Prayer can be confusing for many people. What is it, really? Is it merely asking God to bless your food before you eat? Is it a list of requests you bring to God as you kneel next to your bed at night? A memorized set of phrases? Or is it something more?
One day, one of Jesus’ disciples came to Him asking, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Jesus responded by praying a prayer we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Appearing twice in scripture (Luke 11:2–4 and Matthew 6:9–13), the more well-known version in Matthew begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name” … and you can probably finish the rest. This incredibly famous prayer is memorized and recited by millions all around the world. It has shown up in countless films, TV shows, books and songs.
What do you think God is like? If you have a hard time coming up with answers to that question, you might want to first look at your prayers because how you pray reveals how you see God. If all you do is ask God to grant your wants and desires, you’re probably viewing Him like some kind of magic genie. If you always approach Him with an attitude of shame and worthlessness over your mistakes, you might be viewing Him as graceless and unforgiving. And if you don’t spend any time praying, it’s probably because you don’t think He’s listening at all.
When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, the Emperor Nero was ruling the Roman Empire with an iron fist. Nero absolutely hated Christians and persecuted them with a vengeance. Because of Nero, countless Christians died extremely brutal deaths. Yet, it’s in this historical context that Paul told Timothy to pray “for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2, nlt). By telling Timothy to pray for those in authority, Paul was, in essence, echoing Christ’s command to “love your enemies!
“I’m going to ask the Father what He wants me to pray for,” I said to a grandmother who came to the altar for prayer one weekend. Her teenage granddaughter had been in a serious car accident and was fighting for her life. The prayer God asked me to pray turned out to be a very short one. In fact, I only heard one word: “peace.” That was it! As I prayed, I repeated that one word over and over again until I sensed an “Amen” in my spirit. I encouraged her to find scriptures on peace and to meditate on them and memorize them during the week.
Did you know it’s impossible to lie to God? He’s omniscient; all-knowing. He knows your thoughts before you speak them. He knows your feelings before you express them. That all-knowing quality makes it incredibly simple to speak honestly with God in prayer.
Years ago, I was at a prayer meeting and we were singing the worship song, “I Heard the Lord Call My Name.” It was while singing that song I had the realization that God canzand does speak to me. This momentous point in time was the beginning of my personal adventure in learning to hear the voice of God.
In 2007, New Life Church in Colorado was devastated when a young man armed with guns came onto the church campus during weekend services, ending the lives of two young girls and then his own. Later, the details of what happened were being shared with a classroom full of men and women who had gathered to learn more about prayer. As the teacher was relaying the information, she meant to say, “Upon learning of the event, my eyes splashed tears.” But what she actually said was, “My eyes splashed prayers.”
Have you ever witnessed a bouncing toddler full of energy and enthusiasm who won’t stop talking? They just keep asking question after question. “What does this do?” “What do you think about this?” “How much longer?” “Are you watching me?” Toddlers constantly talk to their parents throughout the day and ask them all kinds of questions. Not just about the things they need, about everything!
I remember watching as a mother and father, still basking in the excitement of the birth of their new baby, held their precious son in their arms. This sweet baby boy was facing a mountain of physical problems, and there were multiple surgeries and hardships in his future. Yet in the midst of what looked like a desperate and discouraging situation, his mother exclaimed, “Every one of my prayers has been answered!”
Several years ago, I received a summons for jury duty. I apprehensively approached my assigned day with an excitement to serve. The day of my service, which began rather uneventfully, rapidly changed as I was chosen to sit on a panel. The interview process began with the lawyers asking each candidate what he or she did for a living. One by one, each person offered his or her résumé. My turn was quickly coming, and I didn’t know what to say.
Before He left this earth, Jesus gave His disciples a commission: “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone” (Mark 16:15, nlt). As the Body of Christ, it’s our calling to go all throughout the world and tell everyone about Jesus. But did you know the Great Commission isn’t only fulfilled through traveling to far-off countries?
Imagine Jesus told you He was going to drop by your house tonight for dinner. What would your first response be? Probably something like, “I have to get busy and clean the house! I want it to look spotless for Jesus!” Luke 10 shows us this was Martha’s exact response when she learned Jesus was coming to visit her and her sister Mary’s home. When He finally arrived, Martha was running around serving her guests and trying to make everything perfect while her sister did nothing but bask in His presence.
One beautiful afternoon, my grandkids and I were elbow deep in flour, sugar and sprinkles. Favorite cookie cutters and icing brought out the artist in each of them. Freshly-baked cookies topped with smiley faces, dinosaurs and flowers were now ready to be devoured!
