Posts

Praying--For-whose-ears

Praying: For whose ears?

Photo by Terry Bidgood

Palms sweaty, heart racing, mind on overdrive.

No, it’s not nervousness over an impending exam or presentation, but, well . . . praying with others.

Even though I grew up in a “culturally Christian” family, I had never really prayed with others before. The closest I had come to it was muttering a quick prayer before the occasional celebratory family meal to give thanks for the food.

But for the most part, I saw prayer as a one-on-one, personal conversation between me and my Father—my whispered words for His ears alone. So, after I truly accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and joined a small family church where praying with those around us was a common practice, I was both intrigued and terrified.

I had never heard people talking to God out loud before, and doing so felt like I was spying on a secret conversation. While I was comfortable observing them, I would clam up whenever it was my turn.

I remember one occasion in particular: I was painfully stuttering through a prayer with two older people I’d just been acquainted with, my eyes scrunched up in concentration and cheeks warm. I felt stupid for not knowing how to pray, and mortified at how stilted my prayer was compared to theirs; my words sounded thick and clunky coming out of my mouth.

Over time, as I listened to the prayers of others, I couldn’t help but notice how they prayed. Some stammered, generously sprinkling filler words like “um” and “like” throughout their prayers; others were capable of reciting concise summaries of sermons we’d just heard in a perfectly packaged prayer. Some prayed like a bullet train, spurting out clipped words in a single breath, while others meandered wherever their thoughts took them. Some prayed with boredom tinging their voices, others prayed with emotion quivering at the back of their throats.

I marveled at my best friend’s eloquent prayers, richly adorned with descriptive language and generously furnished with Bible verses. I envied her easy confidence and poignant words, which felt like a much more pleasing prayer to the Lord’s ears than my own—or so I imagined.

As I listened to them, I began to pick up expressions and phrases to incorporate in my own articulated prayers, as if collecting shiny baubles to deck my petitions to God with. Without knowing it, I became overly conscious of what I sounded like in the ears of others—and even critical and condescending as I began to judge other people’s prayers against my own.

One Sunday, I had the opportunity to pray with a sister a couple of years younger than me. She was a small, unassuming, and quiet girl whom I hardly knew. Even though she came from a Mandarin-speaking background and wasn’t fluent in English, her prayer was beautiful. She prayed to the Lord earnestly and simply, with short sentences, in a tone of complete reverence and humility. And even though she spoke with few words, I could hear and feel her love for God.

Right then, I felt ashamed of my own prayer, which, though gracefully delivered, didn’t come from an intimate or authentic place. Instead, it was motivated by a subconscious desire to be found praying the “right” way, and to sound and appear holy and perfect, as I assumed Christians ought to be. As I learnt to participate in corporate prayer, I had unknowingly mistaken my primary audience to be my fellow brothers and sisters. I had forgotten that while praying with others can be one way to edify and encourage them, it shouldn’t be the main motivation behind praying with others. This sweet, young sister-in-Christ made me realize that no oratory prowess can compare to a humble prayer uttered from a genuine and contrite spirit.

Jesus made it clear that He isn’t impressed by eloquent prayers that exalt Him on the surface but indirectly exalt the person praying (Matthew 6:5-13; 23:5-12). Rather, He is pleased with and accepts the prayers of those who call upon His name in repentance (Luke 18:10-14).

Today, I have learned to pray slowly and thoughtfully, and to murmur simple, heartfelt words directed solely for the ears of my Father in Heaven while in the presence of others. After all, our prayers are ultimately for God’s ears, who alone hears and answers according to His perfect will and in His perfect time.

3-Things-I-Never-Knew-About-Prayer

3 Things I Never Knew About Prayer

Photo by Ian Tan

Despite being Christian for almost 22 years, I never liked nor knew how to pray for the better part of those two decades. I’d always think, “Why do I need to pray when God already knows everything?”

It was really only in recent years that I began to understand more about prayer.

1. I Can Pray About Everything

For a long time, I thought God would be more willing to hear and answer my prayers only when it came to “Christian” things. You know, like praying for the salvation of others, petitioning Him to help my family or friends when they’re in need, or asking Him to give me the desire to do His will, among other things.

