Martin Luther reportedly said, ““I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” My mother would start every day of mothering four (and then five!) children on her knees. George Müller would spend hours pleading for basic necessities for the hundreds of children who depended on his leadership.
And my little feeble heart would intermittently wobble awkwardly towards prayer, trying to be like the greats.
For the last several years (five? maybe ten?) prayer has ranked as one of my yearly “goals.” Mock if you will, but I write New Year’s goals every January. I love it. I plan for my planning. I map out a schedule, and create reminders to keep me focused on my goals.
Unfortunately, I’m really bad at remembering the reminders. Consistency of any sort is my weakness. Discipline (or a lack thereof) is the bane of my existence. So… there prayer remained. On my goal list. Gathering dust. As my good intentions got rolled from one year to the next.
Prayer is a discipline. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. It requires grit, persistence, and intentionality. While there are seasons where prayer comes more spontaneously, I’ve found that in those seasons, my prayer often becomes one dimensional as I focus intensely on my struggles or pain or biggest visible hurdle. I rarely get swept away and carried off by a prayer-life obsessed with praise or gratitude or confession. Regularly incorporating these into my life requires discipline. Work.
Is it just me? Maybe… But if it’s so easy and natural, why did Jesus spend so much time teaching on it and modeling it? Perhaps because He knew we would need all the examples and help we could get.
Once again, at the beginning of 2017, I wrote “prayer” on my list. This time, I did something novel. I actually prayed about prayer. I prayed that I would get better at praying. And then I continued slogging through my attempts at self-discipline…
Until I was decimated by ulcerative colitis. (I keep waiting for people to get tired of me talking about this bruising of a blessing God has placed in my life. But I’ll probably just keep going. Suffering shows what’s important. It shows Who is important, and it has been one of the most thorough schools of growth that God has ever put me through.) In April I crawled into a hospital bed, and I barely left a bed (hospital, home, ER, or otherwise) for three months. I watched my children become little motherless, feral beings, I watched my husband carry a massive load of responsibility and fear. While many stepped in and loved my babies and scrubbed my floors and cooked for my hubby – it was a time of great trial in our little family.
I still remember lying in that hospital bed, tears coursing down my face, as I was unable to hold my four-month-old baby. On our sixth wedding anniversary, I watched my weary husband shepherd my four small children from my hospital room, and my heart broke. Head back on my pillow, tears running, body aching, I sobbed, “All I can do is pray!”
And a small voice echoed my sentence with a different inflection, “All you can do is pray.”
Pray to the God of the universe. Pray to your Father who yearns over you. Pray to the Lord who dictates each breath. Pray to the Refuge who shelters. Pray to the Savior who ransoms. Pray to the Brother who hears. Pray. Pray. PRAY.
“By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” Psalms 42:8
So, I prayed.
I prayed about salvation, hope, and joy. I prayed for protection, delight, and security. I prayed for little things like Scott remembering to pack bibs in the diaper bag and Bets not crying about how her socks fit. I prayed thanksgiving nonstop – as a cry against bitterness. I thanked God for big things like redemption and gladness and for little things like pain meds and toilet paper. I confessed. Every little twinge of despair or bitterness, I confessed. I battled through anger in prayer. I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” Psalms 42:11
I reminded myself, in the midst of mindless pain, that nothing I bring to God is wasted. He is capable of teaching, refining, and creating in me a familial resemblance to my Savior. So, even when I was unable to see the point of the struggle, I reminded myself, “I shall again praise Him. This will make sense someday.”
And guess what? As the pain dissipated and normalcy returned, my prayer life didn’t return to a wobbly, sometimes-forgotten duty!
One of the beautiful silver linings of this trial is that prayer has become my lifeline, my desperation, the automatic filter for all intense emotions both positive and negative. I crave a long prayer time, I seek after it, I delight in it.
And I attribute it all to that wee feeble request in January, “Lord, please make me pray.”
And I’m so glad He did.