“I enjoy you!” Those words settled in my spirit as I nestled in my writing cubicle armed with my favorite markers, colored tabs, anointing oil, water, journals and Bibles. I looked at all my personal little idiosyncrasies, and it made me laugh. But in the midst of laughing at myself, I heard the Father say, “I enjoy you.” The very One I pray to finds _me_ enjoyable?
The steady beat of a metronome sitting on the windowsill softly resonates throughout my prayer room. I often find myself captivated by its consistent rhythm. It quiets my mind, soul and spirit and ushers in a gentle peace to the place where I enter into prayer.
My bookshelves are lined with journals in every imaginable size and shape. Some are in three ring-binders, some leather bound and some covered in fancy fabric, each with a special beauty of its own. The pages are highlighted, tear-stained, scripted in longhand, scribbled in print and written in cursive. Some pages have thoughts written in the margins and other pages are empty, waiting for responses or words left unsaid. These journals are like dear, old friends ... friends who’ve kept secrets, laughed and cried with me, and believed the best even in the worst of times.
It’s not likely that you’ve ever had the need to send a telegram. But in the days before the telephone, email and text messaging, the best way to send an urgent message to someone was by telegram. So many times we approach prayer like we’re sending a telegram. We quickly shoot off a bulleted list of our needs, wants and requests to God and then go about the business of our day.
Norwegian missionary Maria Monsen had reached a point in her life where she wondered what good praying could do. She longed to see God’s river of life flood a spiritually dry China, but she didn’t see a way. Then one day she realized that the source of the mighty Yangtze River started with tiny drops of rain that came together at the top of the mountains. So, Maria sought a prayer partner who would join her in claiming the promise that “if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).
So much of our prayer life often involves asking God to mold us into the man or woman He created us to be. We want God to use us on earth to do His will as it is in heaven. There was a time in my life when I found myself wrestling from a place of doubt, insecurity, inadequacy and unworthiness. I cried out to God, “I don’t get it! I can’t see how you can use me! Father, You’re just going to have to paint a picture.”
I was sitting next to my mother’s casket, crying out to my heavenly Father to be comforted. We had prayed and prayed for her healing, yet her body had succumbed to the disease. I desperately needed to feel His peace and comfort; I needed to hear His voice.
It was the middle of the night when my phone rang. Someone was calling with a “Prayer 911.” Their family was in crisis; their situation was dire. If God didn’t move, life as they’d known it would be dramatically changed forever. Prayer was the only solution to their emergency, and they needed someone to stand with them. They asked for wisdom, strength, encouragement and a renewed faith to believe God’s Word for their situation. We prayed together, and the next day they began to experience a miraculous breakthrough.
I was seated on an airplane, wanting nothing more than to be left alone. I hid behind a book and ignored the Holy Spirit’s nudges to talk with the woman sitting next to me. Hours passed and as we taxied to the gate, we exchanged a few pleasantries. I was blindsided by this woman’s desperate need for a connection with God for her family and circumstances. I was able to listen quickly and say, “I’ll pray for you.”
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep ....” I think almost everyone prayed that prayer as a child, but as we got older, it became repetitious and lost some of the meaning it once had. Sometimes we feel that way about our prayers as adults. We’ve been praying about something for a long time and realize we’re saying the same thing over and over, but maybe without the same conviction and faith we once had.
Every fall, groups of male Alaskan bull moose gather and battle for dominance during breeding season. They literally go head-to- head, their massive antlers crushing together as they collide and attack each other. Sometimes their antlers—a moose’s only weapon—get broken in the fight. Without antlers, defeat is inevitable. In the end, the moose with the biggest and strongest antlers is the one who triumphs in battle.
I tried three times to learn how to play the piano, and each time I failed. Never in a million years could I imagine myself sitting in the first chair of an orchestra. Yet, I find myself a “pray-er” extraordinaire in the orchestra of corporate prayer. There is nothing—trust me on this—nothing more exciting than being part of corporate prayer where, as a group, you land on exactly what God wants you to pray. Just as an orchestra tunes up in order to play in perfect pitch and synchronization, corporate prayer begins with worship as we join together in perfect harmony and unity.
I was excited about my upcoming trip to Turkey. Not only would I be traveling with an incredible group of God-loving, servant-minded people, but I would also be seeing new places and experiencing a new culture. Then fear set in. Concerns about my travels, where I was going and what I would be doing began to emerge. I had to know if I was going just because I wanted to or if I was being sent by God.