Prayer Basics – Where I’m starting and What I’m Learning

abc written on chalkboard

abc written on chalkboard

For a long time, now, I’ve still felt that there was something I was missing, something I needed to learn and understand about prayer. Technically, I guess, we’re supposed to be learning about it all our lives…but I’ve felt like I really needed to step back and make sure I was understanding the basics.

Now, there have been reams written on prayer, and by people who have studied it way more than me. So if this stuff is simplistic and kind of, “well, yeah, DUH,” then bear with me. {I could be rude and say, “Well go get yo’self a book on it, then, and stop wasting your time here!” But that would be rude. So I’ll be polite, and just invite you to “bear with me.”} I’m tired of complicating the Christian life, and I’m good and ready for simple and real, and that’s what we’re dishing up.

I heard a lot of preaching and teaching as I was growing up that really made me feel like I had to be some kind of super-Christian in order to have a decent “prayer life.” I’d hear about these graying old men and how they “prayed through.” I’d hear about all night prayer meetings. I’d buy {and never get around to reading} books about prayer. And always feel like Prayer was some huge class I had to take and graduate from, before it could be real in my own life. I know that these feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality, because we’re supposed to pray, and God doesn’t ask us to do what He’s not able to do through us.

 

Near the beginning of the year, I really felt like I should begin my own investigation into prayer. No commentaries, no books, no studies. Just me, my Bible, a concordance, and the Holy Spirit.

But I didn’t do it. I think I tried to start, by just reading through the New Testament and looking for what Jesus says about prayer. But I got sidetracked into the stories, and just read, without actually going deeper, except in maybe the “Our Father, which art in Heaven…” passage.

Probably about that time, or a little after, a man came to visit our church on a Wednesday night. He explained that he and his family were preparing to go live in Argentina, as missionaries. It’s not something they had ever planned to do, but God had made it clear that that’s where they were supposed to go. How did they know? He said he’d prayed about it, and knew he and his wife needed to be in agreement on the subject. He asked his wife to pray about leaving everything and going to Argentina. “I trust my wife’s prayer life,” he’d said. I really started squirming. Could my husband just come to me with a huge, life-changing question, ask me to pray about it, and totally feel confident that I’d get an answer? I haven’t asked him, but I don’t feel like he could.

That incident stuck in my mind, and wouldn’t leave. During our church’s missions conference, we had one of the visiting families over for supper. Throughout the course of the evening, I suddenly realized that this was the family of the guy who’d come during the summer, the one who had mentioned his wife’s prayer life. So, I was kind of in awe inside, you know, like, “Wow, this wife really has her act together–God told her to be on board with going to Argentina, and they’re going, and they’re sure, and–wow.”

And then, I got to chat with her myself. We talked about marriage, and all the changes it brings to your life, and then she told me about having a “dry spell” in her relationship with God several years earlier. She was feeling overwhelmed and struggling to get a quiet time alone with God. Then, she said, she’d done her own study on prayer…and that’s when things had changed.

And I suddenly put two and two together and realized this lady, whose husband’s trust in her prayer life was enabling them to take a tremendous, life-changing step of faith, had struggled with prayer herself. She was a normal person! Imagine…

Yeah, imagine. If another normal-wife-who-struggles-to-get-her-quiet-time-in can get answers on The Big Stuff in life…then I don’t have any excuses, anymore.

 

So, the following week, I sat down with my Bible, journal, and my concordance, and looked up “pray.” The next 30 minutes were pretty eye-opening. Just by reading through and cross-referencing the definitions–not the verses, the definitions–, I felt overwhelmed by what I had learned.

The words translated “pray” mean to want, to beseech, to ask, to interrogate, to wish for, to desire, to solicit, to entreat, to make request; “prayer” means a beseeching, a supplication, an intercession, a wish, a pouring out. {And, that’s just the New Testament.}

Basically, praying is begging.

 

I heard a fantastic sermon on this once, and the main point was that prayer IS, at its core essence, ASKING. Praising the Lord, and simply chatting with Him, while necessary facets of our relationship with him, are not actually praying, in the purest sense. 

So I did some thinkin’ on that one. Begging requires humility. This may be why I find it difficult to truly pray when I’m mad. You shouldn’t ask with an attitude and expect to get something. Having a humble spirit is really the only way to start.

Asking, begging, praying, calls for a heart that is looking for its expectation from another Source. Asking, begging, praying, means that I can’t make it happen on my own…I’m totally dependent on the One to Whom I’m bringing my request. If I’m feeling self-sufficient, I’m not going to ask.

This gets even easier to grasp when looked at through the lens of the Parent-Child relationship. God is our Father, and we are “little children,” as John was so fond of reminding us. Spend some time around kids, and you learn rather quickly that most of them are indeed askers. “I’m hungry. Can we eat?” “Ow, I got a boo-boo! Can I have a band-aid?” “Can we stay longer? Please?!” And they’re not ashamed of it. They know who’s got the power to make it happen. They know where to go to get what they want. And, they know that they are entitled to ask, because of their relationship with the parent.

I went back and read those definitions again. “Want. Beseech. Ask. Interrogate. Wish for. Desire. Solicit. Entreat. Make request. Supplication. Intercession. Pouring out.”

And something else leaped out at me. Praying requires caring. Deep down, for real caring. Halfheartedness is not part of the equation.

So really…if you don’t care, don’t pray about it.

