After asking them what they want to study, and how they want to hold each other accountable, one of them said, "I would love to delve deep into a study on prayer."
So - prayer it is!
This topic has been at the forefront of my mind since then, so I was perusing past blog posts I wrote about this spiritual discipline to recall what the Lord has taught me and convicted me about in the past. I am so glad I did this! Living in the present and planning for the future are good endeavors, but we must also take care to look back - and remember the work of the Lord.
I wrote this almost two years ago, but it still resonates with me now.
It also excites a new passion in me to pray MORE, because nothing on earth is as powerful or as effective. Nor can anything else bring the peace that it offers a fearful, anxious, or restless heart.
Thank You, Lord, that we have direct and constant access to You through the gift of prayer!
May each of us become, and remain, children who pray - without ceasing.
When I was young I was terrified to pray out loud. I never volunteered to pray, and when it was expected during a small group time of prayer, it was all I could do to eek out a few sentences because I was worried about what everyone was thinking the entire time.
I listened to several sermons on prayer ... prayer is for the Lord, not for men ... do not worry about others ... there is no such thing as a perfect prayer ... but I still felt paralyzed when it was my turn in the prayer circle rotation.
Though I didn't appreciate it then, I am so thankful for godly people who encouraged and challenged me to push past my fears.
Attending a Bible college significantly impacted my desire and ability to pray out loud. Participation in small groups, Bible classes, chapel, and mission trips provided ample opportunities to pray with others. And when you become part of a leadership team, your 'refusal' to pray in
front of people is quickly and thoroughly smashed to pieces. You cannot expect others to follow where you will not lead.
Like anything else, the more you practice something the easier and more natural it becomes.
I was still insecure and tried to "clean up" my prayers by eliminating "ums" and other distractions, but after a while I did not think about it anymore. When it was time to pray, I prayed!
It felt so good to be free from the burden of fear.
And that freedom created a JOY to pray. It created a DESIRE to pray. It brought peace.
I thought I would never have to deal with prayer troubles again.
But I was wrong.
In my late twenties and early thirties, I discovered a new trouble in public prayer.
People did not like mine!
"Are YOU going to pray?" with a roll of the eyes.
"Can you please not do a 'Michelle prayer?' I'm on a time schedule."
"It's late, can you pray faster than usual? I'm tired."
And the most memorable ... someone TIMED ME. How do I know? Because after I said "Amen" they hit their watch and said, "4 minutes, 13 seconds!"
I was not offended by any of these statements.
I was wounded.
I spent much of my life being criticized, and apologizing, for being 'me' - and now I am being criticized for how I talk to the Lord?
So - I stopped praying.
Even when they would ask me, I would decline.
I no longer trusted that they were not rolling their eyes, looking at their watches, or screaming inside their heads for me to wrap it up.
But because the Lord is faithful, He confronted my foolish refusal to pray (for that is what it was) and shattered every excuse.
And He needed to. My reasons were absurd and completely unbiblical.
Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them. Matthew 18
The Lord's rebuke left me without the slightest wiggle room to disobey.
I willingly embraced the joy of corporate prayer, again, but this time with the commitment that I would never again loosen my grip!
I started listening to other saints pray. Really listened. Especially to the older saints. I heard their passion, their intensity, their affection ... and never once did I hear them apologize for what they prayed or how long they prayed. They just knelt before the Throne of Grace - and talked to their Father.
I followed their example.
I stopped apologizing.
I stopped worrying about the thoughts and judgments of others.
I prayed as if only the Lord was listening.
And I was FREE.
I love praying!
With the saints.
With the hurting.
With the broken.
With a child.
I love to pray prayers of JOY to rejoice in God's goodness!
And in the hard moments, when there are no words ... the beauty of prayer changes everything.
How embarrassingly long it took to let the Lord bring me to this place.
How many prayers were offered to people - instead of my Savior.
I may as well have prayed with my eyes open to monitor the response of everyone around me because my mind was not focused on Christ - it was focused on man.
When I pray, it is to an audience of ONE. And I desire to please no one else - but Him.
The prayer that God accepts is offered to Him alone. He who presents it cares not one atom who likes it or who does not like it. He is talking with his God, pleading with the Majesty unseen. He is very careless of the criticism of others. His only desire is to please the Lord.
~ Charles Spurgeon