On Prayer


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.

- - -

"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
Leslie Lukens Martin said...

This is great...and a topic that is hard for me to discuss because I never feel like I know "enough"...but, then again, what is "enough"? Like you said, it is so easy for prayers to be focused on what you need/want in times of challenge/stress, but I've found that I've been a lot more diligent about thanking the Lord for the good in my life since I've become a mom. I think it's because I'm still just completely baffled by the miracle that is our babe, and I know I can never thank God enough for allowing us to be his parents.

Michelle said...

This is the best response to Orlando and just the best blog post I've read in awhile. I've also been trying to be more intentional about prayer and I've also wrestled with many of the same questions. I've seen the power of prayer so clearly in my own life, and yet I still struggle to make it a priority many times.

Andrea H. said...

Thank you for these honest words! I struggle with some of the same thoughts and questions. I really love your response to why prayer is important and worthwhile - definitely touched my heart! Being intentional with prayer is something that I strive to make more of a focus. Reading this post came at the perfect time for me. Thank you so much for sharing!

Dana said...

Thank you for sharing! I have a lot to learn on this topic!

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

Amen, friend!

I feel like God started teaching me about prayer when I went to Korea 4 years ago and I'm still a work in progress. I read the best book on prayer but I forgot the name =) I'll try and look it up and send it to you.

I think sometimes prayer is a time to just fellowship with God. Admittedly, I don't always do that or view it that way.

Me and my sisters were just talking about prayer and how it is humbling because we have to ask God for help and trust Him knowing that we, in ourselves, have no power to do anything about what we are asking for. It's a process of trusting and relinquishing my so called "rights" that I think I have. =)

Lastly, have you ever prayed Bible verses or passages? Psalm 139 and Daniel 9 are two good ones that God has brought into my life lately to pray. So good!

Friar said...

Very nice. And it is difficult to go wrong when Philip Yancey is your teacher!

Veronica Lee Burns said...

Yes. So good.

Rebecca Jo said...

I love everything about this post.
& that is so true - we want things our way, but God has a plan from the beginning of time to the end. It's not always going to be easy or fun... its exactly why we need to talk to him in prayer, seek comfort from him in prayer - to make it through.
I wrote a post Monday about prayer myself - this is just the time where its all we can do.

Caitlin said...

"Prayer is not just a throwaway but a real place where we wrestle with God." -- This part really hit home. This was a beautiful post that really made me step back & question why we do pray. Loved your thoughts on this!

Audrey Louise said...

Thank you for sharing this :) It's wonderful to hear other Christian's thoughts on prayer and the world in which we live!

Kayla MKOY said...

This was just so encouraging to read, Amanda! Thank you!!!! So thankful for your boldness to talk about your faith. I couldn't agree more with this post. God is great!

Ali said...

Great post. I struggle with prayer and getting enough in. Honestly? I'm asleep halfway through my prayers every night. Maybe kneeling instead of laying in bed would help that. I also feel that I'm never very...eloquent(?) in my prayers. Which I know doesn't matter, but praying aloud with my daughter is sometimes a little humorous - "Thank you God for our friends at school and the time we get to spend with them, and...uh...yea thanks!"

Caroline @ In Due Time said...

Whoa! That quote is spot on. I love all the hope in this post and I completely agree with you. It's such an honor that he desires for us to pray and talk to him.

The Girl who Loved to Write said...

I also struggle with this. I sometimes get so frustrated, because I just want to be like, "You already know what's going to happen! Why am I even talking You about this?!" But you're right, it brings us closer to Him, and it does offer us comfort. I'm going to read that book!

The Lady Okie said...

Thanks for reading and the comment! :) I'm glad you liked it.

Brandi said...

I was in a study once where my friend talked about prayer for our husbands, and how that can change how you see them. I've forgotten about that until just now...and while that may be off topic, it is timely for me. Something I need to do right now. Thanks for the reminder.

Jenny Evans said...

I love those moments when you have a certain topic consistently put in your face and you know that God is trying to get something across to you... actually, to be honest, many times I don't actually *love* it because it's something that is personally hard for me or I'm not naturally good at. But I love that He cares enough to try to teach me, as stubborn as I can be.

Joy @ TheJoyOfHope21.blogpot.com said...

Thanks for sharing! Earlier this last week, I found myself in a deep pit and knew I needed to talk to God but it hurt so bad and crashed down so fast, I found myself unable to form thoughts and sentences so I sat, cried and prayed to God about not even knowing how to pray. Looking back a few days later, that moment of utter shattering helped me to better understand Romans 8:26-27 and be thankful for the Holy Spirit's presence and work in my life even when I didn't know how to pray. Those prayers that I couldn't utter were still heard by the Father. Pray on, my friend.

Rachel said...

Some of my favorite, most interesting, hardcore, and clearest books on prayer I've ever read are "Intercessory Prayer" and "Watchman Prayer" by Dutch Sheets. It helps that his writing isn't as dry as most theologians, but I think he has a excellent and very challenging way of describing the role of prayer. Theologically, I'm more aligned with Arminians/Methodists--which place a strong weight on the free will that God gave us, more so than the Calvinist "absolute sovereignty of God" doctrine. A difference of doctrine that has been around as long as the Protestant church has existed, and one with passionate Bible scholars on both sides. That's an interesting theological study of its own--but the result of my being on the Arminian side of that theological point is that, to a large extent, it makes it very easy to understand the need for prayer. From this perspective,not everything that happens in life is part of God's perfect plan, because of sinful man and our own free will which often likes to make wrong choices, but we can pray for His guidance and communicate through prayers that we want to live like Christ. We can tell Him that we can't handle situations in our own strength and ask for Him to help and guide us. We can pray for Him to comfort and heal and surround those we love when we don't have the power to be with them or help them ourselves. When my mom teaches on the topic of prayer, she says that prayer invites God into situations, to help and to heal. It's not that He didn't know about the situation, but if we don't pray/refuse to pray, then He hasn't been invited to guide/comfort/heal/strengthen/lead--and when He hasn't been invited, it's more likely that He'll let us try to handle things with our own free will until we realize how much we need Him.
I don't tend to have much set 'prayer times' unless I'm praying with Angel--I'm more likely to just pray randomly by myself--in the shower, while washing dishes, in the car, while mopping floors, before I get out of bed, just about whatever seems to need prayer at the moment, whatever is bothering me, or for people that I care about, or things that try to make me worry. There's certainly alot to be said for prayer closets and set prayer times and hours spent in prayer and prayer meetings, but in everyday life I'm more of just a pray randomly anywhere and all the time. I like that verse about 'pray without ceasing.' haha!

Torrie said...

I've always loved this thought on prayer:

"As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings."

Thanks for your thoughts on prayer and for being a light unto others during these times when there is great darkness. I love reading your blog because I know I will leave feeling uplifted. You're doing great things!

Joy @ TheJoyOfHope21.blogpot.com said...

Wound up here again as a link from your most recent blog. Great reminder once again of how when we are longing for connection, God is right there reaching out.