The Fear of Insignificance

“Jesus told them, ‘When you pray, say:

“Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”’”

Luke 11:2 (Common English Bible)

Whether anything happens in prayer largely depends upon what kind of person we are. Many of us want to live a life of significance – a life that impacts our world in a large or small way. Such a life is rarely achieved without preparation, hard work, and the perseverance to move forward in the midst of challenges and difficulties. The road to significance is often hard. Yet, to recall a well-spoken line of wisdom from a movie some years ago, A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great!” The question is one of orientation. Some seek to define for themselves what significance looks like and then to move toward that vision. Others seek to know God’s will and then move toward that.

Regardless of our beginning place – fashioning our own desired future or seeking God’s future for us – we want to take full advantage of the years we are given on this earth. Robert Cohn, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, comments to his friend, “ ‘Listen Jake,’ he leaned forward on the bar. ‘Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?’”[1] Urgency has grasped Robert Cohn. Urgency grasps us. Looking back we make a judgment, an evaluation of where we have come. Life is going by and the question presses, “Are we taking full advantage of it? Are we making a difference?”

If we are the kind of person that lives as we please, as we have fashioned our future, our aspirations, our will, the prayers we make will lack power. Prayers are rarely made unless our plans get into a snarl. That is the occasion we pray. We ask God to get us out of it, God reduced to our celestial office assistant. Then we move forward with our own small plans. We remain unchanged. Ignoring God for a long time until our plans become jammed-up is little different from a grasping child. The child asks the parent for unreasonable and selfish things. The parent may give what the child asks on occasion when it seems there is no other way to communicate love. But, as the child matures, parents help the child to think reasonably.

Those who seek to find God’s mind and will experience greater power in prayer. Principally, such persons pray because they love God and God’s will. Prayer is a communion between two who seek increasingly to know the other, to please the other. We pay close attention to a spouse or a dear friend to learn of them, to know what they like and dislike. Then we turn the orientation of our life over to causing the other joy. Loving and caring for the other is not separated from life. It becomes our way of life. In the final analysis, prayer implies a conversion, a new orientation to live not solely for oneself but for the other. It is a decision to turn our wills over to the will of God. There, our lives find their significance.


[1] Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (New York, NY: Scribner Classics, 1954) 18.


A Call to Prayer

“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”

Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

My grandmother kept a large, white, faux leather cover Bible prominently in her home – usually on a coffee table, though she would occasionally move it about her home as though it was a traveling exhibit. Embossed into the cover was a full color picture of Jesus kneeling by a great rock in the wilderness. Each time my eyes fell upon that Bible I felt as though it was a call to prayer. The face of Jesus was not anxious, not desperate as my own on those occasions I did pray. His face portrayed a confidence, a radiance one has in the company of loved ones who care deeply about us.  Absent was worry, or doubt, or any trace of anxiety that threaten to consume. Yes, a call to prayer was evident in this picture of Jesus. However, that call made me uncomfortable – uncomfortable because I would experience a lack of spiritual power. With the disciples, I heard my own heart say, “Lord, teach us to pray like that.”

In this scripture, Jesus had just finished a hard, demanding day. Another day of similar demands stretched before him. How could Jesus be ready for it? Mark’s Gospel gives us the answer and with it an important insight to Jesus’ power, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Jesus was intentional with prayer. Jesus wove into the fabric of each day a time to be alone with God. Jesus regarded this time a vital part of the human experience, however one may attempt to define or understand prayer. Prayer was an opportunity to link his life with the purposes of God and cultivate a friendship with God. This friendship produced the confidence that Jesus would not face any of life’s demands alone. That would be the source of Jesus’ spiritual power.

My lack of spiritual power as a child was from an inadequate view of prayer. I had reduced prayer to those occasions when I would ask God for a favor or for help with a difficulty. Consequently, days without prayer would pass – I simply did not have any request to make of God. Yet, as I matured, I continued to pay attention to that picture on my grandmother’s Bible, that picture of Jesus at prayer. It grew upon my consciousness that prayer is the same as time spent with a friend or loved one. I may not have anything to ask of my friend but I did enjoy their company. I felt valued by them, loved by them, strengthen because of their friendship. The same happens with prayer. A strong hand upon the shoulder, a confidence to face each day swelling within. Power comes as we find ourselves surrounded by God’s love, and guidance, and strength.   

With this refreshing surge of power that flows from regular time in prayer it is very strange then that we should be content with so little prayer. The weakest, most fearful individual can experience greater strength by the regular rhythm of prayer each day. As this passage of scripture demonstrates, prayer each day for Jesus was as ordinary as enjoying a meal. Jesus prayed often. Jesus prayed for himself and for others. Jesus prayed when he faced a crisis and Jesus prayed simply to be alone with God. Jesus urged his disciples to pray and Jesus taught prayer by example. What the disciples discovered is that regular prayer did not only sustain Jesus’ ministry, it gave direction. Immediately after Jesus rose from prayer this particular morning, Jesus knew what he must do that day. He was not to return to the previous day’s work. Jesus was to head in the other direction. God had new work for him there.