Now, I really must caveat the above statement with this: I have personally found that at times choosing to pray for a person that I did not know, or for whose need I had no natural empathy, created empathy and compassion in my heart. Not sure I have a verse with which to back that up, but I think there probably is one. And, truly, caring is a choice, not an emotion. What’s more, we are commanded to pray, over and over {Matthew 6:9, 21:22; Mark 13:33; Luke 10:2; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2; etc.} So, maybe a better way to state it would be, “Don’t pray without choosing to care.”

 

So I came away with that short investigative session with a very full mind and heart, and an honest excitement. I felt like I was getting the simple, yet profound truths about prayer, straight from the Word myself. And it was just the beginning! The passage from Proverbs 2 about seeking wisdom like it’s a hunt for buried treasure comes to mind.

I’m planning to continue this study in the weeks ahead, and I plan to write about it, here. {There, I’ve just provided myself with some good old-fashioned accountability to actually keep going.} Let me know in the comments if you have any specific topics regarding prayer that would be an interesting study!

 

How to Love the Life You Live

man on top of the world

 

man on top of the world

"Live the life you love."

We've all seen that quippy little quote floating around, on inspirational internet images, or wall decor at the coffee shop. I don't know about you, but as a newlywed and a first-time mommy, I sort of snort internally when I read it. (If this is one of your favorite motivational nuggets that pushes you to keep going when you're tempted to give up on a dream--I'm probably gonna step on your toes, here. 🙂 Please know, I'm all for encouragement, so if that mantra is encouraging to you, by all means, don't let me ruin that for you.)

But for me, it just doesn't work. I guess the biggest reason is that it seems to say, "Go after what YOU want, because that's the most important thing. Live for what pleases you and makes you happy." If you don't read it that way, that's okay. But that's pretty much how it reads for me, and I've come to the understanding that the best way to make myself UNhappy...is to chase my own happiness.

So. I choose to flip that saying around and look at it differently. I choose to read instead, "Love the Life You Live." In other words, be content! Be joyful in your "season of life," whatever that may be. I'm pretty sure that we actually have to relearn this lesson in every new season of life that we enter. At least, I do. I had to learn it as a single person. I had to learn it in different jobs that I worked. And, I am learning it now, again, in a whole new dimension as a wife and mother.

This is my point: What if instead of telling ourselves we should be chasing down a life we can love...what about just deciding to love the life we are living? Right here, right now? The one that may seem to be too busy, or not-what-we-had-planned, or unexciting, or even painful?

Question: How do you do that? How do people actually love the life they have when there's sickness, or loneliness, or tragedy, or disappointment? I've been blessed to have some very good examples in my life of people who have chosen to embrace joy, to refuse to let it go, in the face of incredible falling-apart-ness. I am truly challenged every time I think of these people while I'm the midst of a little ol' pity party.

One of them is a friend I'll call Sarah. She has personally suffered what could easily be called tragedy, not once, not twice, but three times...and those are just the instances I know about. I'm talking about illness, pain, and criminal wrongdoing touching all the most important people in her life. I'm talking about broken necks and child molestation and death. Yet she is one of the sweetest, most joyfilled people I know, and she trusts God implicitly. She clings to Him. She doesn't sit around feeling sorry for herself because of what has come into her life, even though, by all human standards, she'd have every right to. Nor does she play the martyr, and try to let everyone know what a tough time she's had. No, she has chosen to hold onto joy, and to love the life she is living, despite it's pain. I stand in awe of her. But I know her joyfulness didn't just happen. It is real in her life because of specific and deliberate decisions that she has made. Here are several choices that I see in Sarah's life, and in the lives of others who exhibit this kind of loving the life that they are living.

1. Be intentionally grateful

Thankfulness can be a lifeline against drowning in despair. Seriously...have you ever had a horrible, horrible day, and just begun saying "thank you" for any and every little thing that you can think of? I've tried it. The results are pretty amazing. And immediate. You can begin to see that there are still so many "good and perfect" gifts to appreciate. My husband recently told me, very gently and wisely, that the reason I often struggle is because I spend time focusing on the things I don't have, instead of what I do have. He was right. Is it easy to be grateful when you feel like nothing is right in your world? No. But it is worthwhile.

2. Be in the moment

Worrying about the future? Aching over the past? Honestly, all we do is make ourselves miserable. I heard a statistic that said only eight percent of the things we worry about could actually even happen. Wow. (That's actually a bit comforting, honestly!) And the past? We can change zero about that. Does that mean the thought of those things don't hurt or that they don't have the capacity to make us anxious? No. But the bottom line is that there is enough to focus on here and now. There are people in your life, today, that need you. So, take a deep breath, and just "do the next thing." {Great opportunity, here, to implement number one...find something to be grateful for in that "next thing."}

3. Be close to God

Ultimately, He is what gives meaning and joy to life. All the other joys are because of Him, and from Him. Being close to God is a choice to be made, more than a thing to do, though. Yes, there are things that we can do to be close to Him, such as reading the Bible. But unless we first decide that we want to be close to Him, there isn't much point in cracking open those pages. {It would kind of be like taking your spouse to dinner, but not really wanting to talk with them, or listen to them...they will know it, and your relationship isn't going to progress forward.}

Now we KNOW all this...but we have to choose to act on it. It's a decision of the will , not the feelings. So if you're struggling to love the life you're living, you have to decide...do you really want to, and are you willing to do what it takes? I think that if we really want to love the life we're living, in all its messiness and imperfection and unexpectedness, then we can. And, the neat thing about choosing to love it? We'll find we really are living the life we love, too.