Are You There, God?

An interview with The Folly of Prayer author Matt Woodley
Page 2 of 3

The point is that we feel God's absence during these times, but God may be present in a way that we cannot fathom. The dark nights may open our lives to aspects of God's character and presence that we didn't notice during the up times of prayer. God may change us and draw us to himself in beautiful ways because of the dark times of prayer. These times of darkness and desperation can also remind us to embrace suffering people. When we feel desperate for God, we start to notice the millions of desperate people on this planet. When we can only groan our prayers to God, we learn to attend to other fellow groaners.

What would you say are the key ingredients to making a successful prayer?

Woodley: Grace: It all begins with God, not with us. God wants to meet us. God wants us to come to him—with our anguish, our questions, our desperation, our longing and even our complaints against him.

Authenticity: We come just as we are. In the book I put it this way: "It's as if God is saying, 'Talk, engage, respond to me. Anything is better than the silent treatment or the cold shoulder. Argue, rant, rave, yell, disagree, but don't just sit there. Or worse, don't come to me with pious, pretty words that are empty and fake.' I'm learning that prayer is an intensely personal and passionate conversation with a covenant-making God who is there; it's an exercise that involves all of me—the real me, not just the pretty but pretend me."

Communion: A huge part of prayer—a part that we struggle with in our pragmatic culture—is just being with God. Some Christians call this contemplative prayer, a gentle, often silent being-with-God.

Attentiveness: There are so many distractions to our prayer life. To paraphrase the poet Denise Levertov, we have the spiritual attention span of a minnow. That's why real prayer requires patience, silence and attentiveness.

Openness or a willingness to be surprised: God is good and faithful, but he's also mysterious. I compare Jesus to a slightly off-balance New York City cab driver: he'll get you to your destination, but you'll certainly take a route and hit some bumps that you never expected.

Compassion: That is, compassion for others. Prayer propels us into a world of hurt. As God meets us at the marginal places in our lives, he'll move our hearts to display compassion to marginal people. As God helps us in our desperate places, we'll notice the desperate people all around us.

You talk about how prayer is actually about powerlessness. Can you explain that a bit?

Woodley: I use the example of my friend Theresa, who experienced a dark, dark night of the soul. After achieving all of her personal dreams, she dropped into the abyss of a deep depression. Everything went dark in her mind and body. Three years ago I would have had plenty of answers and solutions for her. I would have been so clever and powerful. But now I could only sit with her in her pain. We prayed. I didn't know what to do, didn't have any answers, so I said, "Theresa, I have no idea what to say, so could we just read the Psalms?" Then I read Psalm 77, an agonizing psalm of lament, and I went home. I left feeling utterly powerless, and I sure didn't think that I made her feel better.

Page 2 of 3
Related Bible Studies

Free Newsletters

More Newsletters

Follow us