Let’s talk about prayer.
Well, actually, let’s first talk about tattoos. Because, legit, legit, I want to get one. I have ALWAYS, my entire life, said I would NEVER get a tattoo. Completely unappealing. I used to imagine, if I got one, as soon as the ink was pouring into my cells, regrets, questions, and freak-out would follow. I’m someone who likes change, so when you start talking all life-permanency on me… I start quaking and hyperventilating. No thank you, I’ll keep my skin as is, please. Plus, as soon as whatever tattoo I thought was cool, wasn’t cool anymore, it would be a total buzz-kill. Like… oops… thought that trend would last longer than two weeks.
So there’s my hatin’ on tattoos. But now, my tattoo frown is turning upside down! Because I tell ya what, folks, my whole perspective on prayer has taken a 1-80, or 3-60, or whatever you want to call it.
So what do tattoos have to do with prayer? And likewise, what does prayer have to do with tattoos? You may have guessed already, but I want to get a tattoo that tells me to pray. And I’m going to stick it right here on my hand. Yes. Right there in the open. So it can never be covered up, never avoided, and never not seen. I want a tattoo to confirm, seal, and remind me daily—like an SOS signal—that I need the Lord’s help always.
This is all coming from, as some of you may know, a lesson I was asked to teach for Women’s Bible Study. My ministry leader asked me to do the first lesson, and she suggested the topic of prayer. So after Genesis January that I did with a friend (I decided to do NOTHING but read, listen, and study the entire book of Genesis in January. Kinda fun!), February was my month to dedicate to this grandiose topic of prayer. Talk about daunting. I had no idea what was in store for me, nor what actually took place, but all I know is that something life-changing happened. Enough to make me want to get a tattoo. Yeah… that’s crazy.
Bobby plopped Prayer by O. Hallesby on my Bible on February 2nd, and the rest was history!
Okay, I’m being dramatic. On purpose. Because February was extremely dramatic. A good dramatic. A very good-for-me drama that took place in such joyous conviction! First to come, was the obvious horror and guilt and appalling nature of my prayerlessness. Oh my. I kid you not, you guys. I am beginning to convince myself that for a Christian, prayerlessness may be one of the worst offenses we can make against God! Prayerlessness is like saying, “I got it from here now, God.” or, “I can handle this. I’ve got control.” or, “You don’t really care about me that much—do you, God?” or, straight up saying nothing and completely ignoring God.
February went forward with all sorts of ups and downs, a million questions, a thousand discussions with friends, hundreds of words attempting to organize my thoughts in my journal, and lots of words read and underlined in Hallesby’s book. But mostly, it was A LOT OF PRAYING.
And, just as strongly as I am convinced of the offensive horror of prayerlessness, so am I convinced of the utter happiness of prayerfulness! I told Bobby the other day, I am most happy when I am praying. When I actually pray, I want to pray more! (Imagine that…) When my heart is set on calling out to the Lord from sun up to sun down, my heart cannot be anything but happy all day long!
My big personal takeaways from this month are this:
- The key to prayer is: PRAY. Just do it. Just pray. Don’t over-complicate it. Praying will produce more praying. And if it doesn’t, then pray that it does!
- Prayer is the answer to basically everything, because Jesus is the answer to everything! Praying is going back to Jesus, again, and again, and again. To pray, is to be Christian! Prayer, I think, answers questions like: How do I know if I’m living in my own strength or Christ’s strength? How do I actually walk in the Spirit? How can I be sure my motive for this good work is actually good? How do I test my heart for hidden sins? How do works and grace actually play out in my life? How do I preach the gospel to myself? All of those questions—plus a million more mind-searching inquisitions—I think, can simply be answered with: Well, how much are you praying through it? In essence, our prayerfulness (or lack-there-of) is the compass of our very soul. How much we pray shows just how much we are relying on Jesus. How much we go to the Lord for our daily bread, reveals a whole lot more than we think it does. Prayer measures where our hearts truly are. Is your heart with Jesus? Or is your heart your own?
- The attitude of prayer ought to be confession and helplessness. Prayer can be awkward. Prayer can feel klutzy. Prayer can feel aimless, boring, monotonous, straining, checklist-like, and very laborious. I will be the first to admit that I simply don’t pray because it’s work. Prayer can also test our hearts. Sometimes, I think, I avoid prayer, because I actually want to avoid God’s work in my life. I like my sin a little too much, and when I pray, well, some crazy things start happening in my heart that threatens my earthly comforts, worldly lusts, and my “happy” leave-me-alone-I’m-fine-as-I-am status. Thus, I have learned, right-off-the-bat, to squash these tendencies quicker than they arise by confessing, repenting, and asking the Lord desperately to help me. The more I pray, the more I realize I am nearsighted, blind, foolish, and have no idea what I, nor the world, needs! So, I pray, confess, pray, confess, and pray and confess.
