In a book that chronicled his experience of persecution and witnessing martyrdom in Uganda, a pastor named F. Kefa Sempangi wrote painfully of his experience and escape from the genocide of those days. From that horrific time he fled to the US and enrolled as a pastor in seminary.
As he continued to learn and grow and try to process what he had seen and experienced, his prayers became more and more impersonal and superficial as God became a concept and not a person. He buried his pain under layers of academic experience and theological abstractions.
And then, a moment came when God brought all of this to the surface for him. This is what he wrote:
One night I said my prayers in a routine fashion and was about to rise from my knees when I heard the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.
“Kefa, who were you praying for? What is it you wanted? I used to hear the names of children in your prayers, the names of friends and relatives. You prayed for Okelo and Topista and Dr K and Ali, for Nakati and your father. Now you pray for ‘the orphans’ and ‘the church’ and your fellow ‘refugees.’ Which refugees Kefa? Which believers? Which orphans? Who are these people and what do you want for them?”
It was a sharp rebuke. As I fell again to my knees and asked forgiveness for my sin of unbelief, I knew that it was not just my prayers that had suffered. It was not my bad memory that caused the names to vanish from my mind and turned those closest to me into abstractions. God Himself had become a distant figure. He became a subject of debate, an abstract category. I no longer prayed to Him as a living Father but as an impersonal being who did not mind my inattention and unbelief.
From that night on, my prayers became specific. I prayed for real people, with real needs. And it was not long before, once again, those needs became the means by which I came face to face with the living God.”
I found myself personally convicted and wondering if sometimes we do the same… and allow God to become a “distant figure” even in the middle of doing “church work” and living out our faith. It’s a dangerous and treacherous slope we find ourselves on when the our relationship to God becomes an academic and theoretical exercise rather than a drawing near to the true and living Father.
Don’t let the embers grow dim. Fan the flames of your relationship to God. Meet Him again in the needs of those for whom you pray. And come face-to-face with Him again.
FOR MEDITATION: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8
FOR REFLECTION: Find one new thing, one new way to “draw near” to God this week in prayer….if your wording is routine, change it. If you sit when you pray, think about walking. Bring freshness every day to the fire of your love for God. And never, never let God become “a distant figure.”