Praying Without Fear
By Sue Smith
This article was first published in the Summer 2007 edition of MOVE Magazine.
As someone once said about prayer, “easy does not do it.” I can chat to God quite happily – I can sit in his presence, be in awe of him, hear from him, and have revelations about him, but warrior-style intercession? Not so much.
One time I stayed up all night praying for someone who should have died. By about three or four in the morning, there was a breakthrough, and by the time I got home, I knew we had what we had asked for. The next week he was right as rain. I know what it means to pray like that, and even how it can be done, but I am lazy. Plus there’s the spectre of disappointment looming when you start to “pray with faith”. This, I think, has basically been my undoing.
A while back I read James in The Message version. I was familiar with the New International Version, which encourages us to ask for wisdom and believe he’ll give it to us. Easy. Why wouldn’t he, after all? But this Message paraphrase unsettled me. “People who worry their prayers are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.” (James 1:8)
I like keeping all my options open! That way God can do whatever he likes, which will always be the best thing anyway. Who am I to tell him what to do? In any case, he always does whatever he likes in the end. It doesn’t really matter what I say… does it?
I think, in truth, I started slipping into prayer oblivion when God chose not to heal my mum of cancer when I was thirteen. I lost my faith for quite some time. Unwilling to let his sheep wander off, God hunted me down for years, eventually battering me into submission with his unrelenting, unconditional love. But I have to tell you, prayer and faith have not been quite the same for me since.
Now, many years since The Great Prayer Disaster of 1987, God has graciously decided that it’s time to get this one straightened out. He is beckoning me into a life of petition – of asking without fear of disappointment, with understanding of his character and with faith. He has established his existence, his power and, most importantly for me, his love and his goodness. It’s time to teach me to pray, looking the possibility of disappointment in the eye and charging ahead anyway.
In order to have a meaningful relationship with us, God has actually given us some power – some sway. A relationship where one party holds all the cards is not a real relationship at all – or at least not a voluntary love relationship. God has chosen to allow us freedom to pray, and remarkably, the ability to move his hand (see Genesis 18, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 10:12). He will not just “do what he wants anyway” as I had often supposed.
Of course he is the ultimate authority, but it is important to establish the fact that God has given this incredible gift to us, and it’s ridiculous not to use it. Petitionary prayer is not simply nagging (as if we could conceivably grind down the Maker of All Things). Nor is it exerting pressure on the Rock of Ages by getting others to gang up on him with you. He cannot be forced or intimidated, and the very idea of wearing him out is laughable.
Here’s my thinking. Sacrifice releases power. When human beings put themselves aside in favour of God’s agenda, Satan is kicked in the teeth, and God’s power flows.
Praying, as anyone who has done it for more than twenty minutes at a time well knows, is not easy. It’s a challenge and a sacrifice to bring things before God, trusting him to deal with them. We have to discipline our minds, to focus ourselves, to believe and trust that God is on the case, and to keep going until it’s done. It’s actually very hard. I guess that’s why they call them prayer warriors.
I’m not there yet. I’m just arriving at boot camp with my suitcase, looking nervously around me. I have been handed my uniform. I am a soldier in training.
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