Erin is someone that is often asked for prayer because when you ask her to pray you do so knowing she will---and often. Often the Lord even uses her to speak truths into others' lives in timely moments in answer to the prayers she has been praying. Yet as a mom to a young child (and one on the way), wife to Dave, co-leader of a Missional Community, lead for our West Seattle expression's hospitality team, and more, she could easily default to relying on her own strength and be "too busy" to pray. See how God has challenged, encouraged and transformed her approach to prayer though in the following edited version of her Donuts & Discipleship (D+D) teaching. As you read, may you be encouraged like those who participated in the last D+D.
If prayer hasn’t been important to you lately, or if it’s hard to see it as a gift, you’re not alone. I certainly didn’t always see prayer that way, and I still need constant reminding. In God’s faithfulness and grace, though, He has shown me two obstacles that affected the way I viewed prayer and kept me from prioritizing it in my life.
The first obstacle was that I didn’t have God’s love for me as the motivating factor behind my prayers. Knowing and trusting God’s love for us should be at the root of our prayer life. God had to graciously remind me that I mattered to Him and that He loved me before my view of prayer could change—without that it will be hard for us to actually trust God with our prayers. For some of you, knowing God loves you may seem elementary—like something you learned as a child. And for others, God’s love and His trustworthiness may be hard concepts to grasp.
Either way you sway, it’s important to be reminded of God’s overflowing and unconditional love, regardless of how simple of a truth that may seem. This may look like coming to God in prayer, asking Him to show you tangibly His love and devotion for you. It may look like turning to Scripture, and reading to yourself the promises of His love for you in His words. Take for instance, Ephesians 1:3-5, which through reading and meditating upon, exposes just how great God’s love is for those who are His in Christ Jesus.
In this passage, we see that we are blessed with all of God’s spiritual possessions in Heaven because Christ secured them for us. He did this by obediently and lovingly paying the debt for all our sins. God made the decision to save us through His one and only son, Jesus Christ, to give us these blessings. But perhaps what is most inspiring is that God chose you to be His, before you were born, before He even formed the world. You personally matter to God. He made the decision to show you His grace, through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, long before you’d ever heard His name. Once God showed me this, it was like an obstacle was removed from my prayer path. I was able to trust God with more assurance and see prayer as an important way of communicating with the one who loved me most.
Even with this obstacle seemingly out of my way, prayer was not always a priority in my daily schedule. Something was still missing. The second obstacle to my prayer life was my unawareness of all of the benefits and blessings that God provides when we pray. Prayer became a gift—one that is relevant and necessary for my everyday life—when I began to understand and believe the benefits and blessings God delights to provide when we pray.
One benefit is that prayer can open our eyes to God’s presence and all of His resources that we often miss or overlook when we are facing fears. Though God and His resources are secured for us in Jesus, we often forget they are ours to call on when we focus on our fears and let those become our reality. When this happens, we lose sight of our true reality, which is that God, and everything that is at His disposal, are continually surrounding us, protecting us, fortifying us and strengthening us.
We see this clearly illustrated in Scripture in the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6. Elisha was a man of God and prophet to Israel who would warn the king of Israel when the king of Syria was about to attack. When the king of Syria found out that Elisha was the one who was always thwarting his plans, he found out where Elisha and his servant were staying and sent troops to go get them. Understandably, the Elisha’s servant was terrified in the face of that very real and present danger. Yet, what we see here is that Elisha’s prayer for his servant opened the man’s eyes to see God’s army surrounding them. Previously, in fear, all that the servant had been able to see was the overwhelming presence of their enemy closing in on them.
It’s not that God’s army suddenly showed up—they had always been there—he just hadn’t been able to see it through the fog of his fear. When I choose in faith to pray rather than focus on my fears, I am able to rest in knowing that He with all of His strength and protection are with me. The more I practice turning to God in my moments of fear, the more I’ve experienced the benefit of believing in and feeling God’s presence in all those circumstances that feel overwhelming, especially ones that I am unsure of the outcome.
The second benefit and blessing God showed me, is that prayer provides the key to addressing our anxieties and gives us access to the peace of God. Let’s read Philippians 4:6-7, and try not to gloss over Paul’s words here, no matter how familiar they may be to you.
