It’s so tempting to dismiss prayer as unnecessary because we think it’s silly to tell God what He already knows. And if that’s all prayer is, it’d be silly indeed.
It would also seem senseless to pray if we thought God didn’t hear us or wasn’t moved by our prayers. In fact, it would seem futile.
But prayer is so much more than telling God things He knows, so much more than expecting God to do what we want. So as we talk one more time on the topic of Why Pray?, let’s look for the deeper truths of why we pray.
Last time together as we explored this question of why we should pray, we focused a lot on our own need to communicate and deepen our relationship with God. Even the first post on Why Pray? drove down into the bedrock of looking at Jesus and what He models for us.
But do you feel like there’s more? Maybe we’re just laying a really good WHY foundation? Maybe there’s more power behind prayer, and THAT is why we should be praying?
There must be something inside me that thinks so because for years I’ve found myself exploring prayer and trying to be more intentional in my own prayer practices…while avoiding becoming legalistic or “for show.” And, well, to be honest…trying not to make it about me.
Maybe that’s why J.D. Walt’s prayer series on The Daily Text has grabbed hold of me so strongly. Many of his posts on prayer, especially the early ones that looked to the Old Testament, challenged and enlightened me. So, I thought I’d wrap-up this mini-series on Why Pray? with some reflections on what he had to say.
If you can remember waaaaay back to the first two posts on What Is Prayer?, I tried to explain J.D.’s thoughts that:
a) God prays — In fact, the phrase “Let there be” (from Genesis 1) is the first prayer of the Bible. God spoke, and the world came to be. Just as at Creation, today His sacred speech brings forth light and life. So… as we pray, we might want to look at prayer as less pleading and more calling forth. Because…
b) Prayer is the pathway leading us into the work God is already doing. Prayer allows us to tap into the power and plan and purpose of God because He is already at work!!
Knowing that we can pray as God speaks, that we can speak light and life into the world, helps us see why we should pray:
“The world around us desperately needs people with the audacity to speak like God speaks; to speak words in the power of the Spirit into the formless, empty, dark, and deep situations. The world needs the followers of Jesus to become schooled and skilled with the creative speech of prayer.” (Daily Text, May 15, 2018)
For me, J.D. is providing us a HUGE reason as to why we should be praying.
God’s already doing it; He’s already at work. AND, He invites us in to join Him in that work because it makes a difference in the world.
Do you have “the audacity to speak like God speaks?” “To speak words in the power of the Spirit into the formless, empty, dark, and deep situations?”
What about that co-worker who just lost a family member? What words of life can you pray for her, on her behalf?
What about the friend whose son just got arrested….again? What words of light can you pray into his darkness?
Or, how about the neighbor whose husband just left her for another woman? What words of hope can you pray into her despair?
You don’t have to have fancy words. You don’t have to have the “right” words. You just need to look to the Holy Spirit for power and direction…and courage. You’ll be amazed at the light and life that starts to bloom around you as you offer to pray with and for people in this “calling forth” sort of way.
I don’t think I’ve told you before about a dear co-worker (though co-laborer would be more appropriate). Marvin was a retired pastor who officed next door to me for few years. He was a most exuberant, joy-filled person, despite the hard things life had brought his way. And if there’s one word to describe the man, it’s ENCOURAGER.
I was pretty new in ministry and struggling to keep up with the demands. He consistently would stick his head in my door as he’d be leaving for the day and tell me to GO HOME. I’d smile and know he was right.
Whether he realized it or not, he was always modeling to me what ministry should look like. Even though it was his “job” to care for our congregation, I’m pretty sure he would have cared for them in the same ways I witnessed even if his job title had been something like “Director of Adult Discipleship.”
And I started to take notice.
I began noticing how kindly and lovingly he spoke with people in his office. And how he’d close the door so he could enter into the mess of their lives with them and pray with them.
One day it dawned on me that he wasn’t speaking with a person in his office but on the phone. His loud voice boomed into the hallway for anyone to hear…when it struck me. He was PRAYING with that person on the phone.
