Still wondering what the rest of the title says? Here’s your answer. It translates as, ‘stand up or kneel down?’
The recent days in Chichester visiting Revelation Church gave us some hours in their prayer room, not simply in-between activities but as a part of our schedule there. The opportunity to intentionally spend time praying there was a lesson in itself. The first two days we had time in there I found it easy to pray. Talking to God about what was on my heart felt natural and instinctive. Prayers for my friends, my family, for others around the world spilled out in written words, paintings, and in quiet thoughtfulness. I came away from those hours feeling hopeful and less tied down by my worries. This was what I’d been looking for I thought, some serious God-and-me time, a chance for some proper intercession. Coming to our third day, we had another two hour slot, and now I felt dry and distracted. I used to think I could pray lots and lots and I’d enjoy every minute, though rather presumptuously it wasn’t something I’d ever trialled. After all this time I felt like I’d prayed most of my prayers, and opening myself up to God again seemed like a chore rather than a privilege. My concern for others was waning; I was much more focussed on the noises being made by my fellow course members, and the endless loop of Christian worship music emanating from the speakers at one end of the room smudged together into a grey, meaningless drone. My release was found (partly) in a bracing walk through the damp and noisy outskirts of Chichester, away from the claustrophobia I’d felt in the prayer room. Talking with God out here was less intense, less forced. The change of scenery was a mind-clearer for me, and I returned with a softer temperament than when I left.
A couple of days on from this experience, and I feel that I can learn an important lesson here. The reason I felt weary on the third day was because (rather embarrassingly) I had come to the end of my own feelings, and had prayed for all that I cared about. I realise this sounds incredibly selfish and self-centred, but I’m starting to understand I have a nauseating tendency to act in this way, even when I am ‘at my best’. I think God is showing me once again how much I rely on myself, even in an apparently spiritual activity like prayer.
Knowing that I need God’s help in this is humbling. It can stop me getting proud of my achievements (like they were even mine to begin with!). Feeling like I need to achieve something when I’m praying doesn’t half make them overly-intense and fist-clenchingly worrying. I’m fairly sure the intensity didn’t fuel my prayers, it only stifled them. And knowing I need God’s help is also good to hear. It can free me from the burden of having to be ‘successful’. The Christian life does not work like a maths equation where you do x and y to get z; you can try to do x, but you have to ask God for y, and you might end up with z at some point, but then again it could be that k is the best result, and you’re just going to have to trust that God is good and he loves you and his plans might be better than yours.
I’m sure this will be a lesson that will need to be learnt, re-learnt, and learnt again, but I’m thankful that God won’t stop teaching me as long as I need to hear it. So to answer the question in the title, I think it takes a bit of both. There are times to stand up and take risks, and there are also times to kneel down and be humble. But being humble and acknowledging we aren’t in control is actually quite scary, and to be honest, aiming for something and not knowing how we’ll get there often takes a fair bit of humility…
I’m starting to agree with whoever it was that said the Christian faith is paradoxical.