Our local Chick-Fil-A hosts a wonderful (FREE!!) event each year called Prince and Princess Night. The location varies, but the concept never does: boys and girls dress up as their favorite princes and princesses and attend a super-charged meet-and-greet with various Disney favorites. There is a main stage with performances by each prince and princess that the kids get to participate in, games and prizes, and more photo opportunities than you can imagine. It’s something we look forward to every year! I guess because of this impending event, during a recent conversation with a friend who was struggling with a long-running issue, I started thinking about my approach to prayer, specifically how I thought about prayer (how I treated it). Sadly, it turns out I have a much more “Disney” than Jesus approach often times.
This might be kind of tricky to explain, so stick with me.
You see, often times I use prayer as a means to an end. I have a problem or a challenge. I don’t know how to handle this problem or challenge or, more likely, I just want it to go away. So I pray about it. Then, I expect God to wave His Disney-esque magic wand and simply remove my problem or challenge because “I did my part” and said my one prayer about it. I mean, isn’t that how this works? God sees poor, stressed Lindsey and breaks out His magic and all my problems melt away? Abraca-NOPE! It turns out, prayer is a lot more powerful and foundational than that.
I do want to make sure I’m clear about one thing right off the bat: I ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT believe that God can answer a prayer either before we ever offer it up, or the second the words leave our hearts. He is mighty and able to do more than we could ever even dream. I don’t doubt His ability, but as I’ve learned more about the heart of God, about His desire for a real, deep, binding relationship with His children, I’ve started to see that God uses prayer as a bridge, and not one that He’s willing to quickly discard. Think about it this way. What if every time we had a problem, we prayed about it once, God moved immediately, and our problem vanished. Where would this leave us as Christians? Where would this leave us in our relationship with God?
I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, has created prayer to be, not as a magic wand, but as a door that we, His children, can use to gain access to His voice, His guidance, His wisdom, and His love. Prayer is not a last ditch effort to restore our earthly calm, uttered only at the apex of our need. Prayer is a way for God to guide us small step by small step through our challenges and trials and temptations until at last (sometimes at loooong last), we are on the other side. If the purpose of our struggles is to teach us to be more like Jesus, what good would a magic-wand response from God do us anyway? We know from watching Jesus’s actions and hearing His words that He exhibited a variety of character traits: grit, determination, faith, forbearance (self-control), patience, grace, love, long-suffering, tolerance…and that’s just to name a few. These qualities were the tools Jesus used to persevere through His trials and tribulations. It’s these qualities (plus a few others) that made Him Jesus! There was no magic wand. There was no immediate relief. There was, however, prayer.
In researching some biblical truths about prayer, I came across a verse that I don’t remember ever really paying attention to before, but it really emphasized the importance of prayer in our personal relationships with God. Job 22:27 states powerfully, “You will pray to Him, and He will hear you, and you will fulfill your vows to Him.” Did you catch that? Prayer is such a significant vehicle for solidifying our personal relationships with God that Job refers to it as vow fulfillment. When a couple gets married, isn’t it the ceremonial vows that set the foundation for how their relationship should go? Aren’t the vows what dictate the sanctification of a marriage, the unbreakable bond that marriage creates between those two people? Hopefully now we’re beginning to understand why God lets that trial linger longer than we’d prefer, why He allows us to develop a prayer life that involves our repetitive return to Him for guidance and strength instead of simply taking that magic-wand approach we so often hope for.
If we were meant to deal with our struggles by reaching out to God once and only once, if God wasn’t interested in using our prayer life as a doorway into close relationship with Him, we wouldn’t need verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly].” We wouldn’t need to be encouraged BY JESUS HIMSELF “…always to pray and not to turn coward (faint, lose heart, and give up)” (Luke 18:1). If prayer isn’t something that helps us develop long-suffering like Jesus and an ability to persevere like Jesus, there’d be no need for these scriptures. Take a second to look closely at Psalms 145:18, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him sincerely and in truth.” Let that sink in…the Lord is near to all who call upon Him. So how, again, do we draw near to Jesus? Prayer. How do we put ourselves into the very presence of the Lord? Prayer. Friends, this is proof that God’s purpose for prayer is far greater, far more important really, than simply answering our requests. Sure, He does that, too. He’s a loving God who wants only the very, very best for His children. He wants to bless them and show them how mightily He can move on their behalf. However, for Him, prayer is so much more than that. It’s His line to us.
So often we come to God with our needs and we feel unheard and unimportant when instant gratification isn’t granted. Instead of getting upset and maybe even angry with God over what we perceive to be His distance, let’s choose instead to remember what the Bible says about Him. He loves us. He longs to be in close relationship with us, and prayer is the cord the binds us to God. I think it’s worth our time to consider a change in our prayer lives, also. Before you disagree, hear me out. In James 4:8, the Bible states, “Come close to God and He will come close to you.” (Sounds really similar to Psalms 145:18, doesn’t it? Wonder if we should pay close attention when God repeats Himself in the Bible? <–SARCASM!) Look carefully at the order of the actions mentioned in this verse. Which comes first, does God draw near to us and then we reciprocate only AFTER He’s made Himself known? Nope. It’s our move. We must reach out to Him FIRST. We draw near to God, and THEN God is near to us. Prayer first, for however long it takes, then God moves on our behalf. But there’s even more good news written between the lines here. You know that in-between time, when you’re still praying over your struggles but God’s not moved visibly yet? Guess what…He’s still right beside you.
Going back to that change in our prayer lives that I mentioned above, let me just throw this idea out there. What if we didn’t want until we needed something serious (and immediately) to tighten our bond with God? What if we fulfilled our vows to Him by praying on a regular basis, about all things? I can only speak for myself and as I go through life I might find this isn’t necessarily always true, but for me personally, I’ve found that when I’m strengthening my relationship with God regularly, in other words, when my prayers are prayers of only thanksgiving or simply conversations with God instead of a litany of requests thrown down at peak urgency, God seems not to need to use trials and tribulations to get my attention and my time. Life just seems a little easier, a little calmer. It’s certainly not magic and I certainly don’t profess to know what God does or why, but sometimes common sense wins out. If God is determined to have a relationship with us and prayer is that relationship’s foundation, God will encourage us to pray by whatever means necessary. In that case, what would it hurt to try praying regularly and in ALL circumstances instead of waiting until you desperately need God’s assistance to speak with Him? Maybe, just maybe, those trials and tribulations that force you into the presence of God wouldn’t be quite so necessary. Just sayin’….
Dear Lord, thank you so much for creating a way for me to speak directly to You. Thank you for ALWAYS hearing me and for ALWAYS working on my behalf to bring the most good into my life. Help me, Lord, to trust Your presence and to believe Your hand is moving even when I cannot see it or sense it. Help me, also, Father, to commit myself to a close relationship with you, one that doesn’t have me running to you only when I need something. Teach me to be patient in my prayers and steadfast in my commitment to my relationship with You. Help me to spend time with you daily so that I’m not reliant on difficult seasons of life before ever reaching out to You. Thank you for the example Jesus set for me with regard to prayer, and I ask you to help me to be more like Him in that regard. I love you, Father, and I thank you for all my many, many blessings. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” ~Corrie Ten Boom