I am slowly realising that prayer is more of a marathon than a quick sprint. Most of the time. I have certainly experienced those quick bursts of answered prayer, but it seems that much of the time you have to hang in there for the long haul. It seems to be perhaps the very nature of prayer that it takes a while. Like slow cooking a good stew. Or building a reliable house. Or making a good movie. You can’t expect to see the results overnight, though our inclination is always to expect that.
It’s probably why I’ve often given up praying, and why many others have given up on the faith entirely. Because we really want the quick sprints. The Red Bull bursts of life’s instant answers. But prayer mirrors the nature of the faith really, it’s a lifelong investment, and the whole thing often feels to me like running a marathon I didn’t train for. If you’ve ever seen Run Fatboy Run about a guy who ends up doing just that you’ll know the feeling. Here’s a few quick glimpses of a man very much not in his element:
As the pace of life continues to increase, prayer, and indeed Christianity, refuses to keep pace with fashion and technology. Prayer will always be what it is, the nurturing of a conversation, the developing of a relationship. And most of the time it’s probably about changing us rather than changing God or the world around us. A while back I heard brother Paulo from the Taize community say this, ‘We’re not asked to get good at praying, we are just invited to do it.’ I like that.
Paul, a.k.a. Saint Paul, warned us of course. He told us that a life of following Jesus would take work. Prepare like an athlete, he said, train like a boxer. We see the moments of glory in places like Sochi, but we don’t see the months and years of long, slow, lonely, steady work that has led to these moments.
The other difficulty with all this faith business is that we’re not running solo, we’re part of a team. And some of us (ahem… like… er…. oh… er… me) are not great at being team players. But like it or not, we’re in this together, with all those folks we don’t agree with, all those folks who maybe don’t pray the way we do. Don’t think the way we do. Don’t run the race the way we do. A global bunch of misfits.
Fast Girls is a great British movie about a sprint relay team and all the ups and downs of four very different girls trying to win together. It’s not easy.
Prayer and the life of faith refuses to speed up. We can’t force it to change pace. We are not able to turbo charge it, fast track it, or improve the signal. It is what it is, and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised because the Bible is full of prayers from people on the long haul. In it for the duration. People calling out to God again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again… Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Ruth, Esther, Mary, Tabitha, Martha, the list goes on. My dad recently told me that when he got baptised as an adult his brother told him he’d prayed for him for 28 years. I wonder who has been praying for me like that, and who has been praying for you perhaps? And maybe those ‘sudden’ answers to prayer are actually a product of years of investment from someone who has prayed and prayed and prayed.