Much has been written, taught, preached about prayer and why it does or doesn’t work. By “work” most people mean “work to our advantage” or “get the sought-after result.” There are prescriptions, prayer guides, and instruction manuals on prayer with tidy lists of what those who pray must do—and in what order—if they are to see results or, if not followed as prescribed, reasons why the desired result is not seen in good time.
There are prayer requests sent out by mass mailings or social media blitzes rallying a power-prayer bombardment to sort of “gang up on God” to get Him to change his mind or to clear the way for some project or political objective.
I will readily admit that I don’t understand prayer. I don’t know why sometimes we seem to “get what we want” and other times we don’t. I don’t know why the God who breathed (and continues to breathe) galaxies into existence chose to penetrate our tiny planet with the seed of the Divine and make us “vessels unto honor,” promising never to leave us or forsake us and assuring us that He knows our needs before we ever ask.
I do know that if the walking-around definition of His character and being, his very flesh and blood persona—Jesus—is to be believed, God loves us and is moved to compassion by our issues, even when they are the result of our own unwise choices.
If I read the story of Jesus rightly, it’s more about our getting on God’s page than about God getting on ours. After all, isn’t that why Jesus came? To let us know that God was on our page from the beginning, from the “foundations of the world”? Didn’t Jesus come to let us know the true character of the Father and clear up any confusion about how "one" He wants us to be with Him and with each other?
And doesn’t every story Jesus told (parables, we call them, because they parallel life’s great truths) tell us that there are two systems in operation—the system of this world and its powers (both political and ecclesiastical) and the Kingdom of God? And didn’t Jesus plainly teach that we will never accomplish Kingdom work with the earth’s systems? So ganging up on God to get our candidates elected or defeated or our empires expanded doesn’t seem to be in line with what Jesus taught and exemplified.
As I think back over my life, recalling the great people of prayer that I have known, the people I would call if I were at a hard place, they seem not to be all that visible to the masses, but instead have been those “embedded” in the fabric of regular life. Come to think of it, the great Believers I have know have been “embedded”, too. And that is what the media and the public seem to miss. Doesn’t that sound a lot like metaphors Jesus used for those who would follow him, metaphors like “yeast” and “salt” and “light”?
As I said before, I don’t really understand why this great cosmic all-powerful, all-knowing God would invite us into a co-op with Him, but He does. I am so amazed at that and so grateful.
And about methods and systems and protocol for prayer, let me just say this:
Our three kids are as different as three can be. One will plan your sox off and can think circles around us both, but hates being in the public eye. One leads with her heart and absorbs everyone else’s pain, joy, and dreams. She is amazing to watch when she works with people. One gets everything on a visceral level and is seldom wrong about the internal character or motives of even the roughest character, though he may not always be able to tell you how he knows. One writes, one dances and one makes music all day and all night.
When they walk into our farm kitchen, we don’t stop them at the door and keep them there at arm’s length until the thank us for our parenting skills (or lack of them), give us due credit for all the meals, parties, cook-outs, vacations, homework help, sick-care, college tuition, deposits on first apartments, weddings and baby gifts we may have contributed to their lives. We don’t withhold affection until they create the perfect atmosphere of praise for us to inhabit.
We are just so glad to see them that we run half-way to the drive-way to meet them and help shoulder their baggage, collect their children, kiss their sweet faces, hug their spouses, and pull them into this comfortable old place where the soup’s already on, the fire is crackling in the kitchen fireplace, the candles are lit, and the chill-down music is playing.
We’re just so glad they’ve come home again and hollowed out some time to just BE together, we can hardly stand it. Conversations about anything and everything flow easily around our old oak table while I slice the hot cornbread and pass around the steaming bowls of soup.
Sooner or later someone is bound to drift to the piano and someone else uncases the guitar. Songs they grew up singing start filling the house while little ones spread out their favorite puzzles and super heroes across the floor, content to bask in the noise and music and conversations so familiar.
Our kids are always our kids, and in between actual visits we keep in contact pretty much daily by phone, texts, emails and, well, prayer. The relationship is long-standing and trusted. But Bill and I love it when they come home and we can just be together. On purpose.
This God we love doesn’t lose track of us, either, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” He just wants us home. He wants us present. We are always on His mind, and the minute we turn our full face in His direction, we find He’s already facing us.
So what is the secret of prayer? If this cosmic, yet personal God invites us to hang out with him and not be shy about it, as NIKE says about exercise, “Just do it!” You have to love Psalm 139, and I love it best in Living Bible:
O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You place your hand of blessing on my head Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; If I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me….You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book….How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of the sand! And when I wake up, your are still with me! …Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (New Living Bible)