by Joanie Butman
Recently, a friend was organizing a local group to participate in the 64th National Day of Prayer on May 7th. She asked if I would be willing to be a speaker. I literally laughed out loud. “Are you kidding? Reverence isn’t my specialty, and my prayer life couldn’t inspire a toddler.” I went on to explain how I resigned from Bible study leadership because I kept nodding off during prayer time. Half joking, I suggested maybe doing a light-hearted introduction. Much to my dismay, she took me up on the offer. Now I had to come up with a speech on a topic on which I feel woefully inadequate. At least I did until I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller where he reminded me that dozing off during prayer wasn’t a unique issue. I will recap:
Keller discussed the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was arrested. Jesus explains to His disciples that this is the hour of His greatest need. He has never needed friends like He needs them right now. He asks, “Please just stay awake with me and pray with me?” He then goes to pray and comes back to find them all asleep. Jesus responds, “The spirit is willing; but the flesh is weak,” which Keller translated to a loving “I know you meant well.”
For someone with a propensity toward dozing off, I find great comfort in Keller’s translation. I don’t think Jesus cares how or where we pray. It doesn’t have to be eloquent – just heartfelt. It’s your intention and motivation that He’s interested in, not necessarily the execution. How we pray is as personal as our relationship with Christ and can’t be dictated by any person, group, or ideology.
Simply put, Jesus wants us in prayer constantly because He wants to be an intimate part of our lives. He wants us to offer our joys, sorrows, fears and anxieties to Him – not necessarily so that He can eliminate them, but so He can share them. He is always patiently waiting to help us carry the load and remind us that He is with us by filling us with His peace. Unfortunately, you can’t store up this kind of peace, which is exactly why we need to continually return to the source.
I will leave it to the pundits to discuss the theology of prayer. I don’t know HOW it works, and frankly, I don’t need to know. I pray because it keeps me connected to God and to others. How He chooses to use those prayers is up to Him, but I’m certain He uses whatever prayers we offer – even those short arrow prayers we shoot up toward Heaven as we go about our day.
That said, I will share a number of convictions I’ve developed over the years regarding prayer.
- “Prayer is not a way for us to control God; it is a way for us to put ourselves under His control.”*
- Prayer opens our hearts to His presence and our minds to His thoughts.
- Prayer changes us, NOT Him.
- Prayer gives God the opportunity to align what we want with what we need.
There are days when I stumble over my prayers, fearful that they might actually be answered. You see, my requests vacillate minute to minute, which is why I don’t put much stock in them. For example, praying for Mr. Right to pop the question when God knew full well he was Mr. Wrong, or praying for lightening to strike Mr. Wrong when it didn’t work out. When it comes to prayers, I’m what some might call an askhole - someone who constantly asks for guidance, yet does exactly the opposite of what she’s told.
Historically, I’ve never known what was best for me at any given moment, and God has shown His divine mercy by not answering many of my pleas in the manner that I’ve requested. There is a life-long string of evidence indicating that I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. I can almost guarantee that if I am begging for something, it’s probably not what God has in mind. Consequently, I have learned to relinquish my own desires and pray, “Thy will be done. Please help me recognize it, accept it, stop worrying about, and get out of your way.” When in doubt, the shortest, most efficient prayer I use is a fervent “HELP!”
The true value of prayer is that it is an expression of our love for God and each other, and it is this love that comforts us and pleases God. God doesn’t instruct us to pray always because He needs to be reminded of our needs. It’s because we need to be reminded of His presence and sovereignty; which, in turn, fills us with His comfort and peace.
My favorite time to pray is first thing in the morning because frankly, it’s easy to be a Christian while I’m sleeping. It’s the moment I wake up that I need the most help. Also, by doing my daily devotions in the morning I avoid the issue of drowsiness. It is a routine I rarely miss and sets the tone for my day. If I can offer any worthwhile advice, it’s to choose a routine that works best for you. There’s no prayer police monitoring your efforts.
Ironically, after spending much thought about what I could possibly say to a group gathered for a National Day of Prayer, I received an email this week cancelling the event, which left me sharing my thoughts with you instead. I can’t say I was disappointed. In fact, I was downright joyful. I’m still on the hook for next year – perhaps that will give me time to find someone more qualified. Any volunteers?
Lastly, there are times in life when our choices may be limited or even non-existent, but you can always choose prayer.
*Holy Bible, New International Version, Page 1806.