It was July of 2004, and I had not yet lived two full years in the knowledge of the Holy Spirit. I had given my heart to the Lord as a very young child, but had only just begun truly living my commitment to Him.
Anyway, that week in 2004 was one of singular pain for me, for I was feeling both spiritually bereft and deeply unhappy about the state of two dear friends in the Lord. As far as I could tell, they desperately needed reconciliation–a healing of sorts–that I could do little to help them accomplish.
Finally, I found the strength and wisdom to do what I should have done all along. Quite by accident, I fasted most of the day. It was not a conscious decision, but I believe the Lord might have allowed it in order to keep me focused on Him. First, breakfast slipped by me, unnoticed; then, lunch. Instead, I listened to various recorded sermons and began asking the Lord in earnest for the desires of my heart–for peace and joy, for reconciliation and wholeness, and for a renewing of my own heart.
That evening, I was having dinner with these precious friends. Now, dinner was something I couldn’t quite eschew… we had been planning this for some time. Just for the sake of ambiance–expecting nothing save a little background music–I turned on Michael W. Smith’s album, Worship. We ate, we talked, we sang… And then, suddenly, we danced before the Lord with hands upraised. And–oh, the beauty of it!–we knelt before Him, praying and rejoicing in the restoration that we suddenly knew had taken place. My prayer had been answered.
How easy it was back then! I read the Scriptures on prayer, I took them to heart, and the Lord heard us and answered. As the years passed, however, I came to view prayer differently. First, I had to distinguish myself from a movement teaching that all prayers were answered–including those for financial prosperity. I have always believed that there exists a difference between a financial desire and a need, so of course, I couldn’t pray for anything that seemed inappropriate, selfish, or frivolous. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your desires” (James 4:3).
So, there was that. Then, there was the fact that, for reasons known to our heavenly Father, prayers are not always answered in the affirmative, or are answered only in God’s time. And then, I reasoned, how did we really know exactly what God’s will might be from day to day? How many “desires of our hearts” could we request? So many times, I read that beloved passage which states: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). At one time, I had taken that passage at face value: if we delight ourselves in the Lord, our thoughts will align with His will, and we’ll find yourself praying that someone be filled with joy rather than, say, that they stay in an unhealthy relationship. However, as 2006 faded into 2007, I began to revise my understanding. If I delighted myself in the Lord, would He not become the desire of my heart? And, therefore, was not praying for anything else–anything at all–failing to delight myself wholly in the Lord, because some of those prayers addressed carnal concerns?
I really need to think on grace sometimes, to read the Scriptures without guile and without excessive analysis, as a child with a fervent prayer life rather than a timorous adult who fears drawing near to the throne of grace. Little wonder that I sometimes failed to find grace in my time of need!
All of this changed about a month ago. It was a small incident, really–and yet, so very important. For months, my family and I had become over-burdened and incredibly weary. Health concerns had piled on top of us, making us all stressed and irritable. All I wanted was to flee–a new start on good days, a downright escape on bad ones. Everywhere I looked, I saw despair. And so, with little recourse and even less strength, I finally begged the Lord for help as simply as I had that long-ago day in 2004. First, I asked Him to fill us with the joy and peace of His Holy Spirit. Then, I did an uncharacteristic thing. I asked for very specific, concrete aid: “Lord, please send someone to us who can help us, provide us with good counsel, and show us what to do and how to live for You”.
Three days later, the Lord answered. A very precious sister in Christ, I was told, would be passing through–and could she stay with us for a week or so? We were delighted. Over the course of that week, I learned more than I had in years about God’s enormous faithfulness. I saw how this sister kept praying and trusting the Lord in the midst of trials and resolved to emulate the grace of God I saw in her. I heard her gentle, lilting voice as she read II Peter and resolved to keep that in my heart–to always rejoice in the Scriptures as much as she does. Together we discussed angels, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the promises of God, the Psalms… Oh, it was glorious!
And then, there were the quiet moments spent all alone with the Lord. Each evening, after proper good-nights and farewells had been said, I retired to worship and read, to sing and pray. Yes, PRAY. For it had been revealed to me in those moments with my sister in Christ that the Lord does desire to hear our petitions, no matter how small or concrete or apparently earthly. Time and again I feasted on those beautiful Scriptures, now viewed in an entirely new light: “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). And again, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:19). And again, “will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8).
Words cannot express how deeply this has impacted my prayer life. Now, be it a desperately-ill person for whom healing from God is the only hope or a lost set of keys that I’d like to find before I next have to go out, I find it easy–no, essential–to bring any and everything to the Lord in prayer Day by day, the same passages float in a continuous cycle through my heart: first, “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17); then, “be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).
From that time to this, I’ve experienced faith that takes me by surprise–pure, indescribable trust such as I had not known since 8 November 2006. Each time I bring a concern or request to the lord now, I feel almost as though I had already received the answer–the very instant the “amen” is spoken. Because, I know my Lord. I know that I, in and of myself, am “imperfect” if you’re being politically-correct, a fallen sinner if you’re not. But the Lord is so gracious, and He has said that He is our heavenly FATHER. And as one of His children, how can I help but approach the throne of grace with a heart wide open, with hands not grasping yet outstretched, because the Lord gives good gifts to those He loves?
Will this lesson on prayer stay in my heart? It has thus far–even in the midst of opposition. Last week, I felt so spiritually assaulted by emotional crises that prayer did not come naturally–not because of anger or a refusal to accept grace, but because pain prevented either song or supplication. The sorrow lasted for three terrible days, and finally I began to wonder–half to myself, half to God, what I should do.
Pray. Just ask.
Only, ever, and always the voice of the Good Shepherd, resounding in my heart and eradicating all doubt, all fear, all anguish. And now, I remember I asked during that emotional crisis for the strength to accept His love, and He provided. I begged Him for an understanding of Who He is to guide me through those tumultuous storms, and He gave me Job 38 and Psalm 95. I asked Him to bless a particularly difficult day by introducing me to another Christian at my typically-oppressive workplace, and three hours later one of my clients was proclaiming his love of Jesus Christ with such emphasis that it was all I could do to continue with the project at hand rather than launching into a theological discussion with him. I asked, sought, and knocked; He provided, He answered, and slowly but surely, I realized that the door of mercy and joy had been opened to me all the time, and here I was furiously pounding for entrance on the doorframe! He had never left me, even when I wondered whether all He had taught me about prayer was only for a very brief season.
And so I continue–in faith, in hope, in love, knowing that “Jesus doeth all things well…” And as I do, my heart is filled with a new song, a hymn of praise, but something I’ve been singing since that day of restoration in 2004: “I waited for the Lord on high. / I waited, and he heard my cry. / He pulled me out of my despair and showed me to walk: / From fear into security, from quicksand into the Rock…” And a modified verse: “I’ll sing to let the people know that I have been restored. / And [we] will kneel and understand, to return and trust in the Lord.” Yes and