I recall the one time in my life that I found myself on a car kick. This short-lived fetish was prompted by the selling of a couple cars, including my 1995 Jeep Wrangler. It was a great vehicle, but after driving it for ten years, I had finally had enough of the leaky canvas roof and lack of air conditioning and heat. Added to its climatic ineptitude, the Jeep was a rough drive. It bounced around the world like an old roller coaster attempts to flee its rusty track. And then there was the clutch. Often shifting gears became like trying to jam a puzzle piece in a place it just doesn’t quite fit. It was obvious: a change was needed.
So my wife and I found a replacement. It was exactly what we were looking for at a great price. But even with the great price, it was still quite an investment, and our first of this magnitude as a newly married couple.
That was some time ago and since then I’ve driven the newer car. Every chance I get, I climb behind the wheel, and, of course, my favorite part, I crank the air conditioning with the little vents pointed at my face: a face that had been void of such comfort for a decade!
The other car I sold belonged to my dad. He no longer needed the car because he had already found a replacement. The vehicle he bought was some slick convertible, but I don’t know much else about it. Right after buying it, he left town. Since that time, he’s been in and out of the country and for the most part, the car has sat collecting dust in my father’s garage.
And so goes the prayer life of the Christian. Prayer is this amazing thing. It is powerful and refreshing and an incredible blessing. In fact, aside from God’s love, God’s son, and the Holy Spirit, is there a better gift we’ve been given?
But, and maybe this is just me, I tend to take this special thing and, like my dad’s new car, garage it indefinitely. Maybe I’ll clean it up now and then or take some snapshots to post online, but to really rev it up and “drive it around,” so to speak, nah, maybe tomorrow.
But prayer is important and needs to be driven, or, perhaps put better, we need to be driven by it … for many reasons.
Here is one of those reasons: Psalm 107:28-30 states, Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the seas were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.
Really there is too much there to dissect the whole thing, but one thing it makes very clear: there is power in prayer. Truly this power is that of God and it is achieved or unleashed through prayer, but no matter which way you turn your head and gawk, it is a show worth seeing nonetheless. Throughout Scripture, we see prayer accompanying great acts like moving mountains, calming storms, parting waters, and many, many more. Again and again, prayer is followed by really big things. In our own lives then, it is important to pray for things big and small. But even beyond that, what prayer really has the power to do is reveal ourselves. If we believe prayer truly is a powerful thing capable of wondrous result, what we pray for indicates where we place emphasis in our lives. Simply put, we pray for what matters to our hearts. So if daily, you bow before God praying for a raise, it may just be that the essence of power and possibility in your worldview is more money. And this is where I usually land. Not so much with the money, but with the scope of how I view the world and the power governing the ultimate proceedings here. If I have a great Tuesday and everyone is nice to me, my prayers have been answered, but it is not exactly mountain moving stuff. If I compare what really is important to me to what seemed to really matter to Jesus during his time on earth, it begins to reveal the pettiness of my prayer-life and my pea-sized view of power.
And let me just say that there is nothing wrong with praying for the petty in life. It is only wrong when the petty poses as the powerful in our perspectives. We should pray for things big and small, but we should know the difference and yearn to see that difference as Jesus did and not how mankind does.
Beyond just being powerful, prayer is also unique. I love that passage in Mark that has our hapless disciples trying everything they can to rid a man of a demon. I hate to think what all they tried. “Okay, guys tie down his hands and feet, we’ll tickle it out of him.”
There is no doubt in my mind they tried and tried and tried and tried. It is similar to how I often try and try and try to tackle issues in my own life. But then Jesus saunters up, as he tends to in our times of failures. “Um . . . so what are you guys up to?” I’m sure he had to stifle a laugh. After hearing their explanation, he calmly offers: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
I don’t fully understand prayer, but I do know this: it is unique. There is something special about it like nothing else we humans possess, and those simple words attest to that: “only by prayer.”
In Junior High, my teammates and I used to debate all manner of things on bus rides to and from ballgames. Most of our content dealt with the fairer sex (and typically in an unfair manner), but occasionally we would get deeper than that. One such instance had us (in fashion akin to Socrates or Aristotle) reasoning out which super powers we would most like to possess. I know, scholarly indeed. After a spell, we landed on two: the power of invisibility and the power of flight. I always favored invisibility, and admittedly, those leaning with me in this direction were typically bent on evil uses pertaining to theft or secret knowledge or, yes, the girl’s locker room. But flight was a much purer choice. If this could become a reality and I could be given the power of flight … are you kidding me? My wife wishes to ride together to work more to conserve fuel . . . sorry, honey, no cars for me: I’m flying to work. Forget cars! And walking, please!! I CAN FLY! If Clark Kent ever drove to work he was some kind of fool. Secret identity or not, that is flight, homey, and it is special.
