Tag Archives: prayer

Becoming My Prayers

Note from the Editor: This timely word is reprinted from the original February 2014 post

I frequently do workshops on prayer, which I always find kind of odd because I’ve never felt myself to be much of an expert on that kind of thing. Prayer is hard work for me; it’s meaningful, but it’s hard. During my workshops I always focus at some point on intercessory prayer – prayer for needs beyond our own – and every time I do, a cartoon I saw years ago pops into my head: A guy sees a friend across the church parking lot. In the bubble above his head he thinks, “Uh oh! I told Bob I’d pray for him! … Dear God, bless Bob.” Then he waves and says, “Hey Bob! Been praying for ya!”

There are a lot of levels to intercession – praying for needs beyond our own – but every time I think of this cartoon I’m reminded of an important truth: praying for others isn’t so much about rattling off the words of our prayers (even if those words are more genuine than in the cartoon). It’s about becoming our prayers. I believe God responds to our prayers – there’s mystery here I know, but I believe it despite and maybe even because of that mystery. The interesting thing about praying for needs that aren’t our own is that many times God’s response is not as much directly about those needs as it is directly about us.

When I pray for the hungry, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “I hear you, I’m working, but what are you going to do about the hungry?” When I pray for people who are lonely, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “Okay, Kim. You know I’m a comfort to the lonely, but what are you going to do? How are you going to bring that person comfort?” At every turn it’s the same. “What are you going to do?” At every turn I realize it’s not just about the words of my prayers, even though they’re important, it’s about becoming my prayers.

Now this shouldn’t be a massive revelation; but it’s significant for me as I approach the season of Lent. During Lent we often focus on sacrifice. People give something up as a part of their spiritual discipline. I frequently give up diet coke, which those who know me, know isn’t an easy thing. Often I also fast twice a week. Also not an easy thing, at least for me. So I know that during the next several weeks I’m going to have to decide what kind of spiritual discipline I will undertake to mark the season.

So why is the idea of becoming my prayers so significant for me right now? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a passage from Isaiah that seems to enter my mind every time I begin to think about engaging in any kind of “self-denial project”:

Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

I will tell you why! It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal…

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:1-8, 10)

I often talk about “speaking faith,” which for me means (among other things) giving life to our ideas and beliefs by speaking them aloud. Moving them from the realm of our personal, interior selves to an external realm where they can become infectious and dynamic. That’s the kind of thing I want to happen to my prayers, to my fasting, to whatever self-denial I decide to undertake. I want to move them beyond my interior self. I want them to make a difference beyond the inner realm of my own personal spirituality.

In Healing of Purpose, John E. Biersdorf writes, “As an act of love, prayer is a courageous act. It is a risk we take. It is a life-and-death risk, believing in the promises of the gospel, that God’s love is indeed operative in the world. In prayer we have the courage, perhaps even the presumption and the arrogance or the audacity to claim that God’s love can be operative in the very specific situations of human need that we encounter.”

I believe God’s love can be operative in very specific situations of human need, that’s why I pray. But there’s a very real sense in which that love becomes operative only when I become my prayer, when I become my fast, when I become my self-denial. That’s when it becomes pleasing to God. That’s when God’s light shines out from the darkness and our darkness becomes as light as day.

Interceding Evangelistically

When we intercede evangelistically, we are calling on God to act in the life of another person. There are several facets to this calling. First, because Christian prayer is conscious communication with God, we are sharing our deepest needs. Mystery pervades this process as we struggle to share our needs and then leave it to God’s wisdom to decide what to do about those needs.

And yet, leaving it to God does not mean we are passive. Believing God knows best and is ordering all things for the best does not mean we stop working for the best God has for us. It is the same with prayer. Our waiting is not passive, but active. We may believe God knows best and is ordering what is best for our loved one, but that does not mean we stop working and praying for our loved one.

Secondly, we pray that we will be sensitive to the urgent needs of those around us. When we combine the urgent need of others with the willing love that grounds evangelistic intercession, we begin to grasp the dynamic of this essential value. Jesus’ story about the man who went to his friend’s house at midnight to ask for bread illustrates this dynamic. The man asks for bread, not for himself, but for the guests who have arrived unexpectedly at his house. Their need, coupled with his willing love to meet that need, send him banging at his neighbor’s door in the middle of the night.

As we pray that we will be sensitive to the needs of those around us, we are praying not just about the need to be in relationship with God. We must love enough to desire what is best in the whole of a person’s life, not just in this one area. That is what brings integrity to our praying and to our evangelism, love that shows itself in the care for body, mind and spirit.

A third facet of evangelistic intercession is our helplessness. The man in Jesus’ story was willing to give his guests bread, but he did not have any. It was his inability to provide what his guests needed that sent him begging to his friend.

