As Christian women, it is quite natural that questions arise in our hearts and minds concerning our prayer life. Like the disciples, we want to ask Jesus “teach me to pray.” We wonder what “pray without ceasing” could look like, whether we are honoring God, and whether we should find some new method.
Jesus’ disciples were still learning how to pray; Jesus was patient in instructing them. This lets us know that our desire to learn more about prayer is healthy, and He delights to teach us as well. Today we will look at how abiding in Christ can help us find answers to these questions.
Two particular passages from the Gospel of John speak to our heart’s desire to learn more about prayer:
John 8:31-32 “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
John 15:5-8 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather then, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”
We continue in His word.
As we continue, His word finds a place in us. We read, we muse upon His word, we remember it and believe it, and as Paul told the Thessalonians, His word works powerfully in us (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13). In us, in our inner self. This means we should notice the impact of abiding in His word in our thought life, in our desires, in our conscience. As we patiently continue, His truth sets us free from focusing too much on self. His truth will push out fears and doubts that would otherwise hold us back from prayer…
My husband and I are retired, so over the past few months of self-quarantining, we have received offers for various types of help. Neighbors called to see if we needed anything done around the house. Friends’ children who live near us offered to do shopping. Our own children checked in on us regularly to see how we were doing, sometimes leaving suggestions for good movies or TV shows to watch to pass the time.
Where Daniel Was Planted
Thankful as we are for all this attention, it confirms that we were now considered among the “old-and- at-risk” population. One day I was listening to a podcast series about Daniel and it struck me anew that Daniel was in my same age category when he was thrown into the lion’s den. Wow! At the same age that I am stuck in my house watching TV reruns, Daniel was standing up for his convictions by publicly praying to the one true God. He refused to compromise his spiritual life after colleagues unfairly duped king Darius into issuing his proclamation prohibiting worship of all gods except himself. Daniel knew how to respond to unfair treatment. He thanked God despite the injustice.
I went back and studied Daniel with a new perspective. Daniel flourished where he was planted. God placed him in Babylon as a young man where he lived with determination not to conform to the ways of the world, but obeying God, trusting Him, and purposing his heart to turn from sin. The entire book of Daniel confirms the blessings of knowing God. Daniel was a man of prayer, regular and disciplined in his worship habits. He knew that God hears and honors the prayers of the faithful. Daniel trusted God’s Word to the end of his life and as a prophet, God allowed him to interpret dreams for the Babylonian kings.
Bearing Fruit Where We Are Planted
This spurred my thinking. I have been planted in a house without visitors. I am healthy (though admittedly slowing down), experienced in life, willing to work, but seemingly now without much purpose. Surely God has some unique work for those of us stuck at home…
“Get rooted.” It’s a quiet whisper the Holy Spirit impresses upon my heart when my mind starts to spiral or I’m tempted to react irritability or angrily to my outward circumstances, namely my kids. I’m thankful for this kind, yet bold reminder that stems from Isaiah 26:3 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts you.”
I’ve ruminated on the gospel of Mark quite a bit lately. A major theme I’ve noticed is the crowd that follows Jesus, literally, everywhere, day and night, constantly pressing in with their needs. I’ve noticed that Jesus responds quite differently than I tend to – He has pity, He shows compassion, and mostly, He stays at peace.
Even their constant need, and I mean constant need (check out Mark chapter 1), doesn’t disturb His inner peace. It doesn’t disturb Him abiding in the Father’s love. Anybody else have a posse of little kids? You can quickly relate to the constant following, the never-ending need, and even franticness when they think the need will not be met.
And yet, Jesus.
Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus was not only fully God, but also fully man. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was made like us, in every respect:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16; also see Hebrews 1:10-18)….
The florist shop in my hometown has been there for decades, an establishment owned by a woman who has a real gift for flower arranging. She also quietly practices her faith using her floral business as a platform to inform her customers of prayer needs for those in our community. Our florist knows first-hand the significant events in many of the locals’ lives. She has prepared flowers for births, proms, weddings, get-well wishes, and funerals, so she has a unique perspective into the major events in the lives of her customers.
