Pray Scary Prayers - Part 1 (God's Got This)
You think you've learned something. You think you know something . . . only to discover that you'll be schooled in the same truth, over and over, all your life.
Our lessons in praying scary prayers began when our family was new, yet the power of this one truth still surprises us, and the Lord often reminds us that we still haven't learned it sufficiently.
The icy February wind of a sleet storm stung my face as I crossed the grocery store parking lot with my 3-year-old firstborn. She was so swaddled in snowsuit she could barely walk along beside me. I was afraid I would slip on the frozen pavement if I carried her. Strangely, rather than struggle toward the door with me, she repeatedly planted her feet firmly, looked at the ground beneath her, and began muttering to herself. I pulled her along. She trotted for a few steps and then stopped again. Again, she looked down, talking to herself. This pattern repeated infuriatingly until I finally stopped, got face to face with her, and asked, "Sarah, what are you doing? Let's go!" She responded, "Mommy! I'm asking God to stop the wind!"
I quickly began to explain that wind was wind, and we'd feel better as soon as we got inside. Then it happened. The furious wind stopped. Just stopped. Sarah looked up at the sky, said, "Thank you!" and hustled on toward the door. I stood motionless, stunned.
It was if the Lord was saying to me, Dear girl, good job teaching her to pray! Now I can take it from here.
This scenario repeated itself in equally dramatic ways with each of our children, at about the same age. God readily demonstrated His power as soon as the children were inclined to trust His promises to hear and answer them. There would be time, eventually, to learn discernment and patience when waiting was required.
We were left then, repeatedly, with the question of why we were inclined to restrain their candid and conversational prayers. Did we think God needed us to protect His reputation?
My children's penchant for very specific prayers rattled me. God's startling responses to those prayers became an avenue of grace and insight for our family, but not before I personally identified, many times, with the disciples' reluctance to allow children close access to Jesus (Matthew 19:13-15).
It can feel vulnerable or risky to us to step out of the mediating role and instead to encourage specific prayer, especially when we are dealing with someone who is already hurting in some way.
Our friend Dan directs a ministry to secondary school students. He remembers one summer when a student in distress confessed to him that he had no real sense of the Lord's love or presence. Dan said he was tempted to try to somehow talk the student into an awareness of God's love, but instead the Holy Spirit stopped him and rerouted his response. So, he said to the boy, "Let's pray together now that the Lord will show you His love in a way you can really understand." They prayed together. It felt a little uncomfortable, maybe even suspenseful to Dan. But he wept as he reported to us that shortly afterward the student had sought him out, eager to report a simple but life changing encounter with the living God.
This lesson of learning to pray specifically, which began for us while parents of toddlers, has wide application for our discipleship and our mentoring now. Our reluctance unveils our unbelief and our fear that God might be either uncaring or inattentive.
To this Jesus counters: 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. For everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents - if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him? (Matthew 7:7-11, NLT).
How does Jesus reason? Children experience their parents' goodness when they make their needs known and their parents respond. We learn of God's love and character in the same way, by daring to make our needs and concerns known, especially when we first begin putting our weight on His promises. Prayer includes more than petition, of course, but often it begins there.
This risky-feeling encouraging of a genuine encounter with God is perhaps the most important lesson of our family discipleship, and now of our ministry in general. We sent our teenagers off to colleges where they would have professors and colleagues who would discredit the Scriptures and ridicule their faith. Yet our kids had seen God act on their behalf in answer to their prayers. Very little can change the conviction that comes from those direct encounters. Our period of influence on those we disciple is so brief. We can't possibly prepare them for all they will encounter in life. But if we can get this one truth across, to go to the Lord directly and specifically when they're in need, then we will have given them a gift that will outlive us.
Jesus tells more than one parable to urge His disciples to approach God directly, and specifically. He tells them to pray like they were waking a friend at midnight to borrow bread to feed an unexpected guest.
Can you picture yourself doing that?
Where would your heart be?
What would it take for you to appear at your neighbor's door in the middle of the night?
Jesus calls for "shameless persistence," (Luke 11:8 NLT).
There are so many legitimate cautions about this sort of approach to prayer. I heartily agree with most of them! Our primary call is to repent . . . to allow God to shape us more and more into His likeness, even sometimes through suffering . . . to enjoy Him for who He is, not just for what He grants us. Still, most of us share a deep reluctance to embrace the seeming risk of coming to the Father boldly and candidly, like children do. Often it is in response to these scary prayers that God makes Himself more deeply known to us, and that is what He most wants to do.