I’m in the midst of reading Tim Keller’s book called, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God. I’m enjoying it because it’s both speaking down to my level on this sometimes tough topic and doesn’t sugarcoat what prayer can be “in just three easy steps”. One piece Keller addresses is how The Lord’s Prayer, as it was intended by Jesus, can be a guide for our own prayers as simple humans. As I’ve been reading I keep thinking, “Aha! My pastor must have read this book!” because we were emphasizing The Lord’s Prayer in church for a while where we took the basic outline of the prayer and filled in or elaborated with what that realistically looks like in our current world and community. To me, this practice in corporate worship has given it meat and more substance than we stereotypically give it since it’s become a rote memory version for many people. This prayer came directly from Jesus Christ in response to the question of how to pray. It’s not long, yet is deep and covers a lot of ground. Keller says, “Prayer in all its forms-adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and petition-reorients your view and vision of everything.”
I’ve written on my struggles with prayer in a previous post, and one of the refreshing and encouragingly honest reminders I read was that prayer is often hard work and that we should do it even when we don’t feel like it. Keller says, “We sometimes have to wrestle even in order to pray. We often wrestle in prayer just to concentrate” and he quotes Austin Phelps (nineteenth-century theologian): “When those hours of the day come in which we should be having our prayer sessions with God, it often appears as though everything has entered into a conspiracy to prevent it.”
Not only have I found it challenging to establish consistent quiet time, but I have also felt like I rarely “hear” from God (at least not like I’ve been thinking I should). When I do pray through the day or sometimes write out my prayers, I’ve been focusing on specific people that need help, circumstances, etc., but often about how to best use my time or I’ve asked to be guided by Him on decisions and how I can both glorify and rest in Him. I also spend a lot of time asking God to help me see how He loves me, to settle my mind and heal the broken parts that alter my thinking and outlook. With all of that asking, I have been hoping to really sense direction or “hear” it in my mind, so when it doesn’t come like I think it should or as often as I think it should, I bop around in a bit of doubt, frustration, and loneliness. However, I was reflecting recently on my frustration with myself and God on this issue of prayer and wrote this in my journal:
“I’m finding myself upset with God because I don’t think He’s making himself evident or close to me, but my definition of Him being accessible is that I would also feel good each time; giddy and peaceful, knowing He’s there. That can’t always be the case though, I wouldn’t think. How do I feel uneasy or unsettled inside, but also sense God? I don’t know. But, I don’t want to have a silly expectation that frustrates me with God and even possibly miss Him in other ways He reaches out to me.”
Realizing that I have misguided expectations was good for me. I’m hoping it will continue to help me let go of the efforts to try and pray just the right way in order to get Him to hear me. It doesn’t work like that. He does hear us. I have just recently seen encouraging reminders of that, too. After a rather honest journal/prayer entry about my frustrations, I ended it with, “I want you to change and heal me. I also want you to blow me away with supernatural direction or insight; to have certainty that you hear me or want to use me in some way. I know that doesn’t have to be spectacular, but I guess I want and desire affirmation from you that my issues and struggles aren’t for naught.”
A couple weeks after writing that, I was honored with the opportunity to encourage a dear friend’s child who is having an incredibly tough time with anxiety. Although his mother is one of my favorite friends and is devoted, loving, and tender, she couldn’t relate to many of his obsessive worries. I could though and I knew how his little brain was wracked with icky thoughts. I have had enough “practice” of my own with it to send him encouragement and tips that have helped me find rest along the way. I feel like God gave me just the right words, too. You should have heard his response and gratefulness! What a joyful treat it was for me to feel as though I have finally been able to use my own mess to bless another. I feel like God heard my prayer and that He gave me a gift of encouragement, too. Even though I had tangible evidence that He heard me in that situation, the truth is that He always hears us.
Tim Keller, using the wisdom of John Calvin as inspiration, says, “Cry, ask, and appeal-you will get many answers. Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.” He also directly quotes Calvin as writing, “Though cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered.”
I hope this can serve as an encouragement to you that even though it may seem as though you’re not being heard or if you’re feeling frustrated with God or worried you’re not good enough for Him and avoid prayer as a result, our prayers are not empty or unheard. Ask Him to help you to pray and KEEP GOING. Tell Him everything and be open to the many ways He may respond, whether it be His word, others around you, opportunities, etc. You are heard and can rest in that truth.