Prayer is an unnatural activity. From birth, we learn the rules of self-reliance as we strain and struggle toward independence, and frankly, prayer flies in the face of all that. It is an assault on human autonomy, an indictment on self-sufficient living. To people like me, who are fond of racing down the fast lane, determined to make it on their own, prayer can seem a really annoying interruption. Although prayer is alien to our proud human nature, somehow, at some point along life’s journey, most of us fall to our knees, bow our heads, fix our attention on God and just plain pray. We may look both ways to be sure no one is watching; our knees may creak at the foreignness of the activity; but still, we pray. It’s as if something within us is hard-wired with the knowledge that in so doing we weave stronger threads of intimacy with the One who alone can provide peace to endure and power to overcome whatever challenges we face.
DRAWN TO AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
Ask people who have suffered tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or defeat, loneliness or discrimination—ask them what happened in their souls when they finally fell to their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord. Some of these people have told me, “I can’t explain it, but I felt like God understood me.” Others have said, “I felt surrounded by his presence” or “I felt a comfort and peace I’d never felt before.” Many years ago my dad—still relatively young and an extremely active man —died of a heart attack.
As I drove to
my mother’s house in Michigan after getting the news, I wondered how I would continue to function now that the person who believed in me more than anyone else was gone. That night in bed I wrestled with God. Am I going to recover from losing my father? Why did this happen? How can I put it all together in my mind and in my life? If you really love me, how could you do this to me? Suddenly, in the early hours of the morning, it was as if I had turned a corner and was now headed in a new direction. God simply conveyed, I’m able. I’m enough for you.
Right now you doubt I have a purpose in all of this, but please … trust me. That experience may sound far-fetched, but what occurred as a result of it was unmistakable. After that tear-filled and despairing night, I was never again tortured by doubt—either about God’s care for me or about my ability to handle life without my dad. Grief, yes. My father’s death wounded me deeply, and I will always miss him. But it did not set me adrift without anchor or compass. Even to this day, that was the bleakest night I have ever known. But as if intent on piercing my darkness, God overpowered me with a massive beam of courage, reassurance and hope. More recently consistent prayer thwarted one of those dark nights of the soul. My daughter, Shauna, was pregnant with my first grandchild. The whole family, myself included, eagerly anticipated the arrival of this little guy. But in unguarded moments I found myself weighed down by wondering about complications with Shauna or her baby. The only thing I knew to do was to pray—intentionally, continuously and with great faith. There was no other way to cope with the level of concern only a father can feel for his daughter.
I told God what I was worried about. Then I handed over my worries and left them there with him. He seemed a lot more composed about the whole deal, which relaxed me immensely. Each time he and I went through this little ritual, after several minutes of focused prayer, I could feel the sense of burden or foreboding being lifted from my body. Shortly thereafter a sense of peace would be restored to my inner world. Surely something similar was what caused the apostle Paul to write to the Christians at Philippi, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). What relief there is in God-ordained peace!