I’m cutting straight to the chase on this one. How’s your prayer life? Are your prayers effective?
In writing this particular post, I have in my heart those of us who have accepted Jesus as our personal Savior. Do our lives look different from unbelievers, because we are followers of Christ? Are we believing in prayer?
If you have read any of my earlier blogs, you know I don’t claim to be a prayer warrior. I made it clear in my last three posts at least that I frequently struggle in my prayer life. I think many of us do. Maybe it’s part of living in the flesh in a fallen world where Satan reigns.
I found this statement in Michael Youssef, Ph.D.’s daily devotional, “Perhaps there is no time when the enemy is more active in our lives than during our prayer time. In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter wrote, ‘Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.'” WOW! That got my attention. I think I’ve usually felt “safe” in my prayer times and in church.
Reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis gives affirmation to Youssef’s statement, and helps me understand why prayer — a simple and wonderful invitation from God to be in relationship with Him — is so hard for me at times. A million things seem to get in the way of my time with God. They feel essential to “real” life. Sometimes my prayer life doesn’t feel as important or real as my daily circumstances. I know that feelings can lie, and the opposite is the Truth!
In reality, prayers are the most important and real part of life. GOD is the number one priority of my life. Only when I keep God and my relationship with Him as primary, can all the wonderful second things in this world have a chance of success and significance. When I put second things ahead of God — all is lost. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
I desperately want to grow in my relationship with Christ — and that means primarily, I need to grow in my prayer life. I’m meeting weekly with a small group of women because we all want our prayer life to be more consistent, intimate, sincere and fruitful. We want to glorify God with our lives, and we know that our prayer life is the secret to our power and strength in this world.
In my Easter post I wrote this, “What I offer today is simply what He is saying to me in the midst of my messy life. And that He longs to be preeminent and intimate in all our lives. An honest admission of my struggles but also my faith that He is in control of my life and my faith. Lately — I’ve been most aware of my struggles. My prayer life needs a transfusion. A refocus on Him. In the coming months, as He grows my prayer life, I’ll share with you all I trust the great Healer will do along the way.”
Today I’ll share some of what God is teaching me about prayer and how it is changing me. All the posts from our little group’s prayer focus will be sorted under the category “heart of prayer.” I would love for you to join us and write to me about your experiences!
Our format is simple. We are committed to a daily quiet time of prayer (minus as many distractions as possible). In our time with Jesus we are reading the Bible daily. We are praying. We are listening. Then we come together to discuss what God is saying and doing in our lives through our time spent with Him. I am pulling from many resources, because I don’t think there is one formula for prayer. It’s personal. But the Bible and many scholars have a lot to say about it. You’ll find some of them listed under resources and even quotes: artful living. We are reading The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb as well as many resources such as Michael Youssef, Richard Foster, and John Piper. Most importantly we are letting God lead us.
Three main things jump off the page from our discussion yesterday. Perhaps you will relate.
1. Sometimes it’s hard for Christians to pray because we feel unworthy of God’s attention. If only we were doing more good deeds, reading the Bible more — then we might be more ready and willing to approach the throne in prayer. As it is, we’re a little embarrassed.
How do we pray an effective prayer? James 5:16 says “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” So, what are the characteristics of a person in right standing with God? Is it our performance or “religiousity?” No. As saved believers, we can neither add nor subtract from our righteousness through our behavior. It’s similar to the well-known idea that we can’t do anything to make God love us more or less. Our righteousness is derived solely from the Cross and Jesus.
It’s not up to us or about us! Praise God! A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus as her personal Savior. She seeks to obey God and yield to the direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and wants to do what is right according to the Word of God. That’s it. God accepts us as we are to be saved, and continues to invite us as we are to be in relationship with Him. We respond with Joy out of Gratitude. He changes us. He always wants us to come to Him — and as James said, when we do, we can rest assured that because of HIM, our prayers will be powerful and effective. Do we really believe that?
2. Sometimes I remember to ask God’s help for something, but walk away from my time with Him not really believing He heard, and He WILL answer. Oftentimes, I still carry my angst and the weight of the particular circumstance for which I prayed. Yesterday I had an Aha moment. I need to not only ask Him to align my will with His and give me wisdom. But God is teaching me to also TRUST Him to give me the answer I need, in His time (waiting is deserving of it’s own post). Then to trust that He will, at the appointed time, give me the words or actions I will need to obey in response to His will. Since I am truly believing Him, I can leave my burdens with Him — instead of walking away from my prayer time still thinking it’s all up to me.
A fictitious example to serve as an illustration follows: My normal way of intercessory prayer was to just lift my concerns to God who knows the details — God please give me wisdom regarding Ann’s cancer. I want to help her, but I’m not sure what to do. She’s not a close friend, but I feel you have placed her on my heart. Bless her, Lord. Give her peace and draw her to You. Thank you. In the name of Jesus, Amen. I leave my prayer, still carrying Ann in my heart (in a troubled way) and feeling indecisive, but hoping God will let me know what I should do, before I mess up or miss the mark regarding Ann. The prayer wasn’t very relational, and my heart is not touched.
Following is the same example including what God is teaching me as a better way to pray: God, I believe you have placed Ann on my heart. I don’t know what to do. I would love to go visit, take a meal… but it feels to me like I am the wrong one to help her in an intimate way. I know she has good friends spending time with her. Maybe driving her to an appointment, cooking a casserole or visiting with her is not the right thing for me to do for Ann, even though it would make ME feel better. She may be dying, and I’m not that close to her. Lord, if I am wrong, I know you will let me know. Thank you for your guidance; I am listening for your voice. I thank you for the promise that you give your wisdom to those who ask. I believe you and trust your timing. I trust that if you call me to do more, you will equip me. (The difference is I am asking, while believing in faith that He will respond.)
As I am praying Lord, what hits me is this: Pray for Ann. I believe that is what you want me to do. I could defend myself and say I have prayed — but I think you are asking for more than a cursory lifting of Ann to your attention.
3. (Continuing forward brings me to #3) Lord you want me to pray as if I believe intercessory prayer is real. As if it matters. Prayer is mysterious, and I admit Lord, that I don’t understand what part my prayers to you for Ann actually play. But you ask us to pray for others. If I took a meal to Ann, and visited her — I would spend 2-3 hours giving. I have prayed for Ann numerous times, but never for over a few minutes (and that’s a generous estimate). Am I willing to give 2-3 hours in prayer for Ann? Do I really believe prayer matters MORE THAN a casserole? That somehow in your Sovereignty — You really covet and use my prayers? I trust that you are speaking through the Holy Spirit, and you will continue to answer my prayers, Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, I will know your will and make it mine. You will provide all I need to do your will in your time. Thank you Jesus for letting me spend time with You and talk with You. You are my all in ALL. In your precious name, Amen.
The point I felt led to is not a prescriptive prayer time for Ann of 2-3 hours. What I did feel God asking was do you really believe in the effectiveness and power of prayer? Is prayer more powerful than a casserole? A visit? An errand (all good things, by the way)? Do you really believe I am listening, answering, guiding when you pray? God knows my honest answer has not historically been a resounding, “YES LORD!” I struggle. But I feel a renewed commitment to intercessory prayer (and God will even give me the faith I need). To believing in prayer.
Thank you, Jesus, for all you are doing in me and our little group!