When the Prayers Won't Come

Christopher Chambers sat as he usually did at his Formica kitchen table, the clock inching toward the time at which he would need to stand up and head into work, at least, to make it there on time. The coffee in a mug by his right hand was warm enough to drink but not in a particularly appetizing way. Christopher thought of the coffee and the church at Laodicea, smiling at the memory of a running joke he had with his college friends. College seemed so long ago as did the spiritual vitality he knew then. Graduation was only the past spring. But in all those four years, Christopher never remembered being as bored praying as he felt that morning at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee that desperately needed reheating. 

Christopher did what he knew to do as if he were a pilot checking and rechecking his instruments when something was wrong. Had he prayed sincerely about his needs? Yes. Was he trusting in the grace of Jesus for the acceptability of his prayers? Yes. Had he asked for the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer? Yes. Was there any sin for which he hadn’t repented, something that would dampen his ability to commune with God in prayer? No. Was he a regular part of a local church, participating in weekly, corporate worship? Yes. 

"Then what is the problem," he thought to himself. It didn’t feel like his prayers were bouncing off the popcorn ceiling of the little apartment. They seemed instead like a mist around his ankles as if it was a cold morning and his prayers were just vapors, hovering there, waiting to be burned off by the morning sun. Was this a “dark night of the soul”? He had thought he heard someone talk about that before. Was he depressed? Was his faith real… no, he scratched that last question because he knew better.

Sitting there and flirting with every bored thought that tempted him away from sincere prayer, Christopher’s eyes fell on the bookshelf to his right. It was a cheap bookshelf, the kind made with particle board, little spiral cross screws, and the cardboard with the fake wood veneer stuck to it with epoxy. It would've collapsed under the shorter OED much less a study Bible. But those thoughts didn’t pop into Christopher’s mind because he had neither. The bookshelf contained a few devotional books, each marked with a different demographic that he had passed through, Devotional thoughts for High School Guys, Growing with God in College, the Young Man’s Walk with Christ, Spiritual Healthy Graduates, and Tweens at the Crossroads. He cringed at the last title and thought of throwing it away but somehow didn’t. Then he glanced at a book off to the side. It was a gift given to him by Brian Thomas, an upperclassman who led one of Christopher’s Bible studies years ago. Brian had said, “Christof, this might not mean anything to you now but one day you might find this book useful.” Christopher was still doubtful whether that day had come but he still reached for the gift book, a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Christopher was dubious about the book. And like he would a novel he was unsure he wanted to read, Christopher opened the book to the middle, hoping that maybe he’d be able to judge the book at full steam, after the introduction and first few chapters. The pages opened to the first questions of the Larger Catechism. Christopher had thought this was a “Confession” and not a “Catechism,” but snickered at himself because he didn’t have much clue what either was.

There on the page was a question, “What is God?” The question was so simple that Christopher briefly had flashbacks to felt-boards and Sunday school songs about God having the “whole world in his hands.” But he kept reading. “God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection: all-sufficient, eternal,  unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” With each passing adjective, Christopher expected a period. Could God, the God he had known for so long, be that glorious? Christopher knew that was a silly question to ask. He had enough of a theological I.Q. to know that God was great and worthy of unending praise, not just a dozen or so adjectives. But this kind of question and answer, rich and robust, but brief and focused, was new to him.

But then a thought came to him, this is what I what missing. And he began to pray. “God, you are a Spirit and are so infinite that nothing can bound you. You are full glory and one day every knee will bow at your name. You are blessed, the location of all goodness. You are perfect, and everything you do is perfect…” Christopher was late to work that morning. His coffee was still in his cup cold when he returned home. But he had found his voice in prayer and that little book that Brian had given him took up residence at his kitchen table, a friend and guide for Christopher when the prayers wouldn’t come.


Joe Holland