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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Prayer: A Mystery Unfolds

We lead a prayer ministry at our church.  So I feel like I think about prayer fairly often.  But this week the morning show I listen to (The Walley Show) was talking about prayer, specifically about when prayers are unanswered or answered in a way that we weren’t really hoping for or expecting.  They had many examples of how these unanswered prayers lead to bigger things that they just couldn’t see.  Which I agree happens often, but not always.  Recently I’ve also watched a relatively new believer blossom into a beautiful example of Christian boldness emboldened by the Holy Spirit. We also have come to realize that many struggle to attend our prayer gathering because of a fear of praying a loud, or a fear of praying wrong. I’ve watched Christians grapple with this concept of corporate prayer and have been moved and touched by the words that they themselves feel fall short. So I’ve been thinking a lot more about prayer this week.

Prayer is indeed mysterious.  To me, prayer has always seemed simple on so many levels. I grew up Catholic and my youthful prayers were either repetitive rote memorization or easy flowing conversations (many times one sided conversations) with God.  It was a lot of asking, a little thinking, and many times it felt desperate.  As I’ve grown as a Christian, delved deeper into the Word, and walked through spiritual battles, my concept of prayer has definitely evolved. It is far from simple.  But in many ways, it is still very mysterious- and there are many things I don’t understand.

I used to prayer desperately for my mother to be healed miraculously of early onset Alzheimer’s. I prayed for the financial troubles that came with a dementia diagnosis in one’s early 50s be fixed and I prayed for health and prosperity for my parents. There were so many things breaking before my eyes and I longed for miraculous mending.  I called down the power of heaven, I sought the Holy Spirit, and His wisdom.  I was diligent.  

At the same period of my life I was also struggling with the anger that came from losing your mother slowly and suddenly to Alzheimer’s.  I was in my early 20s and I didn’t want to be doing this, I didn’t want to be experiencing it, and I didn’t understand why I had to.  The anger spilled out of my heart and all over those I loved.  Mark, who was just my boyfriend at the time, very plainly told me that my emotions did not get to dictate my actions and that I needed to turn to Jesus. I needed to repent, I needed Jesus to help me regain control, and I needed to accept the comfort and peace that He offered me. And I actually listened.  I dove into devotionals, I read the Bible for hours a day, I gave up TV, conversing with Jesus became like breathing. I felt His presence with me always, I could hear His call, and felt emboldened to speak truths to others.  I was still grieving my mother and the navigating the difficult initial stages of Alzheimer’s. But I was also invigorated and energized.

God never did heal my mother.

But He did heal me.

I lived those tumultuous years of confusion and heartbreak filled with comfort and peace that I didn’t understand. I didn’t know how I could possibly have peace in those difficult times. But I knew I had it and that it came from Jesus. It certainly was beyond my understanding.
Prayer and faith tend to be riddled with inconsistency. There tends to be an ebb and flow. Seasons of abundance,  and seasons of dry, arid silence.  I think this inconsistency comes from the human side of prayer. God is faithful. He is always good.  We tend to take our eyes off of Jesus and focus on the waves. We don’t protect our hearts. We let comfort make us lazy. We let fear creep in. We become closer to the world than the Word. We stop seeking Him and start seeking answers.  At least I do.
The 5 years we’ve been trying (so far unsuccessfully) to conceive has been a roller-coaster of winning spiritual battles and languishing in dark nights.  I’ve stood strong and believed. I’ve feared and wondered if I’d ever be a mother.  I’ve calmly sought Jesus and His truth. I’ve frantically lamented the leagues of unplanned pregnancies and millions of abortions as I desperately longed to bear and raise children in a godly home.  I’ve ignored Jesus and I’ve blamed Him.  I’ve surrendered it all, just to pull back that surrender with ideas of my own. I’ve desperately listened to amateur’s advice and ignored the call to just rest.  My prayers have ranged from desperately seeking peace and truth through the indwelling of the Spirit, to ranting about the years God made Sarah and Abraham wait. I’ve been expectant and hopeful. I’ve been a prodigal many times over.  I’ve tried to formulate my faith into an equation that would yield the miracle of a child. I’ve been jealous and I’ve been bitter. 

I have failed. I have wallowed in the depths of sorrow.

And I have grasped a hold of Jesus and let Him pull me out.

I have learned hard lessons.

Prayer is not about laying out a multitude of petitions and asking God to give you everything you want.  We have needs, and we have desires, and the Lord knows them and we should approach Him with confidence. But prayer should be about seeking Jesus. Striving to know Him better and striving to become more like Him. Knowing what prayer should be and actually doing prayer in that manner, are 2 different things. I often beat myself up because I felt so close to Christ in those first years of my mother’s illness. I let go of control- because I never really had any to begin with, and I yielded to Jesus. I let ugly parts of me die; it wasn’t easy and it was not pain free, but it was worth it. The more I pursued Christ, the more I wanted to purse Him.  And I look back at those moments and I wonder what is wrong with me now, as I often clamor to Jesus with the last vestiges of energy at the end of my days and beg Him to send us a child.  I know the comfort I seek is in abiding in Him.  He is the answer. He is always good. And my relationship with Him is the most important part of my life.  So why do I falter so much? Why is peace more difficult to grasp now than it was then? Maybe it’s not.
I have complete faith that children are a part of God’s plan for my life. One day, soon I will write you about that answered prayer.

I need Jesus like I need oxygen. And prayer is the way to breathe Him in. I’m learning to avoid spiritual suffocation by looking upwards instead of inwards.

 “In every situation, [no matter what the circumstances] be thankful and continually give thanks to God; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Lord, today I bow before you, letting the weight of this world fall away, so I that I may seek You and only you.  Bring me near to You, reveal Yourself to me that I may revel in your goodness. Send me the strength and comfort that only comes from You and heal my broken pieces into a mosaic that ushers Truth to your people.

Prayer seems mysterious.  But when we diligently seek the Lord, His ways- which are not our ways, become less mystery and a more cemented part of our faith as we deepen our relationship with Christ.  

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