Posted by: Bob Clark | October 13, 2008

Resting, Floating, Praying

Psalms 131:1-3
My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Prayer can sometimes be hard work. We gather our lists and we pray, checking off all the important things that we think God needs to be addressing. We tell God who to bless, who to heal, and who to rescue. We tell God which doors need to be opened and which need to be closed. We go to God because we need to get something done. Sometimes this whole prayer process becomes strenuous.

There are indeed times when we need to “wrestle in prayer.” But there is another kind of prayer the psalmist is alluding to in this passage. Prayer that is not strenuous or difficult or frantic or exhausting. Prayer that is best described as resting with God.

Here the psalmist approaches God for companionship and rest. He is not trying to give God advice. He is not trying to run the world. He is not trying to be deeply theological. He is not approaching God with a must-do list. He describes his relationship with God as a weaned child sitting in his mother’s lap. Notice that he doesn’t describe his experience as a nursing child sitting with his mother because he needs to nurse. The description is of a child just sitting with his mother because it’s a secure, comfortable, restful place to be.

Sometimes we just need to sit quietly with God. One writer calls this kind of experience “wasting time with God,” that is, just being together. There is great joy to be experienced when we can just totally relax in God’s presence, when we stop all of our flailing and striving and just give it all up to relaxation in God’s presence, in God’s lap.

In May following my junior year of college Lourene, and I got married. That summer I worked several jobs, one of which was teaching swimming lessons at Freed-Hardeman College. I actually enjoyed this greatly, There was something very rewarding about having a child come to you with a total fear of water and seeing him swimming in a couple of weeks. But what surprised me most was how difficult it was to teach these boys how to float in the water.

In his book When the Well Runs Dry:Prayer Beyond Beginnings Thomas Green talks about teaching people to float.

It is puzzling to see what a difficult art floating really is–difficult not because it demands much skill but because it demands much letting go. The secret of floating is in learning not to do all the things we instinctively want to do. We want to keep ourselves rigid, ready to save ourselves the moment a big wave comes along–and yet the more rigid we are the more likely we are to be swamped by the waves; if we relax in the water we can be carried up and down by the rolling sea and never be swamped (p. 143).

So I think the image of floating fits well with what the psalmist is trying to express. When we are with God we are like a weaned child who has crawled up in his mother’s lap to relax. We give up all effort that comes naturally and we…float. The waves come at us, sometimes relentlessly. And God sees us through not because we are rigid or flailing, but because we have let go.

Inspired by: Surrendering to God: Living the Covenant Prayer

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