I don’t know about you, but I am not usually one to exchange text messages with someone I don’t really know. Nor do I typically exchange texts with people with whom I never speak in person. But I do notice that a text message conversation is a very useful tool sometimes.
When my teenagers began typing their thumbs off as soon as they were given phones, the whole idea of text messaging was ridiculous to me. But then I realized that I could get messages to them without them having to answer the phone. That realization opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I could still communicate with people even if I was in a meeting or in a movie. I confess that some of the funniest conversations I have had in a very long time have taken place with another person sitting across the room in the same meeting as I.
I must also point out that I am quite aware of the common occurrence of members of the congregation I serve to exchange text messages while I am preaching. (1 Samuel 24:12)
The thing about text messages is that I feel I should have some basis of relationship with someone before I can really communicate with them through texts. I am much more careful about how I say things to those that I may not know very well. I can count on those who really know me to pick up the subtle shades of sarcasm and silliness that seems to flow so effortlessly from my mind. There is a basis of personal interaction that makes the abbreviated communication of text messages effective.
This may seem strange, but I realized as I was reading from one of E. M. Bounds’ classics on prayer (Purpose in Prayer), that my prayer life is much like a text message conversation. I run through the mayhem of each day offering up spurts of prayer. A thought here, a request there, a concern now, a plea later. I sometimes even find myself praying with what could be described as spiritual text abbreviations.
Let me make something very clear. I don’t think God is any more put off by this type of prayer interaction than I am by the messages I get from my kids. I’m generally just glad to hear from them – even if it’s just to ask for money/gas/food/permission. But I do think that this kind of praying needs to have a basis to make it effective. I know that the Word calls us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I think that the idea of continual prayer is just like I tend to exchange messages with my wife and kids as I go through my day – but easier, without the typos, and safe even while driving.
But it has to start with a face to face, sit-down conversation in order for the text message prayer life to be genuine and effective. The bottom line is that, if I really want to talk and interact with God as I go through my day, I need to start by sitting down with Him one on one. Jesus not only demonstrated this lifestyle by often going off by Himself to pray very early in the morning, but told us as much right before He gave the model prayer in Matthew 6.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. (Matthew 6:6a)
He intended all along for us to learn to come and spend some time in conversation with the Father alone. No distractions. No script. No agenda. Just my Father and me (and most generally a big cup of coffee). Just talking together.
Coming out of that time of just sitting with Him, I find that through the day I am much quicker to send him a text message prayer asking for advice, looking for strength, or mentioning a friend. And when the day begins with that conversation it seems to go by much more peacefully. I find myself reaching over to turn out the light while sending that last text of the day. “See you in the a.m.”
The reply to my heart is instant. “I’ll be here.”