One morning, right in the middle of my Bible Study Fellowship class I had a frightening thought: a possibility I’d never considered.
As a firstborn rule follower mom, I was living my life with a reasonable, logical assumption about the Christian life. Every day my list was
- Do my best.
- Follow the rules—especially the Bible’s rules
- Wait for God to bless my work and efforts
I knew too that even if I didn’t do things perfectly, God would still give me what I wanted…because He knows my heart, that I mean well, and want the best.
As I told you recently, I have made plenty of mistakes when it comes to prayer. Looking for a formula to follow was one of my biggest errors. In my errored but hopeful thinking, finding a verse with a promise equaled a guarantee. I wanted that comfort of some slight measure of control.
I understood that God wasn’t obligated to answer my requests. I’d learned that in the early days of being a Christian, you know when the first minuscule prayers went unanswered. But, I still assumed those times were the exception. I thought, Maybe those prayers were small and unimportant. In my humanity, I’m regularly ranking things.
After all, the Bible was full of “rules,” or more correctly “principles” because that’s less harsh. Not so legalistic sounding. Just the Sermon on the Mount alone has plenty of lists I should follow. So why not prayer?
God was about to reorder my assumptions.
But first He asked me a heart question as I sat in class and read these words for the first time in my life:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls.”
My heart skipped a beat. These words described complete economic devastation. Absolute loss. There were no grocery stores. You can’t grow your food or raise you flocks? You starved.
That’s when this question popped into my head: “What if none of your children grow up to follow Me?” He asked. It shook me to my core. That would be utter devastation. Nothing mattered more to me than my children’s salvation. I wanted them in heaven with me. I wanted them to be guided by His hand so they wouldn’t experience pain. I wanted them to follow God so they made good choices and didn’t suffer from terrible ones.
“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).
With a deep sigh I said, Yes Lord. If all my children turn from you, if everything fails as Habakkuk said, I will choose to believe in you. I will still follow you.
Before class was over I had underlined every word of those verses and put a star by them in the margin.
Habakkuk, the prophet of God, penned this description of a coming disaster for his people. He ended it with his own resolve to cling to the truth no matter how bleak the circumstances. No matter what is the heart, the root, the essence of prayer.
Because God wants to know if we are praying only for ourselves or because we want to know Him and have a relationship with Him.
God wants to know if we love Him. He asked Peter three times after the resurrection, “Do you love me, Peter?”
He told the disciples and His followers that they must love Him more than father and mother, sister and brother, farms and land. And God continues to ask that of me. And He is asking you, too. Who do you love more?
I’d been praying for years as though God was a vending machine who would give me what I asked if I put in the right combination of spiritual coins: the right prayer posture, the right words, the right intensity, or whatever I’d heard most recently in a book or sermon. But that spring day He reminded me what matters in prayer. It’s all about a relationship. Not results.
God is God and I am not. He is not impressed by my sincerity or my efforts, and I do like measuring effort and work.
Jesus finished His instructional prayer, which we call the Lord’s prayer, to His disciples by reminding them to say at the end, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Why? To remind them and for us to remember every time we pray that God is in control and it is His will that is best. Always.
That pivotal prayer moment was when my oldest was 15 and my youngest 5. In the years since God has corrected my thinking hundreds more times, maybe thousands. I “should” remember these lessons, right? Don’t you want to learn your lessons, check it off the list and move on?
God is gently reminding me, even today, that I am broken and He doesn’t love me any less when I forget or start trying to make prayer work on my own understanding or my own efforts.“Shoulds” are no more beneficial to a relationship with my Father in Heaven than are rules or formulas. It’s my heart that matters to Him.
As we explore prayer together this year my desire is to avoid giving any lists but instead to ask you to take what you’ve just read to God and ask Him to show you want He has for you in my story. Invite Him to show you if you are depending on self effort, formulas, performance.
Here’s a suggested prayer if you need help finding words:
My Abba Father,
Too often I rattle on
about my worries and concerns,
as if You exist to serve me.
Help me remember
Your desire is for my heart
to belong wholly to You.
“I am no longer my own but Yours.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield
all things to Your pleasure…”*
Let’s keep our hearts open, uncluttered, and full of complete trust…like a child. May you say to Him, the great I AM, “Yet will I trust You” (Job 13:15). “I will wait for you continually, for You alone have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).