Prayer – A Personal Journey
My dad died when I was very young. It may seem odd to begin an article on prayer with that thought. But that event has prefaced much of my relationship with God and my attitude toward prayer.
When my dad received his diagnosis, he and my mom prayed earnestly for his recovery. It’s not that they feared death. They had confidence in my dad’s destination and his healing as he stood before Jesus. But he feared leaving behind his bride to care for and raise three elementary aged children. God answered their prayers for restoration but not in the way they had hoped.
Some people who share my history of seemingly unfruitful prayer conclude either God is not there, or prayer is a waste. Others tenaciously cling to God as their only source of hope and help. I don’t fully understand why each person chooses their course. I only know I am in the second of the two groups.
I have been through enough struggles and seen God answer enough prayers to convince me He is present, and He listens. The testimony of other prayer strugglers sprinkled throughout the pages of Scripture adds to the strength of my confidence. At the same time, it consoles me when I doubt. Like me, they prayed. And like me, they wrestled both with God’s answer and His timing.
I have an advantage they did not have. The Bible compacts decades into a few pages. It enables me to see God’s quick resolutions to their needs, even though it felt like an eternity to them. They now have that same advantage over me. They have a heavenly perspective. They see God, and perhaps they know what He is going to do. I, looking at them, and they, looking at me, both wonder why God’s followers worry.
So, using their experience and mine, I want to share just a few thoughts from my time in prayer. This is a journey I have taken with God over my life. I know its destination, but I rarely know what detours I’m going to face along the way. Maybe some of what I’ve learned in my journey can help you persist in yours.
Do Whatever It Takes To Make Prayer Real
“Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. Hezekiah prayed before the Lord…” (1 Kings 19:14-15)
You talk with your spouse and your kids. To your neighbor, the clerk at the store, and the person on the other end of the phone, you speak words. Each of these encounters is real, and they register as real in your mind. It’s not the person’s presence or likeness that makes the experience tangible. A response from the recipient accomplishes this goal.
In a conversation with God, if there is a response, it is hard to quantify. We don’t get to walk and talk with God like Adam and some other people of history did. For us, when God speaks, He does so usually in general terms with gentle nudges through His Word and by His Spirit. Prayer can feel like a dropped call since there is no voice on the other end of the line. Making prayer real requires some extra effort from us.
Hezekiah made prayer a real conversation by taking a written threat and physically placing it in the presence of God. What if you followed his example? Spread out before Him your bills and your problems. Take the picture your daughter drew in kindergarten today and show it to God as a means of saying thanks for His gift.
If you have trouble focusing in your head on a conversation with God because of all the clutter already occupying your mind, try talking out loud to Him. Go for a walk with God. Set a chair in front of or beside you and talk with Him as if He was sitting there. Be prepared to have others look at you weird. The growth in your relationship with God will be worth any embarrassment you suffer.
Keep It Short
“Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore, let your words be few.” (Eccl. 5:2)
Solomon who had much knew the value of little especially when it came to words. His wise counsel is to limit their quantity when you are in the King’s presence. The King’s time is valuable.
That doesn’t mean your prayers can’t be lengthy. It means that God isn’t impressed by your words—their size or their number. Don’t treat God like Scrabble. You don’t get more points with Him because other people have to look up your verbiage in the dictionary or because your prayers are so long the hearers fall asleep. Get to the point quickly.
Long, eloquent prayers might impress other people. You’re not praying to them. They’re not God, and they can’t produce what you’re after. If your goal is to impress God, try faith and humility. It doesn’t take long to express belief in God’s power and gratitude for his grace.
Solomon’s admonition has nothing to do with God’s lack of interest in your concerns or His pre-occupation with His own. God is always working, but He’s never busy. The God of the universe has time for you. Come to Him humbly, simply, and without pretension. Let your words be few.
Focus On The Relationship
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” (Psalm 73:25)
What would happen to the friendships you currently have if every conversation you shared was motivated by some petition from you or from them? How do you think God feels when His people treat Him as a treasure box instead of working to develop a relationship with Him? Prayer, at its heart, is communication with God—not to get what He has but to get Him.
People often get disgruntled with prayer because circumstances don’t turn out the way they wanted. God is not Santa Claus. We can’t lose faith in His existence or His goodness because He doesn’t give us all we desire. God is not a Secret Santa. He wants more.
Everything God does is focused on starting and growing a relationship with His creation. In response, everything we do must be focused on our relationship with Him. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus all knew how to pray. All of them concentrated on God instead of His gifts. The first two were called God’s friends, and the third was His Son. When God identified His name to Moses, He called Himself the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” not the God who presented them with gifts.
Can you truly say with me, “I love the Father more than I love what He gives?” He loves you. His love motivates Him to give you good things but not if they hinder your vision of Him. Jesus, His greatest gift, gave us salvation by giving us Himself. Now He wants us to give ourselves back to Him.