- You cannot over-pray “to the glory of Christ” enough. I used to think prayers like “Let your will be done.” or, “But ultimately Lord, be glorified in whatever happens.” were only to be prayed for special occasions, or for the big prayers. But I learned that this ought to be my heart every single request I utter. Why? Because that’s what I want! I want to want what God wants, and God wants to be glorified. So if I pray for something, then I pray that however God answers, his name will be glorified. And THE COOLEST thing about this attitude of prayer, is that when God gives you a “no,” he’s actually giving you a “yes.” There is such confidence, peace, and trust when God doesn’t give you the precise and specific request you thought you wanted, because you now know that what happened was a better means of glorifying God! And you can rejoice in the Lord’s perfect will and find joy in the participation in kingdom work through the labor of prayer.
- One of my all-time favorites: We really don’t need anything to pray. We don’t need quietude, money, books, pencils, earbuds, light, a flowery journal, a good night’s sleep, reasons, people, health, shelter, extra time, a better schedule, status, looks, nothing! All we need to pray is faith in Jesus and consciousness. But maybe not even consciousness. Maybe we could even learn to pray in our dreams! Anyway, the beauty of prayer is that in its essence: IT IS NOT DIFFICULT. There are no requirements. There are no prerequisites. You can pray anytime, anywhere, in any circumstance, in any state, being any age, with any schedule. And this is what makes prayer amazing! (And simultaneously allows no excuses).
- Prayer works. It feels weird saying that. But it does. It doesn’t “work” because we are some professional pray-ers who learned the tips and tricks to twist God’s arm in getting what we want. Far be that kind of attitude! Prayer “works,” because that is how God himself has chosen to accomplish kingdom work. Somehow, in ways I cannot wrap my mind around, God hears us AND answers us. It’s one of the most intimate, beautiful, relational, and mind-blowing things about Christianity. Oh, my mind! Oh, my heart! I feel like they both go into about a million explosions every time God acts on behalf of my pleas! We serve the most amazing God ever (and that is an understatement!). The more I pray and the more I see God act, the more I am literally flabbergasted at God’s love, compassion, and kindness. I wonder if God answering me, and helping me, will ever not shock me? His goodness that he pours out through prayer is more than my soul can bear.
- Don’t forget to thank God for his answers. If there is one thing I have learned, it is to stop and contemplate how the Lord has specifically and broadly answered me. Sometimes I write it down, sometimes I pray it out, and other times I type it in my phone so I don’t forget. Getting an answer from the Lord, and not thanking him or taking the time to even realize it, defeats the entire purpose of prayer in some senses! We pray because we ask for the Lord to act, and we want the Lord to act so our hearts are drawn to him. If we want relief from our struggles for relief sake, then we might as well pick up a self-help book from the nearest bookstore. But if we want relief from our struggles to further our heart’s inclinations toward this God whom we love, then we ought to take time to recount his goodness toward us! And what joy it is to purposely see how the Lord has answered me. My most prayerful days produce the most grateful nights. When I write down every testimony of the Lord’s answers, my heart is drawn deeper to go to God for more, and for everything. His answers are what give the joy in asking! His faithfulness is what fuels the flames of my requests. I don’t ever want to gloss over his work in my life nor over-look his kind gifts of giving me the desires of my heart. Even when the answer is unexpected or hard. I’m talking ALL his answers. Oh, how the Lord knows us so well, to give us the answers that are good for us! When I remember to thank God, I am reminding myself that my prayers are safe and safest in the hand of my God.
- I still have a lot to learn about prayer. These take-aways I am writing about, may give the impression that I have figured something out. It might seem like I’m thinking I have arrived at some final state. That is not the case. I’m still chewing on these take-aways, testing them in scripture, and praying that God would teach me more about the workings of prayer. I see these take-aways as seeds for further growth, not mature trees. And thus, these take-aways are more directed to my own struggles, to help spur me to pray more and more.
With all of these realizations, my biggest conclusion is to pray for the ability to pray without ceasing. I know myself. I know I am fickle, grow tired, get bored, lose interest, and so easily forget everything I just learned. Thus, as I have learned and poured my heart into prayer, my most desperate prayer is that God would keep me praying! Even just today, I found myself saying, “I should pray… aw, well I’ve done a lot of praying lately, it’s okay to take a mental break.” GAH! I despise my instability!
So with that, I come to the terms that I need to ask Jesus daily, that he would help me to pray always. Because without help, I’m just going to turn right back into the prayerless Christian I once was. Without divine intervention, my old habits will creep up quick and unnoticed, and the revival in my heart will only be a distant memory.
And that’s also the reason why I want a tattoo. I’m for real. I want a permanent reminder to pray. Because I don’t trust myself to remember! I want to pray, and when I’m done praying, to keep praying maybe a tiny bit more. Then when I’m off doing something, I want prayer to ooze out of me. And again, when I look at my prayer tattoo, I want to start praying for whoever comes to mind, and then a couple minutes later, see it again and pray. I want to form this unavoidable, irresistible, fervency to pray. And maybe, I need a tattoo to seal the deal to force me to stay committed. I’ve thought through this and wondered, what if I regret getting the tattoo? Well, I will never regret praying, so if I start regretting the tattoo, then I should pray about it and ask the Lord to make the mistake of getting a tattoo remind me to pray over and over and over again.
So there it is. There’s my prayer obsession for the month: that I’m praying that prayer will be my obsession for a life-time. As much as tattoos are permanent, so I pray my prayerfulness is permanent.