This has been hard. This post, on the topic of prayer, has been excruciating to write, partially because it’s a huge topic and really difficult to narrow down, partially because distractions for the last two weeks have come from left and right field shattering my focus. Then there’s family tension, coupled with motherhood woes and WordPress problems that have left me feeling more than a little inadequate to write about this.
It’s as if someone or something does NOT want me to write on prayer. Lord help me.
What brings you to your knees? What have been your “come to Jesus” moments? Despair? gratitude? Joy? Fear? Uncertainty? Maybe the better question is why we sometimes avoid time on our knees, seeking God, especially when we do have the opportunity? Why are there hundreds of books written on prayer? Is there a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do it? Prayer is both very simple and complicated, and a practice that so far I have not fully understood, so this piece won’t be filled with piety and advice on “how to pray the right way,” but about recognizing why prayer is sometimes difficult, and reminders about why it’s still so important.
Pondering the purpose of prayer is like questioning the benefit of exercise. Most of us have an elementary understanding of how to exercise, and why it’s important, but if we’re honest, we don’t always make it a priority. Exercise, like prayer, requires commitment, effort and work. Is it easier to get on that treadmill, spin class, or pray? (Sometimes we would do well to pray while jogging, spinning, or on that treadmill).
Intellectually, my mind knows that prayer is this amazing gift, a wonderful invitation that God extends to us to draw us closer to him, but my heart isn’t always in it. My mother, one of the mightiest prayer warriors I know, had this to say when I shared with her the topic of this piece.
“We don’t think enough about how gracious God is to give us the privilege of prayer that allows us not only to pray for ourselves but also to participate with him in ministering to others.”
Yet why are we not craving prayer like we crave caffeine? If you’re like me, maybe it’s unconfessed sin. “When the Holy Spirit has convicted us over and we have repeatedly ignored his promptings, we learn to block out God’s heavenly voice,” writes Sherry Harney in Praying With Eyes Wide Open. Perhaps it’s unbelief? “Prayer is not a major incantation designed to get what we want from God. It is a conversation, a relationship, an encounter,” writes Harney. Or, “sometimes our minds and hearts can be cluttered with worry, fear and even bad theology. Other times, it busyness. The faster we move, the harder it is to hear, and our pace impacts how we hear anyone who is speaking to us.” It could also be a negative view of ourselves. If we fall into the trap of wondering why God would actually speak to us, lowly, lay people, and we’re unworthy of any attention from the Divine, then we surely won’t hear from him. All these issues need to be recognized and dealt with if we truly, genuinely, honestly want a life-changing relationship with the creator of the universe.
Prayer journaling is a method I have found that has melted through some of my icy barriers. Writing out my prayers in an inexpensive spiral notebook has made for some significant transformation in my life. In 2016, I started writing out my prayers during the early morning hours because so much uncertainty was swirling around my family, jobs, and financial security. I needed to ground myself in the promises of scripture and deal with some unhealthy thinking. You know what? Over several weeks, it started working. I remember sitting in my church pew, eager to take notes on the sermon, but what I started scribbling in my prayer notebook was not what the pastor was preaching. I have no idea what he said. All I knew was that the LORD was speaking to me. Then I stopped. Why did I stop? I don’t know. “Through journaling, I am able to write out my prayers and receive the Lord’s answers in faith, writing down all he has to say,” writes Mark and Patti Virkler in their book, Dialogue With God: Opening the door to two-way prayer. Journaling also helps keep me focused, silencing internal distractions, and reminds me what I am praying for, noting God’s faithfulness in answered prayer, and persistence.
“Do you ever sense that there’s far more to prayer than what you’re experiencing?” This is one of the questions on the back cover of New York Times Bestseller The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. Actually, yes I do, Mark, and this has been a game changer for me! Published in 2011, I was aware of it, but not familiar enough with the author to grab it off the shelf. Another writer and mentor of mine from my church gifted this to me. (Thank you Kristine!!) From one writer to another, she instinctively knew I would devour any book on prayer and we spent several conversations discussing my frustration with prayer.
Batterson’s basic premise is to draw a circle around the scripture promise, or request in both a literal and figurative way. For example, as a church planter, he founded National Community Church on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Before the property was purchased and building ever started, he physically walked “circles” or square blocks around the location as he prayed for money, resources and wisdom. He cites the example of the Israelites who were commanded to walk circles around the city of Jericho for six days, and on day seven, seven times before God gave them victory. (Joshua, chapter 6) Jericho was their prayer circle. In a figurative way, this strategy also emphasizes persistency and consistency in fervent prayer. Because so many times we give up on our prayers because we’ve lost hope of any answer. And that’s when we despair, (I’m the posterchild for giving up too soon, Batterson) right before God is about to show up and show off. Drawing a circle around a prayer request is a physical way of grounding ourselves and focusing our minds and hearts on the visions and dreams God gives us.
What is your biggest dream, vision or desire that honors God? “Dreaming is a form of praying, and praying is a form of dreaming. The more you pray the bigger your dreams will become. And the bigger your dreams become the more you will have to pray. In the process of that ever-enlarging prayer circles, the sphere of God’s glory is expanded . . . and nothing is better for our spiritual development than a big dream because it keeps us on our knees in raw dependence on God,” writes Batterson. What’s my biggest dream? What’s my big picture vision? At this point in my life, I’m drawing prayer circles around opportunities to minister to others through writing and music. Books! Magazines! A bigger audience. That takes time, effort and commitment. I’m working on trusting God for that timing. Right now my kids need me more. And they are answers to prayer too! I minister to myself (and to them) through singing and piano, and I pray for the opportunity to encourage others through music. In future visions, I long to mentor teenagers and young women in troubled, unhealthy relationships who don’t know their worth and value in Christ, because I used to be one of them. I don’t know when, I don’t know who, and I don’t know where, but I’m working on trusting God for those details and that timing. I’m drawing prayer circles around several other deeply personal longings in my heart as well.
From what I can tell, those folks who have done the work of a prayer practice are change agents in their communities and are transforming lives. Not through their own efforts, but through the Holy Spirit. They are surrendered servants. Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to this fire because I yearn to be a part of something bigger than myself. So how about a Lent Prayer challenge? Let’s draw a prayer circle for 40 consecutive days about ONE God honoring dream. What’s one issue in your life that is burdening you or setting you on fire to accomplish? What’s the ONE thing you’re going to draw a prayer circle around for 40 days? You think God is gonna get tired of hearing your prayer for 40 days? Think again. It’s not that God needs constant reminding of our prayers. It’s that we need constant reminding of what God can do with our prayers once we actually pray them.
Forgive our pride, our self-centeredness and all things that keep us distracted from engaging with you. We think we can do life on our own and then we come humbly back to you, acutely aware of our total dependence on you. We thank you for your faithfulness when we are not. We thank for your mercy toward us when we fail to show mercy to others. Please light a fire in our hearts to seek you whole-heartedly. Give us a burning desire for spiritual awakening and revival. Lead us to the places of greatest need. Help us be your hands and feet. Guide us to where we need to be.