Learning the discipline of prayer can be difficult. I seem to toggle between not praying and expecting that whatever I ask for will be granted. (John 16:22) I was inspired recently while listening to a podcast on prayer from Exploring My Strange Bible. God is the ultimate good father and he wants to give us what we need. Knowing this, why don't I have more confidence in praying?
Prayer, like most things, is something at which we can become better. Even as I type "the discipline of prayer" it becomes clearer that it may not come easily. To learn a discipline is to train and work. I learn through experience. I think most of us do. I typically learn best through an experience that I struggle through. Why is that?
Often when I look at the success and growth of others I assume that it came through luck or some innate talent. Frankly, I become frustrated when I want something and it doesn't come easily or immediately. I wonder, how I would feel if God simply gave me what I wanted every time I asked?
God's goal can't be to keep me happy by granting me wishes. When Jesus taught us to pray it was focused on God, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) Certainly, I am able to bring my needs before God but the ultimate goal cannot be my needs. Prayer then must be a springboard to something greater. For me to get there God is going to have to teach and train me. If God is going to teach me anything I am going to have to put work into it.
As I learn to trust in him through prayer it graphs out as a series of hills and plateaus. With each change in elevation I have grown and in hindsight I'll am able to stand on that plateau and look back over how he got me to where I am... where I need to be. The rub is in my lack of humility. I tell myself that instead of enduring this climb, by now I should have arrived or I believe I have already arrived. The discipline of prayer starts with humbly surrendering to the process of trusting God.
I remember singing a hymn when I was a kid which was titled by its first verse "When My Love to Christ Grows Weak." The last line read:
"Then to life I turn again,
Learning all the worth of pain,
Learning all the might that lies
In a full self-sacrifice."
"Learning all the worth of pain.” That phrase didn't mean much to me then but it certainly makes more sense the older I get and as my faith increases. In pain I am taught what I am made of. I learn that I never want to be in that situation again, or I may learn a better way to do it next time. When coupled with pain or struggle prayer teaches me to rely on God. Prayer is the link between my struggle and my success. And typically, I do not forget the lesson.
In the early 1930's the story of the "Lindbergh Baby" became infamous. Anne Morrow Lindbergh who was a pilot and author and her husband Charles suffered a great loss when their almost 2 year old baby was kidnapped from their home. Anne certainly understood suffering. In her book A Gift from the Sea she said,
“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.”
Everyone suffers and no one likes it. We certainly hope we never feel suffering at the magnitude she experienced. She recognized that suffering alone isn't the key. True, our struggle defines us. Either it makes us great or immobilizes us. However, I have come to believe that prayer, even in the small struggle, gives perspective. God takes us from one place to another through the journey of prayer.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about their struggle. It was not health, death, or family related but about making decisions in the ministry he leads. It seemed to be a big decision that he was praying about and waiting on the Lord. A few days later, as I was listening to the podcast mentioned above, it struck me that the Lord doesn't ask us to wait until further instruction. Though I assume he could. Often times, I pray, wring my hands, pray again, try to suppress the anxious feeling I'm having, pray, wring my hands again, repeat, wait, wring my hands, pray, then when nothing happens I throw my hands up in disgust assume it didn't work and go handle it by myself in frustration. Prayer shouldn't immobilize us, fear does that. Prayer offers freedom in our search and trust that God is in-fact guiding us. Prayer isn't an avenue by which we never struggle but rather a means to walk through it.
7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7
I am learning to practice the principle in this Matthew 7 passage. Not sitting and waiting but asking, seeking, and knocking. In Jesus' name I faithfully ask for what I think I need. I then get up, go out, and seek it out. I've often heard the phrase, "God opened/closed that door." Practically, I know that I don't get to the doors when I'm not looking for them. It is easier for him to guide me when I am up moving. My seeking is in faith. My search is shrouded in prayer. I search for the answer knowing that the first thing I find may very well not be the thing I need. I trust that it will however bring me closer to what I need. This process will refine me and mature me. As I come up to a door, I knock. Sometimes there is no answer. Sometimes the door is only cracked as I am told to go away. But then, there are those glorious times when the door is flung open and I am invited in to the full answer to my prayer.