A Journey into Victorious Praying

I learned to pray as a toddler at my father’s knee. Twice daily, our family read the Bible together and took turns praying—my parents in King James English, which I attempted to emulate. I remember the first time I returned home from college and tentatively prayed at family devotions, dropping the “thees” and “thous” of my childhood. I wondered if my parents would approve of my casual intimacy with the Creator.

Over the years I’ve read numerous books on prayer, including one that examined every prayer in the Bible. One book stood out to me more than all the others, however, because it came from the humble heart of someone who did more than study prayer. He practiced it. Here are some of my favorite quotes from A Journey into Victorious Praying, by Bill Thrasher. I highly recommend you get your own copy and begin your journey into the mysteries of the relationship with the Divine.

No one ever just decides to be a prayer warrior. God does something in a life that makes the person sense this need of God (p. 29).

I think this is true. My deepest prayers came at a time of my deepest need.

If you will take your temptations and turn them into conversations with God, you will learn to talk to God from your heart. . . . Temptations are an appeal to meet righteous needs in an unrighteous way to meet the longing your temptation has stirred (p. 30).

Again, this rings true to my experience. I could write a book on this one!

Martin Luther said, “Prayer is not a performance but climbing up to the heart of God” (p. 43).

For years, prayer for me was merely a checklist of spiritual disciplines. Relationship sheds the “shoulds.”

True spiritual fervency and compassion is a work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot work this up on our own strength (p. 44).

I tried my own strength. It didn’t work. I was told I should have compassion for the lost, and so, feeling guilty, I tried to drum up some feelings. Instead, God gave me compassion for those who hurt.

True prayer starts with God and the prayer burden He places on our hearts (p. 52). We aren’t called to pray for every request with the same intensity. God will not give any of us every prayer burden (p. 54).

Whew! My soul relaxes with these thoughts. Though I often pray for our leaders in government, for example, they are not a burden on my heart. Give me the name of an MK who’s hurting, however, and immediately my lips move in supplication.

I ask the Lord to bring to mind what He wants me to pray for. Sometimes when I ask, nothing comes to mind. Maybe He’s just calling me to silence (p. 55).

Once more, the “shoulds” in my head dissolve. I like contemplative silence.

Ask God to deliver you from anything that is hindering you from praying your heart to God.

It was only after relinquishing my tight self-control, my unforgiving heart, my anger, and my bitterness that I found true peace, resting in God’s presence. He always feels near now instead of far away.

Thrasher suggests that God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations.

Sometimes coming up with the right words feels like a chore. Sometimes I pray with pictures, sometimes without words at all. He knows my heart.

When we pray a specific prayer and God does not grant it, “could it be that it is because God is desiring to grant you an even deeper longing and desire of your heart?” (p. 60).

Ex:  Augustine, a leader in the early church, lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

This story has stayed with me, reminding me that God is bigger than my feeble attempts at prayer.

You don’t “spend” time with God. You “invest” it. Time alone with Him can be one of the greatest time savers of your life (p. 114).

How true. Going to God first with a concern and working through my angst before speaking to someone has saved me hours of mop-up after a wrong response.

Prayer is not attempting to get our will done in heaven but His will done on earth (p.171).

I would love to hear about your experiences in your journey to victorious praying.

On the Edge of a Cliff

Journal 2005

Going for an Oral Interpretation major in college, I once performed a reading with a powerful visual about standing atop a cliff, desperately trying to stop people from going over the edge (presumably to hell). The point was to urge believers to evangelize. I even know one missionary who went overseas because of this visual. But all I ever felt was guilt, helplessness, and powerlessness.

As I sit with my emotions, I notice there are danger signs at the edge of the cliff. In fact, there are warning signs before the danger signs. I’m praying desperately for people to open their eyes and take notice, and if I take my eyes off the scene, I’ll miss someone. Still I feel helpless. I have to DO something. If I sit down to rest, I’ll get stampeded! Where do responsibility and trust intersect?

Jesus says, “Back away from the edge of the cliff, find a bench, sit there and wait. Offer cold drinks and sandwiches to the weary travelers. Invite; don’t panic. Invite them to rest with me and talk. Tell them about the cliff and encourage them to share the news with the other travelers on their path. And if while I’m talking to one, and another passes by, I can just wave and smile. And if I need to sleep for a while, I can ask Jesus (or an angel) to tap me on the shoulder when I need to wake up and pay attention. Whew! That feels better.

Negative Energy

Journal 2005. I am an introvert who knows I need people, but some people emit negative energy like a giant, pulsating sore thumb, throbbing like a plucked low bass guitar string.

I remember a former classmate whose aura left little barbs, fingers of electric shock that kept poking and jabbing me.

