There is nothing else in my spiritual tool belt that brings me closer to feeling present, powerful, and closer to God’s presence – when I’m praying for others.
And there is nothing that makes me feel as maddened or as defeated – when I’m praying for my own heart, life, and help.
In the movie “Shadowlands” the character playing our old friend C.S. Lewis recites this line from a script that sounds mighily akin to what I imagine Clive really would say if we were tucked into the back corner of The Eagle and Child. “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”
Prayer, like most things in our topsy-turvy millennial culture of comfort and instant-gratification, has gotten confused and misrepresented. Nowadays prayer is used as a way to find “personal peace” without God, much like ancient practices of yoga and meditation. Or it’s used as a “Gimme!” request-line to an imagined Santa-type gift-giver in the sky.
Prayer is so much more than that. And unfortunately when I write “more” people (including this person typing) assume if they do it “right” then that means “MORE” in the way of receiving for the pray-er.
Well, that’s not at all what I mean. Unless we are able to get our finite brains wrapped around the goodness of a “MORE” that isn’t ever necessarily going to come in the way of “getting what we want.”
Did you ever write a fan letter?
I probably penned a dozen weekly notes to the New Kids on The Block. And if they would have written back, my eight-year-old-brain might have exploded and I certainly wouldn’t have been sad about a response in my mailbox, but that wasn’t my expectation. I wrote because just the thought of them really & truly knowing “how much they meant to me” brought joy to my little heart.
Well, prayer is sort of like that; it’s a space where – supernaturally – God has given us access to talk to Him at any time, anywhere (which in & of itself is a miracle) to lift up our thanks. When I am astounded by His creation, I can tell Him. When my soul is overwhelmed by the goodness of His Word or His working, I can tell Him. And for me at least, prayer has become a constant thread of communication that I just can’t help.
Though in earthly relationships, when I’m mad or frustrated or feel unloved, it’s easier than I’d like to admit to shut-down and give whoever is on the other end of that frustration the “cold shoulder”, well, with Him I can’t quite keep quiet.
Paul, the apostle who wrote a bulk of the beautiful and instructional New Testament, encouraged believers then and now to “pray without ceasing.” I’ve known many to be intimidated by that command and wonder how they’ll ever get dinner made or the oil changed or the kiddos to school on time if they’re always praying? But that’s the thing… it’s a way of life. It’s staying in communication all day long like we used to in Jr. High when we first got our cell phones (and, ouch!, didn’t realize it was 10 cents a minute – sorry Mom & Dad!) that stayed flipped open and glued to our faces while we talked, and didn’t talk, about everything and nothing with our best friends who probably only lived a few houses away.
Being in the presence of God seems like an impossibility when I’m “here” and He’s “there” – but the millionth beautiful facet of His construction of us is that in our humanity and limited function, He provided a Holy Spirit that convicts us and interacts with us, and a Jesus who makes it possible for us to be seen as sinless and constantly welcomed into the presence of the MOST HOLY HEAVENLY PLACES.
We’d probably screech with surprise or throw-up with nervousness had we been invited into the Oval Office for tea with the Obamas, and yet we treat the mind-blowing opportunity to bend the ear of God as “Eh. He’d be lucky to hear from me. I’ll talk to Him when I want something.”
However, while I want you to please please hear that God wants us to come before Him in more constant communication, in awe and adoration – with no goal but gratitude, we are also told in Psalm 116 that “He bends down to listen.”
God knows our weakness and He knows that we have needs – so many needs (and wants and hopes and wishes), and He’s willing to meet us in the muck of this world’s brokenness. When we’re too weak and too small to shout, He bends down. He gets His ear right next to our whispers and His face unflinching next to our tears – He hears.
It’s in that place, begging (even if in a whimper) for the healing of a friend or help in their spiritual battle, something odd has happened – behind my eyelids this world falls away and the reality of Jeremiah 29:12 “Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you.” seems, well, real.
It doesn’t assume God’s response.
While I’ve been in a space of deep deep prayer, I’ve felt the barrier between heaven and earth lifted – truly, but I’ve never “heard” His voice. Yet somehow as I’m praying it is very much felt that that is what I was created for. That kind of prayer will never be substituted by a “Gimme!” whine or a focus on self.
Which is part of why (I’m guessing) that prayer for others seems to be so powerful and palpable, however – truth be told my friends, I can’t pray for “me” anymore. A few months to a year ago my crying + screaming emboldened prayers became half-whispers of “Help me.” or “Please forgive me.” over and over and over. It’s all I can eek out.
The hard part about this whole “Hope is Hard” thing is attempting to be fully transparent while also offering encouragement to you, wherever you sit this Monday morning, and the reality is that I can say from a place of experience:
Prayer is so very worth practicing.
There’s nothing I know of (besides worshipping, and I think they go hand-in-hand) that echoes how we were originally created, and the relationship God wanted with us in the Garden. But it’s hard. It’s hard to be told in the Bible that if we ask, He provides. Many, many, many, many times that feels untrue or like a promise broken.
So giving you a “recipe” for prayer or an equation of “if you say ______ then He gives you ______” is impossible and gross because it puts the emphasis back on us. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for our own needs and sore spots – OH we should! He asks us to! But we shouldn’t be surprised when His goal of prayer (intimacy with us, our acknowledgment of which of the two of us is really God, our discipline to listen, etc.) trumps our selfish goals of prayer.
Pray because you can’t help it. Pray because you ache for God to know how much you love Him, adore Him, need Him, see Him, want Him, and crave relationship with Him. Pray because it is asked of you. Pray because the enemy is “prowling around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” and you desperately need God to help you in the fight. Pray because it blesses your friends and family to know that when they’re too tired to go before the throne alone, you’ll carry them to God’s arms and trust Him enough to leave them there cradled in His palms.
And when you yourself are weak – ask for prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27
I recommend deep nose-in-the-pages study of the book “Prayer, Does it Make a Difference?” by Philip Yancey. I have read it till the binding’s almost cracked and know I will a dozen more times in this life.
I also recommend memorizing these verses to help when prayer seems too big, too scary, or too selfish:
“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.” 1 Chronicles 16:11
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present you requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
I’ve had beyond-quantifiable powerful prayer experiences face-down in the center of a labyrinth in Toronto and sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, kneeling on the formal carpet of a fancy parlor and eyes up to the sky in my parent’s driveway.
Friends, it doesn’t matter where or when or what you’re wearing, but why wait to talk to the King of the entire world?