Last year, I decided I would run the Paris marathon. Well, perhaps, considered running would be more apposite. Here’s what happened. On a normal day when all seemed to be well with the world I got on a train to Brussels and happened upon someone I knew and liked travelling in the same compartment as I. We got into conversation, in the course of which she told me she had started running in the Paris marathon.
She really got my attention when she told me she had been somewhat like me, a zero exercise person, great lover of the couch, for whom physical activity was rushing to catch the bus. Then one normal day, when all seemed to be well with the world, she decided to get in shape, and, train for the marathon, which she did. She made some mistakes of course and sustained a foot injury, but all in all, she had done very well.
Well, that set me thinking that perchance this encounter was not a coincidence, perhaps the marathon was just the thing to jolt me out of my chronic aversion to exercise. So I thought I would go for it, shared my resolution widely, and finally, finally went shopping for the right shoes. When on the second try, the aforesaid shoes were still not available, my interest waned, and gradually died. I also suddenly discovered sundry reasons why it wouldn’t work and I had to give up the idea. The bottom line though, was that I was simply unwilling and plain lazy.
Many people are like that with prayer. They would like to run the prayer marathon and become a ‘prayer warrior’; that grand, noble, heroic title every Christian covets. The prayer warrior, the lone individual charging into murky spiritual waters, wrestling with the powers of darkness, wrenching the blessings of a life out of the malevolent grasp of Satan, and bringing deliverance and light. Who hasn’t dreamt of telling stories of mighty victories in spiritual warfare, radical city transformation as we cried out to God, mighty moves of the Spirit as we labouredin the secret place calling on the name of the Lord, birthing revival single handedly, the Father Nash of our generation? So we decide ‘yessss Loorrd, I am going to praaaayyyy’.
The next morning, we rise to pray with great zeal. Soon we face resistance, it’s not happening, where’s the glory, where’s the presence? We can’t seem to get the right spiritual shoes on, we try again, and again, and again, and … we let go, concluding that obviously we are not called to this. Nay, only one thing afflicts us, as did me with the marathon, namely laziness and unwillingness. Resistance comes with the turf. Indeed had I gone ahead and trained for the marathon, I would have started gradually, yet I would still have encountered some major resistance from my untrained and spoilt couch addicted physical form.
So how do I become the prayer marathonian? Simple, I pray. When spiritual or praying muscles are flabby, the flesh is resistant, and it hurts when I exert myself.But athletes know this, no pain no gain. They train long, they train hard, they are disciplined, and they reap the reward. So it is with prayer. I exercise those flabby prayer muscles; I get out of that cosy bed and renounce the strange notion that muttering sleepy ‘I love yous’ to Jesus qualifies as a dynamic prayer life; and simply pray, and pray, and pray. And the resistance and recalcitrance must simply be overcome, not caved in to.
Some will pray in tongues, read the psalms, declare the word out loud, pray the word, worship, praise, do the Lord’s prayer sequence, go up a mountain, go down into a cave, walk the floor, kneel, and all of the above, whatever. The key is availability and consistency. And I may not be enjoying it initially, but that’s beside the point, the point is I am retraining myself, reshaping my spiritual ‘body’, bringing it into fine form And besides where does fun come in here, we’re not children in the playground to be entertained, God is not a clown, we are soldiers being trained for battle.
Finally, everyone will be happy to know that contrary to popular belief, prayer really is not lethal. History, as far as I know, yields no account of anyone dying from an overdose of prayer; nor does the Bible include a record of anyone that God smote (l like the word) for bothering Him and taking up too much of His time. That, in my view, means we have carte blanche. So just stay with it, keep praying, praising, retraining those muscles and soon they will become taut and tight and powerful .They will become useful to God and to men.
Methinks I shall yet slay that marathonian bull, but first I must get off my sofa. Shalom.