Prayer offers us a glimpse into the beauty of God’s character
Published on: 04-28-2022
I once heard the story of a traveler who, while on tour in an Asian country, went to visit a large temple. When he arrived, there was a big crowd worshipping at the large image within the temple shrine. The man watched quietly and noticed something very peculiar. Many of the worshippers took little pieces of paper and covered them in mud. Then they flung them forcefully at the image. After watching this for a time, the traveler asked about the meaning of this strange activity. He learned that the pieces of paper contained the personal prayers of the people. The prayers were wrapped in mud in hopes that this would help them stick to the image. The worshippers believed that if their prayers stuck fast to the image, then those prayers would be answered. However, if the prayers fell off the image, and the mud did not stick, it meant their prayers were being rejected by their god.
As Christians, we understand the practice of prayer very differently. We believe that we pray to the King of the universe, the One who not only put the stars in place but who loves us deeply and personally. He even hears the silent prayers we don’t dare pray aloud. But what do we do when we don’t always feel His love, when it seems as if we pray and pray and pray, and our prayers still aren’t getting past the ceiling, let alone sticking to the heavenly throne?
SEARCH ME—AND KNOW MY HEART
That’s when we need to take the advice of the psalmist. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23, 24, NIV).
While God is always willing to hear our prayers, and delights to answer what is for our good, sometimes there are things that we allow to stand between us and God and that hinder Him from answering. There may be unconfessed sin in our life (Ps. 66:18), unbelief (James 1:6, 7), unforgiveness (Mark 11:26), unresolved conflicts (Matt. 5:23, 24), worldliness (James 4:3), or self-righteousness (Isa. 64:6). Being unkind toward a spouse (1 Peter 3:7) or turning a deaf ear to someone in need (Prov. 21:13) can also hinder our prayers. Sometimes we are just too busy “doing good things” that we aren’t making Him the best thing (Luke 10:41, 42). Other times we don’t seek God with an undivided heart because of distrac- tion from electronic devices, social media, or other idols separating us from Him (Ex. 20:3). Whatever the case, we must ask God to wash the muddy hindrances away if we want to see real power and growth in our prayer life. But how are we to get the mud washed away, living in a “muddy place” called earth, in a city called Laodicea?
A NEW BEGINNING
Let me briefly share a little of my personal testimony.
Like many others, I was raised in the lukewarm wilderness of modern-day Christianity—rich and increased with goods and thinking I had need of nothing, when in actuality I was poor, blind, naked, and, well, very muddy.
I’m grateful that I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church with parents who genuinely loved the Lord. I still remember waking up at 4:00 a.m. as a child and hearing my father praying for me. However, even as a young adult, I still didn’t truly understand the power of prayer. Nor did I understand the beauty of the gospel. This may seem strange, as I’d been a Christian my whole life, but my heart felt numb to what Jesus had done on Calvary. It didn’t touch me personally!
Thankfully, one day God showed me my true heart condition as a sinner in need of a Savior. As a result, my heart was broken as it had never been broken before. I wept and wept with sorrow over the thought that my sins—yes, my sins (it was personal now!)—had put Jesus on the cross. I also cried with joy at His overwhelming and amazing love that poured over me. That day was the beginning of a whole new prayer journey with Jesus.
After this experience, I wasn’t content living the typical-ordinary-wilderness Christianity any longer. I wanted more of Jesus, and I dared to ask Him for more. I began waking up early each morning and poring over my Bible for hours at a time, often with tears in my eyes, as I fell in love with His Word. As I did this, God slowly began taking me deeper and drawing me to Himself. He began teaching me how to follow Him, and how to pray His Word with faith. As my love for Him grew, I began seeing answers to my prayers—real answers, some amazing answers, often specific answers. I discovered that while He “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” often He’s just waiting for us to ask (Eph. 3:20).
It has been a few years now since I started this deeper journey, and Jesus is still tenderly teaching me how to love Him and how to pray. However, He has given me a taste of the Promised Land, and I think I’ve been forever ruined for the ordinary. I simply cannot imagine going without talking to Him each day. Psalm 34:8 tells us, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the [man or woman] who trusts in Him!”
Have you tasted the overwhelming joy of a life more abundant with Jesus? Have you discovered the beauty and power of prayer and time in His Word?
If you are looking for the keys to an effective and vibrant prayer life, it’s not complicated. I’ve discovered that God is not looking for spiritual superheroes. We are told, “Our only claim to His mercy is our great need.”* He’s just looking for those who recognize their desperate need and who will seek Him with all their heart. He’s looking for those who will confess their sins, let Him remove the mud from their lukewarm Laodicean condition, and pray in faith—persevering in prayer until the answer comes. Most important, He’s looking for those who will put Him first each day, stepping aside from distractions, from phones and technology, even from the many “good things,” to spend time at His feet, enjoying the very best thing—Himself!
Our world is in upheaval. Pain and suffering abound around us. The fight for survival, and the quest to keep food on the table and bills paid, is often all-encompassing. The allurements of the world still draw us. Yet God is calling us to seek Him first each day. Be still and know that I am God, He tells us. I am your greatest and most urgent need! All other things will be taken care of, but most of all, right now, you need Me.
Let’s not settle for superficial-wilderness Christianity or muddy-covered prayers. The Promised Land is before us. Let’s ask Jesus to remove the hindrances that are holding us back, and let’s go forward on our knees, daring to ask for more, but most of all, for more of Him.
* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 161.
Five Keys to Take Your Prayer Life Deeper
Ask Jesus to be your morning alarm.
Ask Him what sins need to be confessed or addressed.