I respect my Aunt Gladys’s intrepid spirit, even if that very spirit concerns me sometimes. The source of my concern came in the form of news she shared in an email: “I cut down a walnut tree yesterday.”
You must understand that my chain-saw wielding aunt is seventy-six years old! The tree had grown up behind her garage. When the roots threatened to burst through the concrete, she knew it had to go. But she did tell us, “I always pray before I tackle a job like that.”
While serving as butler to the king of Persia during the time of Israel’s exile, Nehemiah heard news concerning the people who had returned to Jerusalem. Some work needed to be done. “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (1:3). The broken walls left them vulnerable to attack by enemies. Nehemiah had compassion for his people and wanted to get involved. But prayer came first, especially since a new king had written a letter to stop the building efforts in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4). Nehemiah prayed for his people (vv. 5–10), and then asked God for help before requesting permission from the king to leave (v. 11).
Is prayer your response? It’s always the best way to face any task or trial in life.
At a dedication ceremony during which a Bible translated into a local African language was presented, the area chief was presented with his own copy. In appreciation, he lifted the Bible to the skies and exclaimed, “Now we know God understands our language! We can read the Bible in our own native mother-tongue.”
No matter our language, our heavenly Father understands it. But often we feel unable to express our deepest longings to Him. The apostle Paul encourages us to pray regardless. Paul speaks of our suffering world and our own pain: “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” and he compares that to the Holy Spirit’s work on our behalf. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” he writes. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26).
God’s Holy Spirit knows us intimately. He knows our longings, our heart-language, and our unspoken words, and He helps us in our communication with God. His Spirit draws us to be transformed into the image of God the Son (v. 29).
Our heavenly Father understands our language and speaks to us through His Word. When we think our prayers are weak or too short, His Holy Spirit helps us by speaking through us to the Father. He yearns for us to talk with Him in prayer.
I admire people who record prayer requests in journals tattered from daily handling, those who keep track of every prayer and praise and then faithfully update their lists. I’m inspired by those who gather with others to pray and whose kneeling wears out the carpet at their bedsides. For years, I tried to copy their styles, to simulate a perfect prayer life, and to imitate the eloquence of the so-much-more-articulate-than-me folks. I strived to unravel what I thought was a mystery, as I longed to learn the right way to pray.
Eventually, I learned that our Lord simply desires prayer that begins and ends with humility (Matthew 6:5). He invites us into an intimate exchange through which He promises to listen (v. 6). He never requires fancy or memorized words or phrases (v. 7). He assures us that prayer is a gift, an opportunity to honor His majesty (vv. 9–10), to display our confidence in His provision (v. 11), and to affirm our security in His forgiveness and guidance (vv. 12–13).
God assures us He hears and cares about every single spoken and unspoken prayer, as well as the prayers that slip down our cheeks as silent tears. As we place our trust in God and His perfect love for us, we can be sure praying with a humble heart that’s surrendered to and dependent on Him is always the right way to pray.
I bow my head, close my eyes, lace my fingers together and begin to pray. “Dear Lord, I’m coming to you today as your child. I recognize your power and goodness. . .” Suddenly, my eyes snap open. I remember that my son hasn’t finished his history project, which is due the next day. I recall that he has an after-school basketball game, and I imagine him awake until midnight finishing his schoolwork. This leads me to worry that his fatigue will put him at risk for the flu!
C.S. Lewis wrote about distractions during prayer in his book The Screwtape Letters. He noted that when our minds wander, we tend to use willpower to steer ourselves back to our original prayer. Lewis concluded, though, that it was better to accept “the distraction as [our] present problem and [lay] that before [God] and make it the main theme of [our] prayers.”
A persistent worry or even a sinful thought that disrupts a prayer may become the centerpiece of our discussion with God. God wants us to be real as we talk with Him and open up about our deepest concerns, fears, and struggles. He is not surprised by anything we mention. His interest in us is like the attention we would receive from a close friend. That’s why we are encouraged to give all of our worries and cares to God—because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
One of the first prayers I learned as a little boy was “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” It was a prayer I learned from my parents, and I taught it to my son and daughter when they were little. As a child, I found great comfort in placing myself in God’s hands with those words before I fell asleep.
There’s a similar prayer neatly tucked away in the “prayer book” of the Bible, the Psalms. Some biblical scholars suggest that the phrase, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5), was a “bedtime” prayer taught to children in Jesus’s day.
