One of my favorite things about being a Young Life leader in college was hearing my high school girls pray. Most of the time, it would require a bit of prompting and encouragement to pray out loud in front of their friends, but I always thought it was beautiful. Not because they used fancy words, or talked for a really long time, but because they were themselves. They were high schools girls; filled with joy and love and insecurities and fear. They were figuring out what a relationship with Jesus meant for them, and showing so much courage in that process. That’s what came through when they prayed.
The word I used the most when talking with them about prayer was honesty. Be honest when you pray. Tell God what’s really going on in your heart. He can handle it. He knows it perfectly, yes, but he wants you to trust him enough to actually pray for what you want, to pray about what’s actually happening and how you actually feel about it.
There are those moments when you are able to speak truth to a friend with such conviction because you believe it to be true in your own life. And then there are the moments where you are able to speak truth because you know in your mind it’s true, but your heart is churning because you know you don’t completely believe what you’re saying.
Enter the last two years of my life.
No, I didn’t stop journaling in that time. No, I didn’t stop being honest in my prayers. My journal from Fall 2011 is probably the most raw, real, emotion-filled, uncensored journal to date. I didn’t hold anything back with God. I told him exactly how I felt and what I thought about him bringing me back to Austin- at the time the last place on earth I wanted to be. But somewhere along the way, I grew weary. I said all I had to say, and had nothing left. It was the same old pain, the same old issues, the same old hurt day after day after day. And I gradually grew tired of processing, of thinking, of praying about it.
So I started praying things like,
God, heal my heart.
Help me be content in my circumstances.
Glorify your name through this.
Now don’t get me wrong, those are not bad things to pray. It’s just that nothing in my heart wanted those things. Nothing. They were half-hearted prayers. But I didn’t know what else to say. I felt like I had said everything, and because I didn’t get answers instantly (see Themes for Summer: Part I), I began praying what I thought I should pray. See, prayers that you feel like you should pray sound good. They look nice and tidy on the outside. The only problem is there is no faith to back them up. They are empty words.
And that’s what I began praying: empty words. In doing so, I became jaded. I began to lose faith that God really could do more than the craziest thing I could imagine. And not just that He could do it… but that he would do it. In my life, my marriage, my job, my relationships, my heart.
But here’s the tricky part: that was all happening deep deep down. So deep down that I wouldn’t have been able to verbalize that to you maybe even two months ago. On the surface, everything looked fine. I was journaling, praying and being honest about my feelings and thoughts. I was confessing sin. I was even asking God for things. But I didn’t believe he actually cared, or could really do anything about it. When it came to asking God for the real things…. you know, that dream in your heart that you talk yourself out of asking for because it feels too big… when it came to asking for those things, it was back to “Help me be content in my circumstances.” I was too afraid to pray for what I really wanted. I was too afraid of being told no. And so I wallowed in general prayers, all the while gradually losing faith in the power of my God.
Last weekend, I listened to a podcast from Austin Stone on wholehearted prayer. If you haven’t listened to it, you should. It rocked me. It was like someone waking me up from a sleep. A sleep I had lulled myself into by praying things I didn’t mean. A sleep that made me forget who my God is. That he parted seas, and raised people from the dead, and did the most unimaginable thing of reconciling us back to Him through his son Jesus. I had forgotten that because of that most unimaginable thing, I am called God’s child. He is my Father. He created me and gives me desires in my heart, and I have permission to beg him for those desires to become a reality. I have permission to beg God to act. It doesn’t always mean the answer will be yes, or that He will move in the exact way I ask Him to. But I’m choosing to believe that if He’s not going to move mountains in my circumstances, then He will move them in my heart.
The verse that stuck out to me the most from that sermon is James 4:3:
You do not have, because you do not ask.
That is haunting to me. The last thing I want is to meet Jesus face to face, for him to tell me “Well done,” and then to say, “You could’ve seen Me do so much more had you had the faith to ask for it.” No no no. That is not what I want my life to be about. I do not want my life to be about sounding good or playing it safe or giving in to fear. We serve the God who literally created everything in existence. We would be fools to not ask big, specific things of our God.. especially out of fear… since he loves us perfectly and there is no fear in love.
So this summer, in addition to patience and thankfulness, I’m abandoning general prayers. I’m abandoning fear that keeps me from asking God for big things. I’m abandoning playing it safe. God has done so much in my life despite my lack of belief. How much more could he do if I actually believed that He is who He says He is?
I’m going back to being honest, to praying big and crazy, and begging God to replace my unbelief with belief. Even as I’m writing this my heart is stirring. I can not wait to see what God has in store. I expect that it will be one heck of a ride. Why don’t you come along?