Throughout my walk with Jesus, I have struggled with the spiritual practice of prayer. I’ve long held a love for God’s Word, devoting time, and energy to careful study, opening my Bible with enthusiasm and expectation. However, my prayer life waxes and wanes.
In the Middle
Whether I’m in the mundane middle, the grimy trench, or the sun-bathed hilltop, my tidy prayers and half-hearted appeals to the Lord fall flat in light of His holy Word. When things are ticking along in my life and there is no crisis; the bills are paid, the kids are well-behaved, my marriage is all right, my mind is at peace, prayer seems like a nice add on. It’s a beneficial practice but not central to my life. In good times my prayers are merely surface level, but when times are difficult, I simply hide from God.
There are many reasons why I’ve neglected diligent prayer, and most of them are rooted in pride and insecurity. I wonder sometimes if God is tired of hearing from me about the same struggles. I tell myself I don’t deserve good things. I try to finagle solutions in my own strength and go to God as a last resort.
I forget about the truth of Psalm 27:8: “When You said, “Seek My face [in prayer, require My presence as your greatest need],” my heart said to You, Your face, O Lord, I will seek [on the authority of Your word].” (AMP). This verse beautifully captures the relationship between our loving, sovereign Father and us-his children.
However, when I feel worn out from so many big emotions, talking to Jesus requires an effort I often don’t want to make. Even though I know He sees me for who I am (the wonderful parts and the ugly parts),it’s easier to busy myself with a long to-do list or lose myself in a TV binge than go to the Lord with my anger, fear, disappointment, frustration, or sorrow.
Intimacy with Jesus is too raw and uncomfortable. Why? I have to acknowledge and articulate those unpleasant emotions so He can do His good work in me. At times that process seems too hard and heavy, even though I know it’s worth it.
But prayer requires expectation, and despite my belief in God’s goodness, I struggle to trust Him. I reason that if I don’t expect anything, then I won’t be disappointed. The challenge is not for me to articulate my prayers better, but to have faith bold enough to ask for what I need and trust in God’s kindness and goodness. I need to change my posture to one of hope, even if it makes me feel vulnerable.
If there is any good to be found in this current season, with its unprecedented uncertainty, division, and weariness, it is that my apathy has been disrupted, forcing me to develop the practice of prayer. As I’ve looked at what the Bible says with fresh eyes and an open heart, I see God’s desire for me to be purposeful and persistent in prayer. Jesus modeled this well, setting time aside to pray when He went away by Himself during His ministry, as He taught in Matthew 6:6.
But praying like that? It requires discipline, to take my needs to the Lord even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it.
Scripture is teeming with people who prayed specific prayers with the expectation their prayers would be heard and God would act. Abraham interceded for the righteous in Sodom, imploring the Lord to be merciful. (Genesis 16:33) Moses prayed that Israel would have a capable new leader after his death. (Numbers 27:12-22) David sought the Lord’s forgiveness and help. (Psalm 51) Hannah petitioned the Lord for a son. (1 Samuel 1:9-11) The early church prayed for boldness and power. (Acts 4:23-31)
Whatever the reason God’s people prayed, their prayers were sincere and addressed a specific need. As the saying goes, “If we do not know what we are asking for, how will we know when our prayer is answered?”
I’m learning that prayer is more than mindless rambling and recitation; it requires our whole mind and heart to be engaged. We are to approach God in wonder, thanksgiving, repentance, and petition. When we trust in the character of God, we will not hesitate to persist in seeking Him. We will be ever on our knees, enjoying His presence, seeking His wisdom, grace, provision, healing, and peace.
When I look at Psalm 27 again, I see how David cries out to God, expressing both his distress and confidence in the Lord. Verse 8 calls attention to the heart of God; He desires us to rely completely on Him and take Him at His Word. There is an attitude of humility and trust in David’s response to God’s invitation that I desire to emulate.
Little by Little
Little by little, I am unraveling the lies I’ve listened to about God’s heart and character and begun accepting the Truth-that He wants us to persist in presenting our needs to Him (Matthew 7:6-8); that He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but satisfies our desires with good things (Psalm 103); that He wants to be our strength (Ephesians 6:9-11).
Of course, understanding these truths and walking them out are two different things. Some days I’d rather not pray; it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill. I forget to “require His presence as my greatest need” and I allow myself to wallow in anger or disappointment or defeat.
But whenever I’ve shown up in God’s presence, He has met me there. I have seen answers to prayer in areas of my life that I have been trying to fix myself for years.
When I give up my will, when I’m vulnerable and ask for what I need, I receive abundant strength and peace that goes beyond understanding. When I surrender my relationships with others to Him, He changes hearts and orchestrates opportunities for restoration and redemption.
Little by little I am learning I can pray with confidence because God is faithful. The struggle is real but oh so worth it.
Bethney Stanberry-Jacob Salt+Clay Contributor