But that’s not a bad thing. It’s good. It’s when prayer begins. As the prodigal discovered, repentance begins in the belly, with the exquisitely painful awareness of a hollow space in one’s soul that nothing in this world can fill.


Honesty. Presentation of myself exactly as I am before God. No pious pretense, no glossy varnish. Sheer transparency before God. A naked soul. Ugly. Demanding. Selfish. Longing. Empty. That gets the Ecclesiastes Experience underway. And it’s a gift, a severe mercy.


Then attention to my interior world where God is rumored to live. What else is stirring? An awareness of God? Confidence in what he will do? Or a bewildering, terrifying, maddening sense of his absence? It could be either. But at times it will be the latter. At those times my soul resonates with Job. Problems everywhere. No solutions. The fervent wish that I had never been born.


In the Job Experience comes the discovery of desire. And sin—not sins—Sin! I’ve been demanding that God adjust his plans to my wants, that he honor my wisdom as his guide. And I’ve been wanting whatever creates an experience of joy, now and on demand. Like a spoiled child at Christmas, I’ve been indifferent to my Father’s smile, caught up instead with how high he’s stacked the gifts beneath the tree, gifts that I can open and play with now.


Purging follows. Brokenness. Repentance. God, forgive me. Like the Jews in Ezekiel’s day, I’ve entered the temple and walked right past your Glory to bow before Asherah. I’ve not beenwanting you in the morning darkness. I’ve been looking for the light switch so I can see where I’m going. God, let me cling to you in the night, till the sun rises.


Then comes the music. Our lover sings the Song of Songs, invites me to the celestial dance floor, and I begin to move in rhythm with the Spirit, following the Son, moving toward the Father. I approach God with no greater desire than to dance in his presence.


I call it the PAPA prayer: Present yourself as you are; Attend to whatever is deepest within you, whether you are experiencing God’s absence or his presence; Purge yourself, in brokenness and repentance, of the idolatry that becomes clear; then listen for the strains of divine music as you Approach God, valuing him as your supreme treasure.


Morning coffee gets me into the day. Morning prayer moves me toward God. Prayer is better.


Larry Crabb is a psychologist, author, spiritual director, and Founder and Director of New Way Ministries.


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