In case you get the wrong idea, these are all very good and biblical things to ask God for—and He will surely answer! What I’m saying is that aside from these things, I didn’t think I could ask Him for “little” things—like if He could provide a cab for me when I was running late or hold the rain until I could find shelter—much less tell Him about my day.

So God had to tell me through different experiences that He does care about these things as well. He wants to hear me tell Him my needs or simply, how my day went. A few years ago, a godly couple I had come to know shared with me that they would regularly talk to Him about their day over a cup of coffee, as though they were talking to a friend. What they said reminded me of Exodus 33:11: “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend . . .” They encouraged me to do the same because God likes to connect with me in this way, too.

A few weeks ago, God assured me of this again with a dream, in which “Psalm 18:6” came up. I didn’t know what the verse was, so I decided to look it up:

“In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice;
my cry came before Him, into His ears.”

I’m thankful that God isn’t a God who is far away and doesn’t hear my prayers. Rather, He is a God who will hear my voice when I pray to Him. And when He does, He listens intently, for my cry goes into His ears.

The Bible also tells us to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6; emphasis added). When we do that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Imagine a son who talks to his father only about the “important” things, like wanting to learn the ropes in his father’s company or asking his father to help his friends out when they’re in trouble. While these are good things for the son to ask his father about, that would be quite odd, wouldn’t it? In fact, it’d likely make his father rather sad. Which father wouldn’t like to know how his son’s day went, what things his son is excited about, and what are the concerns that weigh his son down?

In the same way, as much as our Abba Father loves it when we pray about the “important” stuff, He also loves hearing from us about the “little” stuff. When we spend quality time with Him, He listens attentively to us, as a loving father listens intently to his child’s voice.

 

2. I Can Pray to Partner with God

I also used to think that my role in prayer was quite passive. If something is part of God’s will, I thought, He’d do it even if I don’t ask Him to, wouldn’t He? As a result, prayer felt rather redundant and boring.

However, God led me to understand that prayer is one of the main ways He uses to work out His will. I was astonished when I found out that Jesus is always interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34) and the Holy Spirit is also constantly interceding for God’s people (Romans 8:26-27). Why does the Son of God and the Spirit of God, being Persons of the Godhead, need to pray to the Father? I don’t have the answer to this question, but it made me realize that if Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying, shouldn’t I do the same?

While it is true that God already knows everything, I’ve learned that prayer is one of the important means God has instituted for His purposes to be accomplished. In fact, He invites us to partner with Him to let His kingdom come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).

I now pray more actively with a sense of purpose, being fully aware that I am actually working alongside the Father to realize the plans He has. When I pray according to His will, He hears me and I have what I ask of Him (1 John 5:14-15).

 

3. I Can Pray to Have God Himself

Recently, I heard a pastor share a message on God’s power being made perfect in the Apostle Paul’s weaknesses. Even though Paul would have liked for God to take the thorn in his flesh away, God told the apostle that His grace would be sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

As I was listening to this, a thought—that I believe was a revelation from God—formed in my spirit: “Do I want God to answer my prayer or do I want God’s answer to my prayer?”

That was a hard-hitting, soul-searching question. When I pray to God about a certain matter or need, do I want Him to answer my prayer in the exact way that I ask or do I want His answer to my prayer, regardless of what the answer may be—“Yes”, “No”, “Wait”, “I’ve something better”, or “I’ve something entirely different in mind?” Do I trust that because God knows best, His ways are better than mine? (Isaiah 55:8-9)

If I were to distill the essence of the question, it is this: When I pray, do I pray wanting God to fulfill my heart’s desires, or do I pray wanting God Himself as my heart’s desire?

There’s a wonderful perspective on prayer from Mother Teresa that captured my heart the moment I heard it. She said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive Him and keep Him as your own.”

I’ve seen that a way for me to start caring for things I didn’t initially care about—but I know I should—is to pray about them. Because when I do, I find myself beginning to be more aligned with God’s heart on the matter. This happened when I started praying for Singapore, and again when I prayed for my cell group. The more I prayed, the more my heart’s burden and love for my country and my cell group grew.

I know now that prayer is something God can use to enlarge my heart until it can contain more and more of His heart. Ultimately, I’ve learned that the purpose of prayer is for God to keep breaking my heart for what breaks His, so that more of God can come in. Prayer is about having more of God and less of me, so that He becomes greater and I become less (John 3:30).

