Praying for Michael Scott.
For a long time I rattled off to-do lists at God and called them prayers.
You would have mistaken my prayer journal for a laundry list any day of the week. But this was how I learned to pray to God when I was a child: You fold your hands, you bow your head, and then you ask God for stuff. Sometimes you remember what you ask for and sometimes you forget before that first bite at dinner.
And then there was a stage in my faith where I tried to pray things, out loud, that made me sound super holy and put together in front of other people. I prayed to be impressive, not because I earnestly wanted to converse with God. I used words I never really use. I asked for things I honestly didn’t care about but I knew they sounded good and humble coming out from my mouth. I allowed the “hmmmmmms” and “amens” of others to be my barometer for success. My palms were constantly sweating during group prayers as the overachiever inside of me wondered how I would give the prayer that had the most gusto.
Then I read the Bible, specifically the part where Jesus teaches people to pray, and I felt like I was getting it all wrong. Read that section for yourself and you will feel the need to go hide in a corner and never show your face in public again. Because Jesus is not here for the frills and the party tricks. He isn’t calling on you to be eloquent and perfectly spoken in front of him. I’d argue that the Jesus of the Bible would rather you not even come to him if you just want to show yourself off as perfect and holier than everyone else.
Me being in the posture of prayer just to go through the motions does nothing for God. I don’t think he is interested in my motions, in the things I do just to check off a list. My prayers are deeper and richer on the days where I sit on the couch and can’t seem to get the words out. On the days where I am so dismayed and so lost for words that I can form a sentence.
I’ve pitched a tent as of lately and made a campfire beside the words I am finding in Psalm 40. I keep going back to them. Highlight. Retracing. Remembering.
Here, the writer David says to God, “Doing something for you, bringing something to you— that’s not what you’re after. Being religious, acting pious— that’s not what you’re asking for.”
He goes on to say that it was only when he gave up his need to impress God and just said, “I’m coming. I’m coming to the party you’re throwing for me. I’m showing up for the good news” did faith actually become real to him. It was when he stopped trying to perform for God and just decided God was enough.
That’s how I am praying these days. Like a little drummer boy. Like someone who has nothing of value to offer but still, I am wanted and heard by God.
I once had a girl email me and ask how I heard from God. She said she was a little annoyed by me and the way I would write as if God and I were casually chitchatting over coffee every morning.
I reference it a lot in my writing. God whispered. God spoke. God said. I realize I address God as if we are sitting down together for morning coffee and he is dictating my day for me. I also realize that it doesn’t really work that way.
I never want to come off like God whispers to wake me up in the morning or I hear this slow, steady, streaming voice throughout my daily interactions, as if he’s the voice of Siri.
God speaks through his word.
I wish it sounded cooler than that. I wish I had a 5-step pony trick. Just yesterday I sat with a friend over coffee and she asked, how do you know he is speaking?
I say back to her, "I spend enough time with him to know the sound of his voice."
Before I learned to sit and wait for him I would believe any voice that spoke to me.
I’ve learned that the more time you spend in the word of God, the more clearly he speaks into other areas of your life. The more time you spend understanding his voice, and what it sounds like, the more you are able to discern whether you are hearing from God or not.
And sometimes you are going to be wrong.
Sometimes you will sit with a Bible in your hand and you will silence your brain long enough to ask, “Where should I go in the Bible, God?” And you will hear so clearly James 14. And then you will use the table of contents to figure out where the heck James is and you will valiantly tear through the pages to get to the chapter 14 of James only to find out that James is a 5-chapter book and the 14th chapter does not exist.
I’ve been there before. You’re not failing.
I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve been the one who clearly hears to head to a certain chapter of the Bible only to get there and realize the whole thing is about battle, blood and gore.
We get it wrong sometimes. We get it wrong a lot of the time and that’s okay.
A few summers ago I decided to get really deliberate with my prayer life. I made the space for it. I decided I was going to spend some time after every bible reading session just listening. I would listen for God and God would tell me who I needed to pray for or who I could reach out to.
Those first few days it worked it. It worked so well that I thought I had this direct line to God that no one else had. I thought it was only a matter of time before people began lining up outside my house, declaring, “This is the prophet Hannah who has a phone-a-friend line with God.”
I was scribbling down my prayers furiously. I was reaching out to people and I was encouraging them. I was praying for them in the moment. It felt like I was playing this necessary part in the lives of other people. It hadn’t dawned on me that I should have been thinking of people in my life and praying for them regardless, whether God prompted me or not.
And then one day that week I sat in my chair. I made sure my feet were on the ground. I closed my eyes. And I silenced my thoughts to wait on who God wanted me to pray for.
A few moments passed by before I heard the name “Michael.”
I thought, that’s a vague name. I know a lot of Michaels. Could you be more clear, God?
A few more moments went by before I heard a last name.
But I didn’t know a Michael Scott. I’d never heard of him before so I immediately thought, maybe someone else in my life knows Michael and can tell me how to pray for him.
I texted Lane and I asked him if he knew Michael Scott.
“Michael Scott?” He typed back. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am serious. Michael Scott. God told me to pray for Michael Scott. You know him!?”
Silence. Little typing bubbles.
“Maybe he needs prayer?” he responded. “I mean, he’s a fictional character on the Office.”
I’d never watched the show before and I was saddened to Google Michael Scott a few minutes later only to be bombarded with dozens of memes and pictures of Steve Carrell.
“I thought I heard it so clearly,” I told Lane later on when we were together later that night. “Like, it was so clear that I was supposed to pray for Michael Scott.”
At this point it was a miracle that Lane didn’t think I was crazy and hearing voices in my head. Instead, he calmly told me that there was probably a Michael Scott out there who did need some prayers today and that I should still pray for him.
So I did. I prayed for Steve Carrell as well. I mean, if you are supposed to pray for the Michael Scott then you might as well pray for the guy who came up with the fictional character to begin with.
It’s all part of the process, I tell myself. There are no wrong turns or pieces that won’t get used.
I think of all the people I know to be prayer warriors and I definitely believe they got it wrong one, two or a dozen times before. The practice of prayer is just like the practice of anything else. You start off shaky and unsure. You mess up or fall on your face. You leave your perfection at the door and you dedicate yourself to what actually matters: growth and relationship with God.
If prayer feels foreign to you, just show up for it. Stop with the legalistic rules you place on yourself and just sit there before God. Maybe start off by saying, “The news is good. Please show me how good it is.” And take it from there.
You’ll get it wrong sometimes. Failing, fumbling, and falling are just much a part of the faith journey as victory is. Some prayer times will feel like absolute fire. You’ll know exactly who to pray for and how to pray for them. I believe this is the power of the Holy Spirit and that we can tap into it. And then there will be days where you feel you’re meant to pray for characters on The Office and those are the days you should give yourself grace and show up again the next day. The showing up, on repeat, is the sweetest and most essential part.