Prayer is hard.
As a young girl growing up in a Christian family, I went to church (on many occasions more than once a week) and attended a Christian school. So, you can imagine just how many times I was told I needed to be disciplined in reading the Bible and prayer. Naturally, after hearing this I would go upstairs in my room and try. I can’t tell you how many times I would tuck myself away, try to quiet my thoughts, and pray to this invisible and inaudible Being. But I began to notice the more I tried to will myself to pray, the more I disliked it. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t have much to ask for, and besides, did God even care about the things going on in my life? If He did, it’s not like he responded audibly to my requests anyways.
Though my idea of prayer and God changed as I grew in my knowledge of and relationship with Him, I still struggled with prayer. What about the many times I had called out to him – no, begged – for him to change a situation or give me something and He hadn’t? Was He really who He said He was? And if He’s so powerful, then doesn’t He have the ability to do these things? So why isn’t He? Those are just a few of the many doubts I had (and still have) that kept me from reaching out to Him. But God was working in my heart and, about a year and half ago, I asked God to transform my prayer life and give me a desire to pray. No, it definitely did not happen overnight. I tried to read books on prayer, ask friends for advice on prayer, etc. As a matter of fact, many times I got so frustrated with not seeing any changes in my prayer life that I would sit in my room and force myself to be quiet and pray. Of course, this only led to me being hard-hearted with the Lord and forcing an outward prayer that my inner self was not praying. It was then that I decided that if God was big enough, He could and would change my heart in regards to praying and it wasn’t up to me to force it. Ironically, that was actually making things worse.
So, I stopped praying. And God started working.
Several months into this process, circumstances in my family’s life and my own personal life brought me to a place where I had absolutely no control. I was desperate – I could do absolutely nothing to change the situations – so I began to pray.
In his book, A Praying Life, Paul Miller recounts he and his wife’s experience of having an autistic child. He calls the space in between hoping and reality a desert. “The hope line represents our desire for a normal child, reinforced by our prayers from Psalm 121. The bottom line is the reality of a harmed child. We lived in the middle, in the desert, holding on to hope that Kim could somehow be normal yet facing the reality of her disabilities.”
“The hardest part of being in the desert,” Miller says, “is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.”
This sounds utterly hopeless, doesn’t it?
But Miller draws our focus to what God is doing in the midst of our complete vulnerability and weakness. He explains that “The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances… The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.”
“Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring about what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self. Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different.
“After a while you notice your real thirsts. While in the desert David writes,
‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ Psalm 63:1
“The desert becomes a window to the heart of God… You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.”
For so long I had only viewed prayer as a way to get things from God; an avenue through which I could change situations and circumstances; a tool to access His power when I am powerless. That view is not entirely wrong! In many ways, it is completely scriptural (Matthew 7:7, Matthew 18:19, Psalm 107:28-30). But often times, God chooses not to grant our requests or chooses to make us wait for years until He answers them. When we view prayer only as a means to get what we want, we are missing out on potentially God’s biggest purpose for prayer: bringing us closer to His heart and carving us into the image of His Son, Jesus.
I had always thought that through prayer I could change things, but I never realized that God was using prayer to change me. In my powerlessness, God has begun to show me aspects of Himself that I never would have seen unless I was desperate for Him. And slowly, but surely, He is changing the way I pray to become more aligned with His heart.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through me.”