Our helplessness leads to supplication. Supplication is our feeling for, or wrestling with, that leads us to allow the Holy Spirit to pray for us. Supplication occurs when we come to a place of utter faith in God to do what we cannot do. Paul describes it in Romans when he says, “the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.” For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. (8:26-17, NLT)

Persistence is the third feature of evangelistic intercession. In Jesus’ story the man gets the bread because of his persistence. He keeps on asking. We press, urge and beg with troublesome persistence. We pray again and again and again. We persist, not because we do not trust God. Nor do we keep asking because God needs us to do ask repeatedly. We persist because there is a cumulative effect of repetition in prayer. Praying, again and again, allows us to see new facets of need or new facets of our own experience that we might otherwise miss if we had not persevered in our praying. 

The final two attributes of our calling on God are unselfishness and confidence. We are not praying for what we want but for what God knows is best for the other person. Our unselfishness is measured by our willingness to extend ourselves in love, at whatever cost, that our prayers may be answered. It is also measured by how we guard ourselves from unconsciously designing an answer for our prayers. We may pray that another would claim faith in Jesus Christ, but we cannot know exactly what that will to look like in the life of the other person. Unselfishness calls for a willingness to let go of our predetermined expectations of an answer and a willingness to accept the answer that comes, acknowledging that we are not in control.

This leads to the last attribute, confidence. Though we are not in control of how God is shaping the life of another, we can be confident that God is indeed at work, because we trust God’s nature. We can be confident that God will respond and that confidence is rooted in our faith in God’s power, God’s love, and God’s willingness to do what we can’t do.  

Praying Persistently

Authentic evangelism begins with prayer. Prayer saturates our waiting. But it is not prayer in general. Authentic evangelism begins with intercessory prayer, the kind of prayer that takes us out of ourselves, moves us out of the bubble of our own lives. If we are not actively praying for people, we will never be able to effectively share the gospel with them.

This idea runs much deeper than simply praying that someone accept Christ – even though that is important. Like the longing that is part of human nature, prayer is also a distinctively human thing. The need to pray is as natural as our need for food or water. It is the instinctive way we seek to ease our restlessness and attempt to fill the hole within our hearts.

In prayer, as we reach out to something greater than ourselves, it does not take long for our minds to turn to the needs of others. This is because we are made in the image of a Triune God. Because our God is relational, so our praying is relational; it is how we are wired.

Yet though it is natural, prayer remains filled with mystery. At the heart of this mystery is the truth that for Christians, prayer is about the movement of God in our lives and in the lives of others. This may seem strange to some of us. It is tempting to associate prayer with getting an answer, especially the answer we have in our minds before we begin to pray. It is easy to reduce prayer to a process of getting what we want, when we want it; however, when we succumb to that temptation, we often become disappointed, even disillusioned, when things do not turn out as we had hoped. But prayer is about God’s movement in our lives and in the lives of others, and that understanding grounds everything else we say about it.

When we begin to make the connection between prayer as a movement of God in the lives of others with the call to be available to the Holy Spirit, the significance of prayer as an essential value of evangelism becomes evident. Because the need to be in relationship is a human need, not only a Christian need, prayer and authentic evangelism converge at our most human point of need – the need for relationship, the need for connection with God and others.

Like prayer, evangelism is about relationship; more specifically, it is about relationships of trust. People need to trust that we care, trust that we love them the way we say we love them – trust that we are not targeting them or judging them or trying to manipulate them.

The best foundation for authentic evangelism is a trusting, caring relationship. Relationships of trust and care allow us the space to share our faith and space for the Holy Spirit to work for transformation in our lives and in the lives of those we care about. Relationships of trust and care are fostered by prayer. As we pray for others we come to see them in a new light and our care for them deepens. Faith can only be shared when a depth of care and trust exists. If we do not care enough about the people we hope to reach for Christ to pray for them, then our commitment to sharing the gospel with them is likely not as deeply rooted as we think.

Incorporating those outside our community of faith into our prayers is not simply praying that they come to know Jesus Christ. Yes, that is our ultimate hope and that desire undergirds our praying. Yet we do not pray that others would accept Christ and then sit back and wait for that to happen. There is much more to intercessory prayer as an essential value of evangelism than that. Recognizing this points to the importance of immersing ourselves in the dynamics of intercessory prayer.

Authentic evangelism is not about browbeating or arguing with another person to wear them down; that change of heart comes only through the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner, we do not pray to persuade or convince God. God does not need to be convinced that someone we know needs to become a Christian. God already knows that. In fact, God is likely already at work in that person’s life before we ever get involved. 

Thus, our praying is not to convince God of the “right or best answer” – whether that be in the life of another or in our own lives. Because we are human, we do not have the wisdom to know what the truly right or best answer is. We can have inklings, we can have intellectual insight, but that is as close as we can come. More often, however, though we may not know that is right or best, we are quite clear about what we want. Unfortunately, what we want, at the moment we want it, is not always the wisest answer.

Early in my marriage, as I was completing my Masters of Divinity at Yale, I believed that God was calling me to pursue a PhD in Theological Ethics. Because my husband was in the middle of his surgical residency, I was limited in my choice of schools so I applied only to Yale. I fully believed I was following God’s leading by pursuing doctoral studies and prayed fervently that God would grant my desire to begin this work. When the acceptance letters were mailed, however, I did not receive one. My application was denied.

