3 winning ways to pray–and the 1 prayer that cannot fail

Beyond our Miss America prayers

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

Photo by Brittney Borowski @ Lightstock

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.

Bubba’s baby boy

Bubba Watson’s face was set like a flint in the run-up to the playoff at the Masters. Then he made a shot so impossible the cameras couldn’t even capture it. Then he quieted the crowd before his tap-in to win. And then he just wept on the shoulder of anyone and everyone in range.

And when he was asked about that winning moment he simply said, “I never got this far in my dreams, so it’s not a dream come true. It’s a blessing.” They weren’t just asking him about golf but also about becoming a new father to his adopted son Caleb. Later he said that his world doesn’t revolve around golf–noting that he still hadn’t changed the first diaper. He’s a hero for so many reasons and his character is his greatest victory. The picure Bubba Watson provided People magazine says it all.

And his wife! Angie Watson and Bubba are both devoted Christians. Angie knew she wouldn’t be able to have children when the wed, but the timing of the adoption came after 4 years and some false starts and they brought their one-month-old son home just two weeks before the Masters would make his dad a champion. Of the fame Bubba said, “I hope I keep crying.”

Adoption is a beautiful option! I thank God for Caleb’s birth mother. The pregnancy help movement makes stories of families created by adoption an everyday miracle. Adoption is the picture of what Christ has done for us to bring us into the family of God. And it’s a beautiful thing.

When Love Sees You

Sometimes it’s hard to picture God’s love for me–for everyone–when I look around and see needs that run so deep.

This video really helps.

I don’t know that the mental image I have of Jesus necessarily matches with the actor cast to play the part here, but I do know that every healing miracle told in the gospels is true. These are historic events we can trace through time.

Jesus was a healer without equal–the one Great Magician Who Turned the Water into Wine (as Van Morrison noted in his song, These are the Days). Jesus was also a Master Storyteller–drawing characters so vivid they seem real to us. His stories sometimes deter us from realizing that the history is not just a story. Jesus gave sight to the blind and he raised people from the dead. See which other historical healings you can detect as you watch.

When Love Sees You by Mac Powell

This depiction of the life and ministry of Jesus reminds me that I can only love because God first loved me. It’s so encouraging for me to know that we just aren’t in a position to see ourselves as God sees us. Often times that means that I am underestimating the  ways that I fall short of God’s ideal. But even after something so harrowing as deep sins like abortion (or the challenge to forgive the ones who sinned against you by causing it), God still sees us as the object of his love.

Dripping faucet a metaphor for men and abortion

I went to NRB last week and met with some of the most prominent Christian broadcasters from the US and around the world. I had the chance to speak with Kay Arthur and June Hunt, and listen to Chip Ingram and Jack Graham. I’ll tell you a little more about meeting Maxim Maximov in a future post–a little closer to our departure for the mission to Perm, Russia.

But the reason I mention the big players is that I’m still most impressed by a student production called ‘a faucet drips’.

“A short film produced as a senior project at Northwestern College (St. Paul, MN) in Spring 2011. The story follows a young couple through the decision to abort an unplanned pregnancy and examines the results of relational passivity. Director Laura Hoffman. Producer Erin McGregor. Editor Mel Magnuson. Director of Photography Micah Murray. Starring Zach McClellan & Ashley Young.”

This is film is so heartbreakingly real. This is what abortion does to men. Tending to the details of the relationship is his responsibility and yet it seems to be unfolding completely outside his control. The emotional distancing he experiences allows him to tell himself that everything will be all right. Until it is much much too late.

I posted this story when the film was completed last year, and I share it again to offer congratulations to the young filmmakers for the screening at the NRB Showcase.

Please share this with others. Not only do these students deserve a wide audience for this accomplished work, but I haven’t seen any other film which shows the impact of abortion on the average guy who gets caught up in it. I thank God once more that He is the Lord of second chances–infinite chances to do the right thing now–and unmeasurable mercy.

Let’s pray

Please pray with us as God is calling me to pray outside an Atlanta abortion facility tomorrow and Friday, Day 38 and 39 of the worldwide 40 Days for Life prayer vigils.
     