You may recognize that prayer as Jesus’s final cry from the cross. But Jesus added one more word to it: “Father” (Luke 23:46). By praying that word in the moments before His death, Jesus demonstrated His intimate relationship with the Father and pointed believers toward their home with Him (John 14:3).
Jesus died on the cross so we could live in the wonder of a relationship with God as our heavenly Father. How comforting it is to know that because of Jesus’s sacrificial love for us, we can rest in God’s care as His children! We can close our eyes without fear, because our Father watches over us, and has promised to wake us up to life with Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
SOS, the Morse code signal, was created in 1905 because sailors needed a way to indicate extreme distress. The signal gained notoriety in 1910 when used by the sinking ship Steamship Kentucky, saving all 46 people aboard.
While SOS may be a more recent invention, the urgent cry for help is as old as humanity. We hear it often in the Old Testament story of Joshua, who faced opposition from fellow Israelites (Joshua 9:18) and challenging terrain (3:15–17) for more than fourteen years as the Israelites slowly conquered and settled the land God had promised them. During this struggle “the Lord was with Joshua” (6:27).
In Joshua 10, the Israelites go to the aid of Gibeonites, allies of Israel who were being attacked by five kings. Joshua knew that he needed the Lord’s help to defeat so many powerful enemies (v. 12). God responded with a hailstorm, even stopping the sun in the middle of the sky to give Israel more time to defeat the enemy. Joshua 10:14 recounts, “Surely the
If you are in the midst of a challenging situation, you can send out an SOS to God. Although help will look different than the assistance Joshua received, perhaps help comes through an unexpected job, an understanding doctor, or peace in the midst of grief. Be encouraged that these are ways He is responding to your call for help and fighting for you.
Some problems have Daddy’s name written all over them. For instance, my kids recently discovered bees had moved into a crack in our concrete front porch. So, armed with bug spray, I went out to do battle.
I got stung. Five times.
I don’t like being stung by insects. But better me than my kids or wife. Taking care of my family’s wellbeing is at the top of my job description after all. My children recognized a need, and they asked me to address it. They trusted me to protect them from something they feared.
In Matthew 7, Jesus teaches that we too should bring our needs to God (v. 7), trusting Him with our requests. To illustrate, Jesus gives a case study in character: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? (vv. 9–10). For loving parents, the answer is obvious. But Jesus answers anyway, challenging us not to lose faith in our Father’s generous goodness: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (v. 11).
I can’t imagine loving my kids more. But Jesus assures us that even the best earthly father’s love is eclipsed by God’s love for us.
Laura’s mom was battling cancer. One morning Laura prayed for her with a friend. Her friend, who had been disabled for years by cerebral palsy, prayed: “Lord, you do everything for me. Please do everything for Laura’s mother.”
Laura was deeply moved by her friend’s “declaration of dependence” on God. Reflecting on the moment, she said: “How often do I acknowledge my need for God in everything? It’s something I should do every day!”
During His days on earth Jesus demonstrated continual dependence on His heavenly Father. One might think that because Jesus is God in a human body, He would have the best of all reasons to be self-sufficient. But when the religious authorities asked Him to give a reason for “working” on a legally ordained day of rest because He healed someone on the Sabbath, He responded, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). Jesus declared His dependence as well!
Jesus’ reliance on the Father sets the ultimate example of what it means to live in relationship with God. Every moment we draw breath is a gift from God, and He wants our lives to be filled with His strength. When we live to love and serve Him through our moment-by-moment prayer and reliance on His Word, we are declaring our dependence on Him.
Not long ago I sent my wife Cari a text message using only voice prompts. I was on my way out the door to give her a ride home from work and intended to send the words, “Where would you like me to pick you up, old gal?”
Cari doesn’t mind my calling her “old gal”—it’s one of the affectionate nicknames we use around the house. But my cell phone didn’t “understand” the phrase, and sent the words “old cow” instead.
Fortunately for me, Cari immediately understood what had happened and found it funny. She later posted my text message on social media and asked, “Should I be offended?” We were both able to laugh about it.
My wife’s loving response to my awkward words that day makes me think about God’s loving understanding of our prayers. We may not know what to say when we pray or even what to ask for, but when we belong to Christ, His Spirit within “intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26) and lovingly helps us articulate our deepest needs before Him.
Our heavenly Father doesn’t stand at a distance waiting for us to get our words right. We can come to Him with every need, assured that He understands and receives us with love.