Next to the cash register in her shop hangs a small blackboard with two columns: one column for first names, and a second column for a one-or two-word prayer request. On a weekly basis, she types up these prayer requests and has them available for anyone who wants to take the list home. The lists are gone by the end of the week.
These prayer requests have weighed heavily on my heart as I consider the needs of my neighbors: a diagnosis of cancer, a troubled marriage, financial problems, a stillborn child. As astounding to me as the tremendous needs are in my own neighborhood, it is even more astounding that every week random neighbors who enter the florist shop take the list home as a prompt to pray for their neighbors. Many, maybe even most, don’t know the people they are praying for personally. There is no specific church affiliation, no details of the prayer request, no last name of the person who needs prayer, just a quiet prompt for those willing to pray for a neighbor in secret.
Jesus instructed His disciples about praying in secret. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:5-6) Who knows the effects these prayers in secret have had on those in need!…
For many of our youngsters this graduation season, masks and sanitizer are replacing caps and gowns; e-certificates will arrive online instead of sheepskin diplomas. This cohort of youth make up the “coronials,” who are stepping forth into a future that seems even more uncertain than in other years.
How to walk with them as they pass this unique milestone? Here are some suggestions, with prayers to offer on behalf of our children, nieces and nephews, students or others who are graduating from high school or college.
1. Honor their work, not their honors. Without the trappings of prom, commencement, and senior hoopla, some kids will feel deprived. Some were preparing for final performances, tournaments, recitals, capstone projects, or internships that have evaporated. Maybe there will be a belated official celebration rather than one in May, but it probably won’t feel like what was once anticipated.
They may be questioning the relevance of their achievements to this new landscape. Commend them on the discipline and skills they developed, which in God’s timing will benefit them beyond the short-term goal they were focused on. Studies have shown that praise is more encouraging when it is accompanied by a touch, and when it is specific—so (if you are in their household), give them a pat on the back for the laborious research they did on their term paper, or how they didn’t give up on basketball in sophomore year. That will be more effective than generalities like, “You always do whatever you set your mind to,” or “You’re so smart; you’ll be fine.”
Of course, a special home-centered celebration may be more important than in other years. Solicit e-congratulations from relatives, your pastor, even your mayor and Congress member. Or how about decorating the family car with congratulatory washable graffiti, or making a scrapbook of school memorabilia? Maybe planting a tree in honor of the graduate would be meaningful for him or her.
Lord of all times and seasons, please establish the works of these youngsters’ hands. Use this unexpected time to bring forth more creativity and resilience in their character. Holy Spirit, you so often bring joy and unity: help me to honor our graduates in memorable ways….
What do your daily prayers look like? When I consider my own prayers, I often find myself praying through a list of things I need help with or concerns I have for loved ones and friends. More often than not, my prayers focus on the temporal rather than the eternal, the physical rather than the spiritual. While such prayers are not wrong—for Jesus instructed us to pray for our daily bread—they are missing something. They are near-sighted.
Whenever I read Paul’s prayers in the Bible, I see what’s lacking in my own. Paul prays big prayers—prayers which stretch beyond the here and now and into eternity. The prayers he shares in his letters focus on the spiritual health of the church and the growth and spread of the gospel. Prayers such as this one to the church at Colossae: “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).
Jonathan Edwards once noted, “…if we look through the whole Bible, and observe all the examples of prayer that we find there recorded, we shall not find so many prayers for any other mercy, as for the deliverance, restoration, and prosperity of the church, and the advancement of God’s glory and kingdom of grace in the world.” If the Bible places such an emphasis on these prayers, should not our prayers be the same?
