My friend A.J. Swoboda is from Portland and he’s a pastor and a professor. He’s also a writer and a speaker. Now, almost all of us are writers in the sense that we write stuff down occasionally throughout our day, but A.J.’s a writer in the sense that he’s actually written a book. And it’s the kind of book you can buy (in a store, even!). Anyway, A.J.’s book came out last month and over the last few days I’ve been able to start reading it. It’s called Messy: God Likes It That Way. Check it out.
Sometime soon I’ll write some general/overall thoughts about the book, but there’s been a few spots along the way I wanted to spend a bit more time with. A.J. has a great chapter on prayer called “Brazilian Hospitals, Pregnant Women, and Butter Dogs: Messy Prayer.” This paragraph in particular stuck out to me:
I have experienced that when I open up and ask God open-ended questions, it gives God much more of an opportunity to talk. “God, why am I so worried about my savings account?” “God, where are you?” “God, how are you going to forgive me?” If the Bible is right about something, God has more words than yes or no. He has a fully formed dictionary and can talk. We talk to God as though he only knows only two words. Ask God bigger questions and you will find bigger conversation a reality. (30-31)
This is an idea profound in its simplicity. Most people would acknowledge that prayer is, in some way, a conversation with God and yet we pray as if God is not participating in that conversation. I know I do, at least. And I’ve heard other people pray too, so I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Maybe it’s the silence. Silence is kind of uncomfortable. Kind of awkward. Or maybe it’s our exhaustion. If we stop talking, we can’t help but doze off. Or maybe it’s our inability to give up control, fearful for what we might discover.
We don’t ask questions and then wait, listening for an answer. We don’t ask God to search our hearts and then make space for the searchlights. No matter the reason, I don’t think we pray open-ended prayers very often.
But maybe we should.