Growing Hearts for Prayer
At the end of January, the Lighthouse staff had the privilege of attending a prayer seminar, “A Praying Life,” hosted by Paul Miller’s organization, SeeJesus. Jon Hori, a dear friend of many of our own staff, graciously sacrificed a few days to facilitate, lead, and teach the seminar for us. Though there’s so much to share about how we were personally challenged and convicted by our time spent together in these two days, we’d really like to elaborate on the weeks following when the Lord conjured up a deeper desire for prayer in our hearts.
After the seminar, our church staff was split into prayer cohorts which were led by staffers from SeeJesus. We were to meet once a week for twelve weeks to discuss our prayer lives, share new tools and practical tips for better praying, and examine how God moves in and through our prayers as we learn to humbly present our requests to Him (Phil 4:6).
Personally, I’ve always struggled with prayer. I’m ashamed to admit it as a church staffer and pastor’s wife, but I’ve lacked the discipline to actually do it regularly, and when I would, I’d often find myself distracted and discouraged. So, I was excited to participate in the prayer training with Jon this past January. I ended up missing a lot of it because our office remained open during the training (so I was in and out doing other things). But what I was able to hear was convicting and encouraging – though honestly, a bit overwhelming! I wondered how to bring what I learned about prayer into my own praying life in a practical, lasting way.
Enter our cohort! After the training, our staff was split up into various cohorts with a SeeJesus cohort leader; we’d be meeting for three months to grow in faith, build community and participate in regular prayer meetings. I was hesitant at first – would this just be another thing to add to an already busy schedule? How could this help when I had already struggled with it for so long?
It’s turned out to be one of the biggest blessings in recent memory. Our cohort leader, Lydia, not only walked us through the practicalities of making and using prayer cards (see tip below), but she provided time and space to pray, share our struggles, and really see how God was (is!) at work in our stories. Our prayer cohort coincided with our whole office transitioning to working from home during LA’s Safer at Home Order so we really got to see God working in many unique and unexpected ways. I was so excited to catch up, add to my cards, and pray together each week.
Prioritizing prayer in this way was transformative for me. I realized how much I had made prayer about me instead of about God. I was convicted of many sins that have plagued and taken away from my prayer life for years, as well as challenged to grow in awareness and thankfulness for all God is doing (and has done) in my life. God really showed me His love and care during this time. I learned more what it means to entrust everything (my cares, worries, struggles, hopes, fears) to God … and how kind He is to give us Himself in all of it. God is so good!
Here are some practical tips that helped me grow my prayer life:
- Start a small collection of prayer cards – Use index cards to write down prayer requests that are on your heart; these can be for yourself, for others, or even more general. Be as specific as you can – don’t be afraid to bring everything (even the nitty, gritty things) before God. It’s okay to be messy!
- Find someone or a small group to pray with – Meeting with the same group each week was helpful accountability-wise; it also helped me see how much God was at work in my life and in the lives of others. It’s a blessing and grace to see how God answers prayers in your friends’ lives, and for them to walk with you!
- Ask for help – Developing a praying life isn’t easy by any means, and these tips are just a few of many. If you’re still struggling to pray … pray about that! Ask God for the grace to grow in humility, and for help to pray. Also, ask your pastors and ministry leaders if you need help in growing your prayer life.
To be honest, when we first began our prayer cohorts, I was anything but excited. I felt that my prayer life was decent and there wasn’t really much to discuss anyway. Little did I know, I was on a 12-week journey that humbled me, brought me back to the basics of prayer, and stripped me of any pride that I once had, in which I believed there was no need for correction or change. Our cohort was a sweet twelve weeks of discussing life’s woes, heart issues, and, you guessed it – prayer!
Our 3 months of meeting could not have come at a better time – this whole COVID-19 thing began as distant news and has now transformed into a full-fledged, worldwide pandemic that has literally changed every detail of our lives. We experienced it all with this cohort. The first week of safer-at-home manifested as high levels of anxiety and disappointment when I realized all of my plans were being canceled. There were birthday celebrations, retreats, church events, family gatherings, weddings, and meet ups to be attended. All of my sins were coming to light and I was not okay with it. The anxiety was a result of abrupt and pervasive change that I wasn’t willing to accommodate, and the disappointment was my reaction to the time and dedication I had put toward church events that suddenly seemed like a wasted effort at best. God was simply magnifying the already existing idols and sins of my heart. Each week as we intimately shared our struggles and challenges, the Lord was highlighting my insane devotion to control, security, and discipline. I realized soon after that this was my sinful and instinctive response to the upheaval of all things normal in my life.
