Dwell in, not on

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Life in the Postmodern Shift

January 29, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 24 Issue 3
Troy Watson | Columnist
'Prayer is more like a game of Jenga than releasing a genie.' (Photo by Antony Mayfield/flickr.com)

Scripture encourages us to bring our requests to God in prayer. The problem is when we get attached to our desired outcome, which we usually do, resulting in our joy, peace and contentment becoming dependent on things turning out the way we want them to.

This is why we lose our peace and joy so often. We make them dependent on getting our desired outcome. Many people lose their faith for the same reason. I’ve heard countless stories of people abandoning Christianity because they prayed and God didn’t answer the way they’d hoped. This way of praying turns prayer into a Christianized version of rubbing the magic lamp so God the genie pops out to grant our wishes. 

I’ve found true prayer is more like a game of Jenga than releasing a genie. When I bring my requests to God, they rise with expectation like a tower of blocks. Prayer continues as God and I take turns picking that tower apart until it collapses. When the tower of attachment to my desired outcome finally collapses, I’m set free—free to receive God’s peace, joy and hope no matter what happens, regardless of how my prayer is answered. 

This is one of the purposes of prayer: to be set free from attachment. This kind of prayer is an intentional process, though. It’s hard work. Sometimes it takes a long time for that tower to fall. Sometimes it happens quickly, like with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He brings his request to God, saying, “God, take this cup from me.” Then he immediately lets any attachment to his desired outcome crumble, saying, “Not my will but your will be done.” Jesus shows us that prayer is about tuning into God’s desired outcome rather than convincing God to get on board with ours. 

A few years ago, I was on a spiritual retreat, asking God to help me figure out how to deal with a particular problem. Each day I prayerfully came up with a plan and presented it to God. Each day God took my plan apart like a Jenga tower, until it collapsed. This happened each day for four days. On the fifth day these words came to me: “Let it go. Dwell in me, not on your problem.”

I realize this isn’t a groundbreaking insight. It’s essentially a re-wording of the familiar cliché, “Let go and let God.” But in that moment I was able to receive this message on a deeper level. As I focused on dwelling in God’s presence, instead of dwelling on my problem, my body relaxed. I felt light. I exploded with confidence that God would guide me even though I didn’t yet have the solution I was looking for. 

Like most people, I have a tendency to dwell on problems, issues, hardships and challenges. I seem to think that the more I dwell on them, the more likely I’ll come up with a solution. It rarely works out that way. 

What I’ve learned since my retreat is, that when I start dwelling on something, I know I have to drop “it” before I can properly deal with “it”—whatever “it” is. To drop or let go of a problem, issue or challenge, means to stop holding on to my desired outcome in the situation. Letting go is choosing to trust God even if the issue or problem never changes or goes away. It’s choosing to find peace, joy and fulfilment in God alone, not in solutions to problems or by eliminating hardships or adversity.  

When I do this, I’m set free from entanglement, enmeshment, entitlement, egoism and expectations, which enables me to see more clearly. Problems and issues often disappear. Things that seemed threatening or intolerable a few minutes prior suddenly become insignificant and small. They grow dim in the light of God’s glory and grace. 

This doesn’t mean my problems go away. It just means I’m now in a better place to discern whether the problem needs a solution or whether it is something I need to accept as is. I’ve found that only after I drop “it” am I able to see if I need to pick “it” back up and deal with “it.” I often discern that I still need to deal with certain problems and issues. The gift is that when I’m dwelling in God’s presence, rather than on the problem, I’m in a much better state of being able to deal with “it.” 

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Troy Watson is slowly learning to “dwell in, not on.”

Read more Life in the Postmodern Shift columns:
Paradoxical faith
Ten New Year's resolutions for an unexamined life
Unlearning 'Christianese'
Credible Christians
Revolutionary hospitality

'Prayer is more like a game of Jenga than releasing a genie.' (Photo by Antony Mayfield/flickr.com)

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