Just consider Paul’s circumstances in this moment. As he’s penning these words he is in being imprisoned in Rome. In the book of Ephesians, which he wrote during this same imprisonment, he mentions that he is in chains, so it’s not unlikely, that as he is writing these words, he is also in chains. How in the world then is Paul able to ask us not to worry, to be thankful and to have peace? Well, in order to understand the heart behind Paul’s words here, we should note the kind of man Paul once was. Though Paul was being imprisoned for sharing the Gospel of Christ, there had been a time in Paul’s life when he not only despised those who followed Christ, but he had advocated for their death. Paul addresses this in 1 Timothy, where he basically says that of all sinners, he was the worst, but that even as such God provided Him mercy and in verse 14 he says, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is a man who is acutely aware of God’s mercy in his life. He knows that his salvation was not of his own doing, but Christ’s alone. He has found assurance in God’s sovereignty. In order to spread the Gospel alongside those he once persecuted, he places his trust in these promises. It would have been easy for Paul to let his guilt and shame keep him bondage, to let his fears that he was unworthy, prevent him from ever having shared the Gospel, but instead, he stands firmly on the promise that Christ's’ blood has washed him clean.
So we see that the peace of God is not with Paul because he has nothing to be worried about or because everything is going his way, rather, God’s peace is with him because he finds all his joy and comfort in Christ’s saving work for him on the cross. As he writes Philippians, Paul knows that God is sovereign, and standing on that truth provides a kind of peace that remains with him in even his most harrowing circumstances.
When we recognize that God’s peace is not something we have to earn, but yet another benefit of knowing Jesus, the more we can lean into prayer for all that it provides. We are free to come to God often in prayer with our anxieties and we are encouraged to remember that in Jesus, we find acceptance and salvation, neither of which can be taken from us. When the ground beneath us feels most shaky, the peace of these truths is strong enough to provide solid ground.
And the the last benefit and blessing of prayer that will discuss is that it provides protection against the enemy’s attacks. The enemy, you see, is consistently and diligently trying to break into our experiences. He carefully plans his attacks against each one of us, taking into account what pushes each of our buttons—watching for when we are most vulnerable. He is deceptive and sneaky. He will mask the internal spiritual battles he is waging with the exterior battles we are facing. God made this abundantly clear to me recently, as I was going through a Bible study. The study brought to light how I was creating a welcoming environment for the enemy to walk into my life through the excuses I was making for certain sins.
With a newborn I was often tired, and that became an excuse for how disrespectful and uncaring I’d become towards my husband. In addition to being exhausted, I felt like I had no time. Those became easy reasons for not prioritizing daily time in prayer. But when I was confronted with my excuses, it became clear that I was giving the enemy just the opening he needed to walk right into my life.
I thought my life was hard because I had a newborn or maybe my husband wasn’t as helpful as I thought he should be, but this was just what the enemy wanted me to think. The truth was life was hard because I had stopped prioritizing prayer, and I was trying to do things in my own strength rather than coming to God with my weaknesses. It was a hard wake-up call, but I'm so grateful God didn't leave me blind to the opportunities I was giving to the enemy. Remember, the enemy is the one who who wants to separate us from God and from one another—watching and waiting to capitalize on our vulnerabilities so as to further create dysfunction, disappointment, dissatisfaction and just plain brokenness between us and others.
In light of this, prayer becomes very relevant for our day to day. When we come consistently to God in prayer, we are, in effect, telling the enemy, “I’m onto you. I see you planning those attacks, and I’ve got my guard up.” I believe this is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 6:10-18 when he speaks about the armor of God. Every tactic the enemy employs to get you to sin, every temptation he uses to make you think that what you have is not enough or to forget about the God who loves you most, is rendered completely futile when we come to our Father in prayer.
In these kinds of situations, I’ve found that the most helpful prayers don’t need be complicated, or take a lot of time. When I need immediate access to God’s power to overcome temptation, I’ll just repeat a simple two or three word prayer in my head. If I’m tempted towards anger in a conversation, I simply pray, “God help me love ____” or, “Help me Father.” By focusing on God and not my anger, even just for that moment, it’s much easier to let my anger wash over me than to let it sit with me. Knowing that I’ve kept the enemy from getting a foothold in those situations even encourages me to continue praying in other times where I feel myself tempted to sin in other ways. Once you’ve become aware of how the enemy likes to tempt you most, you can begin to offer up short prayers like this in your defense. I encourage you to try this and see experience this power of prayer.
With all these benefits in mind, I hope the gift of prayer will become more real to you. May it be one that you and I unwrap daily knowing He cares for us and is critical for everyday life.