                                                                       

I’m more of an evangelist than an activist, although I thank God for faith champions in the public arena! So, while I have been engaged for ten years in writing and speaking and private prayer for life, until last fall I had not joined the organized prayer effort nor agreed to fast at an appointed time. But I heard God’s call to go and pray at a facility a couple of weeks ago–my first time to stand outside such a place and pray.
 
God ordained a solitary time in this rather unusual location–no sidewalk, parking lot marked no trespassing–no interaction opportunity whatsoever.

A concrete bench nearby beckoned, and I sat down ready to move if asked. Yet no one disturbed me as I gazed at the exterior of the facility and watched the traffic moving in and out. I prayed for the uniformed guard that he would realize what he was protecting, and that he would resign his position. I prayed for his heart and his family. For women arriving to work, I prayed and asked that they would resign their jobs and turn to God for His provision and mercy. I saw women arrive two-by-two walking slowly and resolutely. I prayed that friends would be true friends and offer true help, and I prayed that mothers would change their minds and let their children live. I prayed for all for whom my prayers arrived too late.

I read Lamentations aloud and listened to the sound of our culture echoing ancient Jerusalem in her fall.

I felt overwhelmed as I considered the grief and sorrow which will surely arrive one day for everyone who enters and leaves that place. I had to admit that as I set out for this assignment, I didn’t see what difference an hour of my time would make on that particular day. I just knew God wanted me there. And of course, it changed my heart.

My time in prayer at that place increased the urgency I feel to rescue others from the lifelong consequences of abortion. I thank God that my time in prayer came to an end with rejoicing over Jesus Christ and his tender mercy. Again, I heard his sweet words of welcome to my little one, to all the little ones we reject when he said, “Let the little children come to me….”

So, Lord willing, I will return tomorrow, eager to pray with others this time through.

Lord willing, I will be there, praying.

Will you pray with me?


 

Pruning

It’s the Pruning, Stupid!

The redbuds are blooming in Atlanta. My husband tends our lovely garden and he had to wrestle me before I agreed to allow him to prune the young crepe myrtle you see in front of our redbud tree. He’s much wiser to the ways of plants and he knows that pruning makes trees beautiful and lush when the season comes for growing.



                                                  

I’m learning about pruning from a spiritual perspective right now too.  In John 15:2 Jesus said, “[God the Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” When I read that verse this week so many things began to make sense!

I have been feeling cut off from all the pretty branches of my life that were giving me security in another time—the mommy branch that anchored all activity while my kids were young, the daughter branch that dwelled in the security of parental love before my parents died, the career branch that validated my gifts and talents until I retired from radio—all of these now gone. I was removed from friends and the safety of my church family in our move to our new home here in the south.

When the shock wore off, I began to wonder if I was being purified, as in the refiner’s fire.  With all the trappings of my identity stripped away, I tried to bend to chastening and spent many days and months reflecting on the deepest darkness of the past.  But again and again the Lord brought me back to his grace and filled me with his assurance that I am forgiven and my faith is pleasing to him. I hope you’ve learned that too. One confession is sufficient to access his lovely forgiveness and mercy. But even more than our confession, it is our faith that pleases him.  We think that faith is about doing great things for God. Or we think it’s about abasing ourselves before him in abject repentance and dependence. Sometimes faith is habit and practice, simply agreeing to pray whether you feel like it or not. Those things are all part of the life of faith. But when it comes to pleasing God, the faith itself is his aim.

So I’m learning that pruning feels a lot like discipline from God, but it is different from correction. When you desire to please God, his correction becomes comforting as the 23rd Psalm says that it will be—the rod and staff of our Good Shepherd bring us back where we need to be and keep us from drifting off the right path. But pruning is distinct and the key to my new understanding is the fact that Jesus says God prunes the branches which bear fruit! That’s such an important aspect to accepting the pain of pruning. I miss those pretty branches! But I have been wondering if the Lord removed all those things all at once because I had placed faith in them, or loved them more than him, or some other wrong attitude of my heart.

No, he says. You bore fruit as a mother and daughter, and in your work and friendships–to the degree that you remained in me and I in you (John 15:5). But in order to make you more fruitful, I must prune you.

So here I stand, looking and feeling kinda stumpy, like my crepe myrtle. I’ll admit that most days, I have been wishing I could be adorned like the redbuds around me. But today I am happy to know that the Lord has pruned me for his good purpose.

I’m excited now to abide in Christ as the Holy Spirit works to bring forth new fruit.