What I'm Learning About: Prayer
Following Jesus's lead to pray without ceasing can take us from simple dialogue to deep intercession on behalf of others. Here's what four women have been learning about the importance of taking time to pray for each other and ourselves.
It had been a hurricane week. Personal struggles had stormed my heart and left a trail of emotional debris. Even sleep didn't relieve the fatigue. Was it the week's events, or just my body's edging into midlife that had made me so weary?
Grateful for the weekend, I knelt in the living room Saturday morning for prayer time, which always included a long list of requests for others, but my mouth couldn't form any words. Tears bubbled to the surface, and before long my only conversation with God became a cascade of sobs over my frustrations.
I didn't pray for anyone else that morning, but just laid my raw emotions before God. After some time, I dried my eyes and rose to start the day. A strange peace blanketed my heart—a signal not that my problems had been solved, but that God had found delight in connecting with me only for once.
Throughout the next week that peace held me steady, and I wondered if my unique prayer time had anything to do with it. I decided to find out the next Saturday morning and purposely took that one day to pray for none but myself—using words this time. I unraveled before the Almighty my work schedules, projects, decisions, ministries, conflicts in relationships—whatever had knotted my life during the previous week. Over the next few months, Saturday mornings became a therapeutic "me time" with God, a time to dig deeply into my life. Still today, those weekly prayers teach me that a healthy relationship with God includes regularly stripping my prayer list down to one item: me.
If you're a person who prays only for yourself, you don't need this article. But if you pray only for others and rarely for yourself, you have a scriptural mandate to adjust that practice.
Devoting an entire prayer time to the self doesn't seem biblical at first. Scripture says to pray for others, such as our enemies, those in authority, and the sick (Matthew 5:44; 2 Timothy 2:1-2; James 5:14). This I continue to do. But Scripture also makes room for the self-alone prayer. When I read some of the psalms, I feel as though I'm listening in on the psalmists' "me time." I see that there came a time when these men pushed other concerns aside and honed in on the singular subject of self:
"O LORD, I have come to you for protection; don't let me be disgraced. Save me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe" (Psalm 31:1-2).
"Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God" (Psalm 86:2).
I've gained from praying this way. For one thing, it forces me to pay more attention to interior matters. Who I am is far more important to God than what I do. When I pray for others, I advance to the next name on the list and often overlook my sins and failures. "Me time" prompts me to invite the intense gaze from God to search me and know me (Psalm 139:23-24).
Where It Leads
In response, God has faithfully pointed out offensive ways in me: pride masquerading as perfectionism in my work; insecurity over losing a good friend that prompted my eagerness to help her; commitment to ministry at any cost not because I loved God but because I feared being replaced by someone more capable. My confession of fresh sin meets with his forgiveness and release. And I'm less likely to notice the speck in another's eye because I've given God more time in prayer to dig out the plank in my own.
Focusing on myself in prayer also teaches me to quiet my spirit. In that settled state, I train my ear to hear God's voice. It is serene and centered on Scripture: Do not lean on your own understanding …. Is there anything too hard for me? … Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.
I still intercede for others during the week, of course; it's a privilege to carry their burdens to the throne. But as God and I have met faithfully nearly every Saturday for almost two decades, I've established an intimacy with and ease of approaching him throughout the week that intercession couldn't achieve. He has transcended the role of heavenly Father to trusted Friend whose companionship I crave in order to survive everything the week dishes out.
"It's not about you," Rick Warren says in The Purpose Driven Life. That is certainly true, and I live by that. But some prayers must be all about me.
Sherri Langton is an author and editor. This article originally appeared in Pray! magazine, May/June 2009.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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