This Lenten season, my husband and I chose not to give up anything specific. Instead, we are trying to skim off the unnecessary in favor of the better. We are building habits like working out early in the mornings and giving ourselves time to learn and work on things in the evenings. But the most important thing we are doing is praying together in the morning before we do anything else.
When Prayer is Hard
Prayer is always taught as a simple, achievable goal for Christians. It’s on the list of ways to get closer to God. Ironically, though, it’s when I feel distant from God that I stop praying. I may habitually think a prayer in my head, or pray with family before dinner, but I don’t intentionally seek conversation with God when I feel that way.
A few months ago, I was in this kind of slump and didn’t even know it. I didn’t feel distant from God or my faith, but I did notice more worries filling up my head. I noticed a strange dryness in my soul. I was in the car, and I suddenly felt the need to pray. And not just in my head, which I can easily get distracted from. I wanted to pray out loud.
I turned off the noise from whatever I was listening to and sat in silence until the words came. They kept coming, and I knew that I was being fed. I wasn’t praying for a change–the change happened because I was refocusing my attention on what mattered.
Prayer as Refocusing
We need this right now.
Sometimes we feel like the world is falling apart. Like the disciples panicking in the storm, we look at the waves and wind and wonder when the boat will sink.
But Jesus is sleeping in the boat, ready to calm the storm.
When we focus on the wind and waves, we feel powerless. The fear is overwhelming. When we focus on Jesus, we realize how much greater He is than the storm.
That doesn’t mean the storms will end. We haven’t been able to pray away the pandemic or the tornadoes that hit Nashville. We haven’t been able to save people from dying. But when we think that prayer is all about immediate healing, then we miss the point.
I do believe in healing. I believe in God’s power to intervene in our lives. But I also believe that all healing on this earth is temporary, and that there is a greater healing that God is preparing for us, and that is where my hope comes from.
This is what I am reminded of whenever I enter God’s presence in prayer. There are many unknowns, and I pray fervently for healing and recovery in my community. But there are also many knowns–promises that I can fix my eyes on that put the wind and waves back in their place.
Jesus promises the redemption of all things. Jesus promises a lasting healing. Jesus promises that He is with us through it all, and that He will use what was meant for evil to do something greater than we can imagine.
Jesus is after our hearts. Our bodies may be broken, but our souls can’t be touched.
This is why Paul writes in Philippians 4:12-13:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.“
Just before this, he writes:
“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.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.“
The God of peace is always there. It is through prayer that we enter into that peace. Whenever we prayer or sing in worship, we are turning our eyes on what is true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable. It is by prayer that we present our requests to God and are overwhelmed with peace because we know we have been heard, and our focus has been shifted back to the One is more powerful than any tragedy we might face.
This is why I want to pray in the mornings. I always thought it would be a difficult habit to form, but, like praying over dinner, it hasn’t been. We wake up, and we pray. It’s so simple it makes me regret all of the time we have not been doing this.
I want to begin every day by fixing my eyes on Jesus instead of the storms. Then, no matter what happens, I will remember that I am held by the One who will never let me go.