“There is nothing left to do now but pray!”
I cannot count how many times I have heard that…or said it.
It appears when I arrive at a moment where I have extruded my best ideas, executed my best strategies and exhausted my best efforts but am still gazing at completely unchanged circumstances, with a final gasp of reluctant futility I decide to ask God to help.
The clear message of such a frustrated cry of the soul is: I haven’t been able to fix this, so now I will roll the dice and hope the God number pops up to rescue me from this mess. As if turning to God is my final option instead of my first.
Prayer has become the last resort.
I have often wondered about this tendency in me to turn first to my wits and last to His wisdom. What is it in me that thinks I know best and can certainly create solutions that will somehow bring about God results without God interventions?
God has revealed Himself as Alpha and Omega–the one who is both aware of and present in both beginning and end. He has also invited me warmly to ask Him when I lack wisdom or have needs, knowing that He is more willing to meet me and my needs than any earthly father or friend.
Yet, I find myself trying everything else first.
- The neglect of this essential connection with God belies a lack of confidence in my value to God. I just am not sure I matter that much, my needs are that significant or my desires are that important. I am still reacting to the whispers of the enemy that echo from the Garden into the deeper places of my heart: “God doesn’t care about what is best for you.”
- It also uncovers hidden doubts about His unwillingness or inability to handle what I haven’t been able to bring myself to ask Him. Again the arguments that lead to Eve’s compromise ring in my ears: “You know what is best for you.”
- Mostly it exposes a radically unfounded confidence in my own ability to figure out, work out and fill out my own stuff. The pride that lead Adam to follow Eve and then make his fig leaf baggies still rises in me: “You can do what is best for you.”
No wonder so many of my prayers have the hollow ring of perfunctory propriety.
Real prayer is an intimate interaction with God about the things in my life and world about which I care, worry and think most intensely. Just look at the prayers God allowed to be recorded in His Book. Jacob’s incessant and insistent wrestling with God for a blessing. Moses’ demanding soul-cry for God to stop hiding in the shadows and show His glory. David’s fist-pounding rants about deliverance from his enemies. Hezekiah pointing boldly to the missive of his enemy and demanding God read the threats and act.
Jeremiah’s tears–confessions of doubt and fear–even got a book of their own: Lamentations.
Jesus encouraged us to pray persistently and insistently in His name. He wanted us to call upon the authority of His place in the Father and bring that to bear upon the most critical points and crucial needs in our lives.
I was raised in a spiritual environment where many of the older, sometimes eccentric, saints I saw would pray with Gethsemane intensity until they had “prayed through”. For years I had no idea what that meant. Until I was forced by circumstances in my life that required a depth of and commitment to prayer that felt like I was battling for my life. When I finally found God’s heart for my situation it was because I had prayed through my doubts, prayed through my fears, prayed through my weakness and prayed through my desire to give up–I had “prayed through”.
Sometimes–dare I say, often–that kind of intense and invasive honesty scares the bejabbers out of me. It is too close for comfort. Those are the times I retreat to the safety of my Miss America prayers–you know, the petitions with the shallow breadth of Miss America wanting world peace and all the hungry children to be fed–as if I could open my fridge and feed the world. Too broad to be effective but too nice to be criticized.
But all God really wants is to hear what is really on my heart and in my gut. What do I care about at the raw levels of my reality? What makes me want to cry or cringe or cuss? What do I feel in my dark night of the soul? He wants to hear. He wants to be invited to speak and act in those situations with and for me.
And this is beautiful: He also wants to confide in me what is stirring in His heart. Have you ever thought about that? God wants someone to talk to. He desires to express His heart, His deepest desires to me…and you. He doesn’t just want us to dump our laundry-list of needs and longings at his feet, but He is actually jealous to have our ear. Like a precious spouse, He wants to unload His burdened heart. What a God! He chooses to stoop and “need” us.
Anything less than such authentic, transparent disclosure leaves us unaffected and God unsatisfied.
Fear of this degree of intimacy causes me to create shallow substitutes that make me feel ok about my prayer-life but still keep Him at a safer distance. This arm’s-length exchange is what lies beneath my seasons of prayerlessness–or at least those times when my intercessions feel like a practiced exercise in futility. It is probably why it is too easy to justify “skipping” prayer in favor of my own action.
As I have confronted and challenged my “has-it-come-to-that?” approach to prayer, I have begun to embrace these fundamental conclusions that are leading me to a trusting and vulnerable openness before the tender heart of my Father.
- When I pray I align myself with God desires. I am telling Him what matters to me while listening for what matters to Him. The intersections of this exchange lead me to connect with Him as my partner in grace. I find many of the things that burden my heart are somewhat smaller versions of the universal issues that burden His. I connect with His purposes and embrace His intentions. My priorities begin to shift as He both intervenes in my desires and involves me in His.
- When I pray I immerse myself in God’s character. The more I lay out my real needs and honestly expose my deeper longings, the more I sense His intimate concern and very real passion toward the things of my life. After all, He planned it. I am discovering a God who is intently focused on doing in and through me what will bring Him highest glory and bring me fullest satisfaction. He is neither distant nor pre-occupied. He is interested and immediate–and He is good. His love is larger than I can imagine. His grace is deeper than I can fathom. In prayer I am discovering what He is actually like…and it is beautiful.
- When I pray I prepare myself for God’s involvement. As I explore my soul in authentic interaction with my loving Father I realize how close and connected He is. This builds real faith and confidence in both His desire and ability to handle my junk and meet my needs. I slowly and deeply begin to believe. Finding His heart and feeling His compassion builds an unshakeable trust in both His plan and person. As my faith is grounded and stretched I am laying the groundwork to receive and release His action in my behalf. The stage is being set for heaven to touch earth.
Plus, when I pray I make myself available to become God’s answer to many of the concerns I lay before Him. Jesus told His disciples to pray passionately to the Lord for workers to be thrust into the fields of hurting humanity. Immediately, he said to them: “Now, you go.” Prayer was the vehicle that brought them into the flow of God’s love and turned them into conduits of grace. They were to pray until they became the answer to the prayer. This is the shaping power of prayer. It not only changes circumstances and shakes kingdoms, it transforms me.
So in short, I am learning to really talk to God…and what’s more, to listen to Him.
I really want prayer to be the first, best option with all the issues that concern, burden and break my heart. In these moments of real interface and interaction, God can download His passion, desire and vision. This kind of prayer can fling me with heaven-sent wisdom and power into incarnational activity that will be WAY more impactful and effective than all the efforts I exert in its place.
God’s presence, power, passion and provision is our destiny and destination–not the last resort.