As believers, united in Christ by faith and adopted into his family, we pray to the same Father in heaven. Imagine what might happen if we all came to the throne of grace and asked the Lord to strengthen his church? What if we prayed for the leadership of our churches each day? What if we asked for opportunities to shine a corporate light in our dark communities? What if we prayed for greater unity, a unity that shows the world who Christ is and what he has done (John 17:23)?
To that end, here is a prayer for the church…
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14
There’s a lot of waiting that goes on in our house.
One teenager waits to see if he’ll be accepted into a technical program that will greatly alter his remaining high school years and give him practical skills and knowledge that he feels are relevant to his life now and in the future.
Another teenager waits to see if she’ll get a resident tutoring position at college that will greatly affect her financial situation, her commitment to living on campus, and future professional and academic possibilities.
My advice to both of them is about the same: Do what you can to achieve this goal, don’t miss any deadlines, and then wait patiently. And remember that no matter what the result, God knows what’s best for you. Even if the outcome isn’t what you would have wanted right now, it’s amazing how God works behind the scenes in our lives and we sometimes realize only years later that he did, in fact, work everything for our good.
They nod and say “I know.” I believe they really do know. I think they understand (as much as any of us can understand) that sometimes getting our heart’s desire at any given moment isn’t always what’s best for us in the long term, and often it’s only God who can see that distinction.
But the teenagers aren’t the only ones who are waiting. I’ve been waiting, too. I’ve had some healthcare decisions to make that were unexpected and emotionally difficult. My doctor subtly encouraged a certain decision but ultimately left it up to me. I struggled and prayed and yes, Googled. Through all of this, I was leaning a certain way (not my doctor’s way), but what I was really doing was waiting. Not for the “right” decision to be revealed to me, not for an expert to come along and tell me what to do, not even for a friend to step in and give me decision-making advice or wisdom.
What I was waiting for—what I was praying for—was peace…
I had a Cabbage Patch doll when I was young, and it was by far my favorite toy. From the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, I kept a routine of caring for this doll. During Sunday school one week, we learned about Hannah in the Bible, and I remember our teacher explaining that God heard Hannah’s prayer for a child, and God answered her prayer. I’m sure she further expounded, but what I walked away believing was, If God hears me, He will say ‘yes.’
So, that night I put my Cabbage Patch to bed and prayed that God would make her real the next morning. I went to bed with tremendous anticipation as to what the doll was going to be like as a real baby. When I woke and discovered the same old stuffed doll, I was incredibly disappointed, and wondered if God didn’t hear me.
I decided to pray again that evening. Louder.
While my understanding of the ways in which God answers the prayers of His children has grown (thankfully), the difficulty in accepting God’s ‘no’ has, in many ways, remained the same. I felt a new depth of pain as a young woman when God answered ‘no’ to my pleading to keep my father alive after he was diagnosed with cancer. I felt a wave of confusion after praying persistently that the lump found on my thirty-year-old sister would not be cancer, and God said, ‘No.’ And I felt tremendous grief when God said ‘no’ to the prayer that the strange side-affects my mom was experiencing would be nothing of significance.
When God Says ‘No,’ He Understands Our Grief
Grief and confusion are natural reactions to God saying ‘no’ to our wants. These emotions are not wrong, but as believers, we should grieve knowing that we are not relenting our desires to an emotionless God who cannot identify with our pain. The incarnation is profound precisely because it reminds us that when God came into this world, he entered the human experience and knew sadness, death, and suffering.
God understands our grief.
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is John 11. Mary’s brother, Lazarus, was deathly ill and eventually died. Before Jesus raised him to life again, He visited the family and saw Mary weep over the loss of her brother. Verse 33 says that Jesus was “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” And then he wept. He didn’t just shed a few tears; he didn’t tell them to put smiles on their faces because Lazarus was about to be raised. No. Jesus wept. He was grieved by a world tainted with sin. When God says ‘no,’ trust that His gentle hand is holding you fast through the waves of the unknown, and he is bottling up every tear with unconditional love…