The art of imaginative prayer
Sometimes I dread group prayer time. I don’t know what to say. My repeated “God, help so and so” feels stale.
I needed help. Who better to ask about prayer than a team of missionaries?
With all the MB churches and new missionaries they support, I was surprised to learn that MB Mission’s mobilization team in Winnipeg spends less time asking God for things and more time listening, being thankful and confessing. Mission mobilizer and artist Lloyd Letkeman let me in on some of the creative ways his team prays for one another.
Listening for words of strength
“But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
On a monthly basis, the MB Mission team in Winnipeg meets to ask God, “What do you have that will strengthen and encourage this person?” After a moment of silent listening, they write cards for each person.
Often there’s a theme; for example, last time, the messages team members wrote for Letkeman were “Walk with steady feet,” “Walk with me as you lead others,” “Be attentive,” and “Walk with me, and work with me.”
“I keep them as a reminder,” says Letkeman, because the message is timeless. “I need to remember to not do things on my own.”
Mobilization apprentice David Thiessen recalls how those listening to God for him at MB Mission’s ACTION program encouraged him to think of God as Father. “I imagined my own family: they’d made
a big feast to send me off,” says Thiessen. He realized “maybe God isn’t demanding and fear-inducing; maybe he’s like my parents: proud of me and wanting to encourage me.
“It was an important shift in my story.”
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).
Being an artist, Letkeman finds sketching his prayers expresses his heart on a deep level.
Each team member draws the issue they’re facing in abstract symbols. Then the rest of the team says what they see in the image without interpreting it; for example, “The sun is radiating light, but it’s growing weaker at the edges.”
Then, for a different perspective, a teammate turns the drawings backwards or upside down. Letkeman recalls when a drawing of someone walking away from God – seen through the back of the paper – became God walking toward him.
Letkeman drew the weight of his financial pressure in heaping bowls. When they flipped the picture upside down, it became clear that God was controlling how fast trouble fell.
Letkeman also uses this exercise with youth. “If the stats are right, one in four girls has been through sexual abuse. Where can you process that safely in public? In an abstract drawing, you can be as bold as you like without being exposed, and you and Jesus and the community are walking through it together.”
Naming guests at the fire
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Thiessen introduced the team to a practice he adapted from a novel. In The River Why, a young man coming of age was sent to the forest not to return until he’d heard from the Creator. When he felt cold, he said, “Ah cold, you are here. Good. Sit down by the fire…. To fight you is not my work.”
As the mobilization team prays silently, they each acknowledge the emotions plaguing them; for example, “Fear, you can sit, but I will not give you my attention; I’m waiting to hear from the Creator.” “Then we ask Jesus to speak to that,” says Thiessen.
“I had selfishness, its cousins self-pity and pride,” says Letkeman. “I asked them, ‘What is your goal?’ and realized they were all trying to protect me – in a twisted way, not a Christ-like, way.” He responded with the truths of Scripture that God brought to his mind: “Self-pity, you can’t protect Lloyd. Lloyd has been given to help the body of Christ.”
After, the team shares as generally or specifically as they feel comfortable. “Internal experience is great,” says Thiessen, “but we always want to bring it back to the communal.”
Personifying the emotion takes power from the struggle, says Letkeman, and puts the focus back on God, where it belongs.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
About once a year, the MB Mission team makes a list as long as they can of what they’re thankful for in their ministry. “It’s amazing what God will do when we give him glory,” says Letkeman.
“‘Spiritual warfare’ sounds so militaristic,” says Letkeman. “What are our tools to come against darkness? Thankful-ness, humility, surrender.
“All authority has been given to us. It’s not about commanding or yelling. We just lean into the fruit of the Spirit. It reminds us why we do what we do, how much we love each other.
“Prayer is our vital link to our Creator,” says Letkeman. “We are all ambassadors of Christ to others, so we’d better be getting our marching orders from Jesus.”
Back to my problem
Encouragement cards, imaginary fire and abstract art – who knew these could be tools for group prayer! But why not? The God who created imagination is delighted when we engage it in encouraging each other in communion with him.
Let’s pray. I’ll bring the crayons!