and my personality
God loves variety. In all he creates he never repeats himself. The nearer we get to him the more different we become from each other, not less. 'Everything in heaven comes apart', writes the poet Stewart Henderson. By that he means that in heaven each created thing will be fully revealed in its uniqueness and distinctiveness, celebrating its place in the whole that is the glorious life of God. When we pray 'On earth as it is in heaven' we are asking, among others things, for the same bewildering mixture to be a feature of life and faith in our lives too.
This also means that ways of praying will be as varied and different as there are people. There is no 'right' way to pray. God never comes to us with an 'off-the-shelf' method of praying that we have to use regardless of our personality, gifts or needs.
I always need reminding of this because at a formative stage in my Christian life the message that I heard was quite the opposite. Certain way of believing and praying were the 'correct' ones. Other ways were looked on with suspicion. Furthermore my own personality, thoughts and desires were obstacles to real prayer – they had to be firmly denied and pushed out of the way. I could tell what God wanted because it was probably the opposite of what I wanted! Following Jesus meant having a very negative view of myself. There was also a deep suspicion of life beyond the boundaries of what was carefully – not to say rigidly - defined as Christian.
I now think such attitudes are actually unbiblical and deeply damaging of our ability to sense God's presence in our lives. For all their realism about human sin the psalms, for example, never lose confidence that all created life is touched and renewed moment by moment by the presence of God. Over time I have grown to treasure the way God lovingly works 'with the grain' of whom he has made us to be – no matter how much restoring, healing and time it takes. I come as I am and he receives me with love and joy.
One of my most exciting discoveries in recent years has been the gift and significance of our personalities in our relating to God. 'God created us different from each other. He does not want our communication with him to be constricted or thwarted by stilted, imposed patterns of prayer.' (Ruth Fowke)
Sheila went on a Quiet Day for the first time and discovered that this was the way of silent prayer for which she had longed restlessly over many years. But it was not the way she had been taught and her lively church fellowship found it hard to understand her gift.
Brian was a rather serious man with a marked preference for formal worship. He reluctantly attended a charismatic service and (after resisting the urge to walk out) was overcome by a new vision of the joy and love of God. He came to see how this part of his own personality had never been allowed to develop in a family ruled by his severe emotionally repressed father.
John's approach to prayer took a new direction when he found himself sitting in a church service next to a group of hearing impaired Christians who were signing the songs and prayers. On impulse he joined in and was suddenly aware of how much more alive he felt as he worshiped with his body rather than words. He not only felt nearer to God, he felt nearer to the world around him and to himself.
Karen was very ill in hospital. Praying felt impossible. She was very anxious. Her daughter placed an icon of Christ by her bedside. She was deeply comforted and with a naturalness that made her wish she had found this long before, she fixed her attention on his face and prayed silently using her eyes alone. Karen had always delighted in life through the 'here and now' senses - touch, smell, taste, sound and sight. Now she discovered that this was her most natural way to commune with God.
Remember - God only asks us to be ourselves. No one else. But who am 'I'? What do we mean by 'my personality? And isn't this rather self absorbed?
By 'my personality' we mean that unique mix of thinking, desiring, feeling and relating that makes me 'me' and not somebody else. It gives me my distinctive and recognizable shape and presence in the world. My personality is something that has been deeply influenced from the beginning of my life by factors such as biological and psychological inheritance; experiences of home and family; health; education; work; relationships; social and natural environment.
But the question of who we are goes deeper still. Ultimately our true identity is actually found in God in whose image we are made. In fact he is the only one who truly knows us. He sees who we are and what we may become.
So we journey together in prayer – an adventure into the heart of a God who never repeats himself.
This article first appeared in
Quiet Spaces, published by BRF.