Praying Strategically

A few weeks ago, I began to study the book Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer, by Priscilla Shirer. Priscilla writes that prayer is “a key part of your offensive weaponry against a cunning foe who prowls around and watches for your weakness, your vulnerable places, for any opportunity to destroy you.” The purpose of her book is to develop specific prayer strategies to counteract Satan’s attempts to discourage believers from praying.

The Powers of Darkness

Priscilla believes that most people either overestimate or underestimate Satan’s influence and power. As a result, they either experience undue fear of Satan or they are unaware of his schemes and are open to every attack.

I have never been one to say “the devil made me do it.” I tend to attribute spiritual struggles to my sinful nature or to weaknesses of my character. Having said that, I do believe that Satan is real and that his dark powers are actively working in this world. Jesus said that the devil is the father of lies (Luke 8:44). The apostle Paul wrote that our struggle is not against people but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:11-12

I have always felt safe from Satan because I belong to God. Satan cannot destroy me! But have I been underestimating Satan’s power to manipulate me? Priscilla asked a probing question:

When you can’t seem to respond to spiritual stimuli with the same optimism and obedience as you once did, why do you think it could only be attributable to your bad character?

Priscilla Shirer

When I get discouraged by the brokenness of this world, when I lose my spiritual zeal, is it because I am too lazy or too easily distracted? Or does Satan know exactly how to curb my enthusiasm, how to silence my voice?

The Power of Prayer

While I continue to wrestle with the question of whether I am vulnerable to the machinations of Satan, I believe in the power of prayer. God moves in mysterious ways – through the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. I don’t always know what I ought to pray for. The Spirit may nudge me to pray for a specific person. The Spirit may nudge me to pray for a cause. The Spirit may nudge me to pray for courage or wisdom or guidance. The Spirit puts the right concerns on my heart at the right time.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-26 (NIV)

In my last post, I shared how I had been questioning whether I was praying too much about my worries. Yet I knew that the concerns on my heart are in line with God’s will. Priscilla wrote something that I needed to hear:

When you bring your concerns and fears and irritations to the Lord in prayer, you’re aligning your weakling spirit with the full force of God’s Holy Spirit.

Priscilla Shirer

Priscilla also shared some wisdom from her grandmother. Her grandmother wrote her prayer requests in a spiral notebook and prayed over them every morning. When Priscilla asked her why she wrote her prayers in her notebook, she said, “So I won’t forget.”

Write it down so you won’t forget.

Make a daily appointment to pray.

Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6:18).

Keep on praying.

Take it to the Lord

One Sunday, my pastor said something to the effect that he spends a lot of his time in prayer telling God about his worries. I know the feeling. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I briefly give thanks and then start unloading my worries about the distressing things I hear in the news. I pray for people who are being deceived. I pray for justice. I pray that the wicked will be held to account. Night after night, I pray about my worries.

My pastor’s comment gave me pause. Should I unload my worries on God when I know that I should not be anxious about anything?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Sometimes when I pray about my worries, it sounds as if I am ‘splainin’ to God all the terrible things that are happening in this world. Why do I feel the need to tell God what He already knows? He knows there is injustice. He knows the wicked are getting away with corruption and deception. He knows people are suffering. He knows people are hurting. He knows, He knows.

He knows
He knows
Every hurt and every sting
He has walked the suffering
He knows
He knows
Let your burdens come undone
Lift your eyes up to the one
Who knows
He knows
-- Jeremy Camp

Thankfully, we don’t have to carry our burdens alone. When we pray about the things that trouble us, we take our worries exactly where we should – to the Lord. Jesus wants to lighten our burdens. He wants to bring us peace.

What A Friend We Have In Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Truly it is a privilege to have a faithful friend like Jesus. We can take everything to the Lord in prayer – all our sorrows, worries, struggles – everything.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing the weight of my sins, for sharing the burden of my daily struggles, and for giving me the peace that surpasses all understanding. You know my every weakness and I confess that I need to be more disciplined about prayer. There is trouble everywhere.

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A prayer for discomfort

I’ve been feeling uncomfortable with myself lately because I am too comfortable. When people were going back to work and businesses were reopening, I stopped thinking about the pandemic everyday. I had adjusted to my new normal. I work from home five days a week in my quiet little corner office. My husband and I have been able to hike or run outside and enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of nature. I’ve even been able to go back to church wearing a mask.