 

Prayer can be generally understood as talking to God. I’m so thankful that my Heavenly Father welcomes me to go to Him like a little child and tell Him my needs and concerns as well as my joys and passions. He lovingly listens to my voice and cares about what’s in my heart.

But as His son, what excites me even more is that my Father invites me to know His heart and to care about what He cares about. Nothing brings me more satisfaction and gladness than knowing that my Father is willing to confide in me what His concerns are (Amos 3:7) and that He invites me to work alongside Him to accomplish His purposes (Mark 16:20).

To me, that is what becoming a son of Abba Father is—to share Daddy’s burdens and to have a part in what He’s working on, and in so doing, to become more and more like my Daddy (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That, to me, is the heart of sonship—and the heart of prayer.

5-Ways-to-Renew-Your-Prayer-Life

5 Ways to Renew Your Prayer Life

Written By Jason Van Dyk, Canada

Jason Van Dyk is an artist and designer. Together with his wife, Laura, they decided to create artwork focused on and inspired by God’s word, which they called “God’s fingerprints”. When Jason is not working on “God’s fingerprints”, he works at a homeless shelter, doing ministry with men recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.

 

Prayer is an essential part of a healthy walk with God. For many Christians, though, this is an area of struggle. We know prayer is important, but we find it difficult to establish it as a regular habit in our life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are five different ways to help renew your prayer life.

1. Take a prayer walk

The habit of morning prayer walks has revitalized my prayer life more than anything else. As an active and creative person, walking as I pray helps get the prayers flowing. If you’re having trouble praying in one place, prayer walks may be something worth looking into.

Prayer walks can be done anytime and anywhere, but there is something very special about the early morning. This is the way Jesus did it (Mark 1:35). Most of the world is still asleep before the sun rises. The quiet and tranquility of this time is ideal for communion with God, as distractions are at a minimum.

To get started with prayer walks, all you need to do is step out the door! I find it helpful to imagine Jesus—a loving friend with a heart to listen—walking next to me. Making it one of the first things you do each day will really help establish the habit and bring new life into your relationship with God.

 

2. Keep a Prayer journal

The act of writing our prayers can help us find words when it’s hard to speak. This is a practice that my wife, Laura, does daily, and I’ve seen how she’s been blessed by it. Sometimes she types out her prayers, but mostly she writes them in a special prayer journal.

To get started, find yourself a journal (or any piece of paper), and pour out your heart on the page. Write to God as your loving Father and friend. Share your dreams, your hopes and your fears, and pray for those that He puts on your heart.
You can also use this time to write down Bible verses that speak to you. Allow yourself to be creative and create art around certain prayer requests or Scriptures. Write freely and creatively, allowing the Spirit to lead you.

 

3. Pray with a friend

“It sounds like we gotta pray. The only time I can do every day is 4:30am. Are you down?” These were the words of my good friend Zoe when he found out I was going through a challenging season. He committed to praying with me every single day at 4:30am for a month. I thought he was joking, but he was dead serious. Words cannot describe what these early morning prayer times did for my faith.

Finding somebody to pray with on a regular basis is a great way to recharge our prayer life. It may not be possible to always find a willing partner, but you’d be surprised how many people are up for regular prayer if you step out and ask.

We’ve scaled back quite a bit, but I still pray regularly with Zoe. We live thousands of miles away now, but we still pray on the phone together every Tuesday. It’s an anchor in my week that keeps me in a healthy rhythm of prayer.

4. Read the prayers of others

In his book Reaching for the Invisible God, American Christian author Philip Yancey describes a season when he found it very difficult to pray. He felt a spiritual darkness and an absence of God in his life. In desperation, he got a collection of prayers and simply read the prayers each morning. “I have no words of my own,” He told God. “Please accept these prayers of others as the only ones I can offer right now. Accept their words in place of my own.”

Later, Yancey came to see this time of spiritual darkness as an important season of spiritual growth. His commitment to keep praying, even when the words weren’t his own, helped forge his faith.
There are many books of collected prayers available. If you’re really struggling to find words to pray, this may be a good option to consider.

