Fired by love's urgent longings, I am his rocketman.
Longing for God

Longing for God

Do you ever wonder what prayer is?  Have you ever thought, for more than a second or two, about the idea of developing an intimate relationship with someone you cannot see, smell or touch?  If you consider it, we shouldn’t be at all surprised at the challenges we face in growing in prayer.  Is it any wonder that we start and stop, progress and regress and often feel discouraged in the process?  All of us would like to pray better, but we feel ill-suited to it — sort of like the proverbial fish out of water.

Is it so strange that we feel so poorly equipped for this journey of prayer?  No, not really.  After all, none of us were conceived by the Holy Spirit, or born of the Virgin Mary.  We know who we are, where we have come from and what we are made of — don’t we?  Yet that is not the whole story.  Because we believe in him, “he gave  [us} power to become children of God; who [are} born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”  (John 1:12-13)  And so at a fundamental level, we have been given a divine spark — a big bang if you will, to become spiritual men and women.  We have also been given the Holy Spirit who waits to mightily inspire us in this otherwise impossible endeavor.

So what is prayer?  At it’s core, I believe prayer is a longing for God that never goes away, and, hopefully, over time, with lots of perseverance, grows and grows, into something mysterious and beautiful .  We all have this desire whether we are aware of it or not.  We are drawn to the divine — in modern terms, we are hard wired for it.

In the beginnings of our spiritual life (the point at which we recognize our hunger for God and are trying to do something about it) prayer is little more than a distraction from the pursuits of daily living.  The cares of life predominate and inhibit us from seeking the Lord more deeply.  However, little by little, the Holy Spirit draws us more and more into the life of God — into the Holy Trinity. Initially, our advancement is almost imperceptible; but over time we find that we are further in and higher up, able to see things we couldn’t see before.

When I first began to pray seriously, and for a long time afterwards, I experienced short bursts of intense zeal and desire for prayer followed by extended periods of spiritual dullness and apathy.  It seemed as if I was stuck in this endless cycle of moving forward and falling back.  I felt like a swimmer who only knew how to tread water.  Inside I knew there had to be more to prayer and to the spiritual life, but I didn’t know how to find it.  Honestly, I have come to believe it has to find us.

Over time and by the grace of God, the divine life begins to take root; the life of Christ, dwelling inside of us, becomes more robust and begins to take on a life of its own (It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me).  The more we grow into Christ, the more we desire to be with him in prayer.  Believe it or not, eventually prayer becomes something that we can’t live without as opposed to something we must do to fulfill our “spiritual duty” or sense of “religious obligation”.  In a real way prayer becomes our food.

This is what has happened to me.  Prayer has become the defining activity of my life.  I no longer have to pray; I pray because I want to.  Actually, that’s not quite right.  Jesus lives inside of me.  When he was alive on the earth, he always found a way to spend time with the Father.  Now that he dwells inside of me, he continues to spend time with the Father and draws me along with him.  Remember, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me  — this very simply is participation in the divine life.

Perhaps it would be helpful to think about it in a different way.  When we spend a lot of time with good people, we tend to get better.  When Jesus was incarnate on the earth, he spent a significant amount of time with his disciples;  as a result, the disciples became very different people.  The same thing happens to us in prayer.  As we spend time hanging out with the Lord, we become more like him.  He changes us from one degree of glory to another as we gaze upon his face.  The process is mysterious and we usually don’t perceive it while its happening; nonetheless, we see unmistakeable benefits with the passage of time.

I am aware of the divine presence dwelling within, but not always.  I still experience the ebb and flow of growing in prayer.  In fact, my experience of prayer from day to day is as different as the changing weather patterns.  Some days I have intense encounters with Jesus that leave me deeply quiet inside and with a profound sense of having touched the holy of holies.  On other occasions (many many occasions), my experience of prayer is like  touching dry dust in the Arizona dessert.  During these times I have no sense of God, no sense of prayer and no sense of myself.  Yet, either way, prayer continues.

When the Lord permits me to experience him deeply in prayer, I sometimes have a palpable sense that anything is possible in the spiritual life.  During these times of prayer, it’s as if the Lord has simply turned his gaze toward me for a slight moment, and I am left all on fire with love.  In those times, I feel as if I could die a thousand deaths and it wouldn’t be enough — like my life is enclosed in a beautiful garden.

On the other hand, when I am in the driest of the driest desserts, which often happens, I come face to face with my own poverty, blindness and nakedness.  I am laid open before the Lord and I have nothing to offer.  In those sometimes painful moments, I know in the center of my being that without him I am nothing, worthy of nothing and capable of nothing.  Spiritual writers tell us that this type of prayer is even better than what I described above.  Even though I feel as if nothing is going on and never will go on again. the Lord is working to draw me further into the divine life.

Over time, I have become more comfortable with the ups and downs and the ins and outs of growing in prayer.  As I result, I am less and less concerned with whether my prayer feels “good” or  feels “empty”.  I have come to believe that it is all good.  Jesus loves me and he gives me what I need when I need it.

To grow in Christ, to be useful to him, to be fruitful, I need to spend time in the divine presence.  It doesn’t matter to me if it “feels good” or not.  As long as the Holy Spirit is at work purifying me from anything and everything that keeps me from growing in love with him, I am content — well mostly content.  So every day, some days several times a day, I pray:  


“Breathe in me Holy Spirit, burn in me with the fire of your love.  Living flame flare up, bathe my soul in glory, transform me in love.  Make me beautiful for Jesus; Holy Spirit I want to be beautiful for Jesus.”

What is your experience of prayer?  Have you had similar experiences with prayer?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your sharing Mark. I can definitely relate to the spiritual ups and downs during my prayer lives. Lately I have experienced the spiritual “hi life” and I am excited each day to wake up, read the scriptures, and see what He has to say.

  2. Its wonderful when it’s going well. It really does make you feel like anything and everything is possible.

  3. Mark, very well written and insightful. I really enjoyed reading it.

  4. Thank you

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