I’ve never been much of a prayer warrior; to me, prayer involved some arbitrary equation where 2+2 never quite equaled 4. But, for the life of me, the right formula remained elusive. When one of my greatest prayers for my father’s physical healing was answered with a “no” and my dad left this place for Heaven, the Lord challenged me to step back from my prayers and assess what I was praying for. Was my faith in a certain answer or was my faith in the secure identity of who God is (regardless of what He answered)? Would I be okay with God as Lord if He only ever answered “no” from now until I departed for eternity? Did He have to say yes to my requests for me to believe He was faithful?
So, I went on a search: how were biblical prayers formatted? What did those prayers focus on? Very few times were prayers about specific circumstances—of course, there are those examples too—but more often, recorded prayers were about acknowledging ourselves in front of a Great God. When we truly acknowledge the overwhelming nature of God’s attributes, we can’t help but be humbled. Instead of going to the throne demanding a certain outcome, we approach with grateful confidence, knowing He will lead us where we need to go. We go with open hands, seeing what He’s already poured into them. And then we ask, “What would you like to do with this?”
Prayer is relationship; it isn’t a manipulation tool. God is not my infinite vending machine. Being a recovering control freak, I cringe at how many times I’ve tried to coerce people…coerce God into following my plan—as if I even could. I’d take God my to-do list and explain why it’s essential He follow my protocol; after all, my plan is for the best, right? My arrogance is laughable at best; downright idolatrous at worst.
The times when I’ve tried to pressure someone—usually my husband or child—into something I saw as best have never quite turned out the way I’d hoped. In desperation, I’d nag, deploying every manipulative device I possessed, but my efforts often seemed to turn the person further from my desired outcome. After futile attempts, I finally resolved myself “to just pray.” [On a side note, the Enemy has duped us into thinking that prayer is a last resort, give-up endeavor void of power. Oh, how wrong we are to believe such lies.] I asked God to show me how to pray His will over my loved ones. And step-by-step, I walked beside Him in my thoughts and desires and my conversation with Him.
If I was praying for a person’s heart to change, I would see more results when I stepped back and let God be God for them, instead of trying to tell them what I thought they needed to do. Did the transformation come in my timing? Hardly ever. Even so, He’s done some miraculous transformation in my life and the lives of those around me, bringing change as only He could. Some of the prayers I’m praying still haven’t had a definitive answer yet, but I’m okay with that. I trust that the Lord will do what needs to be done when it needs to happen. And even if I don’t comprehend the answer or agree with the results, I know God’s nature: He is good and loving and more than capable without me. He sees what I'm blind to. He holds all things in that beautiful tension. Therefore, He is trustworthy. Prayer doesn’t have to be a desperate or a scary thing anymore.
I’d say that truly purposeful prayer isn’t about producing a certain result. It’s more about changing my heart into a right attitude that aligns with who God is and who He says I am, and then—and only then— do I reach out for something “more.” Prayer has become about connecting with Him and less about what I can get from Him. And He Himself is so much more than anything He can give me anyway. He is more than everything.