Saturday, August 17, 2013

Learning to Pray

I recently struggled through a book on prayer, unsure of whether my resistance was caused by erroneous theology in the book or a lack of faith on the part of the reader (me:)). I know that we serve a BIG God who is capable of answering BIG prayers. But I bristle at any prayer-strategy that seems to equate God to a vending machine. "Pray this prayer enough times and your desire will be twirled into reality."

God is not a genie who exists to grant my every wish, so I wanted to dismiss the bulk of the book. At the same time, I was convicted that my prayers are too small, too tepid, too safe, too pedestrian. For a few weeks, I wrestled (somewhat incredulously) with these thoughts. 

In the midst of this confusion, I went to our GEM conference in Germany, and was blessed by a teaching on prayer by Crawford Loritts. Finally, both my conviction and my calling became clear.

The conviction--a call to confession and repentance--was rooted in the idea that I had become an editor of my own prayers. Somewhere along the line, I started censoring my prayers based on my own (limited, faulty, fallen) understanding of what is best. I've been praying prayers that could not result in disappointment. In an attempt to become some sort of Press Agent for God (after all, I wouldn't want him to look bad if a prayer seems to go unanswered!), I kept my requests in the realm of the reasonable. Sure things. Anemic suggestions. Somewhat apologetic pleas.

God does not need me as a  Publicist. He can manage his image all by himself. The sad part is, I wasn't trying to manage his image for the world, I was managing it for myself. I didn't want to have to deal with disappointment with God. Talk about a faith problem!

As with most aspects of the Christian faith, effective prayer holds two things in constant tension: Bold expectancy and humble dependence. In ignorance, rather than accept that tension, I had tried to reconcile it, which resulted in humble expectancy--puny prayers. Not a good compromise.

Rather than swing between the two seeming extremes, I need to let them co-exist, like the anchor ends of a tight-rope. When pulled taut, the rope provides a foundation for my prayers. I may wobble as I move across that wire, but I'd rather teeter on truth than lounge on lies where prayer is concerned.

Suddenly (or maybe finally!) my prayers are getting gutsy. At the same time, my hope is not based on the outcome of those prayers but on the faithfulness of God. The riskier the prayer, the more sure I am of my need for God. The more desperate I am for his presence and power. The more delighted I am by his grace and love. The more devoted I am to his word and his will.

This isn't license to ask for whatever I want. It is a charge to ask for whatever God wants. I had unwittingly reduced his will to human-sized accomplishments, eliminating the need for super-natural intervention. In that case, why pray at all?

I have begun asking God to teach me how to pray, and you know what? He's crazy! It turns out God wants to do BIG stuff, and he invites me to participate in his kingdom work through persistent prayer. An all-powerful God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, but in his love for us and his desire for genuine relationship, God has chosen to use the prayers of menial men to enact his perfect will. He gives us real role to play, with real impact. But I haven't been playing my part. Consequently, I haven't seen the fullness of his glory, which he longs to reveal both TO me and THROUGH me.

First God must change me and my approach to prayer! For that reason, I pray that God will give me a faith that reflects his power so that I will pray however he leads. I pray that I won't censor his Spirit. I pray that I will become persistent in prayer when opposition arises, not shrinking back because of obstacles.

Second, I am praying for ongoing personal transformation. I want to be like Jesus, and if that's not an audacious prayer, I don't know what is!

Next, I pray for those closest to me, beginning with prayers for David, Graham, and Chandler. I pray that God will fill them fully and use them mightily. I add a bunch of specifics, but you get the general idea. I am not just asking God to "guide and protect" I am petitioning him to "challenge and use" our family. There's a big difference between those two. Can you see the movement towards bold expectancy and humble dependence? 

Finally, I pray for the world around me. France is desperate for God! Yesterday David and I visited a beautiful village of over 10,000 inhabitants that does not have a single protestant church, and the catholic church is struggling. The whole town that is covered in darkness, and it is just ONE of HUNDREDS of French towns that lack a witnessing fellowship. The need is enormous, the task is daunting, and the urgency is overwhelming. Whole lives are being lived out without ever hearing the Good News of Jesus. But God is moving. He is calling us to BIG prayers because he has BIG plans.

And so I pray for the village of Argenton sur Cruese (pictured throughout this post).

I pray for rebirth, redemption, and revival. I pray for workers for harvest. I pray for an evangelism explosion and a discipleship movement all across France in villages just like this!

God is faithful. He will do it.

How about you? How is God calling YOU to pray?


  1. Thank you, Jen, for fleshing out the words Dr. Loritts spoke. Whew, I need to be so bold.

    1. Carolyn, I am SO happy to know you in the real world! Wasn't Dr. Loritts amazing? I'm still processing all of it!

  2. Wow, Aunt Jenn, this has been so amazing to read. The LORD has begun to convict me about my prayer time, and the lessons you shared here are exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, muchly! Love you!

    1. Oh Sarah, I wish you were sitting in my living room so that I hear more about what the Lord is teaching you! You could call me! Or better, come back!

    2. Oh...I want to come back. I'm going to ~ "soon"! In the meantime, I think I will call you when you guys get back! Let's schedule a time!

  3. I second Sarah on that one! Thank you Aunt Jenn for sharing this. Prayer and how I should pray has been heavy on my mind these last few weeks.

    1. In some ways prayer is so simple, and in other ways I struggle with it so! Let me know if you have further insights, Kaytra, I'd love to hear them.

    2. I've never had a response to my comments.Are they being read?

  4. France has been on my heart for many years.When I pray about going back,this time to serve,not be a tourist I hear "not yet".I guess it's about God's timing.I'm praying for the "divine connections"there.I KNOW France needs God!When,Lord when?!

    1. Hi Lynn! Yes, all your comments are read. I've only just learned to activate the "reply" feature. Your prayers for France are so important--what a great way to have impact for the kingdom from afar!