Last night’s sermon was on I John 1, with the preacher encouraging us to take God up on his promise, reminding us that confession is a positive thing, a chance to get rid of stuff that’s getting in the way, leave it with God and move on.
I knew there was stuff I needed to deal with in that way. Now, here’s where it got interesting:
The preacher was inviting us at the end of his sermon to do this here and now, in the quiet of our own hearts to confess to God whatever it is that we need to. But he didn’t give us that quiet – this is something I’ve seen so often, it’s one of my pet peeves, when they talk about having a time of quiet to talk to God about something and then they just keep on talking, and maybe give you half a minute’s silence at the end.
Usually when this happens, I just think: there’s no way I can do this here and now because you’re not giving me the time I need, so I’ll do it at home. And usually – guess what – it doesn’t happen. Putting something off till later means it’s a lot less likely that I will actually get round to it – that’s not just in my prayer life, that’s just how I am generally.
But last night I had this sense of urgency – I knew I’d come there with something that was weighing me down and I knew I needed to get rid of it, and in my head there was this loud thought (which is how God sometimes speaks to me): just do it and trust that it’s done, you don’t have to fully get into it, you don’t have to feel it, it’s just a transaction that needs to take place – tell God about that stuff and trust that he will forgive you and cleanse you. (I’m totally paraphrasing here, this isn’t word for word what I heard in my mind at the time.)
So I did it. And I got up today feeling lighter and full of hope and the joys of spring, feeling totally ready to tackle things head on and to make a fresh start. Because God is faithful and he does what he said he would do, and this doesn’t depend on me being able to totally engage with the process – I couldn’t fully engage with the process with that guy constantly talking, but I could talk to God over this guy’s voice. If you phone a pizza company and the line is a bit crackly and you can’t hear them very well, they’ll still deliver your pizza as long as they can hear you. This confession thing – it’s not so much about me engaging with it, it’s about God hearing it and acting.
I realise that part of why I struggle with this sort of thing is because I am a Feelings person, I’m someone for whom the emotions are the main event, and if I do something without engaging emotionally it seems to me less valid, less real. This affects my prayer life in that I have an expectation that any time I pray, I’ll engage emotionally. Which is not a realistic expectation, and I have to keep fighting against it because if I let it, it can stifle me and get me to pray a lot less. If in my mind prayer means closing my eyes and totally focusing on God and really feeling his presence before I even start saying anything, and only saying stuff that I really feel – that means I’m more likely to neglect praying, I’m in danger of keeping prayer for those special times when I can really totally get into it, which means losing touch with God during busy times when I can’t do that. It also means a whole load of people or issues that I neglect praying about because I can’t put that level of emotion into each and every one.
So I’m trying to learn a healthy balance: yes, once in a while it’s great to just sit quietly and focus on God and really feel his presence. It’s one of the awesomest things ever. But in day-to-day life I have to incorporate all sorts of ways of praying, not just my favourite ones. There are times for sitting down to a delicious, slow-cooked meal and savouring every bite; but there are times for a quick snack, a sandwich or a salad or a piece of fruit. There are times for sitting with a dear friend and enjoying a leisurely time at a nice cafe, but there are also times when you send a quick email or SMS or make a brief phone call. Life is full of the need for compromises.
And God hears me whenever I speak to him. He doesn’t need me to get emotional, he just wants me to communicate with him, to be open and real with him, and to trust him and be willing to obey him. The Bible tells me to love God, but that’s not about a fuzzy emotional kind of love. Jesus said: if you love me you will obey my commandments. When we love someone, we want to please them, we want to make them happy. But I digress. Here ends my rambly confession.