In May of 1999 I started writing in my journal almost everyday, so I decided to compile several entries into a single post.
16 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
I don’t think my brother and his wife are spending enough time in prayer. I prayed for him a lot this morning and several other things. I spent almost 2 hours in prayer! I’m not bragging, but I am happy about it. The Lord’s helping me to strengthen my prayer life. I’ve been trying to push the importance of prayer on everyone here lately. I’m gonna start pushing more. I’ve been feeling a strange urgency to pray and seek Him more. Lack of it is the cause of all our problems.
— May 29th, 1999
This morning I spent a long time in prayer again, but we had to leave for church and I didn’t finish. Now I feel bad because I didn’t finish prayer after church like I’d planned to. Instead I ate lunch. At times my stomach is my god and that needs to change. I like food too much. I think I’m gonna fast this week.
The thing is, I ate lunch instead of praying even though it was a really powerful service. We had the Lord’s supper and spent a lot of time in confession and prayer. In Bible study, I confessed some of my sins, like how selfish I can be. Imagine, after spending most of the morning in prayer or at church, I still followed my stomach before my heart.
“Oh Jesus, bear with me and thank you for your loving patience. As the song goes: ‘Take my heart and form it, take my mind, transform it, take my will, conform it, to yours, to yours, O Lord.'”
— May 30th, 1999
This evening I got to babysit the kids while my brother and his wife went to see “Star Wars: Episode I.” Personally, I don’t want to see it since that’s what the world’s into right now. I think we should be better than that. The kids were good and I had fun doing the Bible lesson and putting them to bed. After that I read some of The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds and got to thinking…
I know that when I pray I need to be full of fire, fervency, and passion. But how often do I have that attitude about wanting to pray? Shouldn’t I be excited about the unspeakable opportunity to bow before God in worship? Why am I not!? Maybe this is why it’s been a while since I clearly heard the Lord speak to me.
“Jesus, I need to hear from you. I long to know you better, commune with you and have a fresh touch from you in my heart. Make me a better prayer warrior. Amen.”
— May 31st, 1999
Dear Former Self,
You think lack of prayer is the cause of all your problems? Really? But you’re already praying a lot more than the average Christian. How much is enough? An hour a day? Two? Ten?
I think I know what your problem is. You’re devouring as many Christian books as possible, and the one thing they all have in common and repeat over and over is the importance of prayer. But since none of them tell you exactly how much to pray, you always have this uneasy feeling like maybe you should be praying more. You think it’s conviction from the Holy Spirit, but it’s just you trying to live up to a standard you’ve essentially defined as, “higher than whatever you’re doing.”
And now you’re starting to hold the people around you to this impossible standard. Even though your brother sets time aside for prayer everyday, you still think he might not be praying enough. Who are you to judge? How can such a dedicated Christian forget Matthew 7:1? And now you’re going to start telling everyone else they should be praying more? I feel sorry for your family.
Moving on, do you want to know why you ate lunch after church instead of praying? Because you’re a human being who needs nourishment to survive! The desire to eat–especially if you only had coffee for breakfast–is a powerful biological urge. No one can be blamed for being hungry at lunchtime.
But you see it differently. You see hunger as a byproduct of sin that didn’t arrive until after the fall. Therefore, giving in to it rather than following the still small voice in your head is evil. For people who take their religion too literally, there’s just no winning.
By the way, Star Wars: Episode I sucks. You’re not missing anything. But then again, you don’t care whether you’re missing anything because “that’s what the world’s into,” right? If only you could hear yourself. You ramble on and on about being humble, yet you talk as if you’re better than “the world.” Just because a lot of people want to see a movie doesn’t mean it’s evil. What will you do when The Passion Of The Christ becomes a blockbuster?
Now let’s get back to this goal of yours to become a better prayer warrior. In the last entry, instead of beating yourself up for not spending enough time in prayer, you beat yourself up for not having enough passion. And once again, it’s an impossible standard. No matter how passionate you are about prayer, you’re going to wonder whether you could be more passionate.
In a way, what you’re saying makes sense. If you actually have the opportunity to sit down and talk to the creator of the universe, you ought to be pretty excited about it. But the problem is, this creator gives absolutely no sign that he’s there. So what is there to be excited about?
If you got the chance to talk to your favorite musician, how excited would you get if you knew he was going to be invisible and inaudible? What’s the point of talking to someone who may as well not even be there? That’s why you’re not more excited about praying.
I notice this is the second time within a week that you’ve prayed, “I need to hear from you.” And sadly, rather than blaming God for not speaking to you, you’re blaming yourself. That’s how Christianity works. If something is wrong, it can’t possibly be God’s fault because he’s already been defined as perfect. So everything is always your fault…
If you feel guilty, it’s your fault for not accepting God’s grace. If you don’t hear from God, it’s your fault for not listening hard enough. If your prayers aren’t answered, it’s your fault for not having enough faith. And on and on it goes. Someday it will occur to you that if God doesn’t exist (or at least not one who cares about us), it would explain everything.
— Matt, May 30th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.