Yes, I know. Last post I said it was the last post on suffering. But I couldn’t let the series end without a short word on prayer. Prayer and suffering are just too connected to end it without addressing the issue of prayer.
My Desperate Prayer
I walked alone into the woods of the Rogue Valley, in Oregon. I wasn’t a Christian, but I was there to pray. I was making that hike and praying like that fairly often, because I was desperate for two things. One, I needed a job. Kathy was eight months pregnant with our first son Gabe. We were living in an 8′ x 24′ travel trailer and borrowing from my parents to make the rent. The shower was so small, and Kathy was so pregnant, that she couldn’t pick up a bar of soap if she dropped it. And I was unemployed.
The second thing I prayed for was strange because I wasn’t a Christian. The second thing I prayed for was Christian friends. Peculiar, I know. But I was so intrigued by Jesus that I wanted to learn more. And I felt the need to connect with other Christians so I could find out all I could about him.
I never saw God’s answer coming. The way He answered that prayer was completely outside of my imagination. I’ll share what He did toward the end of this post.
Jesus Said “When,” Not “If”
“When you pray,” Jesus said, just before he taught the disciples what to say. “When,” he said, not, “if.”
When you pray, pray privately, he said. And when you pray, pray concisely, he said. (Extra words don’t earn you points.)
Then he said, When you pray, “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily food. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
And that’s how it’s done, according to God’s Son. With an emphasis on forgiving because that’s the only part he commented on. After he gave us his model prayer, He said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:5-15)
The Key To Prayer
“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.'”
Jesus didn’t just offer a model prayer, but he also told this parable. The scriptural record says he gave this parable, “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1-8)
The key to successful prayer then, according to Jesus, is persistence. If a judge who doesn’t fear God or respect men can be worn down, how much more will our Father in heaven who loves us respond. The key is not to give up. The key is not to lose heart.
I’m reminded of a quote cited by Elon Musk recently. He said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” (The quote is commonly attributed to Winston Churchill, but there’s debate.) And, I would add, “keep praying.” I’m not saying God will grant you what you expect Him to. God is God. And He will answer all of our prayers in whatever way He knows best. And it may be in a way we can’t understand this side of heaven. But He’ll answer: if we keep praying, if we don’t lose heart.
How God Answered My Prayer
I kept going out there, into the woods, and praying. I kept asking for the same two things: a job and Christian friends. And what God did I could hardly believe. Growing up I never had the typical childhood dream of becoming a policeman or firefighter. I just never had an interest. But a firefighter job opened up in Medford and I applied, on a lark. It was on a lark because I had absolutely no education or experience with firefighting. They gave us a book to study, and I hardly read it until the night before the test. I crammed all night long and was very sleep deprived when I walked into the North Medford high school cafeteria where the test was being administered. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were 300 men in that cafeteria. And they were all there to take that test.
I almost turned around and walked out, but I thought, “I studied all night. I might as well give it a shot.” So I went in and sat down. I overheard two other firefighter candidates talking about a firefighter from Portland who came down to take this test, and a Fire Captain from Phoenix who came up to take this test. My heart hit the floor. There was no way I could compete.
But somehow, I came out near enough the top to get an interview. And somehow, after the interview they hired me.
And they put me on a crew full of Christians. One of the first things that crew did was to invite me to join them in a Bible study they held every evening in the station dorm–mind blown.
I worked for that fire department for thirty years. And those crew members gave me a bible, and they persuaded me to go to church where I gave my life to Christ.
“When,” Jesus said, not “if.” There is no not praying for the follower of Jesus Christ. Not praying would be like that couple you know who stopped talking to each other. If the disconnection continues, the marriage dies, and the couple is no longer a couple but two individuals, separate from each other. But Jesus says, beyond the material is a Father’s heart. Jesus says, our Father’s arms are around us and we’re to cry out to Him in prayer. Because in Jesus, our Father has already cried out to us.
And just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103 says). And sometimes children don’t even know what’s wrong with them. Sometimes they may even ask for the wrong thing. But their dad or mom usually knows what they need. And their heavenly Father always knows.
Of course we’re not limited to the words Jesus gave us to pray in his model prayer. Jesus himself prayed other words on multiple occasions recorded in scripture.
And the words of the warrior-poet David and others in the Psalms are prayers. When we’re suffering, the prayers in the Psalms are often the ones we identify with most strongly. It’s good to pray through those Psalms.
It’s also very powerful to pray conversationally with your Father. Read His scripture, then at a point where you have a question, a comment, or a request, stop and talk to Him. Then read some more. Then stop and talk to Him some more. A conversation with the most powerful Person in existence is one of the most powerful ways to pray.
One thing I’m entirely convinced of,
God loves to connect with us in prayer.
So pray. Pray privately. Pray persistently.
And pray often.
Connect with Him in prayer as often as you can. It pleases Him, and it strengthens you.
“Father, make us men and women of prayer. Fill us with faith in You, and trust in You. And fill us with a desire to be in Your presence: in prayer, and in Your bible, and in praise, and in church. Help us to pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
References and resources:
Much of this blog post was inspired by Ray Stedman’s teaching, Why Pray?
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
[The image at the top of this post is indeed one of a man praying in the Rogue River National Forest, but it’s of one of my nephews–not me.]