Prayerful Obscurity


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I do not believe that this post will be overly long, for the simple reason that I do not feel I will always have something grand and inspirational to pass on. The reality is that some days I will simply be taking the next step – just the next step in front of me. As the Psalmist wrote “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path,” and some days I’ll just be taking that next step as I integrate what I have learned.

However, strikingly enough, this links in to what I have most recently read in ‘Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think?‘ by Jonathan Martin and ‘What Jesus Demands from the World‘ by John Piper.

It was in fact Piper’s book which so recently set my feet on this path to discovery, though at the time I was unaware of just how much I had to learn. I had reached Demand #9 – Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength – and realised that I had no idea how to do such a thing. Since then, I have paused reading that book and set off through a few more (‘Celibate Sex: Musings on Being Loved, Single, Twisted, and Holy‘ by Abbie Smith and ‘Loving God‘ by Charles “Chuck” Colson among them).

Today though, I had to go back to bible college for my (now) one class a week. I was scared to have to go back to the place which had so challenged my foundations – flimsy though those foundations were, built on sand and not on the rock. So I prayed, and I turned to one of the next chapters in Piper’s book; Demand #13 – Always Pray and Do Not Lose Heart. It came on the heels of the third chapter of Jonathan Martin’s book, ‘Obscurity’, and together they created an interesting dynamic.

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I am, by virtue of my ‘day job’, somewhat un-obscure. I work as a journalist and editor covering environmental research, science, and clean technology, and subsequently I have come under some heat from those standing against the idea of an environmentally friendly and renewable future. I was also recently published and will be so again soon. When reading about the idea of obscurity, I wondered how relevant it would be to me.

In the chapter, Martin speaks about how he occasionally takes a “wilderness trip” – often to a Trappist monastery. He recounts one time wherein he was so ready to get stuck into the prayers and rituals of the Trappist monks that he nearly forgot to listen to the voice of God.

I had a certain, teeth-gritting determination to hear God in the wilderness by doing all the right things. So I was surprised one morning when I was overcome by the sense that I needed to go to the beach. … After wrestling with the feeling for a while, I blew off the prayer times, got in my car, and drove to Seabrook. … By the time I actually sat down on the sand, my mind was so flooded with the goodness and beauty of God that I felt as if my head would explode.

Martin concludes by saying that “I thought the object of the time was to immerse myself in prayer and Scripture. I forgot that the object was actually God, and that real prayer is what happens when my head and heart are fully exposed to Him.”

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I have only just now realised that there is a direct link between the two chapters I read, and it starts in what I have quoted above from Martin’s book and is continued in Piper’s chapter about prayer, where he works through the “why, how, for whom, and what we are to pray” – thoughts that link back to a book I once read by Max Lucado, The Great House of God, which opened up the teaching element embedded within the Lord’s Prayer. Rather than simply a ritualistic prayer to be repeated once a month at Church, the Lord’s Prayer was really Jesus’ way to instruct us in how we should be praying.

And when I read Piper’s chapter following my reading of Martin’s chapter on obscurity, I was challenged to look at what I was actually doing with my current desire to learn. While this blog acts as a handy method for me to process – holding within it the keys to motivation: public accolades – I cannot simply be attempting to learn on my own! It would be falling back into the patterns I have so long trudged through.

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6

In the same way that Jesus called us not to pray like the hypocrites, so must I not learn like a hypocrite, saying with one face that I am learning while with another relishing in the fact that I have learnt something new; “Good job, Josh! You learnt something new! Way to miss the point, boyo! You came here because you were doing it all yourself, and you’re trying to keep doing that same thing.”

I have been studying the parables of the Bible, and their place in the scope of Jesus’ teaching. In doing so I have come across the same message, in the way that Jesus denounces the “scribes and Pharisees” for their hypocritical attitudes in Matthew 23.

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I do not dismiss the need for obscurity – of finding time to be alone with God, dismissing all the needs and social-connectivity of modern life – but it was this simple lesson that was most important to me at this time. Piper makes it clear that prayer can be for ourselves, for we are inherently weak, and not only do we need God’s intervention and strength in our lives, but prayer is at once a gift from God because of our weakness and an act of worship and glory to God because of our weakness.

Simply put, just as prayer is an act of seeking God’s will in our lives, my current learning must be an act of seeking God’s teaching in my life. Opening myself to His teaching is not simply heading to the local Christian-bookstore, picking up a few books with nice covers, and hoping I’m smart enough to understand them. Rather, if I am to be serious about this, I must open myself to God’s teaching in all instances, in every situation, and by any means: Whether I am in a Church in a movie theatre, a church in a factory, a bible college classroom, or in my office reading, God must be allowed the opportunity to use His word and His people to teach me those things I have so far failed in.

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I am completely unsurprised that this post is as long as all the others, despite my original assumption it might be shorter. My brain has a habit of doing this when given half a chance. Hopefully that same desire to share and teach can be translated over to a similarly powerful desire to learn what God wants me to learn, and not set my own agenda. Just as God will sometimes answer a prayer with a no, or a not yet, so too might he take my learning down unexpected paths: Why? Easy! Because He knows better than I do.

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