It was springtime in 1983, in the backyard of a small house in Huntsville, Alabama. I was all of 25 years old and had been experiencing a restlessness that I slowly realized I could not fill with hard work and achievement. The past seven years had been a whirlwind of running after the next thing. Now, I was at a place of inactivity–a time of transition and waiting–and in the quiet of that pause, I started to sense God’s still, small voice. Whatever He was whispering to my soul convinced me that there was much more to life than all my success and achievements, and He alone held the answer. I had caught glimpses of it in the lives of others. Although I didn’t have any idea what God’s answer to my restlessness might be, for days I spent nearly every minute of my free time seeking after God as best I knew how. I prayed. I cried. I listened. What I found was worth everything, so I gave Jesus my everything, which didn’t feel like much compared to the priceless gift He gave me; a brand new life and His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 (NLT), “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” I didn’t understand this verse when I was little, but it brings back the memory of a childhood Sunday school classroom and the painting on the wall of Jesus standing at the door knocking. I finally understood that Jesus wanted to be invited in. That feeling of restlessness and hunger for more was from Him and I had chosen to fill it with busyness and stuff. He had been waiting for a long time for me to get to the place in my life where I was ready to release control of my life and trust Him.
The best part of my new relationship with Jesus was that I was now beginning to recognize His voice. I was no longer talking to myself as prayer felt like to me, but I was actually having a conversation with God. That is what prayer is. A conversation filled with speaking and listening and a deepening relationship. Built into the idea of a deepening relationship is the need to be in relationship. I had thought I was in relationship with God before. Now, I knew without a doubt.
I want to share a bit about how God talks to me and how I talk to God, but first, let me remind anyone who might be reading this, that God moves in each of our lives differently. Your story is uniquely yours because God made you… well...YOU. My story is just one strand of this bigger story. In Christ, and together in community we become something bigger than the sum of our parts as our stories are woven together.
Following are 3 ways I have experienced God in prayer and suggestions of what they might look like for us:
The Prayers of the Saints
I believe my step into a relationship with God was an answer to the prayers of others. Looking back, I remember arriving as an officer to Redstone Arsenal. Somehow these old, retired Christian officers found me hanging out at a breakfast at the post chapel and insisted that I become part of their small group. Why they picked me, I don’t know. I was there for the food. As they enveloped me into their families and met with me week after week, they probably chuckled at my ignorance, but they must have been praying quiet, audacious prayers together for me. I stepped into my life with Christ on the wings of their prayers, and I didn’t really figure that out until I sat down to write this article.
Suggestion 1: Pray quiet, audacious prayers for yourself and for others. Better yet, stop worrying that you might mess up or sound stupid and pray those audacious prayers together with others. Don’t be afraid to say it ugly, or to ask for something God might just say, “no,” to. I trust that God knows our hearts and that He will sort those prayers out. In the meantime, summon up your childlike faith and simply ask. I love this passage in Revelation 5:8. When you read it, check out the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders who fall down before the Lamb (Jesus). Each one of them has a harp and is “holding golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” Your prayers don’t fade or POOF! disappear. They become fragrant incense in golden bowls in the throne room of the Lamb. I don’t know how literal this is, but it fills my mind with an awesome image of the value placed on our prayers!
The God Who Speaks
Don’t you sometimes get jealous of people in the Bible, like Abraham and Moses, who apparently carried on literal conversations with God? I do! God’s voice often has to share space with a lot of conversations going on in my mind. My conversations with God must look pretty one-sided to a bystander. In my backyard encounter, he literally put thoughts in my mind as clear as if I were talking to you. My side of the conversation was definitely not in my head. Lest you think I am alone in this, shortly after accepting Christ, a friend of mine confided that she would act like she was on the phone while carrying on conversations with God in her car so people wouldn’t think she was talking to herself. As I walk across the Purdue campus, everyone is talking to themselves thanks to the widespread use of bluetooth earbuds. Problem solved!
Gradually, God began to speak to me just as clearly, but in different ways. As soon as I trusted God with my life, His word, the Bible, came alive and I feasted on it. He spoke to me through the words of that book. I assume many of you know exactly what I’m saying, but if you don’t, let me explain. I would read things or hear things from the Bible, and it was as if those words were written just for me… like God took a highlighter to them and circled them in red! Or, I would have a question form in my mind, and the next passage I would read in the Bible answered that question. Or sometimes what I read in the Bible that seemed to apply to me would be echoed in the next song I would hear, or the next unrelated thing I would read. Sacred echoes, as they are often referred to, are still the most frequent way God speaks to me when He wants to get my attention.
Suggestion 2: God’s word is truly alive and active. If you want to hear God clearly, I suggest you spend lots of time in His word. Read. Study. Reflect. Listen. To get a sense of the bigger picture, consider going through the entire Bible in a year with our Daily Audio Bible group. One important thing I’ve learned is that God is mostly interested in speaking to me about me, or to you about you. I find it hard to hear what God is saying to me when I am only listening for what I think someone else needs to hear.
The Power of Prayer in Community
We have a tendency to gravitate towards people who look a lot like us and think a lot like us. It’s comfortable. But I’ve learned that we can grow in our ability to hear God better as we spend time with others, especially with people who aren’t just like us. While his word has grounded me, he has used people to un-pride me and he has typically used people who aren’t like me. Community is the place where we can learn to love God and his Word tenaciously, love people fearlessly, and pray corporately. Praying together is important to God. In Matthew 2:18 (NLT) Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered together as my followers, I am there among them.”
The Pervasive Prayer team has been praying together regularly for you for many years. One of the prayers we pray consistently is that our church would be a pervasively praying church. I sense we are moving in that direction. So here are my two final suggestions that I hope will continue transforming us into a praying church.
Suggestion 3: If you are involved in the business of the church and aren’t already doing this, rethink the priority that prayer holds in your meetings. Rather than a cursory opening and closing prayer (usually handled by one brave person), make room on your agenda for the group to pray together over your business and over each other. If, during the meeting, someone senses something is amiss and hesitantly mentions that they feel there is a need to stop and pray, stop right there in the middle of your meeting and listen to God and pray. I’m sure that praying individually about church business items is important. Many of us need that time to process the information. However, it doesn’t have the same impact as praying together during the meeting. Acts 4:31 suggests we have room for improvement in incorporating prayer into our meetings. In this passage we read of a group of believers who prayed together during a meeting. “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” Wow! I’ll just leave you to consider how that could spice up a meeting.
Finally, Suggestion 4: Seek out someone, or a few people, to pray together with. If you would like to become a part of our Pervasive Prayer group, you are welcome to just drop in. We meet every other week and the days and times are posted in the announcements in our online worship bulletin.
May God richly bless you as you seek to dive deeper into this life of prayer. If anything in my ramblings resonates with you or you simply want to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.