 

5. Give thanks

One of the simplest prayers you can ever pray is “thank you”. If you are finding it difficult to pray, starting a thank-you list is a simple way to get back in the posture of prayer. As you write, thank God for each item on the list. Sometimes the simplest prayers can be the most profound.

Keeping prayers simple can really help in renewing our prayer life. And prayers of thanksgiving will develop gratitude in our hearts.

Start small, and thank God for all He has done in your life. Thank him for the little things, the beautiful things, and even the challenges that helped you grow.

 

Be Patient

As you seek to renew your prayer life, remember to be patient. Establishing the habit of prayer is like building a relationship, and it takes time. Remember that God eagerly desires to hear from His children, and that through Christ, we have direct access to God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).

Finding a regular time to pray will help establish the habit. Commit to a week, and see how things go. Once the habit is formed, it’s much easier to keep going. May the words of the David encourage your heart as you embark on this journey: “Wait on the LORD; be strong, take heart; and wait on the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14)

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

ODJ_130816

ODJ: Healing Prayer

After learning that a 7 year old boy dying of leukemia wanted to be a police officer, several members of the Arizona Police made every effort to make his wish come true. Just days before he died, they made him an honorary officer—including his own law enforcement hat and junior-sized police uniform. That one wish launched a movement. Make-A-Wish, an international organisation that grants the wishes of seriously ill children, was established in 1980.

Since then, Make-A-Wish has granted wishes to more than 254,000 children afflicted with life-threatening medical conditions. Sadly, there’s one wish they’ve not been able to grant—the wish to get better. Regardless of age, it’s the wish we all find ourselves praying for when an illness threatens our lives.

Sickness wasn’t a part of God’s original creation. So it’s only natural that we call out to our Creator to make us well. As we pray, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the Scriptures reveal a God who provides healing for some and grace to all.

The Old Testament records the Lord answering King Hezekiah’s desperate prayer for healing by allowing him to live 15 more years (Isaiah 38:1-5). The apostle Paul got a different response when he “begged” Jesus three times to remove something painful from his life—perhaps a physical affliction. Instead of healing Paul, Jesus said, “My grace is all you need” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

The good news of Jesus declares that a day is coming when there will be no more sickness or death (Revelation 21:4). Until then, it’s okay to hope and pray for healing. Jesus provides the grace we need to live faithfully in the present until the time comes when our full and permanent healing will be realized.

—Jeff Olson

365-day plan: Luke 14:15-35

August 13, 2016 

READ: Isaiah 38:1-20  


Think of it—the Lord is ready to heal me! I will sing his praises with instruments every day of my life in the Temple of the Lord (v.20). 

After learning that a 7 year old boy dying of leukaemia wanted to be a police officer, several members of the Arizona Police made every effort to make his wish come true. Just days before he died, they made him an honorary officer—including his own law enforcement hat and junior-sized police uniform. That one wish launched a movement. Make-A-Wish, an international organisation that grants the wishes of seriously ill children, was established in 1980.

Since then, Make-A-Wish has granted wishes to more than 254,000 children afflicted with life-threatening medical conditions. Sadly, there’s one wish they’ve not been able to grant—the wish to get better. Regardless of age, it’s the wish we all find ourselves praying for when an illness threatens our lives.

Sickness wasn’t a part of God’s original creation. So it’s only natural that we call out to our Creator to make us well. As we pray, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the Scriptures reveal a God who provides healing for some and grace to all.

The Old Testament records the Lord answering King Hezekiah’s desperate prayer for healing by allowing him to live 15 more years (Isaiah 38:1-5). The apostle Paul got a different response when he “begged” Jesus three times to remove something painful from his life—perhaps a physical affliction. Instead of healing Paul, Jesus said, “My grace is all you need” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

The good news of Jesus declares that a day is coming when there will be no more sickness or death (Revelation 21:4). Until then, it’s okay to hope and pray for healing. Jesus provides the grace we need to live faithfully in the present until the time comes when our full and permanent healing will be realised.

—Jeff Olson

365-day plan: Luke 14:15-35

MORE
Read Philippians 4:19 and consider how God can meet our needs, even when we don’t experience healing. 
NEXT
Why is it important for us to bring our pain and suffering to God? How can we pray in a way that acknowledges God’s compassion and sovereignty? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)