JESSICA ROAN | GUEST
Oswald Chambers once said, “Prayer does not equip us for greater works; prayer is the greater work.” I hate to admit it, but if that is the case, I am doing a lot of “work” and very little of the “greater work” in this season of my life.
When I was single and newly married, I spent consistent time in prayer. During early motherhood, with newborn babies and young children, however, I only imagined a day when I would have more time to read the Bible and pray. Now that my sons are more independent, I am not satisfied with my prayer life at all. I pray, but my prayers seem to be in small snippets or moments of desperation, not the focused devotional times I imagine. I feel like a failure at prayer.
Perhaps you are a new mom, a busy professional with a family, or someone in a season of life filled with responsibilities and distractions. Are you too discouraged by what your prayer and devotional life looks like? Perhaps we need to challenge some of the “rules” for prayer we often hold to.
Quiet Time Doesn’t Always Need to Be Quiet
When I was in college, I had a friend with eight siblings. I came from a home with only two children, so her home environment was foreign to me. When I went to her house, her little sister slept in the window seat so that I could have her bed (five girls lived in one room). One day we were discussing spending time in the word and prayer, and I said something flippant about the importance of finding a quiet place to be alone with God. She just smiled and looked around. In her life, the concepts of “quiet” and “alone” were not feasible.
When looking over verses on prayer, one factor stood out to me.
Consider the following:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears” (Psalm 18:6).
Words like “all circumstances,” “anxiety,” and “distress” do not scream “quiet” to me. Certainly, there are times when we will find a place to be quiet with the Lord, but raising young children, delivering kids to school and activities, maintaining a marriage and friendships, and meeting the expectations of a job require focus and energy. We do not always have the opportunity for lengthy prayer and Bible meditation. But the truth is, God meets us where we are. He hears us pray while we change diapers, drive littles to the playground, or wash the dishes. He hears our desperate prayers before the big meeting with our boss or the conference call with the client. No matter the time or place, whether our eyes are opened or closed, our Father hears us when we pray.
Prayer Doesn’t Need to Be Eloquent
We all know those people, those brothers or sisters who pray eloquently worded prayers. Often, I am not that person. My emotions often rule, and what I want/should say is foggy. I don’t articulate well. My words are stumbling and tangled. Thankfully, the Bible tells us that God has given us his son, the “great high priest” who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses . . . one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). As a result, the writer encourages us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Not only does Christ relate to our weaknesses, the Holy Spirit is also there when we have no words. In times of emotional struggle, sleeplessness, health issues, and more, I struggle to know what to pray for. All I do know is that I need God to speak into my life at that moment. When Paul is discussing the excruciating period of waiting to be in heaven, he also adds “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Not only does the Spirit pray “for us” while we pray, but Paul goes on to reassure us that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). I am grateful to know that my muddled prayers are supplemented by the Holy Spirit’s perfect words on my behalf and used for God’s great purposes in my life. What grace!
Prayer Can Be Long or Short
Can we have a prayer life without devoting time to it? Absolutely not. Our focus must turn from what we are doing and turn towards God. While it seems like that focus can only happen during hours spent in a closet or on a mountain retreat, in truth, it can also happen during middle of the night insomnia, while cooking dinner, or nursing a baby. The key ingredient is our heart’s posture toward the Lord. Are we turning to him in dependence? Are we seeking him as our deliverer?
Christ’s example shows us the importance of devotion to prayer. He often went off alone to pray through the night. After his baptism, Christ went into the wilderness alone to fast and pray for 40 days (Luke 4). Just after John the Baptist’s death, Jesus stole away on a boat. Before he chose his disciples, he retreated to a mountainside to pray (Luke 12), and the night before his arrest, he prayed at the Mount of Olives (Luke 22). At the same time, the Bible gives evidence of God’s answering short prayers. In the parable of the taxpayer in Luke 18, Jesus says that the tax collector who desperately prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” went to his house “justified” (Luke 18:13-14). Jesus compassionately healed two blind men on the outskirts of Jericho after their simple plea of, “Lord, have mercy on us” (Matt. 20:31), and Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “You will be with me in paradise” after his simple request of “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42-43). Spending time alone with God is necessary for our faith. Whether the time spent is long or brief, God hears and answers the prayers of those who cry out to him in faith and trust.
Prayer for a Christian is crucial. How else can we “stand firm” as Ephesians 6 teaches us? For those of us in busy seasons of life, when our prayer times are shorter than we like, or we struggle to find the words to pray, we need not despair. We can trust in the promises of our sovereign God who meets us in our weakness. May we take heart that God meets us in our weakness and uses our prayers for his good purposes.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash