Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Thinking about "barren prayer"

I remember the day so clearly. Actually, I remember plenty of them, and I continue to experience my fair share of them. Days of barren prayer. On that specific day, more than anything, I desired communion with God. Alone in my room. Bible open. Schedule cleared. Heart expectant.

Yet only silence. My prayers seemed to drop to the ground. The pages of my journal remained empty. There were no tears of longing. The Word did not tenderize my heart. One hour turned to two as I watched the clock.

Why am I here? What am I doing? Have I missed it entirely? Is this all a waste?
(Dana Candler, "The Nobility of Barren Prayer," in the July/August NavPress Pray! magazine)
If you haven't yet had the experience that author and prayer minister Dana Candler, either it will come to you eventually - or you're not praying.

Actually, having this experience for days in a row can encourage one to stop praying. I know - I've done it. The image I received was not of my prayers falling to the ground - but of them going up a chimney, and simply dissipating like chimey-smoke blown away on the wind. People would say, "Just keep praying and have faith," and every part of my mind and soul would say, "Why bother? Nothing's happening, anyway."

It's at times like this that the one I know as the Tempter starts talking loud and strong. "You've finally crossed the line, haven't you, Steve? You've finally sinned enough that God can no longer hear you. You've failed God and your fellow human beings so completely that your Divine phone line has been disconnected. No dial-tone on the land-line, no 'bars' on the cell-phone. God's home-page has gone -404, brother - and you did it to yourself."

I have been there more times than you can imagine. Especially in the last two years. Chicago has been a great teaching-ground for my experience with barren prayer. I have never heard the words, "Maybe you just missed what God had for you entirely," as often as I have since I got here.

The worst part is, I know what it's like to be connected, to feel like I was "online and real-time" with the Spirit of God - so the absence of any connection is a palpable loss. For me, these times of empty prayer seem most like having an ear infection. When I have one of those painful events, I can't really hear anything external from the infected ear. On the other hand, what I can hear is the pounding of my own pulse echoing painfully behind the infection...each beat singing some variation on the dirge, "Abandon hope..."

Dana Candler, who is a teacher at the Forerunner Ministry School and one of the leaders of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO, has some interesting images to help us through the dry times of barren prayer. She echoes the feelings of discouragement, of seeming failure, that come from these times. But she also points out that the very weakest, emptiest, shakiest prayer is heard by God, even if it feels almost imconceivable that they are being heard by anyone other than the Devil, whom (it seems) is laughing his/her lungs out.

She points us back to Scripture - to pillars of the Church like David, who wrote, "How long, o Lord? Will you forget me forever?" (Psalm 13:1). For me, it's easier to go through "the dry and barren lands" if I know that I'm not alone in my journey. And she writes a powerful challenge for each of us: On days when emptiness lurks and voices of condemnation threaten, our feeble hearts captivate Him as we choose to believe an absurdity: that He is for us, and that our prayers, though weak, are meaningful to Him. God will surely, certainly reward those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Or, to quote Bill W. from the text of recovery, "Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough" - note, not when we sense God's presence, enough...

The problem is, I hate hearing that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). I want to see, want to feel, want to see fireworks and feel ecstacy and a live-wire connection with the Power of the universe. And it's just not often like that. But the answer is so often what I heard that first week of being sober: You don't have to believe, Steve - you simply have to 'act as if...'
God, grant me the willingness to pray to you even when every fiber of my being declares that you cannot or will not hear me. Then help me share that glorious truth with those who need to hear it most!


Peter said...

His comments remind me of Sean Caulfield, in his Under the Broom Tree.

Steve F. said...

Just a general note - is anyone having trouble posting comments here? My friend Herb says the comment window is hanging...not sure whose end it's on.

Michael Dodd said...

I was finding it impossible to link to you today. I tried on my lunch break at work and then here at home after work. Finally (about 7:40 PM) I am getting in. Not sure what the problem was. I kept getting a message that I did not have permission to read your site.

At any rate, I remember the tagline for a movie years ago. The movie was called Making Love. The tagline was "There's more to love than making love." I always think of that in the barren prayer times. There's more to prayer than feeling connected. There's more to love than making love.

AnotherLostAngel said...


This was very timely for me yesterday. Prayer...barren, fruitful, or somewhere in between, played an important role in my wresting a touch of self forgiveness and serenity from the morass this week. I appreciate your comments. I dont feel qualified or comfortable in a theologian's chair, so I will leave it at that.

Have a great day.

Anonymous said...


a timely post for me too. It's agony knowing that God is there - you've felt Him, breathed Him, danced with Him - and yet it suddenly doesn't work.

I'm with you on this but also encouraged by it.