A few years ago I decided I wanted to make a habit of extensive prayer time. You should know I have never felt comfortable praying for any length of time. I have long wished there were a formula I could follow that somehow also fostered authenticity.
(This would be especially helpful if it applied all the more strongly in situations where I find myself urged or asked to pray aloud.
If you’ve read Angie Smith’s Chasing God yet, please know I did not resonate with her first chapter on prayer AT ALL.)
So I kneeled on my bedroom and prayed for an hour.
I’ve only had the one experience praying for such a length of time but it taught me something important, which is that I think prayer is critical not only because it’s the way by which we speak to the Lord but one of the ways by which He prunes us.
Here’s the thing: I don’t really know how to pray. But sometimes I sit down to pray AND HE TELLS ME HOW. I have been praying over a thing and then said to Him, “Should I be praying that? Because Your will might be something completely different. Do what You will.”
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
On the day I prayed extensively God told me – not audibly, but He may as well have – to call an acquaintance of mine and ask her what I could pray over for her.
On the list of Things Annie Does Not Do, circa 2011 are 83. Call People and 96. Ask People for Prayer Requests.
And yet I called up a virtual stranger and asked what I could pray over. I left a rambling voicemail (Chelsea and Erin are good people to talk to if you feel you need convincing of this point) and she called me later that day to tell me what she wanted prayer over.
I had some insight into her current situation which softened my heart to her but the Lord also laid her there, firmly, and said, “It is not your responsibility to take care of J but I’m making it your responsibility to ask Me to do that,” not because the Lord wants to lay any great burden at our feet (His yoke is light) but because I believe firmly we will know the Lord by knowing His heart and by knowing His heart is for people.
Which is a hard thing to fathom because if you grew up as conservative as me it’s been pounded into your head that salvation is a personal decision and if you grew up less conservative than me you may have learned the life practice of living and letting live.
All I’m going to say about such a practice is that it’s the Israelites’ disobedience in choosing to live and let live that causes them to stumble, turn away from God time after time AFTER TIME, and be scattered across the world for centuries.
As for salvation being a personal decision, yes, you personally choose Jesus over destruction but not one of us is meant to Lone Ranger our way to heaven.
I often frame my thoughts best in bullet points so I’m going to do that here:
• When God saves us from sin and begins the redeeming work of life in us, He saves us not only unto Himself but to His kingdom.
• Such a kingdom, so arranged and God-ordained, is called the Church, and is the body of believers who have placed faith in the sacrifice Christ made that we, individuals in that collective body, might all be saved.
• Being that we are saved to such a kingdom, and that the kingdom is both made up of and expands in living souls, Christ perfects us in the context of the communal body of which we are all parts.
• God has chosen community as the method by which He grows and molds us. We are constantly called to serve and the fruit so often mentioned as the results of our faith are virtues that grace and smooth our interaction with others. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another! (This is not to say God can’t speak directly to a person; He absolutely does and will. But I think His nature of working in us and His nature being triune are illustrative that community is His chosen method.)
Taking all of these things together means if we’re going to choose life as Deuteronomy urges us so passionately, we have to choose community.
But like you, I’ve sat in a church pew wondering how people who claim Jesus are doing and saying the things they do and say. And like you, I’ve been myself wondering how I who claim Jesus am doing and saying the things I do and say. And so I think often we shy away from community because we haven’t the faintest idea how to go about doing it.
I get it. I do.
Fortunately, we have an example of perfect community in the Bible, and it’s at the very beginning, where Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden, pre-Fall, and they are stark naked.
I wonder if when God asks them how they know they’re naked it’s less a question of how they know they aren’t wearing any clothes and far more a question of how they’re even conscious of themselves in that moment. Kind of like, “How are you even thinking about you at a time like this?!” Because when we take our focus off worshiping God, it falls directly and usually obsessively upon ourselves.
(Please tell me I’m not the only person who often can’t worship in service for thinking about all my situations and problems.)
I think we have to choose the hard work of saying, “Yes, Jesus, You can go ahead and You can extract all this garbage in my heart and You can settle Yourself in there – okay, wait, not so fast – and so help me, yes, I might be willing to share a little of this garbage if You tell me it will heal my broken heart.”
Because here’s the thing if we say no: I think we deny the power of Christ.
I think we deny the power of Christ as He has redeemed and is redeeming us. I am not very good at praying regularly. I should go so far as to say I rarely pray. About 80% of my prayers consist of, “Jesus. JESUS. JESUS” in increasing urgency. And it seems inauthentic to me to pray by a formula. Sometimes I pray Scripture and sometimes I pray the beautifully scripted and sung prayers of worship leaders. (Meredith Andrews comes to mind as a favorite and I’ve been recently discovering the poignancy of some of tobyMAC’s lyrics.)
But here’s the thing God has done through me in prayer: He has shown me how to pray when I have set out to pray for what I want rather than what His will is. (By this I don’t mean a situation like Abraham’s where he prayed the Lord would for the righteousness of so many men save Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead I mean I’m praying selfishly and the Spirit guides me gently to a reality check.) And He has shown me His heart, even when His heart was easy for me to obey but difficult for me to understand in the obedience.
Here’s where this all comes together: months back, maybe even a year or more ago, Erin and I set apart an evening and posted on every social media site we had between the two of us asking for prayer requests. People posted on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. They emailed. They may even have texted if they had our numbers. But we spent an hour or so in prayer and then I tweeted a prayer over us all that the Lord would move mighty in the stronghold of His love we had forged out of the Internet.
I call this a prayer blitz, and I texted Erin a few days ago asking if she wanted to do another one. She does, and I do, so stay tuned for more information on that as we organize.
This is my request of you, though: that as we pray and discuss the details of Prayer Blitz No.2, you would be digging deep into you to find out what we could petition the Lord for on your behalf.
I want you to know if you send us your request in any kind of a private forum: text, email, DM on Twitter or private message on Facebook, we will absolutely keep those private. But I want you, if you’re willing and the Spirit moves boldly in you this way, to be brave in the asking.
So when we post on Instagram, Twitter, our blogs, etc., please comment and hit reply. I’m not asking you to betray confidences and if you only feel comfortable sharing with one of us or if you feel comfortable with both of us but not the rest of the Internet go ahead and communicate it privately. But if you’re asking for patience when your kid colors on the wall for the fourth time in an hour and you are about to scream yourself hoarse or you’re asking for grace with the customer who does not understand the return policy at the store you work at even though you’ve explained it approximately 87 times or you crave desperately the Lord grant you strength in light of a struggle or insecurity or health issue or whatever else you might be going through, please don’t deny the rest of the body the opportunity to mourn with you where that might be necessary.
Necessary. Ruminate on that word for a hot minute. The Bible commands us to mourn with those who mourn. I am not a crier, but so help me, if the Spirit so moves, I will surely cry with you.
After all, I about cried over an unnamed character in Downton Abbey Sunday night.
I would hate for Jesus to have gone to the whole sacrifice of giving up His life and tearing the veil in the temple that we might fully know the Lord our God without intermediary or ritual sacrifice and we instead are putting up our own veils because that part of our heart is just not shiny enough.
Y’all, I’m not very good at prayer, and I’m not very good at community, but I think the secret to both is just to start.
Anybody with me?
Here’s my prayer request, if I may be so bold:Would you pray for restoration to fall on me? Because if I try to make it happen in my own strength, I will surely botch it. And I crave it, desperately.