There's a canvas that hangs on a wall in my house, next to a row of four bookshelves.
The bookshelves are filled to the brim with words, housing hundreds of stories and lives and fictional worlds. The books are stacked and the shelves are full of so many bits and pieces that make up the person I am. They are overflowing with tcotschkes and pages underlined and covers bent back.
And beside these overflowing bookshelves hangs a single canvas.
It is simple, both in its placement and design. Mostly white, with a bit of navy blue. And twelve words: for more than we could ask or imagine, in Jesus' name.
I hung that canvas on the first day of fall, at the start of my favorite season. I hung it in anticipation, hoping the truth of those words would be played out in the moments and memories that filled my home.
In recent months, I had not been particularly diligent or faithful in spending time with the Lord. And when I say "not particularly diligent," I mean I pulled out my Bible for small group on Tuesday and church on Sunday, but 95% of the other time, it sat underneath my nightstand, with a blank Moleskine and Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest placed on top.
The only thing I pulled consistently out from under that nightstand in those months was my journal. On a whim, I'd decided I wanted to see if I could write every day for the whole of 2015. And there I was, nearly nine full months in, still going strong.
Some days had more words than others. Some days had deeper, more profound, more vulnerable, more real words than others. But every day had words of some kind.
Sometime after I hung the canvas on my wall, I flipped back through my journal and noticed a pattern.
I was writing writing every single day, but just as I rarely picked up my Bible in that season, I rarely got real with myself in the pages of my journal. I wrote a couple of paragraphs about what I did that day without truly processing the things happening in my life, without pouring my soul out onto the page. That, in and of itself, was alarming. But more telling was the absence of prayers in my journals.
I'm not entirely sure when I started journaling my prayers, but I know it was sometime in the early 2000s, which means I've been journaling my prayers for over 10 years. In those 10+ years, I've prayed a lot of prayers — some big, some small, some answered with a 'yes,' others answered with a 'no,' still others answered with 'wait.'
My brain goes in one hundred different directions when I pray, but when I write those prayers, it keeps my focused. It forces me to slow my brain down to the pace of my hand, causing me to think more intentionally about the things I say to the Lord.
And when those prayers, be they short or long, are missing from the pages of my journal, that's when I know something is truly off kilter with me and God. I'm hiding from Him, consciously or not, because He has always used words to pierce my heart in the best kind of way. Sometimes it's the words of others — which is why my bookshelves are always overflowing — but more often it is my own words, as I process life and pray and spill my heart all over the pages of my journal. That's where Jesus and I work through the nitty gritty and real transformation happens.
With the start of the new year, there's always a lot of anticipation. We cast aside the old and make way for the new. Visions of what could be dance in our heads and we wonder how different life might look when December rolls around again. We make resolutions and set goals and choose words and yet I wonder how many of those goals and resolutions and words are about us and what we can do, forgetting the role God plays in our lives.
On January 1, 2014, I didn't set any goals or make any resolutions. Instead, I prayed six words, "Lord teach me to trust You." It was the smallest and biggest prayer of my life.
But isn't that how it always is in the Kingdom of God? The least becomes greatest. A boy's lunch feeds thousands. The faith of a mustard seed moves mountains.
Growing up, I had a difficult time praying regularly. I chalked it up to the fact that I simply wasn't born a "prayer warrior." I didn't pray big prayers for others and I didn't pray big prayers for myself. As I've gotten older, I've seen how wrong I was -- every believer, regardless of personality or natural inclination is called to kneel before the Father often in prayer. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians and us alongside them to pray without ceasing.
Yet, when we pray, with or without ceasing, what are we really praying for? Are we asking God for small things because they seem easy for Him to accomplish? Because it doesn't take much faith to ask Him for those things and it won't hurt too much if His answer is 'no' or 'wait'?
Or are we asking Him for the true desires of our hearts, the things we're afraid to voice, the things we're afraid to take before Him because they're 'too big'? Because it takes more faith than we think we have to present those requests before Him? Because we're not sure if we'll be able to survive it if He says 'no'?
The Gospel of Luke opens with the angel Gabriel telling Zechariah that "his prayer has been heard." After decades of Zechariah and Elizabeth coming before the Lord and asking for a child, when all hope surely seemed lost, He had granted their request. They would have a son.
In 2016, I want to pray like Zechariah and Elizabeth — with the faith necessary to spend decades faithfully coming before the Lord, presenting the deepest desires of my heart, and trusting that one day He will answer, even when human reason says it's impossible.
Resolutions and goals are easy to make and they can bring last change to our physical bodies and earthly habits. But in 2016, what if we instead resolved to pray without ceasing and to pray with a faith that can move mountains? What if we prayed beyond the small things our human minds can conceive and instead faithfully asked the Lord for the biggest, boldest things we can dream up?
What if we prayed for more than we can ask or imagine, in Jesus' name? Amen.
image via minimography