In the weekly repetition, I received sweet encouragement and slowly began implementing new structure to my prayer life. Much of our “homework” revolved around prayer cards that prompted more fervent prayer for things I was initially unwilling to pray for: difficult people, resignation to my comforts, and daily tasks I formerly presumed God had no role in.
As I examine my heart and sift through practical ways to reinforce prayer in my daily life, I see God’s grace in the endless opportunities He’s provided for me to recognize my incompetence, and consequently, further my reliance on him. And as much as I think I know what prayer ought to look like, the way it’s demonstrated in my life is a different story.
A couple things I’m learning:
I need to pray through my anxiety. Ashamedly, I admit that prayer was never my instinctive response to anxiety, but when I consider the numerous times anxiety is addressed in scripture, I feel silly. When I’m anxious, I’m really just rejecting God’s ability to care for me and know me. I’m attempting to take over God’s role, but ultimately failing every time. Anxiety is not trusting His sovereignty, rather it’s believing that my planning, my spreadsheets, my calendars, and my daily disciplines are sufficient to calm my heart. I’m currently reading through the Psalms with a friend and have been enjoying David’s laments – lament is so foreign to me, and almost absurd if I’m being honest. For some reason, I didn’t realize that coming to the Lord with an anxious heart was an option. I’ve always felt that I needed to reorient the chaos on my own, determine the source of my restlessness, regain composure, then come to the Lord in repentance. But God didn’t send his son to live a perfect life and die an excruciating death on the cross only for me to attempt to solve my problems on my own. God invites me to come to Him in the midst of the messiness. As Miller puts it, “anxiety fuels good lamenting” (A Praying Life).
2 Corinthians 12:9 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
God is intimate. There’s really no use in trying to fluff up my prayers to make myself sound righteous before God – He already knows my deepest sins, the intimate details of my life, and even more than this, He has a better understanding of me than I do (Matt 10:31). My desire for independence and control has me foolishly running away from intimacy with the Lord. I know this cognitively, but I’ve recently been learning to take this to heart. I find myself stopping in the middle of frustration or confusion to pray. I scribble updates on my prayer cards when I notice God’s hand in something I’ve been petitioning for. I relinquish all control that my sinful heart deeply longs for when I make myself available to God’s sovereign and better plans for me – even the tiny little details I previously assumed were too small for Him to care about. If God, in His love, is willing to sacrifice His son who lived an absolutely perfect life, for me, a wretched sinner, then I know he is also willing and able to care for me in the smallest of ways (Matt 6:26).
I really enjoyed the prayer seminar. One and a half days of the prayer seminar with Jon Hori wasn’t boring at all, but went by so fast. It was eye opening and refreshing, so I was really looking forward to the prayer cohort. Twelve weeks of the prayer cohort was such a transforming experience for me. Here are three things that God has taught me through the praying cohort.
First, God hears and answers my prayers. Often, I don’t believe him enough to pray with expectation and anticipation. Our prayer cohort coordinator, Lydia asked us to make four prayer cards and made us pray those cards every day for three weeks. Honestly, I felt like I was repeating myself with little answer to my prayers. But after 12 weeks, I retired my first card. God has answered three prayers on that card. These were areas of my life that I thought I would never change. One of them is sleep. People who know me know how much I love sleep. I thought I would struggle with sleep the rest of my life, but God has graciously answered my prayer. He has been waking me up before my alarm almost every morning for the last 2 months. Now I am waking up 3 hours earlier than I was 2 months ago. My lack of prayer and expectation is a reflection of my little faith, but God is more powerful than I dare to believe.
Second, God has opened my eyes to see the bigger story he is writing through prayer. Last year was such a difficult year for me. This year, I wanted to testify God’s grace through my joy, so I made a prayer card on joy. I was thinking through how my day would look different if I am really rejoicing in the Lord. I was praying that I would love and anticipate each day that God has blessed me. God answered my prayer by waking me up early and building a regular routine. That led me to pray for discipline. By God’s grace, this quarantine season has been a growing season for me in both physical and spiritual discipline. However, change doesn’t come easily. There are days I feel like I don’t see the fruit of my effort, which led me to pray for patience. Before I realized it, God was bearing in me the fruits of the Spirit.
Third, God has grown my heart for those I pray for. It’s a shame to admit how little I pray even as a counselor. Through the praying cohort, I have been praying more consistently for my counselees and those who are suffering in significant ways during COVID. The more I pray for them, the more my heart grows for them. I grieve with those who suffer, and rejoice for them when God answers my prayers for them.