That's right, I kissed my prayer list goodbye. I knew I had to do it the day my husband was back from a month-long sabbatical. That Sunday morning, right before worship was to begin, a woman approached me, looking for the pastor dude. She had a list -- a lo-o-o-ng list. I remember pointing her in the right direction, and then thinking to myself, "Oh, my poor man."
Fortunately for him, she only needed to tell him that she had some announcements to make before the service started. The list was just for her reference during the announcements. But still, the perceived situation made an impression on me.
I knew in my 20s that Christianity is about a relationship with God, and I knew prayer is simply a mode of communication with Him. Yet, halfway through a new decade, it seems I'm rediscovering this on another level. I've found that I can have much more than a relationship with God -- it could instead be an intimate partnership.
Another encounter I had that convinced me of my need to discard my old methods of prayer was a particular time when a friend of my husband's knocked on our door. I've seen God at work in their relationship for several years now, and that night it was very clear He was orchestrating things in this guy's life. So, after calling for the dude and leaving them to their conversation, I walked back inside and was about to begin praying the usual stuff, when I was stopped in my tracks with a thought: "Does God really need me to remind Him again that He desires none to perish? Again?"
So, I thought better of it and began thinking of all the things I've noticed God doing behind the scenes. When I was done, I was left with a prayer that went something like this: me giving God a thumbs up and saying, "I see what you're doing here and I think it's really cool!"
That was it! As shocking and unspiritual as that might seem to seasoned pray-ers who may quote scripture right and left in their prayers, it was at that moment that I rediscovered prayer as if for the first time. We're warned of vain repetitions in the Bible, yet books abound regarding how to pray, and many of them emphasize praying with scripture. There are even books with specific guidelines for how to pray in a variety of situations.
I'm sure those books have their place and I'm not criticizing them at all, but I had been putting so much emphasis on "speaking God's language" and saying just the right prayer (as if there were a formula), that real communication had gone by the wayside long ago. Do I really need to speak "God's language" to the author of the gift of tongues? I mean, really? Do I?
So here's what I do instead: If someone comes to me with a prayer request, I pray with them right then if at all possible. I don't add them to a list. I just pray for them. Face it: how many times do we put someone on a list and never follow through? So... they're encouraged right then and there through our time of prayer, and there's no danger of forgetting or losing my list.
After that, it's between me and God. As we talk, He reminds me of situations in others' lives and we talk about them. So... it's not that I've become self-centered and stopped praying for other people. It's just that I've given my list over to God in hopes of a more intimate relationship with Him.
Now, I can envision a time when I may again bring my lists to God. I could see myself climbing into His lap and looking over the list together. "I have so much on my mind, Papa, that I had to write it all down. Is there anything on this list we can talk about right now?" I can see that happening sometime in the future; but for now, the list is gone and it's just Him and me.