Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For June, Renee Oglesby and Joseph Miller explore the power of prayer—how it changes our world and our life. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “A Life of Prayer”:
Prayer opens the door of our life in order to give Jesus access to our needs. We come to Him and open our heart, show and tell Him what our needs are, and then allow the Lord to exercise His power in dealing with them—in His way and timing.
By Renee Oglesby
In my growing-up years, the department store Christmas catalog was the only way to shop. I would survey the offerings on each page and turn down corners on the ones featuring items I most desired. It may have taken time and careful consideration to whittle down the plethora of options to a top five. But overall, I knew what I wanted when I saw it.
My parents paid attention to a few downturned corners, and they also knew when my sock and sweater drawers needed replenishing. Thus, Christmas morning typically held a good balance of delightful “surprises” and practical necessities.
At times I’ve treated prayer in a similar manner: “Here, Lord, are the things I wish for most. I’m ‘turning down the catalog page’ on these items by clearly, and frequently, making my desires known to You.” I act as if He doesn’t know my heart even better than I do, including what will bring it the greatest growth and joy. I oftentimes treat Him like Santa Claus rather than the Savior and lover of my soul.
Sometimes, I act as if God doesn’t know my heart even better than I do, including what will bring it the greatest growth and joy. I oftentimes treat Him like Santa Claus rather than the Savior and lover of my soul.
There are times when I fail to express gratitude for some of the “surprise” gifts He has given me—ones I didn’t necessarily ask for or immediately appreciate. And I’ve thoughtlessly overlooked some of the practical necessities I’ve been granted, such as “closer than a brother” fellowship with Him or the work of His Holy Spirit within me when I must discern a situation or make a hard decision. (See Prov. 18:24.) The length, breadth, and depth of blessings like these may not be evident for some time. But they are precious nonetheless.
As Dr. Stanley says, prayer involves opening our heart and life to the Lord, telling Him our wants and also letting Him see what we don’t even know we lack. It means allowing Him to choose which desires and needs will be to our benefit, as well as the proper time and way to bestow them.
Knowing what’s best for ourselves isn’t as easy or straightforward as selecting items from a brightly colored catalog. The world’s inventory is full of worthless items designed to capture our attention, derail our progress, and diminish our potential. Prayer helps us to align our heart with His so that we focus less on needless gifts and more on the fulfilling abundance He offers. We may be called on to release long-held desires we once thought to be needs. Thankfully, though, we can trust Him to bring balance to our life in a way that doesn’t crush our hopes but instead uplifts and equips us to hope for even better things.
By Joseph Miller
The effectiveness of prayer is one of the hardest concepts to understand as it relates to God’s unchanging will—at least it was for me. For the Christian, a life of prayer is assumed. Just consider Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—He didn’t say if you pray but when (Matt. 6:5). Still, we might wonder, If our perfect Father in heaven already has plans for our lives, what’s the point in asking anything of Him?
I believe prayer changes things, as the saying goes. I don’t pretend to fully understand how, but time and again I’ve seen the Lord work on my behalf in shifting circumstances.
And yet Jesus does, in fact, call us to prayer—it’s also something He Himself often did throughout three years of public ministry. When He knelt in the garden hours before His betrayal and crucifixion, Christ implored the disciples to stay awake, keep watch, and pray (see Matt. 26:36-46), even as He, too, offered prayer: “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away unless I drink from it, Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42). This act of humility recorded in the Gospels reminds me that even in His moment of agony, Jesus submitted His will to the Father’s. And I should make a habit of doing the same—not just when life hurts, but at all times.
I believe prayer changes things, as the saying goes. I don’t pretend to fully understand how, but time and again I’ve seen the Lord work on my behalf in shifting circumstances and provide where all I could see were dead ends. What’s more, as I get older, I also recognize the quieter interior work—how prayer generates a shift in my own heart, a change in perspective, and a renewal of my hope and trust in Him. I may not always be able to see it in the moment, but I have confidence in the Lord that someday I’ll look back and see just how effective prayer was all along.