Let me start by giving you a description of the house in which I was raised. Imagine a small town of around 4,000 in the early 1960s. Kids played outside in the neighborhood without their parents knowing where they were. The main rule was to be home by dark. I rode my bike to school for years and played tag and wiffle ball in our big backyard. The house itself was white with dark shutters and had two stories. There was a sidewalk from the street that led to the front door. By the edge of the sidewalk, half way up, was a lamppost that glowed warmly at night to light your way.
The sidewalk ended on the front porch of my house staring straight through the two large windows of our living room. To the left was a door to our garage and to the right was our front door. The front door was nothing fancy but had two components. The first was a screen door, which was really only screened on the top half and pretty flimsy wood below. The second was the actual main door of solid wood. My mom loved the fresh air, so the all-wood door was hardly ever closed; only at night when we went to bed. Even though we had air conditioning, it was brand-new back then and we rarely ever used it because it would “run the electric bill up.” So instead, the house was filled with the gentle breeze that flowed through the open windows and the sound of the wind chimes that hung outside.
I hope my description above made you envision a place that was cozy and warm and inviting, because it was. And I want you to take that feeling and hang on to it as I use it to talk about something else. Something that’s more important than my childhood home. The topic of the Inside Story today is really about prayer.
With that thought in mind, let me finish describing one more important detail. The screened door always squeaked when you opened or closed it. My parents never fixed it and I’m pretty sure that was on purpose so they would know whenever we went in or out. Later as a parent, I understood the wisdom in that.
And now fast forward to a few years later when I had grown up and moved out of the house. I still remember the feeling of walking back in that front door. It was being home, like putting on your well-worn, broken-in sneakers or your favorite shirt that’s been washed a million times. It’s the feeling of knowing you can be yourself; that you can let go of all the stuff. It’s a place of rest. Mostly, it’s the feeling of love.
As I would walk through the door, my mom would always instantly appear. The front door faced the stairs leading to the bedrooms upstairs. As I came in, I would see her scurry around the top of the stairs and almost run down. I’m sure it was the squeaky screen door that alerted her. She knew, and so did I, at the sound of that silly door, that I was home. It didn’t matter what time of day it was, she would always appear just as I came walking through the door.
Prayer is like that for me. The very same feeling. It’s going home. The only thing I’m required to bring is myself. I can pour out whatever is inside and be just who I am – no pretense and no masks. It’s the feeling of being loved and accepted. And God, just like my mom, is always there waiting for me to walk in the door. Thrilled that I made it and happy I’m there.
It’s always crazy to me when I hear all these different formulas to pray, like someone’s giving you some kind of script. Prayer is really just a conversation. And who wants to have a conversation with someone who is reciting memorized lines or fixated on maintaining a certain pattern? I’m not advocating being irreverent, I’m just advocating being real. John records that the Father is seeking those who will worship in spirit and in truth. One commentary mentions that “spirit” is far more than an outward ceremony, it is an internal thing. And to worship in “truth” is to worship authentically or in relation to reality. Another commentary translates that as “with nothing hidden.”
It’s great to be somewhere where you don’t have to hide anything. Where you can be authentic and genuine and there is no pretending. Where your thoughts are known without even having to voice them. And where you are loved just for being you. This brings us back around to home. Because for me, prayer is just like walking in that old screen door. It’s coming home.
I realize as I write this story that not everyone has a home experience like mine. I have friends whose homes were filled with violence, abuse and pain, and I have friends who have been completely homeless. Habitat for Humanity conducted a writing contest over the topic, “The True Meaning of Home.” One of the school-age finalists, wrote this, “Home means an enjoyable, happy place where you can live, laugh and learn. It’s somewhere where you are loved, respected and cared for. When you look at it from the outside, home is just a house. A building. Maybe a yard. But on the inside, it’s a lot more than wood and bricks. The saying ‘Home is where the heart is’ says it all.” They went on to finish, “Everybody deserves to know the true meaning of home.”
I think Jesus would agree with this young contest winner as well. The night before his death, Jesus told his closest friends, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” Even if we don’t have the home we long for in the here and now, there is a perfect home offered to us in the future. Prayer connects us with that home until we get there. Because in the end, we all want to go home.
“It’s who you are and the the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for; those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself – Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:23-24 Msg
Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me were I am. John 14:2-3 NLT