Sometimes I feel like the worst pray-er ever.
A friend confides in me about a challenge, a dilemma or a crossroads they’re facing, and I promise to pray for them – and I mean it. And as the words come out of my mouth, the thought seems to go with them – because I immediately forget about it.
But I wonder if, from heaven’s perspective, this is as empty a response as it looks from earth. Romans 8:26 says that when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with wordless groans – I wonder if this is also true when we forget to pray.
I think it’s safe to say that prayer is more than what we say with our hands folded and eyes closed in the time between the words ‘Dear Lord’ and ‘Amen’.
Is it possible that saying the phrase ‘I will pray for you’ is, itself, a prayer? If only for a moment, we’ve entered into our friend’s story and taken on their burden. God is present everywhere and knows what’s in our heart, so arguably, She heard our promise and knows we meant it – and that counts as a prayer.
I’m not suggesting that in cases when I actually choose to overtly pray for my friend, my prayers are superfluous. Praying for others is good for us, it’s good for them and I’d never suggest that prayers don’t move the heart of God.
I’m merely asking if, when I forget to pray for others, I’ve actually ‘dropped the ball’. I think maybe God catches the ball for me, before it hit the floor and bounces away.
Or that maybe it was never my ball to carry in the first place.
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In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the Apostle Paul challenges the church to ‘pray without ceasing’, and I find this very comforting.
Moreover, Jesus Himself encourages persistent prayer in the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), so it’s safe to say that persistent prayer is a bedrock-level component of what it looks like to be faithful.
This is very liberating. We can continue bringing the same petitions to God as often as we feel compelled to. He doesn’t get tired of hearing us ask for the same divine intervention on a particular issue. God doesn’t become annoyed with us when we ask the same question over and over again. (No English translations of the Bible that I know of render 1 Thessalonians 5:17 as ‘Pray incessantly‘, but I don’t think that interpretation would be unfaithful.)
But in light of these passages and others, I think that without realizing it, I defaulted to the assumption that persistence in prayer is the only way to pray faithfully: If I pray less persistently about Topic X than I do about Topic Y, I’m not praying as faithfully about Topic Y as I should be – and I need to feel bad about it and repent.
But it occurred to me the other day that this yoke probably isn’t of God – that praying persistently isn’t the only way to pray faithfully.
There’s some uncertainty in a couple of arenas in my life right now, but I don’t beat my breast and plead for God’s divine intervention about these topics on a daily basis – because I’m confident that God’s got this. I can leave it in His hands. It may not turn out the way I think I want it to – it may not even turn out the way God wants it to – but I can know that God will use whatever happens for good. My good, hopefully – but somebody’s good, for sure.
I think God is OK with that posture. I think that counts as a faithful approach to prayer, too. And when I came to that little epiphany, I gotta tell you, it felt great to get that yoke off my neck.
It seems really obvious in hindsight (as epiphanies often do), but it was a real relief when it came to me.
I can offer persistent prayers about things that I’m persistently anxious about, and pray once-and-done prayers about the burdens I’m actually able to leave in God’s hands – whatever feels right in each case – and know that either way, I’m praying faithfully.
And so can you.
Thanks be to God.
Peace be with you.