Too often I, with my Pentecostal heritage resting in close proximity, am tempted to see time spent in prayer, that isn’t accompanied by some kind of tangible indication of God’s presence, or miraculous outpouring of His Spirit, as a sort of “failed attempt”. We live in a culture and society that places a high value on sensationalism and instant gratification. The tricky thing about the translation of these pervasive qualities into our life with God is simply that He seems to value long, dense, consistent, and deep relationship where we are apt to look for “big moments” and flashy experiences.
The Bible can both add to this desire for sensationalism or quiet the need for it depending on how we read the text. (And by “how we read” it I mean whether we read it correctly or foolishly.) We will set ourselves up for great disappointment if we short-sheet the timeline of the Scriptures. The stories that we read, the incredible miracles that God performed, the awe-inspiring and mind-blowing supernatural invasions of Jesus into our natural world all happened, but they didn’t all happen in a day. As we read the historical accounts of the thread of redemption that is told throughout the Bible, both Old Testament and New, we ought to be very careful to realize that there are literally years, and sometimes decades and more, between the stories that make up the Scriptures. To think that David killed Goliath a couple of weeks after the Red Sea parted is the kind of idea that will set us up with unrealistic expectations about how a life lived in Christ will actually “flesh out”. I think of Paul’s missionary journeys and I see some incredible things taking place, demons cast out, miraculous healings, supernatural interventions, the entire story of the Philippian jail boggles the mind – but I also know that Paul’s journeys were not ten-day missions trip. Paul literally dedicated years of his life to carrying the message of the Gospel to dark places, and to think 20 chapters in the book of Acts took place over the course of a few weeks or months will set us up to believe that our life isn’t nearly as “in tune” with God as Paul’s was. He walked from city to city, travelling great distances, perhaps on foot at times, and we have one solitary story (that comes to mind) about all of those “dull” miles (and that story, about God directing him to go to Philippi, is basically God telling him to “walk on”). It’s hard to romanticize walking fifty miles a day.
I say all of this to encourage you, friends, in prayer. There will absolutely be moments in prayer when the entire world seems to stop and there is nothing else besides the powerful connection that you have with the Spirit of God in that present reality. But there will also, assuredly, be those sessions when it would seem that you are talking to yourself, and you’re still not sure if anyone is listening. But in those moments, I fully believe, God is just as near, He’s just as concerned, He’s just as loving and merciful and looking to bless as the times when His presence thickens the air around you in tangible ways. Both of those moments are important. In fact, both of those moments are vital. Was it not the dusty, boring, and sometimes treacherous road that led Paul to those supernatural encounters? Both have their place.
I offer this quote from NT Wright that I had read in a devotion I’d read of his during Lent earlier this year. It encouraged me and I trust it will encourage you as you pray both under the waterfall and in the desert:
Prayer is a mystery. I’ve often heard people saying with a sneer, “It doesn’t go beyond the ceiling you know.” But the point of prayer, at least the way Jesus saw it, is that it doesn’t have to. Your Father, he says, is there in the secret place with you. He sees and knows your deepest thoughts and hopes and fears. He hears the words you say. He hears, too, the things you can’t put into words but want to lay before him anyway. Prayer, in fact, isn’t a mystery in the sense of a puzzle we can’t understand. Prayer is a symptom, a sign, of the mystery: the fact that heaven and earth actually mingle together. There are times when they interlock; there are places where they overlap. To pray, in this sense, is to claim a time and place – it can be anywhere, any time – as one of those times, one of those places. -NT Wright