Bow Your Head

I’ve had a few conversations lately about the purpose of prayer. Though I have yet to find the answer, I’m certain it’s important. I get uncomfortable when we (I’m guilty) talk about prayer as though it’s a magical way to get what we want. I’ve experienced fervent, prolonged, faith-filled prayers go seemingly unanswered…for a young girl in India plagued by chronic seizures, for Finn’s Spina Bifida, for jobs, for friends’ moms who battled cancer and lost, for broken marriages, for newborn and unborn babies fighting to live, for renewed faith of friends, for single friends and family members to find their soul-mate, etc. But I’ve also experienced countless more prayers answered–big prayers actualized in very specific ways.

When we first found out about Finn’s diagnosis, we didn’t tell many people. And when others found out later, many wished they had known sooner so they could have been praying. We often heard, “the more people are praying for Finn, the better.” I was tempted to try tip the scales of prayer in our favor…sort of proving to God that see, Finn should not be disabled after all. Everyone agrees.

But I wonder if God only answers prayer when it’s requested by a large group of people? Or maybe we must send up, say, 1,543 prayers before they are heard?…and only if the motivation is right. I like to think that if only I prayed for Finn’s healing, God would answer. I know He heard my desperate, face-to-the-nursery carpet, tearful prayers. I felt His presence with me in the dark room. Yet Finn was still born with this defect…and many, many other children are still born with debilitating diseases that are much worse. And parents and spouses still pass away. And injustices still occur for the downtrodden. And friends still lose faith. And Paul’s “thorn” remained in his flesh. And Jesus still endured the suffering of the cross. And all these not for lack of prayer or faith or fervor.

So, why pray?

I experience relationship with God when I talk to Him, just like I would anyone else. I interact with Him in prayer in a way that is very personal and intimate. I love what Jesus says about prayer in Matthew 6:5-13:

(warning: my own flawed paraphrase) Don’t pray like the hypocrites who stand outside the church to draw attention to themselves. Their reward ends on earth; they get no eternal blessing. But when you pray you should go somewhere alone, shut your door and pray to the Father you can’t see. And when He sees what you’ve done in secret, He will answer you. Don’t pray with many meaningless, cliche words like hypocrites do. You won’t be heard more because of all your lofty phrases. God knows what you need before you ask Him. So if you need guidance on how to pray, pray the Lord’s Prayer.

I think our prayers for others are especially powerful (see my “Fourteen Thousand Sheep” post from April). We’ve felt the effects of your prayers for Finn and our family as we navigate this difficult obstacle in our lives. Your prayers let us know we’re not alone and we feel supported. I count it a privilege to pray for you when you are hurting or afraid. The search for prayer’s purpose will continue throughout my life, and I’m sure I will change my mind many times over the years. But for now, I think prayer may not be to transform my circumstances; maybe it’s to transform me.

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17 thoughts on “Bow Your Head

  1. Could not agree more with your insights on prayer. I’ve always felt it does harm in the Christian community when people say “if you have enough faith, God will heal (whoever) or fix (whatever)”. Maybe your wishes are not always God’s plan. We have to trust that no matter our own personal prayer, God’s will is what we should seek.

  2. Thank you for these words Ashley! I am working through some tough family battles and prayer is what is getting me through it. Until these battles, I can safely say my prayer life was almost non-existent. I mean, yes I would pray but no cries, moans or aching for Him. I wouldn’t change my 2012 battle for anything. Like you, I know HE is working but maybe not in “my way”, because that is selfish. In His almighty way, which sometimes isn’t what we want, but what we need. I love your blog. It’s food for my soul. Thanks my friend. I am praying for you today.

  3. So well said. I also like what Oswald Chambers says about prayer…God always hears the prayers of His Son, and if the Son of God is formed in me the Father will always hear my prayers….
    As I see it, Jesus the Transformer, opens not just our minds and hearts to truth, he opens a prayer channel directly to our Father’s ear.

  4. Your last line was a big realization for me over the course of planning our move to OKC (as discussed at Matty’s). I felt certain that my fervent prayers were going to help God line up the perfect scenario for life here, when really they just brought me to a place of seeing His scenario as perfect for us. Thanks for sharing these thoughts…in these days of social media prayer requests, its hard to see the forest from the trees.

  5. Enjoyed reading your thoughts about prayer. I agree, and think i would say that prayer is much about submitting. Submitting our will while accepting, embracing, and finding rest and peace in His will. it becomes less about praying for things or circumstances even (although there is certainly a place for that), and more about having our perspective changed.

  6. Hey Ash, I love the subject you have chosen. It is something everyone has experienced or questioned at some point, that is for sure. I remember hearing something once in sunday school about prayer that has always stuck with me, and it is along the same line of your conclusion. Prayer is not to change the will of the father (which we know to be a futile mission), but to help change your will (or your heart) to match his. I feel that the more earnestly I pray for something I know I cannot have that I tend to feel cut off from it. However,when I pray for understanding, comfort and purpose, then my heart is opened and begins to accept the will of my father.

  7. I know you don’t know me, but I was directed to your blog through one of your family friends. I just wanted to say thank you for your words today. I have been dealing with infertility for 3.5 years and boy have I prayed and cried into my pillow. Your words are spoken from the heart, and I am thankful you share them.

  8. Before your blog, before we moved away from Norman, you inspired me to want to take better care of my physical self – eat better, exercise more. Now, I check your blog almost daily, and you continue to inspire me long distance to keep going when feelings of defeat start to creep in, your perspective and written word is such a breath of fresh air. I wonder if you know what a treasure you are? I am rooting for you and sweet Finn everday! Thank you for sharing your life with us!
    Your #1 fan in Lubbock, Texas!

  9. I have wondered why the bible says to pray and it will be answered and then it is not always answered..in God’s time we are told and who am I to challenge that? so we should keep on praying and let God take care of it in His time…I pray for great things for Finn…in His time..love, GG Milt

  10. I am writing to you from Hawaii. My aunt is Lundy Prater, and they have been at FBC Norman for years. When Finn was born, she shared your blog with our family so we could pray for you and Finn, and have been and will continue to do so. You are such a picture of what a Christian mom should be and I’m sure it will be Heaven before you realize how many people you have brought comfort with the comfort you yourself have received from God! Finn is beautiful and his eyes and smile light up the world! When someone makes a “big boy” comment, tell yourself “God says he’s beautiful!” Sending love and aloha from Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

  11. Pingback: The Question of Prayer | our invincible summers

  12. Pingback: Heal Him | our invincible summers

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