial assessment was indeed correct – standing in the middle of the yard, holding an old broomstick under his tookus, my 8 year-old brother was trying to lift himself – off of the ground.
I chuckled and asked what he was doing, and with an assertive pre-teen grunt he proclaimed, “I’m going to lift myself – straight up off the ground!” As I tried to explain to my determined kin the basic principles of gravity, he only interrupted with more fervor than before and shouted, “But if I try hard enough – I could do it!” continuing to struggle with his broom.
Years later I was thinking about that story and how often I do that exact same thing to God. The empty tomb of Christ proclaims with blistering finality “it is finish” and yet I insist on spending countless hours trying to rack up enough point, clean myself off, and lift my own body off the ground, so to speak.
I think that misunderstanding is central to why I spent so many years distant from God. I knew a lot of things about God, but didn’t really know him personally at all. I was a God stalker – Jesus paparazzi – content to study God from a distance without any real intimacy or closeness.
I was like the church in Revelation 2 that was doing a lot of “good things” but doing them apart from my first love – a mistake that this church is told to repent of. Repent. Isn’t that wild? The only times I ever see the word “repent” used in Scripture is in reference to sin. Apparently God takes seriously when we simply do “good things” apart from communion with Him.
Because God never intended for us to do for Him without also doing with Him.
And at some point in my young adulthood this idea hit me like a ton of bricks – ministry is a terrible replacement for intimacy. And what the God of the universe desires more than any amount of service I can do for him, he longs to be in relationship with me.
This ultimately meant that I desperately needed the Holy Spirit to teach me to rethink what I thought to be true about God and how He pursues us. To understand God, not as one who is annoyed with me, waiting for me to grow up or get my act together – but one who invites me to share in His joy.
Isaiah 55:1-3 gives this beautiful picture of a Creator that says, “Are you jacked up, falling apart, weighed down? Get in here! I have so much to share with you.
What this means is that the purpose of prayer is not to become a better prayer – but to know the Father’s heart, to delight in His goodness, to confess and proclaiming that we’re opting out of the rat race of trying to be good enough and accepting the righteousness that is given to us in Jesus Christ.
The cross liberates us from the illusion that we’re responsible for our own righteousness.
When we understand the scandalous truth of the Gospel, we can move from mere discipline into delight – because we run to what we delight in, right? No one has to coerce us to do what we already love to do. And the beauty is that delight doesn’t replace discipline – it empowers it! As our affection for Christ deepens, as our awareness of just how much we’ve been forgiven of grows – we will find ourselves caught up in the song of the redeemed. And in prayer we retune our instruments to join in the chorus.
As one brilliant Franciscan friar once said,
“Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence.” – Richard Rohr
And like all relationships, sometimes prayer and intimacy are difficult – very difficult. But it’s in those moments that we can once again confess the frustrations that God already knows, ask for His help, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit who interceded on our behalf – even when we don’t have the words to say (Romans 8:26).
When we breathe in the truth of His grace and say yes to the open tomb, we’ll awaken to a song – the song- that we simply cannot help but sing.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” – James 4:8