In front of me sat a group of adult singles who were gathered to do a study on prayer. I handed out a sheet of paper that began with this statement: “When it comes to prayer, I _________.” They were to fill in the blank.
How would you respond? Before we go on, it might be helpful for you to do just that. Complete this sentence:
When it comes to prayer, I______________________________.
When I tabulated what the group had written, the results fell into these categories:
• “I don’t pray enough.”
• “I don’t know what to pray.”
• “I don’t know if prayer does any good.”
I’ve found such answers common. While a few speak glowingly of the ease with which they slip in and out of conversations with God, more seem to view prayer as a struggle that is sometimes won but more often lost.
It is understandable that prayer would not always come easily. Rightly understood, it is not just emotion addressed to God. It is also an expression of faith that is often weak and small. It is a weapon of spiritual warfare that is used to fight for contested ground. It is a reflection of a relationship with God that is often disrupted and strained by our own ignorance, inattention, and insensitivity. It is an expression of confidence in God that is often replaced by feelings of disappointment.
Early in our Christian walk, we pray with high expectations. We assume that God will give us the deepest desires of our heart, and that through prayer we will experience the closeness and happiness we long for. With our confidence in God we believe that we will rise above any problem.
Then we ask God for something important to us and we don’t get it. We assure ailing friends that we are praying for their recovery, but they don’t get better. We pray in the presence of our family for a solution to problems that are affecting them, only to be left waiting for months and months while God seems to ignore us. We plead earnestly and often for our loved ones’ spiritual restoration, but they remain cold toward God.
Slowly, disappointment forms. We lose our enthusiasm for prayer. Soon we’re praying only at mealtimes. We go through a phase when we won’t bring anything we really care about to the Lord because we can’t take another rejection. We stop communicating with God.
Think a minute about your prayer relationship with God. If you’ve stopped growing in prayer, is it because of honest disappointment?
• Disappointment with God. “I asked and believed that God was going to heal my daughter. But she lost her fight with cancer anyway. I’m brokenhearted and confused.”
• Disappointment with others. “I have a hard time praying when I am so angry with people who are ruining my life.”
• Disappointment with ourselves. “I’ve wanted to pray. I’ve looked forward to it. I’ve had the best of intentions. But I just haven’t been able to get around to it.”
It takes faith and courage to work through a disrupted human relationship. It’s the same in our relationship with God. The first step is to admit the problem. Then we must work past the disappointment and regain our confidence in God. The remainder of this booklet is written to help build that confidence.
But before we go on, let me speak personally for a moment. I know a little of what it means to be disappointed with the turns and twists of life. Sometimes the most disturbing experiences have involved what God has allowed in the lives of those closest to my heart. One of those times involved the health of a dear grandson. Nathan was born with an immune deficiency. His tiny body had no mechanism for fighting disease. In the first few years of his life, we watched helplessly as little Nathan struggled through a series of upper respiratory infections. God didn’t seem to be answering our pleas. Hospitalizations were common.
As a family we were frightened. Could we trust God even if He didn’t answer our prayers for this one so dear to our hearts?
Doctors told us that the immune system in 60 percent of these children “kicks in” about the time they turn 3. While that information offered some hope, it also left us with the realization that 40 percent do not develop defenses against infection. Time after time, I looked at that defenseless little body and prayed.
At first I was consumed by the “what ifs” of Nathan’s condition. As time went on, the focus of my prayers changed. I was no longer as absorbed in the pain I was feeling. I found myself using fewer words. I wrestled, often in silence, on Nathan’s behalf. Eventually I was saying simply, “God, do what’s best. Only You know, and I trust You and Your goodness. I want so much for You to heal him. Yet, Your will be done.”
About the time Nate turned 3, he began to have fewer infections. Then new tests came back: God mercifully let Nathan be one of the 60 percent who overcome immune deficiency.
Through such uncontrollable circumstances of life I have been learning to trust God in the school of prayer. Sometimes I have been grateful for His “yes.” Sometimes I’ve seen the wisdom of a “no.” Sometimes I’ve even learned to enjoy God in the process of waiting for His answer.
Yet I still find myself lapsing into the discouragement of circumstances. I find myself longing for the kind of power that would give me Elijahlike control over physical conditions (Jas. 5:16- 18). What I’ve learned in time, however, is that real confidence in prayer isn’t found by projecting my desires upon God. Instead, I have found confidence by learning some simple yet profound principles of prayer. They do not depend on our ability to be eloquent or spiritually insightful. They have ABC-like qualities that are learned in our Lord’s school of prayer.