I sat in our green wingback chair, my legs curled under me, my hands outstretched to the ceiling. I prayed for God to show up, my fingertips flying through space, willing him to do something.
I was bred on “praying the sinner’s prayer,” and extemporaneous prayer overflowing with all the big feelings in youth group. When life became less about feelings and more about job-finding, exams, and #adulting, I needed the slow and steady rhythm of new-to-me liturgical forms. Prayers were said in unison on Sunday mornings as we confessed our faith, confessed our sin, and relied on words more ancient than our own momentary laundry list of requests to the God of the cosmos. These felt like rich words, opening me up to join a community beyond my particular moment and culture.
Somewhere along the line I judged my prayers — if they were theologically rich, if they hit all the markers of what ‘prayer’ was supposed to be, if they were genuine and authentic, if they spoke from both inside my time and place but also reached beyond it. Judging a conversation is exhausting.
But that night on the chair with my hands outstretched there was nothing else than this sense that the Holy Spirit had shown up. My words did not seem my own. I pleaded with God — angry, confused, hurt, sad, and hopeful — knowing that the God who created bodies, minds, and image-bearers could handle my emotions. Like a child coming to her kind father, I asked him to do something, to intervene in the lives of my friends.
I simply leaned in to these great truths:
God is good.
Sin turns us into twisted, selfish creatures.
God loves us.
Jesus bears our suffering and somehow redeems it.
We are not God.
When you are struck with a need that you can’t fulfill by good learning, good thinking or even a handy liturgy, you have nowhere else to turn than to the God of the universe. I cannot begin to explain the mystery of being welcomed to listen to and talk to the Lord of heaven and earth.
We are welcomed into the throne room of heaven where all of creation bends towards the God of glory. But that great and glorious God on the throne is also our Daddy, the one who mothers us under the shelter of his wings.
Prayer is indeed a holy and intimate thing.
Though God didn’t intervene in the way I thought he should and in the time and places I wanted him to, I do know that he works mysteriously outside time. I may not be able to see the end of that particular story, but I trust in the God who promises to make all things new. This is what it means to stand in the gap: to embrace our creatureliness while presuming on a familial relationship with one who hung stars in space.
As we pray, we stand in the gap. When we pray for others, let us not have vague prayers. Rail, wail, and cry out. The God of the universe can handle your groaning, your anger, your confusion and sorrow. Jesus is our Man of Sorrows. Yet, God is also not beholden to us, a sort of cosmic genie, required to act in ways that we think he should. We are always the created, not the Creator. So we come boldly and we come humbly.
We pray because when faced with injustice, suffering, and confusion, where else can we go?
Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash