I need to inform you all about something fairly significant…
I’ve actually known about this for quite a while, but the timing seems right for me to let you all know now.
It’s from an illness that’s acronym is T.O.K.G.E (which I will explain later). It’s about as dangerous of a disease as any known to humankind, and its symptoms are quite severe…
So serious that it affects every area of my life.
What I’m talking about is my extreme inability to pray.
The truth is I suck at prayer.
I’m a huge advocate of prayer. In fact, I wrote a book with multiple chapters on the topic; yet in my own life I barely give it the time of day and, with no exaggeration, it’s killing me.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…Steve, what a way to hook us by telling us you’re dying, and then admit you’re only talking about a silly thing like prayer.
But I mean it quite literally when I say I am dying from lack of it, and I suspect it’s killing us all.
To clarify, what I mean by “prayer” here is not simply the kind where you close your eyes, fold your hands and recite some lines. No, what I’m talking about is complete one on one connection with God. The kind where you both listen to his voice and he hears yours. It’s the kind of relationship connection that happens when you spend time with a close family member or friend – where nothing is more important to you than hearing each other’s dreams and thoughts.
This is the kind of “prayer” life we were all meant to have – not just once in a while, but actually 24/7.
We have falsely labeled God as “supernatural,” and while, yes, there are things about God that will forever be above our natural understanding and things that God does that will always be above our natural abilities, there is actually nothing more natural to the universe than God.
Consequently, there should be nothing more natural to us than being in continual relationship with him.
God is at the root of everything that exists, and praying should be as natural to us as breathing.
To not pray and be in constant connection with God is as dangerous as cutting off our airways. It is a literal death sentence and here is why:
In Genesis 2-3 we learn that neither you nor I were the first to suffer from this life-ending disease. It’s been around since the beginning of humankind. Adam and Eve were given almost complete freedom in their little paradise. They were told they were “free” to eat from any tree in the lavish garden, except just one that was in the middle…the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they did, they would “surely die.”
Of course, we all know how the story goes. They did the one thing they were told not to do, and the consequences were severe.
But why? Why amidst all that freedom, would they choose such a thing?
I am convinced that at the root of this (no pun intended) is what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented to them. In Rethinking God, I point out that the makeup of the universe consists of both order and chaos. The universe is largely moving toward chaos and yet, somehow, the end result is an amazingly ordered system. This is a concept that both scientists and theologians alike are still working to understand.
The side-effect of chaos is evil and suffering. Though God, who is good and all about order, would never institute evil, for some reason this incomprehensible God has allowed it to exist. The existence of chaos, evil and suffering has been humankind’s biggest question and struggle ever since. God knew that humans would never be able to comprehend it nor handle the burden of it and, thus, sought to protect them by forbidding them from it.
What people often miss is that they think Adam and Eve brought evil to the garden and to the world when they disobeyed. But that’s not quite true. Amidst this paradise the serpent already existed and so did the tree.
In other words, in the middle of this perfectly ordered and joyous garden was chaos…
…and Adam and Eve couldn’t handle it.
My biggest struggle is worry, anxiety and fear. I continually see the chaos in the world around me and try to control it. Sometimes that means actually trying to take control of the situation and other times it just means spending endless hours ruminating over it…as though my thought life will someone surmount it.
Other times I will weirdly try to control it by numbing myself with mindless entertainment, addictions, etc., hoping the chaos will somehow mysteriously go away in the process – ironically often only making the problems worse.
Rather than trust God through prayer with the chaos in the middle of my life, I try to take charge of it myself – a burden I was never meant to bear on my own.
Adam and Eve similarly decided they needed to control the chaos in their world. In fact, having control appeared “good” and “pleasing” to them, so they willfully broke connection with God in order to do it.
The result was that they become infected with the T.O.K.G.E (Tree Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) disease and humankind has suffered and continued in the same pattern since.
The problem is that the pattern is cyclical.
Immediately afterwards Adam and Eve experienced shame, tried to take control again by inadequately attempting to cover up their nakedness, and hid from God.
Genesis 3:8 is most often translated as something like, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden”
However, the root word for sound קוֹל (qol) can actually be translated as “voice;” while the one for walking הָלַך (halak) can be translated as “moving” and the root word for cool ר֫וּחַ (ruach) can be translated as “wind” or “spirit.” Thus, a better translation would be “And they heard the voice of the LORD God moving in the garden in the wind that day…” or “And they heard the voice of the LORD God moving in the garden in the spirit that day….”
In other words, after their anxious attempt to control the chaos, they ended up further hiding from the voice of God. Ignoring God’s voice in order to take control of any situation only results in further distancing yourself from that voice…and the pattern repeats itself.
Ruach (wind, spirit) is also another word for “breath.” Thus, when we hide from the voice of God moving in the ruach we are hiding ourselves from the very thing that gave us life in the first place. We are cutting off our air flow.
The ultimate consequence for humankind’s choice to try to control things on their own and distance themselves from connection with God has been continual pain and suffering as well as toiling of the earth – burdens we were never supposed to bear…
…and ultimately death (as God “surely” warned).
Worry, anxiety, and fear play havoc on our lives. Science and medicine have shown (from blood pressure, to inflammation, to gene alteration) how detrimental such stress can be to our bodies.
Anxieties lead to self-destructive addictions that ruin our health, livelihoods, and relationships. And in the process, we lose the freedoms we could have enjoyed.
Such fears, in turn, often affect others as we turn to abuse, crime or war – stealing other’s livelihoods or even robbing them of their very last breath…the breath first given to them by God.
Thus, we die emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
It is for this reason that I can say that lack of prayer and connection to God is the leading cause of death.
It therefore puzzles me that, as convinced of this as I am, I still hardly pray. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am probably more passionate about listening to God’s voice than anything and, yet, I often feel like I’m the worst one at it.
About 8 years ago, during the moment that launched this whole “honestly thinking” journey, I sat on my back porch complaining to God about how I was such an introvert. I had a huge desire to go out and tell people about him, but my inability to socialize made it seemingly impossible. Then God suddenly said to me, “People like you are easier to get alone with just to talk to and I enjoy my talks with you.”
Wham. It was in that moment that I realized that what I had always thought was my greatest weakness, was actually a gift to me.
But this is not a brag moment; rather this is an embarrassing confession. As someone that is supposedly “easier to get alone with” I sure do spend a lot of time avoiding God.
Sure, we have had some magnificent moments together here and there. Sometimes it’s a few minutes, sometimes it’s a couple days in a row. But for all that, I still spend a lot more time not being alone with him or talking to him than actually being with him.
I plan to spend a portion of my day with him, but then I suddenly remember the thousands of tasks I have to take care of instead. I have various worries I need to go over with him to wind down my day, but then I decide I’m too tired and instead numb myself with another Netflix binge.
I finally do set aside some time with him, Bible open in my lap, but then I find myself talking more to myself, anxiously ruminating about the troubles that lie ahead, forgetting he’s even there. Or I keep getting distracted and going back to the latest social media debate I’ve got going on, or the latest news outrage.
And because I often fall victim to not seeing God as a natural part of my life (as natural as breathing), I tend to compartmentalize time with him to just certain hours of day, days of the week, church buildings and saying “grace.”
I literally have access to the One who created it all, who knows everything there is to know from the beginning to the end from one side of the universe to the other, who designed every cell in my body, and who has everything completely under his control, and yet I hardly ever take time to submit my questions, concerns and needs to him? I rarely take the time to know what’s on his heart? Instead I try to do most of life by myself?
And so I slowly die…from my unwillingness to connect.
Now please understand, I am not saying that if we just prayed all the time we would not suffer. Job, considered at the time to be the most righteous man on earth, along with many of the prophets and apostles, suffered immensely. And, of course, Jesus himself – the one person that remained in total connection to God – suffered greatly at the hands of disconnected men.
Thousands of years of disconnectedness have simply taken its toll on the earth and on the hearts of humankind. And while this earth still stands as it is, there will always be chaos in the middle.
But does that mean there is no hope?
After all, Jesus himself, never seemed concerned about the storms in our midst.
With continual words like, “Do not worry,” “Peace I leave with you,” “Let Your hearts not be troubled,” “Do not be afraid,” and “I will give you rest,” he presented a view of the world that counters all that’s in our heads.
And instead of the death we usually live, as the “bread of life” himself, Jesus claimed that he came so we “may have life and have it abundantly.”
Is it really possible to have that kind of life? Was he more than just telling us to chill but actually giving us secrets to the kind of life we can live?
After all, the dude managed to sleep peacefully while everyone else was scared to death on a sinking ship. Should we have the kind of faith to do the same?
Jesus never promised there wouldn’t be chaos in this world. In fact, he promised his followers they would have “trouble.” But in the same sentence, he said he was telling them these things so they would have “peace.” Can peace and chaos co-exist?
“Take heart!” he then proclaimed, “I have overcome the world.”
Can we overcome it, too? Easy for him, of course, because he had that one on one connection with God.
But then Jesus did something that still confounds me to this day. He willingly submitted himself to the chaos of this world when he hung upon the cross.
Yet I am convinced that the most painful part of that was not the lashing beforehand or the nails in his hands and feet but rather the part shortly before he died, when he momentarily lost his connection to God.
“Father, why have you forsaken me?” he cried. His airway had been cut off.
He did that so that ours could be reconnected. Because in that moment he took all of our shame upon himself so that we would no longer have to feel the shame that has kept us hiding from the voice. In that, we can again have life.
As the apostle Paul wrote:
For if, by the trespass of the one man [Adam], death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
The question is, with such a heavy price paid, will I ever fully take advantage of the reconnection made and truly live? Or will I keep falling back into the deadly disease of anxiety, control, shame and hiding from the voice that pursues me?
Perhaps the only way to I can do it, ironically, is to die to myself – to die to that part of me that needs to be in control of the chaos. It is only when that is crucified, that I can truly live.
Either way, I’m thankful God is gracious and patient with me in the process.
Interestingly, some of the times where I’ve felt the closest connections with God have been those times over the last few years where my world seemed to be falling apart around me. Where everything was so out of control I had no choice but to fall to my knees and call upon his voice. And in those times, I experienced the greatest sense of peace.
Perhaps there is a purpose to the chaos.
And perhaps that’s the secret to truly living.
It’s letting go of what I was never meant to control and simply breathe, breathe, breathe in His voice – while there’s still chaos in the middle of the garden.