I have never been particularly good at prayer — diligence, faithfulness or even lament. “Prayer warrior” would never make my resume. I’ve known people who are amazing at this. The ones who use a journal or index cards with names for each day of the week. Or pray for an hour each day. Or have a particular place they always pray. I’ve known those people. And felt a sense of awe for them. I long for that kind of discipline.
Living overseas in a different culture made prayer harder. Praying for a nation of people who worshiped false gods. Walking down streets of shrines and temples built to statues or snakes. I stopped knowing what to look for as evidence of answered prayer because my surroundings felt dark and oppressive at times. The reality in front of me shook the confidence I had in the power of prayer.
Don’t get me wrong, I prayed for people. And I sent my newsletter religiously. But when prayer is part of your work, it’s hard to keep it fresh. Often — especially for people “in ministry” — it is easier to pray for the needs of other people than to pray for yourself.
If I’m not praying for myself, if I’m not talking to God, who is?
Well, Jesus is. The Bible says Jesus is interceding for me even when I don’t have the words. He has the words. His words are better than mine.
But I have a relationship with God. Because of Jesus. I need to be praying for myself. It’s not selfish. It’s intimate. It’s necessary for relationship.
There are church traditions that are really good at the asking part of prayer. Some that are not as good at recognizing that God sometimes says no. Or wait. The answer we get when we ask isn’t determined by how we ask or how much sugar we’ve consumed that day. We ask. God answers. Sometimes he doesn’t give us what we want. Sometimes he gives us so much more. But he still wants us to ask.
Years of infertility have made prayer even harder for someone who’s already not great at prayer. Years of waiting for anything will do that to the best of us. Waiting is on the list of worst things you can do to a human. Especially an American. We don’t like to wait. We especially don’t like it when God is silent.
God’s silence communicates something to me that isn’t true.
If you’ve done any sort of counseling, you’ve probably learned that you hear things a certain way because of a combination of your family of origin, your personality and your experiences. We interpret life through a worldview. That worldview is based on the way we think. The way we think is based on the way we were trained to think. We were trained by adults in our lives. And school and church and books or blogs we’ve read. At some point, we grow up enough to make choices about how we think.
I want the way I think to be influenced more by Jesus than any other influence. Life (or walking in faith) is the process of rooting out the other influences and asking God to make his voice the strongest. Over and over again.
When people are quiet when I share something I feel insecure about, I assume they are disappointed in me. This is my natural state. It is probably a psychological disorder. I don’t really care. I just want to be aware of this tendency so I can work to root it out so it doesn’t distract me from what really matters.
I make other people’s silence about me. I assume it’s disappointment. It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that that person’s car broke down this morning. Or that she’s hungry and counting down the minutes until lunch. Or she’s working toward a deadline that has to happen tomorrow. Or just doesn’t care about my life as much as herself.
So when God is silent on one particular issue, I assume things about God that are not true to his character. I forgot all of the other things he’s said about himself that are true. I assume that I’m alone. I assume he has forgotten me. And I assume he doesn’t like me anymore.
I don’t have to read very far in the Bible to remember that none of that is true. My feelings may not match up, but when God asks me to wait, he is actually saying, “Wait. Trust me. Remember what’s true. Be with me.”
I don’t always hear this message. Because I interpret things based on my personality and my experiences. I’m still training my mind to hear from God, the God whose character doesn’t change. The one who is true throughout time and history.
Prayer isn’t only asking. It’s listening. Meditating. Quoting Scripture. Praising. Journaling. Gathering with two or more.
But it’s partly asking.
I am learning to ask. Even when he’s saying, “Wait.”
Asking requires trust and hope. It requires using my words. And sometimes my tears. It’s the relationship part of my connection to God.
It feels raw. Exposed. It’s supposed to. That’s what intimacy is. Being real. With all the embarrassing bits. As well as the bits I’m proud of. And the ones that are unknown and uncertain.
I read Jonah again recently. I noticed for the first time ever that he’s not really happy about going to Nineveh — even after the fish spits him out. God provided one of the greatest miracles of all time and Jonah couldn’t see it. He didn’t care. He didn’t agree with God. He was “in a bad place.”
Jonah knew God’s character. He knew his power. He believed. And he was disgruntled. And annoyed. He thought he knew better than God.
And what did God do? He cared for Jonah. He was patient with him. He saved him from death and a life without hope by allowing him to be swallowed by a fish. God nudged him, as Jonah limped along, toward the purpose he had for him.
I am like Jonah. I don’t always want what God wants. Sometimes I want what I want more. But God keeps on nudging me toward holiness. Toward freedom. Toward intimacy. He’s so patient. And faithful to his plan.
He does not abandon me. Even though there’s waiting. And sometimes suffering.
So, I wait. Sometimes, I struggle. And I ask. Sometimes I submit. Sometimes I scream. Sometimes I shout for joy. But I ask.