Ok. Aside from the corny title, thus might actually be a serious post. I'm one if those people who loves humor so much, that some people don't even know I have a serious side. I do. I seriously have a serious side. Seriously. And sometimes that means I take myself too seriously, which is almost always sinful. Sometimes, it means I take life and the matters of life seriously, which is often a good thing. But life and the matters of life (resisting the urge to insert a "Hitchhiker's" 42 reference here...oops, too late?) can be taken too seriously, as well. Because while life and the matters of life are very important, I think it's a constant temptation to worry too much about them.
Last Friday, I went to work. It's about a 25 minute commute. I remember the perfect late spring breeze through my open car windows, the morning-blue sky, perfectly pockmarked with white-gold clouds. And I just sang along with the radio and thanked God for all I had: An apartment to live in, jobs to drive to, a car that was running really well. Everything was pretty great.
Then, on the way home from work, my transmission decided to go the way of its fathers. It shuffled off this mortal ignition coil. If it hadn't been bolted to my car, it would be pushing up daisies!
It was an ex-transmission.
Well, okay. It lived (barely) long enough to get me home. And to work (only a ten minute drive, this time) and back Saturday. And to the mechanic who will put it out of its misery, replacing it with a new transmission...which will only cost me my first-born child. And I don't have a first-born child. So the mechanic had to settle on me maxing out my credit card.
I hate being in debt...and grown up decisions. But at least the grown up decision has been made, and hopefully the expense won't be greater than what he estimated, because I don't even have credit to cover anything more. ...and it's sad how thankful I am that the bank voluntarily raised my credit limit just a month or two ago...
This is not a sob story. It's just the reality of the situation. I was barely making ends meet, then Boom! goes the dynamite, and now I'm living on a prayer (my apologies to Mr. Jovi...and to awkward substitute sports announcer meme guy).
But in the middle of all the decision-making, on Saturday morning, when the cold reality of my dead transmission hadn't even fully dawned on me, I had my usual morning prayer time. Only it wasn't a usual prayer time at all. And I wonder how I ever started thinking of meeting with the holy Maker of the universe as a "usual" thing. Because a sinful, created being going into the presence of a holy, Creator King, that's actually really unusual. It is every time we pray, and yet He calls us to it.
But I prayed that morning, praying for my situation, yes, but I just felt led to pray for others. God kept laying people on my heart-friends who were having worse financial situations than mine, multiple families I knew with dads who were being deployed overseas, people who felt lost and who were trying to be found, people who had struggles of so many kinds. And suddenly my life still looked pretty good. Not perfect, but so, so good.
Because God was doing so much as I was interceding for others. He was speaking to me, meeting with me. Because as I prayed for others, He called to mind various things about myself.
Like when I thanked Him for providing health insurance for a family who really needed it, He heard the spilt-second complaint of my heart, one that was so fleeting I almost missed it. He made me go back and briefly deal with Him about the discontent in my heart over the fact that I've been without health insurance for eight years (Seriously...a very small part of the reason I give blood fairly regularly is because they test it and are supposed to inform you if they have any concerns abut the results). I should be grateful I'm healthy, because so many people I know aren't healthy.
And God has shown me that all I'm going through right now is actually an answer to a prayer I prayed abut a month our so ago. I asked God to help me stop complaining so much. I was praying for the wrong thing. I wanted to be rid of something, but He wanted to add something. That's usually how He works. Because I was limited in thinking I just wanted to be less whiny. He wanted to make me more grateful.
I've written a lot on prayer and gratitude. I'm not an expert on any of it, but I'm learning that gratitude is essential in prayer. When I was a kid, they taught us in church that prayer should have a set format and structure. We praise God first, then confess our sin, then bring Him our needs, then intercede. And that is helpful, and there is flexibility in that format, and I've used it to structure my prayers....
But, (sorry non-whovians for yet another Doctor Who reference) I've assumed that prayer has to have strict, separate elements of praise, confession, requests, and intercession, when actually, from a non-legalistic, free-(indeed)-spirited perspective, it's just a big ball of gratefully-waitfully, prayery-warey...stuff.
Because lately my prayers have been so jumbled (much like this blog post is turning out to be). I do start out thanking God for even working it out that I can come to Him...but from there, the Spirit has just been guiding me through intercession, praying for myself, for others, with gratitude, with supplication, with confession. All at the same time.
And I'm learning that the matters of life are so secondary, or even tertiary. Because it's good for me to ask for my daily bread (or in my case, daily produce, because I'm really eating fruits and veggies like a champ these days). I believe God wants us to ask Him, even if He already knows we need them. He likes to be asked.
So it's good to ask. But it's better to ask God for our daily bread, knowing He's not going to give us a stone instead. And it's even better to get really down deep and pray that God will provide bread for others, knowing He won't give then stones, instead.
And that takes faith, praying for others. Because sometimes I catch myself praying wrongly for myself. I pray that God will give me this or that if it's His will. Instead, I should be praying to be like Him, and not even worry, not even second-guess that He will provide the blessings that He desires to give me. These blessings will, yes, provide for my needs (needs that might vary, given the situation-God provides what we need to accomplish what He has for us), but will also allow me to bless others and glorify Him. I should be seeking His Kingdom and its righteousness, trusting that "all these things" will be added.
For some reason, it never really hit me that prayer for others should be similar. I catch myself praying my will onto people. "Father, help Bob stop doing this or that. Give him grace to do this or that. He needs this or that." It sounds good, but it's a prayer from my perspective, not God's.
And when I realized how much I was praying my will, not God's will, onto people, I realized how shallow my intercession was. And honestly, having been the victim of having someone else's will prayed onto me, I know that sometimes that prayer is entirely unwanted and unhelpful. Because people are limited and often have no idea what others are really going through, nor do they know how to help, how that help will come, etc. But God sees everything, knows every person, knows how to make all things work together for our good. So intercession can't be mere shallow requests, based on our will for other people. We can make some decent judgments on what might help others, and we can ask what others need. But true intercession means we have to pray for God's will first.
And that change in perspective has made intercession into so much more than what it was before. Because before I understood that intercession was a very real way if bearing burdens. God invited us to plead on behalf of others, essentially coming alongside God in the work He's doing, and in that truly being a part of another person's struggle.
But the shift in perspective has deepened that. Because when I prayed my will onto someone, even though my intentions were true and God heard and worked in and through the prayer, there was always the feeling that I was outside looking in on another person's struggle, trying to fix it in my own feeble understanding.
Because instead of humbling myself, I was saying, "this person needs something fixed, and fix it this way, God." But the change in perspective allowed me to say, "This person is struggling. I'm struggling, too. And I don't know how to fix either of us, so help us seek You first and trust and obey. Help us encourage one another. Work how you're going to work, and lead me to pray how you would have me to pray."
And lately, prayer has just been so blessedly beautiful.
I plan on blogging a bit more about intercession I'm the next week or so. It's not really something people think a lot about, but I think it's a gift. Intercession is just such a gift. It's a gift to others, but also a gift from God to even have the ability. For He's constantly at work. And prayer, all kinds of gratefully-waitfully prayer, is His call to come along beside Him in that work.
We are blessed.