Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip. We had a destination in mind, but had to decide on a route. Looking it up on the computer, we were given an estimated distance and travel time based on a programmed route that was found to be the “fastest.” However, this route was not necessarily the shortest, or the most scenic, or the safest. Knowing our destination, my husband was able to reconfigure the program to map out a route that fit our needs. It got us to the correct destination, and allowed us to travel safely, leisurely, and confidently.
After we reached our initial destination, we decided to take a side trip. Since we hadn’t counted on taking the side trip, we didn’t have a route. We relied on the same technology, but, not knowing our exact destination, we typed in a general location and followed the instructions we were given. We missed an important exit and had to reconfigure…we changed our plans and had to reconfigure…we misspelled the name of the new destination and were sent miles out of our way before we realized what had happened…we ran into an unexpected detour which sent us more miles out of our way.
Knowing your destination, and having a good map or set of directions can make a huge difference. We still had an enjoyable trip, but we might have been able to do more if we had planned a little better–one of the places we decided to visit had just closed by the time our reconfigured driving directions got us there! And we might have been able to cut several miles off of the detour route if we knew the local roads better (it didn’t help that our map application wasn’t working at the critical moment, either!)
In life, there are many “programs” that offer advice, direction, and focus to get us to a destination. There are weight-loss programs, “life coaches,” self-help books, universities, “mindfulness” seminars, even religions that promise to guide us along a particular path. But if we don’t have a clear destination in mind, we can end up wandering down a detour or even a dead end. What started out with such promise becomes a maze of questions, unmet expectations, and frustrating twists and turns.
So what is my destination in pursuing prayer? Where do I want to end up at day’s end? In a year? When I face the end of my life (if God chooses to let me see the end approaching)? I want to experience the kind of prayer life that honors God, deepens my relationship with Him, and has an impact. There are many “paths” of prayer– but they have different destinations. Meditation, recitation, fasting and praying, praying corporately or in isolation–I need to map out a course that will get me to the goal. And I need to rely on the guidance provided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and godly counselors and teachers.