It's a regular occurrence in most small group/bible studies: Prayer requests. One by one, each give their requests and the group commits to praying for them.
But I often can't help but wonder how many of these requests are forgotten about over the course of a week and never prayed for. It's a very easy question to ask when I, myself, often did that very thing. There was a time when I would toss my journal back into my bag, head out the door, and never take it out again. Sometimes I would, but often not. And to make it worse, the times that I did pray I would start out with Dear God, but somehow manage to end with thinking about what I needed to pick-up at Target. Or even worse yet, I would begin praying and then realize that my prayer was quite lackluster. I mean, honestly, I knew this person would just have the same prayer request next week!
Now I knew, thankfully, that this wasn’t how prayer is supposed to be. Prayer isn’t a laundry list of items to check off your to-do list. These prayer requests (including my own) often contain the deepest and most intimate parts of our lives. So why was this area so difficult for me? Why did I not possess the discipline to pray for others, and even when I did, the words bordered on feeling rote and routine?
I was having coffee with a friend some time ago and she mentioned that her prayer life was feeling a bit jaded as well. She was frustrated because she prays and prays for things or outcomes and they just never seemed to happen. I nodded my head in understanding because I too have spoken some prayers that were tainted with unbelief and doubt. During these prayers I’d be secretly thinking, “well, God, here I am again, asking you that thing again and it hasn't happened--again--so I'll just ask because it's the right thing to do."
I know that this isn't how God works, and I tell my children that God isn’t a genie in a bottle, but I think it's safe to admit that I am victim to that way of thinking sometimes. I mean, if God is never going to say yes, why should I even ask?!
About a year ago, in lieu of all this, I made a commitment to revitalize my prayer life. I started with thinking of times when I did feel that my prayers were passionate, raw, intimate, and real. As I reflected on it, I found that there were actually a few things about these prayers that really stood out:
1. I was less focused on what/who I was praying for and more focused on who I was praying to. I was presenting my requests to God, yes, but in a way where my very soul was crying out in faith that God was able to do anything.
2. I was inviting (or begging) the Holy Spirit to intercede because my emotions were too muddled or I was too tired to formulate thoughts.
3. Sometimes, when I found words weren’t coming or I was overcome with emotion, I would close my eyes and actually visualize myself with Jesus. I would imagine him placing his hand on my head and praying for me. I would envision him listening to me cry and rant. I imagined how he might respond to me, how he might look at me. I imagined myself at the foot of the cross, crying as I laid some tough stuff there.
When I take my prayer journal out now and read the names of those I’ve committed to praying for, I try and first recall how he parted the sea, healed the blind man, or rained manna from Heaven. And as I close my eyes, I envision taking my brother or sister’s hand and leading them to a meeting with Jesus, where we talk to him about what is going on and how that person is feeling.
I have discovered that not only has this refreshed my prayer life, but it's kinda fun too!
~ Kristin Vanzanten