My secret is quite simple: I pray. – Mother Teresa
Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)
I relish walking into a kitchen warm with the aroma of fresh-baked bread. I savor the fragrance of honeysuckle when it blossoms outside my window. I make a point to walk down the coffee aisle where the scent of roasted beans lingers near the decanters. But chocolate . . . there's nothing like stepping into a specialty shop where the fragrance of fudge, toffee and truffles saturate the air.
Many fragrances attract us each day – and because God created us in His image, it shouldn’t surprise us that our Creator has His favorite fragrances, as well. One of them is prayer.
The psalmist wrote, "O Lord, may my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2). Later, in the New Testament, the apostle John saw a vision of four living creatures and twenty‑four elders around God’s throne "holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8).
God loves the fragrance of our prayers, so why, when prayer or praise begins to flow from my lips, do I cut it short before God has a chance to catch even a whiff? Because I talk myself into believing I have other (more) important things to do.
How sad is that?
You might be familiar with the names of prayer giants in church history such as St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope John Paul II, St. Padre Pio, St. Theresa of Avila, and Mother Teresa – men and women who knew what it meant to spend hours in prayer.
Hours? What could anyone pray about for so long? My mind tended to wander after only a few minutes. I doubt my prayers during my first thirty-two years walking with Christ lasted ten minutes at a time. Most ran less than five. So, when I discovered how long some men and women in church history prayed, I was forced to ask myself, what did they have that I didn’t?
I pondered that question a long time before finally admitting to myself the truth – a truth I didn’t like: I left the prayer closet so quickly because I'd not fallen in love with Jesus as much as I liked to think I had. I left because I wanted to do something more interesting or enjoyable – like watching television, eating, or taking a nap.
That's not at all easy to admit – to you or to myself. It’s as if, for thirty‑two years, I stood on a beach, holding a glass of water and believing I held everything I needed to experience a maturing love for Christ. Hadn’t I read the Bible dozens of times? I shared my faith, taught Sunday school, memorized long passages of Scripture, and had daily devotional times with the Lord. How much deeper into the faith could a person go?
Then I felt water lap at my feet. When I turned, I saw an expanse of water as deep and wide as the
Pacific Ocean stretching to the horizon.
In his Catechism on Prayer, St. John Vianney wrote: “Prayer is nothing else than union with God . . . In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand.”
I'm sure St. John Vianney’s concept of “intimate union” involved more than five minutes on his knees before God.
So what's the point? During my three-decade journey with Jesus, holding my glass of water, doing all the right things I'd been taught to do to "know" God – I forgot God is a person and my relationship with Him needs to be nurtured on more than rituals and how‑to's. For too long, God longed to catch a whiff of my prayers while I satisfied myself with tossing a few words in His direction.
What is the solution to finding intimacy with God? I think it is simple. Until we tire of holding a stupid glass of sea water, until we weary of chasing elusive dreams, until we beg the Holy Spirit, "Stir within me a longing to come to Jesus," our minds will shut down after five minutes of, "Lord, bless me, mine and ours."
Relationship‑nurturing prayer, entering into His presence with that fragrant aroma He savors, is not something we do by our own strength, will, or self‑imposed schedules. The Lord Jesus said those who would worship God must do so in spirit and truth. Aromatic prayer is a supernatural event, a sacred and mystical communion with the Almighty, enabled only by and through His grace. "Unless the Lord builds the house," the Psalmist recognized, "its builders labor in vain" (Psalm 127:1). Unless the Lord revives our hearts to love Him, to seek Him as a deer pants for water, we will content ourselves with ritual and form.
That's why I am convinced it's so vitally important that I continue to ask, seek, and knock at heaven's gate until the Lord draws me deeper into those ocean waters. That kind of prayer – prayer to grow more in love Him every day, is my answer to a long history of self‑satisfaction with rote and form. It's my answer against choosing other things I often believe more important than to sit like Mary at the Master’s feet (see
St. Luke 10:39-41).