Jesus told us that if we prayed we could move mountains. But Patricia Raybon's prayers weren't moving anything: one of her daughters left the church and converted to Islam, her husband and mother both were at the point of death. (Her husband eventually recovered; her mother did not.) Feeling desperate, Patricia went on a quest to discover what she'd been missing about the power of prayer. From her search came I Told the Mountain to Move (Tyndale House Publishers), a raw, moving memoir. But more important, her prayers and life changed dramatically.
Here's what Patricia told Kyria about the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Prayer is such an intrinsic part of our relationship with God. So why do many of us still struggle with what it is?
I spent more than 50 years not understanding it! I thought going to church every Sunday qualified me to have my prayers answered. I believed Mark 11:22-26, where Jesus says, "I tell you the truth. If anyone says to this mountain 'Go throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him."
So I pray and those mountains should move. But then my husband almost died, my daughter left the church and converted to Islam, and my mother was in the last year of her life and needed healing. And those mountains weren't moving. I finally realized, Wait a minute. There's something about prayer I need to learn.
That real prayer is less talking and more listening. Less asking, and more dwelling with God. It's about knowing God and enjoying his amazing presence. It's about knowing what's acceptable to him, knowing what he says in his Word, and then lining up our requests and our life with those things.
We don't ask in faith unless we truly know the Answerer. If I focus just on getting to know God, then when I ask, I'm assured he will answer. But even if he delays or the answer isn't what I'd hoped for, it's still the best answer, because of who God is.
At the beginning of my prayer journey, I got lost in the weeds of saying, I believe, I believe, and I'm asking, and I'm asking, but not moving into the light of God's sovereignty, trusting his answer is always going to be right.
What about the times we pray and pray and feel we're not getting through?
In Luke 11 Jesus exhorts us to be persistent in prayer. He tells the story of a person who comes at midnight and asks for bread, and the friend says, "No, my whole family's asleep. Go away." But the person keeps at it. Jesus says, "I tell you, though, he will not get up and give him the bread because he's his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs."
My daughter who left the church shows no evidence of coming back to the body of Christ. But as I pray about that I'm comforted in knowing that God is faithful, and that despite the delay, I continue to ask in faith, believing he will answer. I think it's the delays and the flat-out nos that really challenge us.
Recently I was reading about Monica, the mother of the man we now call St. Augustine. She was married to a man, who wasn't saved. Her mother-in-law, also a piece of work, lived with them. And then there was Augustine: a sinful, carousing, worldly young man. The story goes she prayed for him so long that when the priests saw her coming they would try to go somewhere else. "Here comes Monica with that same …"
"We're tired of that prayer request."
Yes. But Monica prayed for him for 17 years. And not only did Augustine come back to the church, but Monica's husband and mother-in-law also got saved.
So we can't give up. When we ask for specific requests that line up with the Word of God and that glorify God, then those requests become prayers that God can answer.
So the mountain moving …
The mountain that is moving is me trusting God with the situation, with my daughter, for instance … even during the delay. As we stay on that path, God moves mountains, some of them not directly related to the prayer request, but mountains nevertheless.
When do we know if we've prayed enough for something?
As we continue to pray about something, we refine our prayers. When I first started to pray for my daughter, I'd pray, "Please, Lord, bring her back." But now I pray, "Lord, make your church a place where she will want to come back."
The refinement and persistence brings us continually into the presence of God. Here I am, Lord. Again. You know my prayer, and since you do, I'm not going to ask it again, but I'm going to enjoy your rest and peace. Sometimes that's what we need more than anything.
What if we don't know what to pray for?
That's when you get honest with God. The other night I was praying about something. First, I got quiet. Then I wrote down the truth, "God, I don't even know how to pray about this." That was all I could manage. The next morning my devotional reading addressed what I said I didn't know how to pray about. It provided me with the words that I needed. I'm not sure I would have recognized that if I had not told the truth.
And if we still deal with doubts about prayer?
"My grace is sufficient." That's what it always comes down to at the end, because it is more about the One who is answering than the petition. Prayer brings us back to the Carrier, back to the Burden Bearer, even if the burden has not moved.
That's why I love Psalm 91:1: "They who abide in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." Sometimes that's what we need on any given day more than anything. Sometimes by the end of the day we're battered and bruised. The spiritual discipline of prayer, because it's strongest when it's practiced daily, refreshes and revives us for the next battle.
Christ demonstrated throughout his ministry that he didn't work until he prayed. One of my favorite examples happened after Jesus fed the 5,000. He sent the disciples off in a boat, and then went up into the hills by himself to pray. And after he prayed, he walked on water. That's the power of prayer.
To read more from Patricia, check out this article.