It can be a bit daunting when you switch on your computer and launch your email program and find that it is busy downloading 59 new emails: especially when you haven’t been away from the computer for very long (a couple of days). Some days there are many more!
What’s the protocol for dealing with them?
‘Delete all’ sometimes seems to be an attractive option, but it is not very polite or pastorally sensitive.
Do you start with the latest to arrive and work back, on the basis that some of them will be ongoing conversations and if you start with the earliest one your reply may be out of sync with the rest of the conversation or may even be redundant?
Do you take them in date order, starting with the first to arrive on the understanding that those people have been waiting longest for your response?
[How does ‘the first shall be last, and the last shall be first’ fit into that?]
Do you start with the emails that you have been looking forward to, saving the more difficult ones until last (like eating everything else until you are just left with the sprouts on your plate at Christmas), or do you start with the difficult ones and reward yourself with the nice ones (like saving the sweet from the top of your cupcake until last)?
Do you go through and weed out the spam and other unwanted emails that made it past the filters, thus reducing the size of the potential workload and reducing the demotivational impact of having 59 unread emails? In the same vein you can file or delete any emails that do not require a response.
Do you switch off the computer again and hope that the emails will have gone away (or at least the issues in them) by the next time you turn the computer back on?
I am not sure what the correct protocol is. So I try to treat each email on its own merits and, after prioritising the urgent and important, try respond to them all appropriately. Each one that requires an answer receives a personal reply. To do anything less than that is disrespectful to the people who have communicated with me.
Have you ever wondered how God responds to our praying? How does he cope with so many prayers? Worldwide there must be a constant flow of prayers – thousands or millions at any one time, never mind 59! Does God prioritise them? Does he ignore the spam prayers that are offered in bored repetition? Does he start with the ones he likes? Does he ignore them and hope we will go away? Does he ever feel demotivated by the number of them?
Well, erm, I hope and believe that he doesn’t treat prayers like I treat my emails. You see he LOVES our prayers. He cherishes them. He welcomes them. He’s so gracious that it doesn’t matter whether you offer it full of faith or if you only have the tiny amount of faith it takes actually to say the prayer. He even loves the ‘spam’ prayers!
Because for God it’s not first and foremost about the content of our prayers that interests him: it is the fact that we are praying at all that delights him. Don’t get me wrong. He does respond to each prayer personally. But even before he gets around to responding he is simply delighted that we prayed to him. We spoke to him. The act of praying invites him to engage with us and that thrills him.
In the book of Revelation (and we need to tread carefully here because of the nature of the apocalyptic language of that book) there is a word-picture of golden bowls of incense being held in heaven. Those bowls contain prayers. Without going too deep into the symbolism, surely at the very least it is an image that shows how important our prayers are to God – received and held in golden bowls.
Don’t ever look down on your praying. No matter what it is like, no matter how erudite or simple our prayer, no matter how much faith we have – if we pray God listens. If we pray God is delighted. If we pray God responds*.
So be encouraged. God’s really looking forward to your next prayer. Don’t leave it too long!
Be blessed, be a blessing
*Not enough space here to start a bloggage about how God responds but we can be confident that he will. And his response will be timely, wise, gracious, appropriate and in line with God’s will. It may not be what we were expecting but if it was he would be little more than a spiritual vending machine rather than a God who loves us and wants the best for us.