Waiting for Jesus to Show Up
Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was a prolific writer. But apparently he didn't like to write. As he put it, "I love having written."
I admit that when it comes to Christian devotion, there are too many days when I say, "I love having prayed." I think of myself as a committed Christian, but many days prayer is more duty than delight, certainly not something I bound out of bed and eagerly begin. But I do admit to often being happy once I have prayed. It seems I like the idea of prayer more than prayer itself.
I know this is true because of the mental battles I fight upon first waking up. I often hear the enticements of the Enemy: Why not just sleep in; you deserve it; you've been working hard. You're not going to get much done if you're tired all day.
Or: You really need to get that SoulWork column written; writing is a type of prayer, after all.
Or: Wouldn't it be more loving, more Christian to make your wife breakfast than to piously pray by yourself?
And those are just the opening lines of a book I could write: Excuses I've Entertained to Avoid Prayer. But it would never get published. Way too long.
The reason I don't like to pray is simple. I don't really love God. I do love the idea of loving God. It would be a fine, fine thing to love God, I believe. But I have to face it: One reason I go to church is not because I already love God but because I'd like to love him. I'm afraid I have the same reaction to church as I do to prayer. Lots of debate about whether I should go. Going most Sundays because I should go. And when it's over, a lot of times I can say, "I love having worshiped."
Don't get me wrong. I'm as devout as the next Christian. Or I should say that it's been my experience that the next Christian struggles as I do. We love having prayed. We love having worshipped. We don't love God as much as we like the idea of loving God.
We shouldn't scold ourselves for this. There's no point in shaming ourselves because we don't love God. To begin with, you can't make yourself love someone or some activity. You either love or you don't.
I know a young man who took up basketball in high school and was totally taken with the sport. He spent hours practicing spin moves, jump shots, and behind the back passes. One day an older man complimented him on his discipline. The young man was startled. He never thought of basketball practice as discipline. He practiced because he loved it. And the love came to him unbidden.
You either love to pray or you don't. You either love to serve the poor or you don't. You either love to evangelize or you don't. You either love God or you don't. You can't make these things happen. The love has to grow inside us, like a child grows in a mother's womb. It's something like being born again, said Jesus (John 3).
You can't make yourself be conceived, let alone be born again. This is something that happens to you, over which you have no control whatsoever. You can't even prepare for it—as if an egg could "prepare" to be met by a particular sperm. All the egg can do is wait for something to arrive that will make its life complete.
Maybe that's why so many times in the Bible people are told to be still (Ps. 46) and wait (Acts 1). It's why many traditions have created a whole season—Advent, the first and defining season of the church year—and say it's all about waiting.
But just because we don't love as we wish, and have no ability to do anything about it, doesn't mean we should despair.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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