Second Nature

Occasionally, as I’m sure is true for everyone, I simply cannot sleep.  I toss and turn, and my mind is swirling with the thoughts of the day just past.  I cannot seem to shut down.  I try to pray, but often, my thoughts and communication with God become jumbled and my mind wanders off again and again.  After nights like this, I find myself waking up the next morning full of anxiety and so far from being at peace.  I instantly correlate my state of mind and heart with what transpired the night before— or rather, what did not transpire.  I am riddled with guilt.  Why was it so hard to manage just a few minutes in communication with my Father?

One day, I confessed to my administrative assistant that my prayer life was struggling.  She didn’t condemn me, but instead, reached out with a simple suggestion.  She told me that whenever she struggles to fall asleep, she begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer— slowly and methodically, concentrating on each word and phrase as they come to mind and pass from her lips.  She admitted that the prayer takes so much focus and dedication that sometimes she doesn’t remember reaching the end of the prayer, for she surrenders to sleep.

Grateful for this insight, I committed to trying her technique.  I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.  My only fear, however, was that I wouldn’t concentrate on the words of the prayer.  I had memorized the Lord’s Prayer as a child, and I could say it on autopilot.  I hoped the prayer would be a tangible way for me to communicate with God and not just something to say out of obligation.

I’ll confess, it wasn’t easy in the beginning, but night after night, I found that my mind and heart became more at peace.  My mind still wandered from time to time, but it was a good way for me to find discipline in my prayer life.  I committed to lifting up personal prayer requests as well, and quite often, I interceded for my own needs.  My prayers did not come naturally; it definitely took some effort to speak my supplications out loud or consider them in my mind, but I was trying.  I’ll be honest; it wasn’t hard to get frustrated with my halting progress.  I desired a stronger connection with my God, and I also longed for peaceful slumber.  But God was working in my heart, and even though I didn’t want to wait any longer, I had to resign myself to a more prolonged process.

At times, I felt supremely guilty for this apparent lacking when it came to prayer in my life.  I’ll admit that I envied those who exuded an attitude of prayer— those who had no problem praying aloud and their prayers seemed to flow without any prodding or rehearsal.  In the back of my mind, I reminded myself that Intercession had not been a high ranking on my spiritual gifts inventory, but I felt that was no excuse.  I was feeling pretty disappointed in myself.

Until I read something that titled my world on its axis.

I was reading through a worship leading magazine I subscribe to when I was struck with a realization.  The entire issue was dedicated to prayer, and I had to hold back a laugh when I considered the irony.  But then I sat, rooted to my chair as I contemplated this earth-shattering reality: to sing is to pray.

“What?!” I said out loud.  “What do you mean?”

But as I read through that issue on prayer, I became convinced of something oh, so true.  As I lead worship and as I sing, I am praying.  In fact, I have always felt greatly disturbed and jolted from my offering to Him when others applaud me in the church setting or at a performance.  When I hear the clapping and cheers, it transports me from His presence back to the reality of the stage and assembled crowd— and it’s a rude awakening to say the least.

Without understanding it, I had always prayed through song.  In fact, I was reminded of this recently when I went through StrengthFinders coaching.  My coach asked me if there was something that came naturally to me— almost without trying— and I had to say that it was singing, for sure.  I find myself singing all the time: as I make my bed and prepare myself for another day ahead, as I cook dinner, as I do the dishes, as I tidy my office, as I prepare for bed.  Most of the time, it is a hymn or worship song that springs from my heart.  As I sing, it brings light to a dreary day, peace in the midst of stress, and praise from a heart that is thankful.

The more I thought about it, I knew it was true.  My songs were prayers, and as I sang, I was praying.  And then I was struck with the concept of the Lord’s Prayer, but this time in a new light.  As the summer drew to a close, I walked alongside an elderly woman as she neared her final days on earth.  She had a particular fondness for reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and it encouraged me to see the prayer with new eyes.

One night, long after dark, I sat at home thinking of my dear friend, so close to embracing eternal life, and I was struck with inspiration.  I grabbed my hymnbook and phone and went out to the garage.  There, in the stillness of the night, I recorded the musical setting of “The Lord’s Prayer.”  There was no elaborate piano accompaniment— just my voice and the reverberating acoustics of the garage.  The simple musical rendering impacted me so greatly that chills passed over my arms.  It was one of the most powerful moments of personal worship time I had ever experienced.

The next day was Sunday, and all week I had felt a stirring in my heart as I prepared to lead worship.  I had told our team to expect the unexpected and to not be surprised if I changed an element in one of our sets of music.  Deep down, I felt the Spirit prompting me in a particular way, but I didn’t want to misinterpret that leading.  It was humbling to be moments from heading into worship and I didn’t have a plan in place.  I was scared out of my mind.  My hands were clammy and my heart was pounding double-time.  I wasn’t sure I had the courage to step into the unknown, but even so, I knew what I needed to do.

As worship began, our team played the song “Heart of Worship.”  As the song neared its conclusion, I felt the stirring again.  I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and before I could talk myself out of it, I began to sing acapella.  I closed my eyes, and I was back in my garage the night before.  The words of “The Lord’s Prayer” came as natural as the breath from my lungs.  For the first time, I truly felt that I was praying without any pretense or comparison.  It was just me and my Father God.  I laid all of my burdens at His feet and asked that His will would be done.  I pictured my elderly friend on the brink of eternity, and it was difficult to hold back the tears.  I imaged that if she were beside me that morning, she would be singing and praying right along with me.

It was an honor to officiate my friend’s memorial service mere days later.  I sang this simple version of “The Lord’s Prayer” to honor her memory that day as I concluded her eulogy, and it was a time of worship I will not soon forget.  I allowed myself to let go of all of my preconceived ideas where prayer was considered.  I marveled at the connection I had made with my Father— first in my garage, then during worship at church, and then at the memorial service— and all because a sweet, older woman and my administrative assistant helped to bring life where there was once struggle.

I still think it’s important to talk to God in prayer, and I’m not ignoring that draw to connect with His heart.  But I will never think of singing in the same way again, for to sing is to pray.  If that’s the case, then I’m praying without ceasing, for sure!  This prayer through song is second nature, something that requires very little thought.  It is an instant way for me to communicate with God, and now that I am aware of this reality, I’m going to be more conscious of it.  I get excited when I think of the expansion that is sure to come in my mind and heart when it comes to prayer.  I look forward to utilizing the gift of music that He has given me to give all honor and glory back to Him in return.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s