And once I noticed this habit of his, of praying with people he spoke to on the phone, I began realizing a few things — He did this consistently. He did it without hesitation and without apology. He’d just ASK, “can I pray for you?” then launch into a heartfelt yet un-fancy prayer — this was a guy who prayed just like he talked. And the prayers were not long. He just got to the point, speaking to God on this person’s behalf.
I was being taught what it looks like to pray for and with people. And now, any time I feel any kind of Holy Spirit prompting to pray for someone — whether they are standing right in front of me or are on the phone or even in a text conversation — I’ll pray.
I still get nervous — I think mostly because I care way too much about what other people think. But once I start praying, the Holy Spirit really does take over. And I can’t remember one time someone saying to me, “What the heck, Shelley? Why did you just pray for me?” or “That wasn’t the right prayer — I don’t know what you were thinking.”
In fact the opposite couldn’t be more true. People respond with a humility and an appreciation that runs so deep that I end up humbled and amazed by the whole experience. AND, it’s very obvious that the prayer mattered deeply to that person.
In case you’re wondering if God is moved by your prayers into any sort of action, try praying for someone like this. You’ll be astonished!
And don’t forget to look to the Bible for assurances, too. Abraham prayed a lot, and God always responded (maybe not in the way or the timing Abraham expected…but God always responded). Moses prayed too — in fact, on more than one occasion, he interceded on behalf of the Israelites when God was quite “done” with them, and God was moved to compassion because of Moses’ prayers.
J.D. suggests that maybe it isn’t the words of the prayers so much as the LOVE BEHIND THE PRAYERS that moves God. He warns us that to expect our prayers/words/thoughts to determine what God should do is not only unhealthy, but unholy. J.D. used the phrase “gateway to idolatry” to describe such expectations of prayer (Daily Text, May 18, 2018). He goes on to say,
“God is not moved by prayer but by love. In fact, prayer is the great school of love, where we experience the movements of the Gospel — from God to self, from self to God, and with God to others.” (Daily Text, May 18, 2018)
Don’t hear J.D. say that prayer doesn’t matter. I hear him saying that it’s the love we have for people that leads us to pray for them, and it’s that very love that touches and moves God.
He goes on to say,
“Because to pray is to love, prayer means entering into and even embracing the chaos. While we might say prayers about a given chaotic situation, we are only truly praying to the extent that we are willing to claim the chaos. This is why prayer is a costly thing.” (Daily Text, May 18, 2018)
I’d never thought of prayer as a costly thing, but now that I think of it that way, maybe that’s why I hesitate to ask someone if they want me to pray for them. I am putting myself out there, setting myself up for their judgment, their shock, their rejection.
But when I’ve listened to and followed those Holy Spirit promptings, I have never once encountered that reaction. Not once.
What else makes prayer costly? Time? Effort? Energy? Emotion?
The answer in my experience, is yes, yes, yes, and yes. J.D. must agree —
“To tell another person, ‘I’ll be praying for you,’ is a serious thing. It is not sitting passively and sympathetically on the outside, speaking words to God on their behalf. Rather, it means something more like, ‘I will stand with Jesus for you in the midst of the chaos.’ Real praying is not human inspired sympathy but Spirit empowered empathy.” (Daily Text, May 18, 2018)
Because it really does matter. It matters to our spiritual walk. It matters to a hurting world that so desperately needs light and life. It matters to God — or He wouldn’t invite us into this divine work of His, and He certainly wouldn’t empower us with words and empathy if it wasn’t making a difference.
And here’s the craziest thing of all — when life is crazy, full of chaos and darkness, and we turn to God with our hearts and words, guess what happens to us? Our focus shifts.
We turn our eyes from the chaos to the One who brings order.
Instead of being tossed by the waves of the storm, our faith finds the Sustainer.
Rather than staying in and stewing on all that is wrong in the world, we look to the One who can shed light and hope and life into all the dark places.
I’ll end this Why Pray? segment with a quote from C.S. Lewis that I think sums up this whole series on prayer so well —
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. (C.S. Lewis)
Embracing the chaos,