Since leaving fundamentalism, I have struggled a lot with prayer and with worship. I do not write this to mock at any expression of Christianity whether it is fundamentalism or evangelicalism or Catholicism or whatever. I write this in order to write about my experiences and the things that I have learned that have helped a great deal.
I have struggled to understand prayer and its purposes, as it seemed to me that many used prayer as magic, in that they expected to pray for something and God would do what they wanted. That idea of prayer always bothered me, and many times I would pray for things that were very important to me, big things that I thought would matter to God, only to have them not work out for me. It left me wondering if prayer really “worked” because my whole life I have heard clichés like “prayer changes things”.
Sometimes, I buy a book and read a paragraph that makes the entire book worth the money that I paid for it. “For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts” edited by W. David O. Taylor is one such book for me. In the first chapter, Andy Crouch says:
“What if God is more utterly, completely for us than we could ever be for ourselves? What if we no longer have to offer a sacrifice that might waft up into his nostrils and compel his distracted attention – what if he himself has taken the initiative, become the sacrifice, torn the temple veil? What is left but gloriously unuseful prayer and praise?
What we do in our churches, when we do what we should be doing, is unuseful! It is better than useful. The economy of grace overflows with the unuseful. Does prayer work? Should prayer work? No. Prayer does not work. It does something better than work. Prayer brings us into the life of the one by whom all things were made and are being remade. It aligns our life with the one who suffered most deeply on behalf of all that is broken in the world, and through whose sufferings the world has been saved, is being saved, and will be saved.” (Crouch in Taylor, 2010 p. 39).
This was my “duh” moment about prayer. Maybe prayer is not supposed to “work”, because it isn’t a magic trick or a spell. Maybe I have had the wrong idea about prayer all this time. Perhaps prayer is about God rather than me, perhaps “answers to prayer” is not what I should be looking for. It’s entirely possible that prayer really is conversation with God. When I have a conversation with friends, I don’t come to them with a list of demands that I expect them to fulfil, and I guess it is the same way with God. Prayer is about God, prayer is about talking with God and having a relationship with God. It seems that I have to learn all of this slowly…that none of this God-stuff is about me. It’s all about God.
Worship too has been a struggle, where I often wondered if worship were an individual thing, or a communal thing, until I suddenly two Sunday’s ago while sitting in church and listened to the preaching it suddenly hit me…worship, in fact, my entire faith, should be both individual and communal. I ought to worship God on my own, and I ought to worship God with others. Faith is a very individual experience; it’s about my own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith is also a very communal, corporate experience; it’s also about my relationship with others, and other people’s relationship with Jesus Christ. I am meant to have my own walk with God, and I am meant to support others in their walk with God.
I have also continually struggled with doubts and questions about God and Christianity, thinking that I was a terrible person who could not worship God with all the doubts and questions that I had. I felt guilty about claiming to be a Christian while I struggled to believe it and struggled to live it. But again, two Sunday’s ago in church, my pastor said something that just resonated with me. He said to bring my honest questions and doubts to worship with me. God doesn’t want me to pretend, and he knows that I have questions, so I might as well bring them when I worship. I have been struggling, but I have been worshipping anyway, and God has been meeting with me especially when I make the effort when I’m just not feeling this whole God-thing.
In the times I have struggled, I have sometimes wondered if this whole God-thing is really true. The reason I have clung to it so much is that I know that something happened when I got saved, and that things have been happening since in my life, and that I cannot ignore those things or chalk them up to coincidence. But sometimes the exact intersection of faith and science confuses me. I am a person that likes to research and to ask questions and gather evidence and find answers. People say that seeing is believing. However, my pastor said that with faith, believing is seeing! (Hebrews 11:1-2). Basically, I have been choosing to believe in God and who he says he is and who I understand him to be even though I have had my doubts. As I have done this, I have had my eyes opened to more truth. In this case, believing has come before the seeing. I felt such great comfort when my pastor said that.
My pastor also went on to say that if we could prove God and prove his existence scientifically, we would have no choice but to believe because it would be blatantly undeniable. But God has always wanted us to have a choice, it’s what he did in that fateful moment in the garden of Eden allowing Adam and Eve the choice whether to obey him or not. We believe in gravity because we can prove it, we don’t really have a choice but to believe, because the concept of gravity is obvious. Society would think someone crazy who didn’t believe in gravity. But God is unproveable by design so that we have the opportunity to choose to believe, or not to believe.
Crouch, A in Taylor, W 2010, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, Baker Books, Grand Rapids.