I've been reading Richard Foster for the first time in a long while, doing some re-reading of chapters in his excellent book Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home and also reading (for the first time) his small devotional book Seeking the Kingdom. Foster's long been a favorite of mine, but that doesn't mean his books make me comfortable. In fact, they often push me to reflect on my life in ways that reveal a lot of uncomfortable truths and areas that need the loving work of the Holy Spirit to change and heal.
I actually haven't been able to get past the very first devotional in Seeking the Kingdom, because there's so much to chew on in just those few pages. I'm still working on it, and letting it work on me. He asks the seemingly simple question: "What Keeps Us From Praying?" and suggests that it's not the outwardly obvious answer -- not enough time, too busy -- that's the most important answer. He points out that we don't let lack of time or busyness stop us from doing other necessary and important things, like eating or sleeping or making love (and let's be honest, most of us don't let lack of time and too much to do stop us from doing less essential things like watching t.v. or blogging, for instance!).
So: what keeps us from praying? Is there a lack of confidence that God is listening? A lack of trust or hope? A feeling that we're not "doing it right" or need to become better people with purer motives before we can approach God?
This has been a rich but sometimes painful question for me to grapple with, because I've been realizing that I have some real fears lurking right now -- about the call we're trying to discern, and our shaky life situation -- and that I sometimes act as though God is someone other than I know him to be, as though I'm afraid he is a hard taskmaster, one who's just out to ask me to be or do something that I don't want to be. I know better than this, from my own life with God in Christ and from the witness of the Scriptures. So why would I assume that God would only call me to something hard, or painful, or (and here's a big one) why would I assume that if God did call me to something difficult that he would not lovingly prepare and equip me to answer the call? Yes, he does sometimes call us to things we could never imagine for ourselves, and he sometimes calls us to give up even good things, but I know he is trustworthy and GOOD. I also know that he understands my human frailty and exhaustion, and that he knows my real deep needs for rest and refreshment. When the hard things come, they come with his permission and they come in the context of my relationship with Him. He uses them to shape me and in order to shape his Kingdom. That's the bottomline. And while I do know it with my head and with my heart, I've been realizing I am not always putting my trust into active practice...hence my prayers (their faintheartedness, their lack).
Foster is very helpful not only because he asks hard questions, but he gently suggests ways to begin to work through them. In this case, he suggests that we make a list of all the reasons that we don't pray, and then take that list to God. And what he doesn't say, but what you begin to realize as you follow the instructions of this spiritual exercise, is that by taking this honest list to God, by admitting your lacks and fears and hopes and everything else and laying those things at God's feet, you are indeed praying.