During Lent I have tried to hone in on prayer-study-(Kingdom) work. My prayer has been utilizing insights from the Russian Pilgrim (Jesus Prayer) and Celtic Models which has simplified and focused it. I have also increased my volume of thanks and praise. As I told a friend, I am less and less inclined to tell God what I want and need and what I think He should do. It seems that I am drawn into gratitude because of another shift that is taking place within me.
While my Lenten commitment is to the book "The Way of the Pilgrim" I had originally intended to focus my Lenten prayer and study on healing. Having finished the Pilgrim (I am now re-reading it) my other desire led me to pick up a book I read some time ago, Agnes Sanford's "The Healing Light." I often read on my aerobic workout days, and this book was an ideal companion as it is pretty easy reading (though sublime in depth and meaning!). It begins with an Original Introduction, written by Glenn Clark in 1947. There he lays out three steps: Through the same meekness those that seek God can produce results by learning to conform to His laws of faith and love. First...contact that power, second...turn it on...third...believe that this power is coming into us and to accept it by faith.
These words resonate (and stung a bit) for I had to face (yet again!!!) that my faith is not so strong. My theological education probably has created as many problems for me as anything. I "know" so much and much of what I "know" is the wrong stuff. I have been trained to dissect texts and approach things of God critically. This is good, much naive and simple faith is destructive. Yet, in too many cases my questioning turns to doubt, my doubt to despair. I soldier on, as one should in the face of challenges, but I am also aware that my ministry would be better if I were better (i.e. closer to God's goals and desires for me).
Sanford's model is a simple one (and I think accurate). We, you and I, are piplines. God's healing light (she provides some insight into the literal meaning of Divine Light) is from God. Healing is not so much a gift or charism as it is being open to God is. As one opens the pipeline, Divine Light, the healing power of God's love, flows through us into the person in need. Assuming there is openness there, the results are wonderful. As a corollary of this unuderstanding, Sanford offers this model of praying for healing.
She assumes that one must be in close contact with God (the power) in a regular practice of prayer and meditation. She calls it "being with" God in a relaxed and loving way. [My prayer of quiet and repetition fits this model.] Next she says voice a concern, simply and directly. Then she says, thank God for what He is already doing. She goes on to negate the begging model where we constantly treat God as a reluctant giver of His blessings (and I thought, "Guilty as charged!"). Instead, she offers gratitude in response to the God Who promises and fulfills His promises. When things breakdown, she reminds, the problem is the pipeline, not God. (Her analogy is electricity and a lamp; if the lamp won't work the assumption is not that electricity has failed, rather it is the wiring).
But "faith" is a key in all of this. And faith generally focuses on "me." Do I have "faith"? Do I have enough faith? How is my lack of faith getting in the way? What can I do to increase my faith? (and on and on it goes). Having spent the better part of four decades trying to increase my "faith" I can testify that it is no easy task. However, in recent years I have had a growing awareness of other translations of the word pistis (the Greek word translated as faith in the Bible). The most helpful, for me, is trust. Faith seems to have become a sort of "stuff" I possess (in my mind). Trust on the other hand focuses on God. (Perhaps not true for everyone, but for me this is how the words work). So when I think about trust, I think about God being trustworthy (and faithful). Somehow, the language shift has shifted my mindset as well.
If I trust God I do not spend so much time asking as I do thanking. If I have asked God for something, repeatedly, and for a long time, ought I not think He has responded? And if He has responded, ought I not spend more time thanking and less time praying like He never responds (and less time praying like it is the first time I ever asked)? So when I say to God, "Please make me a holy priest" or "Please fill me with the gifts of the Spirit" is it not possible that the pipeline is jammed up with the assumption that each new day I am asking for the things which He has already given me (since 1984)? And isn't it a sign of a lack of trust that I pray as one who has never received the gifts (perhaps in part motivated by distorted humility)?
So the new prayer: "Thank you and praise you, merciful, loving, Triune God. Thank you for blessing me with gifts for the Kingdom. Thank you for unleasing in me a power of holiness and sanctification. Thank you for setting me apart and setting me aside for Your pleasure and service. Thank you Lord that I am yours, beloved and cherished. Thank you that you care for me and keep me in your Care. Thank you. Praise you. You are a holy and good God and worthy of honor and praise!" That little prayer is both a self offering and a declaration (to me as well as God) of trust. Why should God not want to answer our prayers, if He is a God Who saves?
I do not want to follow a theological rabbit trail here and discuss the problems of saying our lack of faith thwart God's plans. I do not want to be distracted by numerous examples or special cases where this is not true. In the majority of cases, this prayer/life approach is most appropriate. [It is like breathing, I recommend regular inhaling and exhaling--what about under water, what about if there is toxic smoke, what about if????... can be set aside for now. In normal circumstances, breathe. In normal circumstances, pray in thanks and trust.]
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are among us. We could enjoy greater richness of life if we open ourselves to it. If the imagery works, move from faith to trust. (If it doesn't, move on to what does) Pray thanks more often than please. Pray thanks in the awareness that Jesus said, "It has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom." Pray in trust and joy!