For the past few months, God has been teaching me about prayer.
I'll be honest, it always sounds kind of odd to me when someone says they feel like God is teaching them such and such. I mean, is he talking to you? Did you get a postcard in the mail?
But a few months ago I felt an urge to learn more about prayer, and a series of things happened where the topic of prayer was pushed right in front of my face, from sermons at church to podcasts I listen to while I run to lessons in the Tuesday night Bible study I'm in. I have also been reading a book that my dad let me borrow called Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancy.
As a Christian, I know that the Bible calls us to pray. But why? If God knows everything and has an ordained plan for the world (which I believe he does), then what is the point of praying?
In the wake of tragedies such as the recent shooting in Orlando, I see social media flooded with mentions of prayer. Pray for Orlando. Pray for the families. Pray for our country.
I always find it interesting how some people can want little to do with God or church or prayer until something bad happens. Admittedly in my own life, it's easy to forget to pray when things are going well, but when someone I love is sick or I am feeling stressed out, I find comfort in prayer.
And yet, there are times when I can't help feeling like prayer is a waste of time. After all, there are dishes to clean and laundry to fold and a baby to feed. When I'm praying, I'm not doing anything. I can say I'm praying for Orlando, but what difference is that making?
Over the past few months, I have become convinced that prayer is important and certainly not a waste of time. Of course, there is no way I can write out all my thoughts on the topic in one blog post, and I would never attempt to assume I have all the answers. But I have been wanting to share with you some of the things I've been learning, and now seemed like a good time.
If nothing else, we should pray because Jesus did. The Bible is littered with the prayers of Jesus, and he even spent time explaining how to pray to his disciples, so we have to believe that prayer is something we should do to. I think it's also important to keep in mind is that prayer is not just a catch phrase or a nice hashtag. If I tell someone I am praying for them, I need to actually pray for them. I try to be very careful about saying I am praying about this or for that unless I intend on actually doing it.
Philip Yancy wrote this in his book: "For most of us, prayer serves as a resource to help in a time of testing or conflict. For Jesus, it was the battle itself." Then, Yancy quotes from another source, saying: Where was it that Jesus sweat great drops of blood? Not in Pilate's Hall, not on his way to Golgotha. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he 'offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could have saved him from death' (Hebrews 5:7). Had I been there and witnessed that struggle, I would have worried about the future. 'If he is so broken up when all he is doing is praying,' I might have said, 'what will he do when he faces a real crisis? Why can't he approach this ordeal with the calm confidence of his three sleeping friends?' Yet, when the test came, Jesus walked to the cross with courage, and his three friends fell apart and fell away."
Prayer is not just a throwaway but a real place where we wrestle with God. The world is beautiful, but it is fallen. Bad things happen that we can't expect or explain, and trials come that we wish we didn't have to walk through. I find comfort in our ability to come to God with our fear, anger, and despair and talk to him about it. He knows everything we think, so we don't have to hide or pretend or worry about offending him. In a world where we are all so afraid to offend, this is rather freeing.
Here's Philip Yancy again: "What is God doing in the world? The answer is another question: What are God's people doing? Those we minister to, Christ ministers to. Those we forgive, Christ forgives. And more to the point, those we pray for, Christ prays for."
Prayer is an action in itself, but we should be careful that it is not a substitute for physical action. I believe that we should pray and we should look to find ways to help in a tangible sense. It's not one or the other. Jesus himself prayed and healed the sick, the blind, the deaf. Paul prayed for the churches but also visited them or wrote letters. I admit that there is often more I could do to find ways to help.
I don't understand how it works, and I won't this side of heaven, but I believe that when we pray for others, they are strengthened and comforted. I have started being more intentional about praying for Christians around the world, praying for my pastor, and praying for those who are hurting. And as I pray, I also need to be aware of ways I can offer physical help.
There is so much more I'm processing about prayer and so much more I'm learning. I am practicing how to pray and trying to be intentional about carving out time for it. I still have so many questions, but I am encouraged by what the Lord has been teaching me so far.
I was listening to a sermon on podcast while out on a run a few weeks ago, and the pastor said something that I can't stop thinking about (my paraphrase): If we knew everything God knew about his plan laid out since the beginning of time, about how all the pieces fit together and how the path twists and turns, we would answer all of our prayers the exact same way he does.
In case you find yourself today wanting to pray about the recent tragedy in Orlando but not sure how, you might find words here: A Prayer for When You Don't Know What to Say.
And I want you to know that I do pray for you, the readers of this blog. My hope is that you are strengthened and comforted today.
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"In short, prayer invites God into my world and ushers me into God's. Jesus himself, who spent many hours in solitary prayer, invariably returned to a busy world of weddings, dinners, and crowds of sick and needy people. He rejected Peter's suggestion to build a tent on a mountaintop and returned instead to the masses below. Following that pattern, I look for ways to bring the two worlds together, God's and mine, to let them become one." - Philip Yancy, Prayer
Related: Verses for Peace and Joy
Related: Verses for Peace and Joy