If You’re Going To Ask God For Things, Go BIG!
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…” (Phil. 1:9-10)
If God came to you offering whatever you want, for what would you ask? God gave Solomon this opportunity. Solomon showed he had wisdom when he asked God for more. Paul showed he knew how to pray when he asked a big God for what only God could provide. What if we offend God and His goodness by limiting our requests to that which hard work, good habits, and generosity from others can provide?
Last year was a hard one. At 51 years of age, I lost my mom and my vocation. When my mom’s health began a rapid decline, I didn’t passionately pray for more time. My mom had long been praying for Jesus to bring her home to her Savior and her husband. I knew that in a contest between my prayers and my mom’s, I would lose every time. I prayed instead that she would go home peacefully and without suffering. God graciously granted my request.
My other great request for the year is a job—one enabling me to provide for my family, use the skill set God has given, and settle until either I retire or Jesus comes back. I ask that I won’t have to move away from my children and grandchildren. A radical change would hamper the financial plan that was finally coming together. Within six years, we were looking at being completely debt free. So far, there is no evidence that God is going to grant this persistent request.
So along with what I want, I pray for something more significant. I pray for humility, patience, and trust. I ask God to give me opportunities like this one to point people to Him.
Though I can’t count on God giving me what I want, I have confidence He will always give me what I need. He is already in the process of doing so. With that and with Him, how can I help but be satisfied?
Be A Learner
“It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
The world and the church have enough experts but not enough disciples. Disciples are people who follow Jesus. Sometimes they have people they lead, but true disciples recognize their limitations and humbly acknowledge how far they yet have to go.
Even as I write these words about prayer, I do so with strong hesitation. I have no doubt that some who read this have had more prayers answered with God’s ‘Yes’ than I ever have or perhaps ever will. You could write far more authoritatively and be of much more help. No one has ever labeled me a prayer warrior. If they had, I would be embarrassed to wear the title. It’s not because I don’t want to be one, but because I know I’m not there yet.
I’ve never been much of a conversationalist. I have trouble talking to people. I’m still learning how to talk to God. I’ve been learning since I talked to God the first time to begin a love relationship with Jesus, and I won’t finish learning until I finally stand before Him.
Being a learner is okay. Jesus is an excellent and motivated teacher. The moment we act like we have arrived, we put the barrier of pride between us and the One who has much to say. Better to be like Paul who recognized his shortcomings and made it His goal to constantly be transforming into Jesus’ likeness.
Persist In Your Prayers Until God Gives Clear Direction
“Concerning this, I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” (2 Cor. 12:8-9)
How many times is it appropriate to ask God to do something? Paul pleaded with God three times for release from his thorn in the flesh. Though Hezekiah probably came to God many times for his healing, the one recorded instance of begging pushed God over the edge. Jesus told stories of persistence on earth and used them to teach about habits for prayer.
We come to God as His children, so maybe we can learn a lesson from ours. They have no problem persistently asking for their will to be done. Even when the parent says no, children use tears, facial expressions, pouting, and anger to achieve their goal. While I wouldn’t suggest we use all these tactics with God, maybe we give up too soon.
Abraham boldly bargained with God for Sodom. His actions are perplexing both because of whom he tried to protect and to whom he allowed danger to come. Years later, the one who pleaded with God for the lives of flagrant sinners accepted without question God’s death sentence for his son. Why the difference?
God made His will clearly known to Isaac. Abraham had no ambiguity in what God wanted him to do or when. There is no reason to pray further for God to grant or withhold once He tells you what He’s going to do. God also clearly spoke to Paul and refused His request but gave Him something better. Paul didn’t get angry but received with thanksgiving God’s wisdom and His provision trusting that God would always provide.
So what do we learn? Don’t stop praying until one of two things happens. Either God gives what you ask, or He clearly sends you a different direction. At that point, accept His answer, trust His wisdom and goodness, and move on. As Abraham, Paul, and so many others have learned, God will always provide when we do what He says even if we don’t understand why.
Always Keep It Personal
I want to end this exploration of my prayer journey the same way I began. My dad died when I was young. I’m at a point in my life like many times before where I could use his wisdom and support. Part of me wishes that God had granted an affirmative answer to the prayers for my dad’s healing almost five decades ago.
But the fact that my dad was not here for all these years of my life allowed another Dad to take his place. I have a deep relationship with my Father that I might never have had if circumstances had gone the way we all wanted. There’s a tear in my eye as I write these final words. I’d rather have my Father than my dad. I trust Him to consistently do what’s right even if He doesn’t do what I want.
This journey takes me to places I don’t always want to go, but it will get me to my destination. One day, I’ll go home, and I’ll get the best of both worlds. I’ll have the privilege of sitting down to talk with both my dad and my Father.
Prayer answered! What could be better than that?
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