In my twenties, my world changed. When I ended a relationship that I thought held my future, I felt bereft and lost. Who will love me now? I wondered through my tears. And now I don’t have any friends, I moaned, thinking of how I’d left my high-school and university friends in Minnesota for the excitement of living in the nation’s capital, surrounding myself with those who knew my ex-fiancé.
In my pain, I turned to God. Are you there? I cried. I can’t hear you. More silence. More tears.
Over the next months, in great need, I returned to God again and again, not knowing where else to go. And as the weeks passed, something changed. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I started to quiet my inner voices—those saying I was worthless and hopeless—as I asked God to meet me. I read the Bible, searching for God as I hungered for love. As he responded, I felt at times as if the words jumped off the page and into my heart. My desire to know God and experience his love fueled my reading, and I woke up earlier and earlier so I could feast on his Word.
I started to copy down passages from the Bible, applying the promises to my life. Although I read without much reference to their original context, I felt God speaking through them to my hurting, yearning heart. For instance, I read Isaiah 43:1-2 and reveled in the words, adapting them as if God was whispering them to me: “Don’t be afraid, Amy, for I’ve saved you. You’re passing through the waters, but don’t be afraid, for I am with you. The rivers won’t sweep over you, for I am the Lord your God.” When I reached verse 4, I wondered at the amazing promise of God: “You’re precious and honored in my sight. And I love you.”
Lord, you love me? I asked. Do you really love me? Is this promise meant for me?
As I paused, I sensed a nudge in my spirit, with a resounding Yes.
I thought, Well, it is right there written in the Bible, that God loves his people. He must really love me, too.
As I read each day from the Scriptures and poured out my feelings to God, I started to understand in a new way that I was made in his image and worth loving. I came to believe that these nudges of grace were loving assurances from God. Through my new way of hearing God through his Word, I was changed forever.
The Joys and Challenges of Prayer
That’s why I’m so excited about prayer. The Creator of the universe, who is beyond and above us, yearns for a relationship with us. He loves to communicate with us. He receives our longings and our praise, our petitions and our thanks to him. Not only does he respond to the cries of our hearts and the offhand prayers we utter, but he changes us. He makes us more like himself through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we become more compassionate and caring, more self-controlled and outward looking, wiser and with greater understanding.
But prayer can be hard, too. We might not sense God’s presence in our daily lives, or we become disappointed with the circumstances we face. We might feel that God has let us down and wonder if he really is good and loving. Or we might find ourselves in a rut, checking off a daily time of devotions as a duty, not a joy, while uttering a quick prayer before moving on to something seemingly more pressing. How, then, can we reignite our first love? How can we not only enjoy our communication with God but allow him to change us too?
The good news is that God partners with us, meeting us where we’re at and helping us communicate with him. God will take your desire to grow closer and magnify it, even as a mustard seed grows into a big tree. Know that you’re not doing this on your own.
Know, too, that God will help you build healthy prayer habits into your life. Although habits don’t ensure that we’ll automatically respond prayerfully to situations of stress, anxiety, or even positive happenings, they increase the likelihood that we will.
Maybe, though, you’d find it helpful to redefine how you see prayer. We can easily think we’ve failed if each morning we don’t study the Bible and pray. I’m not knocking that kind of committed devotion, but I wouldn’t want that practice to be my only way of praying.
You might wonder if God is really there or your prayers are “working” if you don’t encounter God in some way—such as through a mighty mystical experience—as you pray. It’s true that God sometimes meets us in amazing ways; we may feel cushioned by his love or have a sense of unseen realities being revealed to us. But the wisdom of Christians throughout the centuries, including those seen as mystics, is that these transcendent experiences are neither the norm in the everyday lives of followers of Christ nor the goal of those seeking to communicate with him. For if we view prayer as a portal to some mystical plane, we can turn the act of praying into something we find intimidating, disappointing, or exclusionary of others.
God loves you dearly and yearns to meet with you. He might have a specific gift to impart to you, but he might just want to spend time with you. I’m reminded of Dan Rather’s interview with Mother Teresa, when the newscaster asked her what she said during her prayers. She responded, “I listen.”
Rather asked, “What does God say to you?”
She said, “He listens.”