Begin at the End: A New Daily Prayer Routine for 2019
If I’m honest, I’d say my daily prayer times with God have been somewhat less-than lately. Less-than joyful. Less-than consistent. Less-than productive in a spiritual sense or any other sense. Just…less. And that’s frustrated me to no end. Prayer is supposed to be the power plug of the Christian life, connecting us to our Source in an ever-loving dance of grace and growth, right? Instead, I’ve found myself drained by the effort and constrained in my dutiful obedience to it. In my own defense, 2018 was a hard year, and I felt my heart develop an outer crust as it self-protected despite my best efforts. I’d pray for God to soften me and keep me open-hearted, but feel my internals brace and turn inward in anticipation of the next blow. I’d white knuckle my way through daily prayer routines, and secretly wonder if any of it mattered. I’d convince myself to trust by faith that prayer matters, that perseverance has it’s pay off, but how long can I keep up a conversation with God that feels so one-sided? And I suspected the problem was me. The problem is ALWAYS me.
In time, the habits of spiritual discipline did pay off though, and God broke through the hardening shell around my heart with just the kind of message I’d expect from Him. “Got a stale and stagnant prayer life?” He’d ask. “Well, let’s just turn that whole thing upside down, then. Let’s begin at the end.”
Ummm…yeah…like you do.
God points me to a sermon from Pastor Louie Giglio on God’s provision that I heard several weeks ago on podcast. When I say “points”, I mean He’s been constantly nagging and whispering to me about it in every silent moment. He is way more stubborn than I am and He knows it and He’s not afraid to go toe to toe with me any day of the week on that front, let me tell you. Anyway, Pastor Louie points out that God’s chosen people, the Jews, begin their day in the evening at sundown. What we Westerners consider the last part of today, Jews consider the first part of tomorrow. Not news to me, but then Pastor Louie applies this idea to how we pray, and my brain flips inside my head. What would happen if we prayed in the evening as if it were the start of the day, and then went to bed resting secure in the knowledge that God is at His work even when we sleep, according to the Jewish way of thinking? Then, what would happen if we wake up in the morning, looking to God to join Him in the work that He’s already been about all night long?
I mean, really…what would happen?
I spent the last few weeks pondering and wondering and thinking through all the implications of approaching my daily prayers this way. The more I thought about it, the more excited about prayer I got. And “excited about prayer” is something I confess I haven’t felt in quite some time.
See, my doldrums in my conversation with God come from the apparent pointlessness of it all, at least in the ways I’ve approached prayer. I’ve heard all the “right” answers about how powerful and effective prayer can be. I’ve seen God answer prayers in amazing and jaw-dropping ways. But I’ve also gone months and years with His silence on certain issues, important stuff, and I’ve wondered if there was any reason for me to keep talking, talking, talking. I’ve felt selfish, like the whole prayer conversation is about me and who wants to listen to that day in and day out so no wonder He’s doesn’t respond. I’ve felt the temptation to try formula after formula and make it “work”, convince Him to move in the ways I’m so desperate for. And I’ve checked my own heart for false motives (James 4:2-3), confessing them when I find them (which is more often than not) and then resigning myself to the defeatist attitude of “I don’t deserve an answer, anyway.” I’ve stuck with discipline out of duty, relying on the truth that prayer is meant to change me far more than it’s supposed to impact my circumstances. A truer truth hasn’t been spoken, and yet when circumstances are super hard, that truth lies flat on the floor with none of the life or impact that the Truth of God Who Is Person is supposed to have. The change I saw in me was a colder, harder heart, which is most certainly NOT the change anyone looks for.
But when God asks me to flip the routine, to start with a prayer of relinquishing and rest in the evening, the whole trajectory of the conversation shifts. The idea of my daily prayers beginning at what I consider the end of the day appeals to me in a way prayer never has before. Because in it, I hear Truth calling to me in a new way, changing the whole conversation.
If I begin my prayer conversation with God at the end of my day, in the evening, then I lay before Him all of my worries, my stresses, my frustrations, everything that’s built up over the long hours walking through this broken world. I unpack them one by one and lay them Jesus’ feet, asking Him to do the God-things that only He can do. And I acknowledge not just with my words or with my head that it’s all up to Him. Late at night, I have very few options of what I might even attempt to do about anything anyway, so I might as well just leave the whole big wad in His hands.
Go to sleep.
God is always at His work (John 5:17). He never sleeps (Psalm 121:3-4). He can move mountains in the night while I snore away in complete peace and dependence on Him.
Then, when I wake up, I ask God what He’s been up to and where He wants me to join Him in His work. Instead of coming to Him with the litany of worries and stresses that I anticipate plaguing my day, the morning coffee conversation can be all about what He’s got going on that I can fall into step with. Suddenly, my prayers are all about Him and what He’s up to instead of me. I respond during my working day, then, in obedience instead of constant pleading and supplication.
Could daily prayer be a source of rest and dependence instead of stressful duty and anxious desperation for answers? Maybe so, which is wonderful because I’m so very tired of praying the old way. I’m tired of begging God for things He might not have for me. I’m tired of second-guessing myself in every conversation with Him. I’m tired of the prayer platitudes and the white-knuckle duty performing that makes me a “good” Christian. I’m tired of that kind of prayer life.
But a conversation with God that by the very nature of it’s timing reminds me that He is my rest, my Sabbath (Psalm 62, Hebrews 4:9-10), my Source and my refuge - that’s a whole ‘nother thing.
So…I opened up a new journal on New Year’s Day. In the morning, I dedicated the journal to this new kind of conversation with God and recorded my first prayer in the evening, the Jewish start of the day. I laid down the biggest burdens on my heart, asking God to take them into the night with Him. I placed my children there first, all of the dreams and concerns I have for them. My husband, too, with the big and little things that had built up between us during the day. The rest came rushing out like a flood - my worries for work, the anxiety of not living up to expectations, the list of things undone, all of it. I breathed it out to Him on the page, put down my pen, and went to bed.
I awoke in the morning ready to pray for the first time in months. I was curious, ready to hear instead of blab away, ready to listen and learn instead of wrestling my will into behaving and sitting still. I awoke not to a litany of things stressing me out but to a sense of wonder at what God would already be up to. And I wrote a few lines in my journal asking Him to give me eyes to see where He’s already at work and how I can obey the call He’s already given me.
I kid you not.
So that’s how I’ll be approaching my daily prayer life this year. I’ll begin at the end of the day. I’ll write a few lines in my new prayer journal every morning and every night, developing a rhythm of laying myself down before going to bed and picking up what God has for me in the morning. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to my dedicated moments with God. And by beginning my prayer conversation with Him at the end of the day, I think this whole thing might just flip upside-down to land right-side up.