A few days ago as I was lying in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, I listened to my nightly devotional—“Pray As You Go,” a beautiful daily audio recording by a group of British Jesuits. I paused the recording in the middle to answer a question from my wife, Kellie, and then tried to resume the recording. For some reason, I couldn’t get it to work and had to restart from the beginning. Argh. Isn’t technology wonderful?
The word of frustration that leapt from my mouth was, uh, impolite. And in that moment I didn’t even notice the monumental irony: I had cussed because my devotional practice was interrupted! I have a longtime feud with technology that doesn’t perform as it’s supposed to, but if I’m more honest, I just hate anything that gets in the way of my personal agenda and timetable. Whatever it is and whenever it arises, anger is my immediate response. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s the truth.
The next morning, I was driving to consult in another city, so I had two hours in the car to talk to God. We discussed the situation. Paul says that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), and in my experience, the corrections of God come with tremendous gentleness and hope. And our conversation was just like that: I suddenly saw with blazing clarity the white-knuckled attachment I have to my own will . . . and it grieved me. I deeply wanted to be free from the entrapment of such willfulness and the anger it inevitably breeds.
A new prayer—words I had never before uttered to God—began to flow quietly from my lips as I drove: Obstruct me, Lord. Get in my way, Lord. Resist my imperial will! And don’t stop obstructing me until my heart truly changes and I can easily yield to your will as it appears in my circumstances. Help me to trust you to complete your will in my life, even when my strategies fail.
The communion I experienced throughout that car ride was epic. But in the days since, it feels like all hell has broken loose!
Of course, it’s not the hell out there that’s the real problem; it’s the hell in here—my stubborn habits of resisting every obstacle and trying to power through every impediment! All it takes is two or three small hindrances in a row, and my soul is awash in adrenaline—fists clenched and jaw clenched, ready for battle! But it’s a losing battle every time—until I let go. Until I bow in humility and hoist the white flag of surrender. Sometimes it takes me minutes. Sometimes hours. Sometimes days.
Prayer is so devastatingly vulnerable. And guess what: If it’s not vulnerable, it may not actually be prayer.
Every year, more books are published offering us fresh strategies for prayer. Often they’re described as a new way to extend our spiritual influence, flex our spiritual muscles, convince God to do what we want him to do . . . or what we think he should do. It’s a little disturbing to realize how quickly our egos can grasp hold of something that sounds really spiritual, only to find that it’s just another prop, once again, for our own agendas. The problem is probably less with books on prayer and more with our human capacity for hijacking spiritual stuff in order to feel powerful.
The truth is, we don’t really have to ask God to send us obstructions. Life will oblige us on that point readily enough. More days than not, impediments and obstacles are woven into the fabric of our schedules and to-do lists. The Obstruction Prayer is a request for God to change not our circumstances, but us! To change the way we relate to obstacles. Honestly, it’s about changing the way we relate to life itself! God is ever and always more interested in the transformation of our internal character than the multiplication of our external successes, no matter how noble they may appear.
So there you have it. This is not the prayer that you want to pray. It may seem ridiculous. It may sound horrific. It may even confront your theology. But it is a trustworthy path toward the freedom of surrender. If you’re tired of feeling frustrated, tired of getting mad, tired of fighting circumstances, join me in this prayer . . . if you dare.
Obstruct me, O Lord.
When I grasp after my own agenda, set an obstacle to block me.
When I insist upon my own timetable, set a barrier to slow me down.
Obstruct me, O Lord.
Break my attachments to my stubborn will.
Shatter my illusions of my own importance.
Obstruct me, O Lord,
Until I can receive the gift of what is.
Until I can delight in the choices of your heart.
Obstruct me, O Lord.
Train my heart in the freedom of acceptance.
Release my heart into the joy of surrender.
Let my soul be held in a pervasive trust
That you work all things together for good,
Especially when I am met with impediments.
In your mercy, precious Lord, obstruct me.
Jerome Daley is a former pastor turned executive coach and author of the recent book release Gravitas: The Monastic Rhythms of Healthy Leadership. Read more about Jerome at Thrive9Solutions.com.