Outside my bubble, people are still getting sick, people are still dying, people are still unemployed, people are still struggling financially. Doctors and nurses are still working really hard and risking their own health to save lives. Teachers and parents are worried about the safety of returning to school. People are still denying the deadliness of this disease and resisting efforts to slow the spread of the virus.

Also outside my bubble, there have been racial protests across the country and ongoing discussions of the uncomfortable reality of systemic racism and injustice. I read about white fragility to better understand how and why whites deny and perpetuate racism. I admit that I am privileged by my whiteness. That makes me uncomfortable. It is also uncomfortable to admit that I have been ignorant about the suffering and struggles of people of color. I have a heart for justice and would like to make a difference. But how? For me, it starts with facing the discomfort of the complicity of silence.

While I grapple with my feelings of discomfort, my church has been studying the life of Moses. One week, the pastor spoke about all the excuses Moses made about why he was not the right person to speak to Pharaoh. Who am I that you would send me? What will I tell them if they ask me ‘what is his name?’ What if they don’t believe me and won’t listen? But I’ve never been eloquent. I am slow of speech and tongue.

I am inspired by Moses because I can relate to his reluctance to speak. As an introvert, I am also slow of speech and tongue. It takes too long to formulate my thoughts into words. I worry about how people will respond to me. Will they even listen? Speaking out about uncomfortable topics takes courage. Speaking out means I have to get out of my comfort zone.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

As much as I dislike being uncomfortable, I pray for discomfort. I want my heart to break for the things that break the heart of Jesus.

I have struggled to find the words to express what I’ve been feeling. A few weeks ago, I saw an unattributed prayer on Facebook that was called a Franciscan blessing. A blogger said that this prayer was written by a nun, Sister Ruth Marlene Fox. Her words beautifully express my internal struggle and reframe the struggle as a blessing.

A Non-traditional Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

I have been blessed with a restless discomfort. I want to seek truth boldly and to love others deeply even if it is painful. I want to work for justice and equality for those who have been oppressed and exploited. I want to comfort those who suffer and to transform their pain into hope and joy. And yes, it may seem foolish to think that my words can make a difference in this world, but with God’s grace and guidance, they can.

A Prayer for Renewal

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Heavenly Father, thank you for this week off from work. I nearly reached my breaking point this month. I asked for help over and over again and didn’t get it. I was ready to quit. It was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Lord, the last six months have been stressful. My dad died. A few days later, we moved to another state. In my haste to get back to work, I buried my grief. I went through another busy season at work. And just when things were looking brighter, the world was rocked by a pandemic. All of this has taken a toll on me.

Lord, You are always with me. You are my rock and my refuge. Renew my strength during this week of rest. I want to run and not grow weary. I want to walk and not be faint. But mostly, I want to be my normal helpful self, not a person who resents people for expecting too much of me.

God, grant me the serenity to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will.

Amen

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A Prayer for My Country

Father, I have been struggling to put the prayer of my heart into words. As much as I want to believe that this country can be united by a shared interest in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, it is wishful thinking. Many people resent restrictions on their freedom even if the purpose is to protect the safety and well being of all of us. People are understandably worried about the survival of small businesses. People understandably want things to get back to normal. People are understandably tired of staying home.

I want to pray for unity but I am a realist. This country has been divided for years. Divided by ideology, divided by an “us versus them” mentality. The same issues and mindsets that divided us before this pandemic divide us now. The other side is still the enemy.

Lord, you told Isaiah to go and tell the people,
‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the hearts of this people calloused;
deafen their ears and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.

Father, I have no illusions that this is a Christian nation. It is a nation with millions of Christians who worship you in Spirit and in truth and millions who are Christian in name only. A vast majority has turned its back to You. They have other gods before You. The hearts of this nation are calloused. Otherwise, they might hear with their ears and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

Lord, before there can be unity, there must be healing of hearts. I pray that You will use this pandemic to turn people to You. Help the people of this nation to see the truth with their eyes, to hear the truth with their ears, and to understand with their hearts.

Amen.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash