Beyond our Miss America prayers
When my husband Bruce and I answered God’s call to jail and prison ministry, we seldom knew the charges or convictions of the incarcerated men and women we prayed with and for. Our motto was Listen, Listen, Love, Love.
So we were a bit shocked by a spontaneous confession one memorable night inside a county jail. We began our Bible study by asking what had drawn the women to attend the meeting. Mostly standard answers. But then one woman said, “I’m here because I’m a Christian. On the outside, I led a check-cashing ring. We would all go out to different stores at the same time and then later we’d split up the proceeds. I always prayed we wouldn’t get caught.”
Talk about a teachable moment. Without missing a beat, Bruce asked, “So, how’s that working out for you?”
A great discussion followed about prayer. While not an exhaustive list, here are three important things to consider as you offer your prayers:
1. Pray with confidence
Start with praise and thanksgiving for God’s attributes and graces toward us. This sets the stage for a confident hope that we are rightly approaching our holy God because of all that the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ has already accomplished for us (Hebrews 4:16).
Many of us have felt frustrated by a feeling that our prayers were “bouncing off the ceiling.” We’d prefer a bit of chastening or a loud resounding No to a painful and prolonged silence. But we can always pray with the confidence that God answers prayers (John 15:16) offered in the right spirit and with the right approach. And you don’t have to be involved in illegal activity to understand that even when he says, “No,” he always knows best. Sometimes if we are bent on self-destruction God in his goodness may grant us a wrong desire by “giving us over to it.” (Romans 1:24) This doesn’t imply endorsement on God’s part. God allows us free will to choose wrongly, while he also allows the suffering of the natural consequences of sin to teach us that his way is best.
2. Pray with humility
When I was a new believer I joined a prayer circle where a woman asked for prayer for her hair. She suffered alopecia. At the time I thought prayer was reserved For Emergencies Only so I scoffed in my heart. As soon as the thought appeared, though, the Holy Spirit called to mind Jesus’ words in Luke 12,
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
I humbled myself. I prayed. Although the woman’s alopecia did not resolve, that faithful group of women prayed earnestly for my needs and I was hired to work in a television news room without a minute of experience as a reporter. God purely provided that job as a result of faithful prayer. I don’t want you to think I am special, or that you are not if your prayer has yet to be answered. But often, God will grant our requests in order to build up the weak faith of one in need. That’s a lesson I will never forget. God cares about everything which concerns us and consumes our attention. Don’t let pride prevent you asking the Lord for the help you need. As one friend says, “I’m quick to ask–there’s no shame in my game.” We all need God’s help and the help of praying friends.
3. Pray with the Spirit
I know and believe God cares about our illness and other passing circumstances, but I also want to go deeper. I want to move beyond the Daily Desperate litany of needs to experience what it is to pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18) and in power (2 Cor 10:4-5).
Our template is the Lord’s prayer. Jesus says to mention our personal daily concerns after we have acknowledged the supreme reign and worth of our heavenly Father and faith in the goodness of his plans for us and for our world now and in the age to come. It can seem daunting to muster the sincere compassion needed to pray for the world first and our needs after giving glory to God for his holy rule and reign. Although I have a few differences with the theology of the film Bruce Almighty, this scene portrays the truth that God understands and helps us in our struggle to pray unselfishly.
You can’t fake concern that isn’t in your heart. But somehow the more we pray the deepest needs, the more God comforts us in ways that take our prayers above and beyond the Miss America prayers we’ve all uttered out of a wrong sense of obligation.
So, let’s keep praying.
The more you allow God to quiet your heart, the more you will become aware of the Holy Spirit praying with you and for you (Romans 8:26-27), and so is our great high priest, Jesus Christ the Lord (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24)
Finally, there is one prayer that is guaranteed to be answered Yes by our heavenly Father.
Thy will be done.
Jesus taught us this prayer, and modeled it in his most pivotal prayer moment of prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. To pray asking God for his will to be done in whatever concerns us is to pray with a Spirit-led heart fully confident and humble before God.
May it be so in your prayer life today.