Growing in Prayer
I have three children at home and when they need me, urgent or not, they find me—usually by just shouting “MOM!” They may need help with a project or with knowing what’s for dinner. They may want to share something that they’re thinking about, or to just be in the room with me. Some days, I miss being in that stage of childhood myself. Now that I live apart from my mom, if I need advice or a conversation, I wait til it’s a good time (for both of us) to call, resort to a short text, or wait long enough til I see her in person.
This contrast between my childrens’ approach and my own came to mind when reading Stephen Shead’s book Growing in Prayer. He writes how prayer is fellowship with God. Constant prayer is possible because God is always with us and communicating with him is a way for us to be with him. In John 14:23, Jesus is talking about sending the Holy Spirit. He says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
When I reflect on my typical prayer habits, my tendency is to treat God as being a phone call away. It’s almost as if I’m an independent daughter, living on my own, and choosing to bring this prayer to him later when it’s a more convenient time for us both. This book reminded me of my deep dependence on God and challenged me to be more quick to call out him in the moment—as my children who are at home call out when they need me.
Not only did the book help me adjust the “when and how” of my prayer life, it helped me better form the content of my prayers. Shead describes prayer as depending on and delighting in God. It comes more naturally to express my dependence on God in my prayers. Coming with needs and requests is often the primary impetus of my prayer time. Just like my children seem to have no shortage of needs, I always have a list for my heavenly father. My children also share their joys with me, yet using prayer to express my delight in God was lacking on my part. Scripture is full of commands, reasons and examples of delight-filled prayers.
Two prayers that demonstrate these aspects are prayers of mothers from the Bible: Hannah in 1 Samuel and Mary in the Gospel of Luke. Read these two prayers and listen for the ways they demonstrate delighting in and depending on God.
“My heart exults in the Lord;
my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God…
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-2, 8-10)
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)
What strikes me about prayers like these in Scripture is how different they sound from my own. Biblical prayers are full of God-centered language. (The Lord, he vs I, my) The pray-er’s delight in God is foremost, while, as I mentioned above, my tendency is to go straight to the depending. Beyond that, even the ways they communicate their dependence on God starts with God. Instead of “please resolve my hunger,” Mary says “He has filled the hungry with good things,” trusting that God will continue his faithfulness. And instead of asking “guard my feet,” Hannah pronounces “He will guard the feet”. What great examples to help reshape our prayers.
Personally, I want to communicate my dependence on God to God more and more. I want to pray in the moment, as I go, always considering how I can bring my concerns and worries and needs before him. Just like my children can come to me at any moment as we share a home. I want to increase my delighting in him by making my prayers more God-centered, filling my thoughts with knowledge of his character and attributes and finding joy in coming into his presence.
This desire to ‘pray better’ isn’t only for myself. We know prayer is one of the primary tools of discipleship. It’s through praying for and with others that we mature as Christ-followers and help others do the same. Growth in my prayer life isn’t only benefiting me—it’s for those around me who are also growing in prayer.