Last spring I took a spiritual formation class during my last semester of undergrad. Honestly, I expected it to be a breeze. I was used to academics. I knew how to study well, maximize my time, and give professors what they wanted. When I saw that we were assigned a different spiritual discipline to practice and journal about every week, I was prepared to go through the motions and check off any box necessary for me to succeed (I had severe senioritis!)
But what I didn’t expect was a loving but convicting lesson from the Spirit about my tendency to do all the things (prayer, worship, Bible reading) to feel as though I was succeeding in my relationship with God rather than to simply bask in his presence.
Can anyone else relate?
Tasks to complete vs. time to commune with the Lord
As I went through the first several weeks of assignments, I felt burdened by this need to complete these tasks, these spiritual disciplines, to get my completion grade. I was missing the point of the disciplines – to commune with the Lord. Most of the disciplines were various forms of prayer, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing so out of obligation. With reluctance. But what troubled me even more deeply was that this feeling wasn’t just tied to the class assignments, but to my approach to prayer and time with the Lord in general. Was I just going through the motions of prayer because I was told I needed to? I so desperately wanted to desire to commune with the Lord through prayer. I wanted to yearn to spend time with him and to talk with him freely.
Thanks be to God that he doesn’t leave us to our own earthly desires. Slowly, as the semester progressed and I continued to practice these spiritual disciplines, he began to chip away at the hardness of my heart. As I remained faithful in practicing these spiritual disciplines, he continued to reveal himself to me at unexpected moments. He slowly began to place within me a desire to commune with him and to pray freely to him.
At the end of the semester, I shared these thoughts during a speech at commencement, based on what I learned through this class:
“I would like to turn to the familiar story of the sisters Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, who welcomed Jesus into their home. Martha ran about wearing herself out by doing various tasks while Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet. Martha became angry and asked Jesus if he even cared at all that she was carrying the burden of preparing for him alone. To which Jesus responded, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’
“If you were to close your eyes and envision yourself as a character in the story, who would you find yourself to be? Would you be Martha, hurrying around to finish all of the tasks and filled with anxiety that her work will not be enough, or Mary who chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus and enjoy his presence?
“In a world that tells us that we have to do more and achieve more to be successful – to be a good business person, a good musician, a good athlete, a good teacher, a good ministry leader, a good friend, and even a good Christian, Jesus asks us to lay down our anxiety and our striving and to choose to sit at his feet and enjoy his presence.”
This is something that the Lord is still convicting me of. I continue to be tempted to believe my prayer life isn’t good enough, that I’m not doing enough, that my words to him aren’t enough. But he continues to remind me to sit at his feet, enjoy his presence, and let my prayer to him be an overflow of my communion with him.
Father, help us to delight in your presence
Does prayer feel like a burden to you? Does it feel like an item on a checklist of things to do to be a “good Christian”? Does simply spending time in the presence of the Lord feel like a daunting task to complete?
Let’s begin by simply asking God to help us delight in his presence. As a practice for today, try this breath prayer. Breathe in and pray, “Father,” breathe out and pray, “help me to delight in your presence.” You can pray this as you go throughout your day. I’ll be praying it as I go to work today and as I come home and as I go to bed tonight.
As the Father works in our hearts to mold our desires, let’s view our times of prayer as a time for us to delight in the presence of the Lord and to commune with him.