When I was younger I envied Jesus’ disciples who could see the expressions on His face and hear the sound of His voice, share a smile or a sandwich. But when you really think about it, what could be better than to have His Spirit living beside us and in us, as close as our next breath? As intimate as our hidden thoughts. As powerfully at work in our hearts as He is in the fiery explosion of the stars. I can’t help but think Who am I to have a conversation with the One who spoke the world into existence?
And how could we fail to be changed as mortal beings, if we are sharing life with the immortal Creator? It is rather like being in a divine incubator, and us growing under the careful attention of His presence. It is slow, over many years, but if you watch closely you could see the inner self gradually healing from its wounds, the mind’s eye growing straight and true, the heart filling with God’s own love and goodness– and us turning into the creatures we were meant to be from the Beginning. Our elders have always told us this, to be careful of the company we keep, because we become like those who have our attention. The Church-planter Paul explains this to the believers in Corinth in full expectation of their becoming: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 3:18)
Often what we label as prayer is only a reciting of requests (as if it were a necessary sacrifice of time in order to get the desired results?) and perhaps all of us have veered into that dead-end alley, one time or another. It is at least a starting place. But the Biblical word pictures of prayer are much more vivid and dramatic: Jacob wrestling all night long with the angel of the Lord, Paul challenging the believers to take up arms with him in prayer against the forces of darkness, Jesus’ story of a woman pounding persistently on the judge’s door in the middle of the night. By these accounts, prayer is more like the heavy labor of the soul, the work that reshapes us. Because there is this frequent clash between what I experience here and what God says is true; this constant pull between the old self and the new self; this divide between who I am now and who I want to be. And He is calling us to be brave enough to seek for answers, to not be satisfied with where we are, but to see more of His glory. If I want to experience the presence of the Almighty in life-changing prayer, I had better be willing to roll up my sleeves and step out into the unknown and unexpected.
And He promises to meet us there, when we trust Him enough to pour out our hearts to Him. He says we will find Him when we seek His help, His ways….says we will not be disappointed when we wrangle emotions into submission to His will. The prayer that changes me isn’t afraid to be vulnerable in its need. Big-brother James tells us straight out: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) I can invite God’s resources into my everyday life because He has already given me an open invitation to ask. But the Musician-King David sings it best: “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5) The prayer that changes me wants to see His face more than anything His hands can give. Only the truly hungry spirit can say with Jacob: “I will not let You go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26) It’s clear that prayer is as much about the condition of my inner life as it is about the condition of my outer circumstances.
At its heart, prayer is pouring out our desires and emotions to God, stripping away all the masks– because we know He sees us clearly already, and who wants a relationship that is based on something false? And when we can stop hiding ourselves, we are in turn able to see Him more clearly; when we have nothing left to say but the groanings of our hearts which only the Spirit can hear, then we can hear His words to us; in that space where Self lets go of everything but God, there is room for the greatest change.
Not that we need only pray for the big things in life. The Musician-King sang in wonder that the Creator would “see me when I travel and when I rest at home…know everything I do… know what I am going to say even before I say it.” (Psalm 139:3-4) He is right here with me in the middle of every step of every mundane day, making holy the common ground of life as surely as He did to that flaming bush for the Shepherd Moses. And maybe as we learn to talk about every little thing with Him, we are taking the small steps that will enable us to tackle the bigger issues in time. Conversations with Someone we cannot see might seem awkward, or maybe will come in starts and stops, or even feel like duty at times….doesn’t the beginning of anything new feel like that? But our prayers grow up with us, as we persist. Prayer that changes me is, above all, the constant everyday process of bending my human will into agreement with God’s Spirit. We can hardly fail to be transformed, if we are sharing life with the immortal Creator…every part of us becoming beautiful in His light.
True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that– it is a spiritual transaction with the Creator of heaven and earth.Charles Spurgeon, The Power of Prayer in The Believer’s Life
On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. I cling to You; Your right hand upholds me.Psalm 63:6-8