“If you could be granted one request this year that would change your life, what would it be?”

This morning, John asked me this question. I immediately knew my answer. Before Christmas, several discouraging events caused me to evaluate how long I can stay in full time ministry. After the holidays, another issue surfaced that threw off my equilibrium so much that I wondered again how long I would survive. Not long. Unless, that is, I learn to pray.

You may be surprised that I haven’t yet figured this out. Of course, I know the importance of prayer. I’ve studied it. I talk to God about it. I’ve created numerous plans to help me pray. Still, I wouldn’t call myself a pray-er. Not the kind I want to be and more importantly, need to be.

I’ve read what other people do to develop a prayer life. Most are the type who brush and floss their teeth the same time every day, too. They make plans and even follow those plans! Of course, that’s why these people are so accomplished or successful. I love those people. I need them. But I am unable to function that way. In fact, my love relationship with God didn’t get started, on my side anyway, until after I threw the plans away.

One of my friends suffered a massive heart attack this Christmas. He lived, but has to take a pill every 12 hours to stay alive. If I could take a pill to live, mine would be a prayer pill.

Why pray? If for nothing else, I need to recalibrate my heart to God’s. I have to be aligned to what the Holy One is about in this world. Simply put, I need more of God. Nothing reorients my heart towards truth and calms my anxious soul than prayer. On the flip side, nothing gets me out of my sluggish comfort zone, calling me to action and faith, like prayer.

But developing a prayer life is hard. There are times it feels as if I’m only talking to myself. I lose my train of thought. I end up planning my day or serving up a wish list as if God were Santa Claus. I get bored. I fall asleep. I get angry, as if the God of the universe should show up in rapturous glory just because I want an audience. My random, untethered prayers seem weak. “Be with Kate as she takes her exams.” “We remember Josh this week in his auditions.” These prayers feel like arrows shot in the dark without any target. And yet, if that is all I know to say, can’t God work with that, too? Of course! Look at Romans 8:26: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

On the other hand, there are times when it seems as if all the angels in heaven are present for the prayer party. There is nothing like praying with two or three like-minded people who agree in God’s name!

When we were first married, my husband asked for prayer that he would do well when he preached. I responded, “But what if God has something else in mind? Maybe preaching poorly would glorify God better?” Obviously, not the best response when someone asks for prayer. Praying that my husband would be so filled with God’s acceptance of him that he could focus on delivering God’s Word, not on his performance, would have been more appropriate and aligned with scripture.

Prayer has to be wedded to the truth about God. We don’t pray just because we want to be more peaceful or to know God’s love. We want those things, but we also want to bring our requests into line with what God is about in the world. And the only way to know that is to know scripture.

Now, my daily pill is turning into a horse pill too big to swallow. And then I hear the gentle reminder whispered in my subconscious: Jesus taught us how to pray in Mathew 6:9-14

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

“If you could be granted one request this year that would change your life, what would it be?”

My answer: I want to learn to pray.

Shari

*You might want to check out John Smed’s book, Journey in Prayer: Seven Days of Prayer with Jesus, which has been a tremendous resource in teaching me to pray.