Praying in Circles

Prayer is a challenging thing. Whether it’s in groups or on my own, I often struggle with prayer. It’s not that I don’t want to pray, but so many times I just feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I come from a Pentecostal background, so I have had my fare share of long drawn out prayer times (the kind where your head is bobbing the whole time because you keep falling asleep). I’ll never forget a time at Bible College that to this day makes me want to climb in a hole with embarrassment. As many of you know, the school I attended was as intense as they come (of which I intend to write a book on someday), and sometimes the schedule was grueling. It wasn’t uncommon for us to be going from 5:30am till the evening, and there was a lot of prayer time. We prayed in circles, we prayed in fields, we prayed in closets, and under stairwells. You name it, there was someone praying there. With the intensity of the schedule, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to doze off in class or during chapel. How could you not? But, there were times when nobody in their right mind would fall asleep, except me.

The founder of the college was a big name evangelist, well known throughout the world, and every once in a while, he would attend our campus. On the days he visited he was always the morning speaker, of course. As if the atmosphere of the school wasn’t intense enough on its own, the place transformed into a place of seeming perfection the moment his car drove through the front gates. It’s hard to describe the change that occurred. You got the feeling from the President of the school that if anything went wrong while he was there, that person would be excommunicated from the school and church, and their soul would be left to wander the halls of purgatory for all time (The school doesn’t even believe in purgatory-that’s how scary it was). On one of the days he visited, I happened to be extremely exhausted (it must have been from all the prayer times pacing the out in the fields). By the time chapel came around, I thought I was going to pass out. I had finally made it through class, but now chapel was upon me. I had one consolation though: he was a screamer. (Who could fall asleep to a screaming preacher?)

Well, on this particular day, he wasn’t screaming at all. In fact, from what I remember, it was the calmest, quietest message I’ve ever heard from the guy. My head bobbed throughout the whole service. Every time it bobbed, I jerked awake, then freaked out wondering how long I had been out. Then, all I could think about was purgatory and how my soul would be left to rot there if I didn’t get it together. Usually service was about an hour and a half, but on this day, he decided to recite the whole Old Testament (at least that what I thought). After who knows how long, his message started coming to a close. I started celebrating in my head (10,000 balloons dropped from the ceiling, while streamers and confetti showered us with jubilant expressions of joy). I knew I had made it. I wouldn’t have to endure the hardships of purgatory after all. Or, would I? Just when I thought I could see the end zone, he pulled a last second audible that had me dazed and confused. I was like a rookie quarter back screaming, ‘time out’ to the ref with no times outs left. He stepped off the platform, and speaking softly said words that had me scrambling; “lets bow our heads, and wait of God.”

Now I was in full fledged panic. For those of you who are wondering why I was so freaked out, you don’t know my school. ‘Wait on God’ could mean we were going to silently pray until Jesus split the eastern sky. Some people bowed their heads, while others got on their knees, I knew there was no posture that was going to get me out of what surely was to come for me: Dante’s fourth level of hell. (I have no idea what Dante’s fourth level was, but I was sure I was going to find out.) I lowered my head, and just as you may have guessed, I was out like a light. I wish I could tell you that was the end of the story. I wish I could tell you no body ever found out and I lived happily ever after. Have you ever experienced a time when you could stay awake, but you were trying to fight it so bad that your body convulsed when you came too? Well, that’s what happened. Well into the prayer time, I realized I had fallen asleep, and instead of calmly waking myself, my body shot up (loudly wacking the pew in front of me), and a panicked shout escaped my lungs, totally interrupting the ‘wait on God’ time. My friends snickered with pleasure as I melted into a pile of goo to the floor beneath me.

As if the bobbing head prayer times aren’t hard enough, then we have the prayer circles. Watch the video below, and let me know if any of this looks familiar.

Not only do peculiar things happen when we pray in circles, I often feel like my prayers are going in circles. I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I could use a little help in my prayer life. Fortunately for all of us, the disciples felt the same way.

1 Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

Jesus didn’t leave them hanging, and he won’t leave us hanging either.

2 Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:

“Father, may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
3 Give us each day the food we need,
4 and forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.]
(Luke 11:2-4)

There are a few things I noticed in these verses.

1. Father, may your name be kept holy-When we come to God, we have to remember His holiness. By doing this, we are posturing our hearts to receive from God. When we come to God remember His holiness, not only do we sense a reverent fear, we also experience the awe of His love. If we forget his holiness, we often reduce God to be more like Santa Clause of a genie in a bottle with a ‘grant me my wishes’ attitude. As we recognize His holiness, we love Him even more, because while we were still sinners, He died for us.

2. May your kingdom come soon-by praying this, we are reminded that our lives serve a bigger purpose. We are reminded why we are here on this planet, to make Jesus famous. Setting our minds on His kingdom changes how we pray, because it changes how we view the world we live in. When we put our minds on His kingdom, an excitement for heaven grips us. When we set our minds on His kingdom, we let go of ours.

3. Give us each day the food we need-up to this point, we’ve postured our hearts, we postured our mind, and now, we respond in faith. ‘Give us each day the food we need’ means we aren’t living in the past or the future, but trusting God for today. Like the manna provided for the children of Israel wasn’t to be stored up, so is the life of faith for us today. ‘Give us this day,’ takes everything out of our hands and hands it over to God. Whether we have a lot or little, faith requires we recognize, all is God’s.

4. and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us-This remind us that God really cares how we live. He’s so forgiving, but we have to ask. As we come to prayer, we do a heart check, and a life check. He longs for us to be close to Him, but real intimacy only happens as we constantly examine ourselves. The more we come to realize God’s forgiveness towards ourselves; we can’t help but extend that same forgiveness to others. It’s almost as if we NEED to see how filthy we really are without Christ.

5. And don’t let us yield to temptation-this is where we deflate our ego’s a bit. The longer we walk with Jesus, the easier it is to seem as if we have this whole Christian thing down. As soon as we put down our guard, we get blindsided. When we pray for strength not to yield, we are reminded that we could yield. Every one of us has an inner Saul who doesn’t want to wait on God. If we aren’t careful, we too might disobey God, and then think we are doing him a favor in the process. I’m convinced this one little question is designed to remind us, that, we are not as strong as we think we are.

So, if you’re like me, and you’ve been praying in circles, Christ words are a good place to come back too. I encourage you to read the rest of Luke 11. Praying is difficult, but it’s worth the fight. In fact, it is the fight. There are a million things that try to keep me from prayer, and at the forefront of those things is the thought that God won’t hear me. Just as the video remind us, God hears our prayers no matter how they come. We just have to come.

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