I don't know about you, but from the time I was little, I had this concept of what prayers should sound like. And I guess I got these ideas from hearing other people pray. And so I guess I always prayed the way I heard other people pray. I didn't care to “experiment” with prayer and really open up my heart to God in prayer. I had my prayer life stored away in these nice little spiritual boxes and I was content with that. But recently, God has begun to break down the boxes that I've tried to put Him in.
I've been home from school for three months now and next week I'm about to go back. The way my school works is that I am there for three months and then I am home for three months. And for some reason I always thought that I would learn more during the semester than the off-semester, but God has shown me so clearly how He is my teacher. And while He may use another person or teacher to teach me, it is ultimately He who teaches and reveals those things to me. So since I have been home, God has continued to teach me more about who He is.
I just want to share a few things that He began to show me last semester and has been continuing to teach me since I've been home. I'm afraid that they might seem a bit jumbled and disorganized, but I'm going to give it a shot.
1. My prayers make a difference. God wants me to pray. I've grown up in a very conservative, Christian home but I confess that I had a very pathetic prayer life until more recently. And I think I know why: I didn't believe there was any power in prayer. I didn't realize that the most powerful force in the universe – God Almighty – heard those prayers and that they touched His heart. I may have known it in my head, but I didn't really believe it. I didn't realize that my prayers move the heart of God.
As I began to actually pray, I began to see God working in ways that went far above and beyond what I could have imagined – and through that, God began to dispel my unbelief and still is. God builds our trust and our faith through the experiences that He gives us and I've seen that true in my own life.
2. Prayer is warfare. In the past, I would begin to pray for someone or something for a period of time and then eventually just stop praying and give up because I wasn't seeing results. Looking back, I'm ashamed of that because I see how little endurance I had. I didn't tap into God's strength, but tried to fight the battle of prayer all by myself. I think many of us give up praying for someone too fast because we don't see what is going on in the spiritual realm. When we begin to pray for something that is near and dear to God's heart and pray in accordance with His will, things in heaven begin to shift and move around and Satan is being defeated. The problem is, we can't see it with our mortal eyes, so we begin to get tired and discouraged when we don't realize that progress is being made in the spiritual realm. And when we give up on praying for someone that God has put on our hearts to pray for, we are giving ground to the enemy. Satan cannot win.
Here is a helpful quote that gave me so much insight into what happens when we are praying for someone – particularly someone who is lost: “Legally, all souls belong to Christ because He paid for their sins on Calvary (1 John 2:2). But Satan, illegally and forcefully, continues to hold them bound in spiritual darkness until we take our rightful place and exercise our throne-rights by demanding their immediate release on the basis of Christ's shed blood and our delegated authority from Him. There is absolutely no reason for even one single soul to die and go to hell because Christ has already paid their redemption price. And the only reason why anyone will go to hell is that we have not taken our place of authority and bound the strong man, insisting on their salvation. The devil will not release them until we make him.” (Lee E. Thomas, Praying Effectively for the Lost)
We may not see results immediately when we pray, but our prayers are not in vain! God is working even if we can't see it. Faith is the evidence of things not seen – and we need to have faith that God is working.
3. Prayer is the work. Oswald Chambers said, “Payer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work.” I can't tell you how many times I heard that prayer – but God has shown me how true that actually is. Missions and evangelism are powerless apart from prayer. Mere words coming out of my mouth will not convince anyone. This is not to diminish the importance of missions or witnessing, etc. but I think that we put too much emphasis on talking and convincing other people and not enough on praying for others. Prayer is more powerful than my own words.
God taught me this in a very personal way recently. One of my closest friends was going through a difficult time and as much as I had tried to encourage this friend and as much as others had tried to encourage this other person, my friend seemed lost and confused. You see, nothing I could say made any difference. I think God brought this situation to me because I realized that only He can change hearts – I can't. So often I think that if I just explain something in a certain way or just say it using different words that I can speak to that person's heart and change their minds. But that's not how it works. God's Holy Spirit is the only one who can change people. So I found in this situation that the only thing I really could do was pray. And so I did pray. And I prayed a lot. I begged God to break through to my friend and to encourage my friend. And things didn't change overnight. They took months and months. But God had me continue to pray for my friend and one day when I was feeling especially desperate, I spent much of the day praying and asking God to come into the situation and change this person. I never felt so weak and so helpless than I did at that moment. I was completely powerless. And as soon as I was in that place of weakness, God demonstrated His strength by turning this person around – at the same time that I was praying for them.
Needless to say, this whole situation built up my faith in God so much. I realized that He hears my prayers and that He cares!
4. Pray God's word. My own words are pretty feeble sometimes and I don't always know God's will in a particular situation, but if I pray God's word, there is such power in those prayers because I can know that I am praying God's will.
For example, if I am praying for someone who is lost to be prayed, I can pray this passage: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; ... For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1, 3-4, emphasis mine) So I can stand on this promise as I pray and tell God, “You said that it is your will that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth – so I ask that you would bring so-and-so to the knowledge of truth and to salvation.” If I pray in that manner, I'm not just praying what my will is, but God's will.
When I pray God's word and base my prayers off of God's promises, there is such power there! Because I am praying God's very heart back to God! There are verses in the Bible that apply to every area of life so there will always be a verse I can pray for every situation. If the Bible is the sword of the Spirit, using it in prayer invites that power into our prayers!! And that's so exciting guys!
So that's a few of the things that God is still teaching me. I don't know if that made a whole lot of sense, but I'm praying that God used at least part of this to encourage you and to help you with your prayer life.
I guess learning how to pray means breaking a lot of boxes of unbelief. I've kept prayer in my own little boxes for so long. I've had all these ideas of what prayer should look like and sound like, but I'd encourage you to seek for more than that.
We tend to pray the way we hear others pray, but that can be dangerous because then we are unwilling to venture into new territory. Don't be afraid to pray in ways you've never heard anyone pray before! Don't be afraid to be vulnerable before God and to tell Him everything that is on your heart. Don't be afraid to be desperate. Don't be afraid to plead and to beg. Don't be afraid to humble yourself before God. Don't be afraid to “experiment” with prayer and test God. Don't be afraid to listen to God and to ask Him how to pray.
Come before God with your prayer life and ask Him what is on His heart and what He wants you to pray about. You don't have to try to muster up spiritual sounding and powerful prayers, you just have to ask God to show you what to pray. Just listen to Him and I guarantee that there will be power in those prayers.
Prayer is conversation with God. If we can only understand that – it will completely transform our prayer lives.