Psalm 23 reminds us of who God is. So when we come to Him in prayer, we can thank Him for taking care of us…leading and guiding us, directing us, providing for our needs, protecting us, His presence with us.
We can have confidence in our everyday life with God when it sinks in that He really is for us. No matter what our circumstances may be…no matter what our enemies may say…God is greater. He is greater than anyone or anything. So if we really believe that…if we really believe that God is greater, if we believe that He is committed to our good, if we believe that He is pursuing us and that He is fierce in His love for us…like Paul says in Romans 8…that nothing can separate us from His love, we too can face the darkest valleys with unflinching courage knowing that our Shepherd is there with us. In fact He’s gone before us and is showing us the way if we will only follow… And if God is for us, who or what can stand against us? That is our confidence in prayer.
When I was a new believer, I didn’t really know how to pray or what to pray for. In fact, I struggled with prayer for years…because I didn’t know what to say and my prayers always seemed to be the same. I figured that until I had something new to tell God or something new to ask from Him, we were good. I wouldn’t have said it out loud, but my attitude toward God in prayer was I ask and You give. I should apologize when I mess up, but I mess up a lot…and let’s be honest, most of my mess ups are the same. That way of thinking crippled my prayer life for years.
It really wasn’t until I graduated from seminary and landed my first job in ministry that I felt like I learned to pray. I was preparing to teach a class on the spiritual life, and I realized that I had no idea what I would say about it. I was spending time in the Word. I was spending time with other believers. But I wasn’t really spending time in prayer, and I felt kind of far from God. And so I went on a quest to find out what the spiritual life, what the abundant life, was all about. Prayer was a huge part of that.
The more I read about prayer and intentionally began to practice praying, the more I enjoyed it. And the more easily it came. I started with praying Scripture. I would use the language that the Bible used when I talked to God. I asked Him for the things that the Bible said He wanted for me…to be more like Jesus. I began to pray the Bible for my family and friends. And I freed myself up from whatever preconceived expectations I might have had about what prayer was supposed to be.
One of the books that I read on prayer was by a monk named Brother Lawerence called Practicing the Presence of God. What a great book! His goal was to figure out how to pray without ceasing. If the Bible calls us to that, surely there must be a way. Anyway, that book helped me see that prayer can happen at anytime…when I’m walking in the mornings (because the gym’s closed), when I’m driving my car (eyes open please!), when sitting in my office or wherever I am. I am always in God’s presence. Prayer reminds me of that. It also redeems the mundane moments in my life. I like what a guy named William Law said about it…“He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.” (William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection, London: W. Baynes, 1807, p. 290)
Someone asked me, is prayer for us or for God? What an interesting question, isn’t it? When you have a conversation with your spouse or your kids, with your parents, or friends, or co-workers, or neighbor…face-to-face, on the phone, by text, or even by zoom…who is the conversation for? When we pray, we share our hopes and dreams, our fears and concerns, our failures…our lives with our Father who cares about all of those things, our Shepherd who walks with us, leading and guiding us through both the good and bad times, if we will let Him. It’s not that He needs us to tell Him those things…He already knows, but we need to tell Him.
But what if prayer doesn’t work? Still sick. Still in pain. Loved one still hasn’t accepted Jesus. Another interesting question. God is not a DVM…Divine Vending Machine. He’s a Person. Better yet He’s our Father. We won’t always know the why of the things that happen to us…we live in a fallen world where my sin and/or the sin of others and/or the cosmic effects of the fall can combine to create some pretty nasty circumstances…but if we believe that the LORD is our Shepherd…then we know that He is leading us through the darkest valleys, never leaving us alone, but seeing us through to green pastures and quiet waters. And as Paul says in Romans 8, somehow and in someway He’s working it together for our good.
Another interesting question that I was asked, “Does it matter what I ask God for? Isn’t He going to do what He wants anyway?” What I appreciate about all of these questions is that they’re the same questions I’ve asked at some point on my spiritual journey. I do think the things we ask God for are important, but primarily for this reason…they reveal where we are with Him, where we are on our spiritual journey. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. He wants to transform us to live and love like Jesus. The more we grow spiritually, the more we will want the same things He does. The details of our circumstances begin to become less important…it’s how can I best represent Jesus in this particular circumstance. That takes time and consistent time spent in prayer just talking to your Father. Both that and time spent in His Word…
Two last words…first, while personal time in prayer is super important, pro tip…time in prayer with other believers leads to even greater gains. It’s in prayer that we can lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens, rejoice and weep together…share our hopes and dreams, doubts and fears with each other. A community group or small group is a great avenue for that.
Second, for you husbands and fathers, this is another great way to lead your families. Maybe share prayer requests/concerns/praises at the dinner table. Spend some time praying for each other. Doesn’t have to be long. Find time to pray with your wife. Fiercely pursue and protect the oneness that God calls you to as a couple.
(A couple of resources that you might find helpful…ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication), prayer guides on YouVersion/bible.com, Ken Boa’s Handbook to Prayer (praying scripture), Psalms as prayers.)
This post is based on a sermon from our UN/Stuck: A Season for Discipleship series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Twitter: @ccclancaster