Jesus indicates here that prayer is similarly unique. Yet I’m prone to clip its wings. I don’t pray, don’t have time to pray, or, most commonly, don’t mean my prayers. It is not some supernatural, wondrous gift, at least, not to me. It is like having the power of flight and walking around complaining about it.
And maybe my answer is to pray to pray? In fact, that may very well be the fix I need. It worked for Peter’s issue in Acts 9:40: Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up.
Peter prayed and was hence motivated to action. I love that he didn’t say even say, “Please.” Nope, it was just, “Yo, dead chick, quit lying around.” That is so awesome, and it wouldn’t have happened without the prayer. Repeatedly, action follows prayer in the Bible. Moses crying out to God just before the Red Sea opens; the disciples asking God to send folks out into the harvest and, BAM, folks are sent; Elijah asking God to go all fire and brimstone on that dampened altar.
Prayer motivates action. It calms nerves; it brings boldness. Prayer gets the world in perspective by allowing us to revel in our smallness while depending on the Creator’s bigness. I need to pray to pray more, so that I am moved to act more.
And as for prayer, there is much direction in the Gospels. One of my favorites is when Jesus says in Matthew 7:7: Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. More than anything else, perhaps, prayer is a process. There is really not enough space here to do this passage justice, so let me just reflect on one aspect of it via my nephew.
A few years back, I got to go visit him and take part in the festivities associated with his third birthday. It was a crazy Mickey Mouse-themed party. At one point in the party, I got to change into a giant mascot costume of a large Italian man named “Jo-Jo.” I borrowed the costume from a family friend who owns an Italian restaurant, and the costume left quite an impression. Some little ones shrieked and hid, while a few brave ones wanted hugs and hand pounds from the peculiar dancing entity. There was cake and presents and the works; it was quite a day.
But before that day, it was quiet at the house and all my nephew, Asher, wanted to do was hide things and find them. The hiding fell on me, and often when I hid a ball or Toy Story figurine, he’d instantly ask where it was. “You’ve got to find it, buddy,” I’d laugh, and off he’d go. He’d check behind curtains and under furniture, actively seeking the missing Buzz Lightyear. If the hidden item wasn’t found quickly, a meltdown would ensue, and Asher would begin really searching: knocking things over, rummaging violently, even beating against my legs: “Where is it, Uncle Matt!”
It was a lot of fun, but beyond the good times it was a great picture. Asher’s intensity rapidly increased; his fervency was heightened as the process went on. In the end, sometimes he found the missing item, sometimes I helped him, and, I’m sure, later this week, some items will turn up about my sister’s home.
And here’s the point: prayer is as much about us as it is about God. It is a relationship. If we didn’t exist or God didn’t exist, prayer wouldn’t exist. It is a two-way activity in which we grow in our dependence and desperation in Him, and He allows us to find things. Typically, what we find isn’t all the answers to our desires (though sometimes we are blessed in this fashion). Usually, He seeks to give to us a more complete knowledge of who He is. We ask, seek, and knock yet do not receive: we learn that His ways are higher than our ways; that He is bigger than us; that He is sovereign. We ask, seek, and knock and receive: we learn that every good and perfect gift is from above; that He makes our paths straight; that He works all things together for the good of those that love Him and are called to His purpose. Through asking and seeking and knocking we grow in our knowledge of who God is. And even beyond that, those things for which we ask and seek and knock begin to reveal who we are and what we value. If I were to hide Asher’s new bike, lookout, there’d be some serious knocking going about. But hide a pair of his socks or the vegetables from his dinner plate and you will see some very half-hearted searching. If we could only pray for one thing right now what would it be? And what does that say about our own hearts? There is much diversity in what it can reveal, but no matter the specifics, it will say much.
I think that, in essence, is prayer. In James it says, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the seas, blown and tossed about by the wind.
I don’t tend to think of prayer as powerful or unique or a chiseling process. I think of this verse in James and then I ask for what I think is wisdom. To me wisdom directly means: “knowing the future.” So I ask for a tidy five-year plan and when I say “Amen” and have nothing, well, I think James a liar. But truly, what is “Wisdom”? Webster’s defines is as, “knowledge of what is true or right.”
And thus is the ultimate by-product of a healthy prayer life. It isn’t someone who gets what they want or has a huge following or lots of blessings. Prayer isn’t about having a handle on future circumstances. It is about getting more of a handle on who God is. With a more apt view of who He is, it allows for a better glimpse at who I am and all the places I am lacking and what He desires of me. The powerful, unique, chiseling aspect of prayer ultimately grants wisdom because it causes one to know God better.
And that is my prayer for today.