Prayer as an essential value of evangelism then is not about persuasion. It is about joining in God’s movement, in our own lives and in the lives of others. When we pray for others, we become connected to what God is doing in their lives. That connection propels our minds and hearts toward God. We become willing to create space for God’s Spirit to flow through our prayers and to others, speaking to them directly. This is key when we think about authentic evangelism.

It is not a matter of cut and dried petitions – God please make my friend a Christian, God please let me be accepted to graduate school. It is about being open to the way the Holy Spirit may be working through our prayers, not only to move others, but to move us. When we pray for others, we open ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit in our own lives, not just in the lives of those we pray for.

Prayer is asking. It is a request. But here is the difficult truth: all prayer is answered but not all requests are granted. The mystery here is that there may be a discrepancy between the answer we receive and the answer we want. That was my painful discovery when praying about graduate school.

Yet, Karl Barth has said that God cleanses our prayers. God’s wisdom permeates the answer we receive. The wisest answer for me and graduate school was to not go at that time, even though I badly wanted to and passionately asked God to make it so. The wisest answer was no, so my request was denied. I did not get what I wanted.

God’s no was a crisis for me as I tried to discern my path in ministry. About a month later, however, I realized the wisdom in that answer when I discovered I was pregnant with our third child. The prospects of beginning a PhD program, pregnant, with two children under five, while married to a surgical resident were overwhelming. No was indeed the wisest answer.

This is a crucial point for authentic evangelism. We are not in control of the times or the seasons. God has granted each of us free will, so all our efforts to reach out to others with the love of Jesus Christ must respect that freedom. As we discussed in our last session, God never forces or coerces and neither do we. We may not see our supplication for another person granted; we may not see the dramatic change we are pleading for. And yet, as I mentioned earlier, when we pray for others, we come to see them in a new light. That is a transformation that takes place within us. It is a change in our perspective and attitudes; and that is often the most significant first step in God’s answer to our prayers. God answers by changing us, which is an answer we do not always recognize.


Praying Around the Globe

Sometimes access to instant global news can be overwhelming. Before even all of the facts are known, stories are disseminated, reacted to, and assessed. There is a great deal that could make our hearts anxious – if we let it.

This week, I suggest picturing a globe when you pray. If you have one in your home, pick it up, spin it. The good news is that there is no place on the face of the earth where we can hide from the presence of God.

Now move the globe, and look at it from different angles. Are you tempted to start from the place you call home? Spin it a little and picture life from one of the other chunks of earth. Look at Asia and Australia, Antarctica and Africa, Europe, South America and North America. On at least six of those seven continents – I can’t speak for Antarctica – there are not only Christian fellowships gathering and worshiping, there are Wesleyan Methodist Christian fellowships.

When you pray, start anywhere on the globe. Spin it and stop it with your finger randomly if you want. Pray for our sisters and brothers in the faith wherever you start. And continue around the globe. Let your eyes wander to places you’ve never heard of, or cities you can’t pronounce. Ask God to be at work in those places. When you’ve prayed around the world, turn the globe so you can see your home region. Picture a map being zoomed in around your house or flat, and pray for God to be at work in your neighborhood, your street, your home.

And then, wherever you are, look up – towards your ceiling, towards the sky, and pray for God to be at work in the International Space Station orbiting over earth, astronauts looking down at our nighttime city lights – because after all, not all humans live on earth now! As John Wesley said, “the world [cosmos?] is my parish.”

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139:7-12

Praying for Our Pastors

Recently it was a joy to gather at World Methodist Evangelism’s annual invitational faith-sharing conference for North American clergy. Pastors and their spouses arrive from all across the country, representing a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations.

Order of the Flame is a special event every year, utterly unique. Pastors and spouses attend everything together; clergy from the AME Zion church and the United Methodist Church, Church of the Nazarene and The Wesleyan Church all mingle together to learn, laugh, and build relationships. Returning members from prior years sit next to new members who arrive exhausted and worn in their spirits. They leave with a new lease on life and fresh conviction about why they got into ministry in the first place.

Our growing Order of the Flame community includes many clergymembers, and we ask that you will join us in praying particularly for our Order of the Flame members. These pastors and their spouses have spent several rigorous days being equipped with faith-sharing resources, building relationships, and having their spirits renewed.

If you’re part of our community of John Wesley’s pattern of prayer and fasting, we ask that you include in your prayers the pastors who have come through Order of the Flame over the years, including our new 2017 members. In particular, pray that the Holy Spirit will apply the resources they’ve been given to their local ministry contexts. Pray for their spouses and families. Pray for the new relationships of support and encouragement that have begun. And pray for their congregations to be awake to the movement of God.

Every year we welcome a special bunch, and this year is no different. We celebrate the ministries of these pastors and pray that they share their faith in beautiful ways.