Editor’s note: Each month, In Touch staff members respond to an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s teachings. For this round, Amanda Crosby, Renee Oglesby, and Tim Rhodes discuss our perspective of God and prayer.
Though prayer is our primary means of communicating with God, few believers feel confident about how these conversations go. If we’re not struggling to make time and space to pray, then we’re wondering if God is listening on the other end or whether our requests are a low priority. What kind of Father do you imagine when you bring Him your requests? How can your conversations with God become moments of genuine fellowship? This month’s excerpt comes from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “The Priority of Prayer”:
You can’t say anything that God doesn’t know about. You can’t do anything He doesn’t know about. You can’t face any difficulty or hardship and inform Him in any way about something He doesn’t know about. You have this awesome God who loves you enough to give His only Begotten Son, Jesus, on the cross. You have this awesome God who loves you enough to be interested in every facet of your life … With that kind of a God, and facing what you face in life, how often do you pray? What do you pray about? Do you have confidence when you pray that God is going to hear and answer your prayer?
Renee: The fact that we can’t surprise God about anything is still, always surprising. I think of things I have grudgingly confessed, like it was news to Him. And He knows me so completely, I’m not informing Him of anything!
Tim: I liked the fact that Dr. Stanley brought up listening to God when talking about prayer. It reminded me prayer is not a one-way thing.
Amanda: That's something that I think most of us neglect to do, Tim: Listen.
Renee: Prayer is the way for us to come into accord or agreement with God over something. It’s definitely not a one-way conversation. But stillness and quiet listening seem like impossible states to reach sometimes.
Kayla: With that description, Renee, it sounds a lot like confession or repentance. There are probably similarities between the state of our heart when we pray and when we repent.
I'm wondering if there are any areas of your life that you assume God isn't interested in? It may even be subconscious, something you never think to bring to him.
Amanda: I often feel I should only pray about the things that are most pressing on my heart. I forget that we can talk to God about literally anything. And He's the God of the universe! It still blows my mind that He'd be interested in our silly little lives.
Renee: I knew someone in college who would pray for the “right” parking place, and that always seemed crazy to me. But there are lots of seemingly mundane choices I make every day, bigger than a parking place, maybe, that I keep to myself, thinking God is not interested.
Prayer is the way for us to come into accord or agreement with God over something.
Tim: I really struggle with that. But I am always reminding myself that this is the God of the universe, and He's uniquely interested in us on an individual basis. I often go back to 1 John 3:1 (NIV): "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
Kayla: If we pictured the God Dr. Stanley described in this sermon, I think our prayers would be very different. So what kind of God are we picturing when we pray?
Renee: Dr. Stanley often talks about the parallels (and differences) between our earthly and heavenly Fathers. My dad was not especially talkative. I wonder if that affects how much or how little I think to converse with God about.
Tim: That's a good point, Renee. I too struggled with that growing up. It was hard to imagine God the Father and not see Him as someone who was distant and preoccupied. I felt as if I had to be impressive, a good Christian, to be noticed.
Renee: And what you shared needed to be impressive as well, maybe?
Amanda: Yes, Renee, that's a good way of putting it.
Renee: Knowing God cares about us, and that He cares for the things we care about, is a leap, isn’t it?
Kayla: Somewhere deep down, I must believe that God's time or resources are limited, because there's so much I don't want to "bother" Him with.
Renee: “Bother” is the word I was thinking of, too! And with the requests I’ve made repeatedly, “pester.”
I must believe that God's time or resources are limited, because there's so much I don't want to “bother” Him with.
Tim: Given the imagery of our own dads, I've often flipped it—wondering what I would want from a father, and how God wants that for us. Not just someone to take my petitions and needs to, but communing together.
Renee: Tim, I wonder how much becoming a dad yourself changed your thinking on that. Your involvement with your kids seems super intentional. And you know their personalities so well.
Tim: One hundred percent! I always wondered what it was that I did that would make my father not want to be in my life. The instant I saw my child, I knew there was nothing that could keep me away from him. It healed me in a way, or healed part of me.
Renee: That’s a choice you keep making every day, too.
Tim: Oh yeah.
Renee: God is perfectly faithful as a father in every moment, by every measure. It’s hard to comprehend the depth and constancy of His love and commitment towards us.
Amanda: It can be weird to think of God as a father similar to my own because mine is so goofy and flawed at times. But I think of how much he loves me, and it helps me to see just how much more our Creator Father must love us, too.
Renee: The fact that God might possibly have a sense of humor both blows my mind and makes we want to spend more time with Him.
It makes Him more approachable, relatable. Easier to have a relationship with. Thinking of Him only as “The God of the Universe” is so intimidating.
God is perfectly faithful as a father in every moment, by every measure.
Tim: Yes! So cold and distant.
Renee: And busy!
Kayla: It sounds as if we all struggle to keep an accurate picture of God in mind when we pray and spend time with Him. What's something we can do to combat that?
Renee: I’ve been reading about the Lord’s friendships with the disciples lately. Seeing the human side of Jesus and how He interacted with people on an individual level helps me see my relationship with Him as more personal.
Amanda: I know spending time with fellow Christians and feeling their love and warmth helps me to see how not distant or cold our God is.
Kayla: That's so true, Amanda—sometimes I feel my best glimpses of God come from good friends.
Renee: And good coworkers.
Tim: Sometimes I think part of the problem is how we tend to frame prayer, focusing on needs and desires, and not the communal aspect of it.
Kayla: What's an example of how the communal aspect would help?
Renee: Praying as a staff for our ill coworker has helped me realize how we’re drawn closer to the one we pray for, in addition to the ones we are praying with.
Tim: Communal to me also means listening, and keeping prayer from being entirely one way.
I so often have a particular agenda when I pray, but being reminded of who God is encourages me to leave the results in His hands.
Kayla: I'm now remembering how so many prayers in the Bible start with descriptions of God's character—of course we need help remembering who it is we're talking to. Like Hannah's prayer for example:
The Lord puts to death and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and brings up.
The Lord makes poor and rich;
He humbles, He also exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the garbage heap
To seat them with nobles,
And He gives them a seat of honor as an inheritance;
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
And He set the world on them (1 Sam. 2:6-8).
I always thought of the praise at the beginning of prayers as some sort of lip service God is due, but it's so much more than that.
Tim: Wow, yes!
Amanda: Her prayer reminds us how God is someone to be feared and awed but also someone who does such wonderful, generous, and loving things.
Many prayers in the Bible start with descriptions of God's character—of course we need help remembering who it is we're talking to.
Renee: I so often have a particular agenda when I pray and ask for a specific result. Being reminded of who God is encourages me to leave the results in His hands.
Tim: Yes! I'll remember to pray when something is pressing or I am stressed out. Often it's a last resort.
Renee: I’m reminded of the Hail Mary pass in football. Last resort, for sure, when nothing I try works out!
Amanda: I hate that I do that too. I want prayer to be a first resort, you know?
Renee: It’s as if I have to try everything I can do, before reaching out to God. When how much better would I play if I called out to Him first? (Why am I talking about football so much? I am so not an athlete!)
Tim: It helps me understand the "pray without ceasing" verse (1 Thess. 5:17). We're not just going to Him when things are hard.
Renee: It’s easier to keep a conversation going with friends, than to start and stop over time.
Amanda: Seeing God as a first resort when we can't "see" Him physically requires a lot of faith and practice. It’s so worth it, though.