When I asked for God’s help, He gave me an enveloping coat of Teflon—not to keep the person out, but so I could get close to the person without getting zapped. The droning noise got mingled with a heavenly symphony of praise, and together we looked and listened for other sounds around us. I guess I needed another focus other than myself.

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On War

Journal 2008. How does God feel about war?

I confess I struggle with the concept of holy war. We condemn the Medieval Crusaders, and we condemn its use by certain people groups today. But when God wanted the Israelites to oust seven wicked Canaanite nations, He commanded holy war.

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience). They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:1- 2, 4)

According to these verses, he used an enemy to test the Israelite’s obedience to Him, but He also gave them the training and tools to win. Was He capable of wiping out the evil nations by Himself? Of course. He did it in Noah’s day. But for some reason, He wanted His people involved in the process. He wanted relationship, trust, and obedience.

How do I feel about war?

I also confess I have no first-hand experience with warfare. I believe greed, hatred, and revenge are all wrong motives for starting a war. But war in obedience to God’s command, to defend the poor or helpless, to free the captive—I can justify that.

In any war, both sides pray to God for victory and saved lives. How can He answer equitably? What’s a suitable prayer then?

So let all Your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love Him, be like the sun when he rises in his might. (Judges 5:31)

A 2022 Update. This morning I read this perspective from torahclass.com, Acts Lesson 30. What do you think?

The land of Canaan was not a gift of conquest from God to the Israelites; it was a gift of inheritance. Why an inheritance? Why not as a spoil of war? Because God already owned the land; He had hundreds of years earlier promised to give it to Abraham; it became Abraham’s land the instant God promised it. All that remained was for Abraham’s descendants to possess it. So the Lord merely evicted the unlawful squatters, and then turned over to the rightful inheritors (Israel) that which He had long ago bequeathed to them. For God is a Father to His children, Israel and that’s what fathers do.

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Holy Spirit or Evil Spirit?

Journal 2005. We are working with a lady who has D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder) and is involved in a charismatic church. She had been through numerous experiences of so-called deliverance—all very dramatic and theatrical. She allowed the demons to jerk her around and use her body, and when we commanded them to quit, they didn’t. That’s when we discovered the reason: she liked the theatrical nature of her experiences. After we dealt with that emotion, and she agreed to let it go, it was easy and undramatic to tell the demons to depart. No jerks, no manifestations. She was amazed it was so easy. And then her very telling comment: A lot of what I thought was God’s doing was actually demons. Hmmm.

I think Baptists have a correct doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but other groups have experiential knowledge of Him. I want both.

Group Prayers

Journal 2010. I learned the conventions of prayer at my daddy’s knee. Family devotions looked like this: 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Bible reading and prayer, no skipping for any reason. Starting with the youngest, everyone read a daily portion of the Scripture (Genesis to Revelation and back again)—just a verse when we were very young and learning to read; more when we were older. Next, each person in the family took a turn praying, beginning with the youngest (me). If we ever reversed the order from oldest to youngest, I’d have to be prompted on my turn because my mind had long ago checked out.

My parents’ prayers were like droning bees to my young ears—same tone and inflexion every time, same topics. Mom always began, “Our loving, heavenly Father” and ended with the sing-song, all in one breath, “In-Jesus’-name-amen” as if it were one word. Dad mumbled so much we couldn’t hear or understand him too well, and when he read, he skipped words or mispronounced them, but his heart was pure, and that’s what mattered. Our childish prayers always began with “Dear Jesus,” followed by “thank you for–” and “God bless–” or Dad would prompt me to say, “Help me, Lord, not to fight with Paul and Grace Anne . . .” (Not sure God answered that one till after we grew up!)

Last night I met with a group to dedicate a new church building. The prayers were specific but global—e.g. asking God’s direction and safety, peace upon “all those who come into these rooms” or “we pray for all those who are struggling with [whatever].” I left feeling a little dissatisfied. Global prayers don’t have anything to attach to visually. They don’t negate the prayer, but a picture would help me.

Does one prayer at one time cover all the bases from now till the Lord comes or the building collapses? God knows our heart and intent, and if our words don’t come out all polished and smooth, He can figure out what we mean. But choice of words is important.

In regular conversation, we try not to interrupt someone’s conversation until it’s an appropriate moment, but we might jump in on each other’s words to agree, disagree, or question. We wouldn’t do that when someone else is praying. We’re too polite. Group praying, for me, can be distracting, boring, or uplifting. It takes discipline to stay focused and listen. Some people are good conversationalists, and I can stay engaged. Others I check out mentally when they open their mouth. Wonder if others do that when I pray? Another issue I have is doing two things at once. If I’m listening, I can be agreeing, putting my “amen and so be it” onto their words. But when it comes time for me to pray aloud, I have to form my thoughts before I open my mouth, and so I end up not listening to the one praying.

When a woman is in labor, Lamaze teaches her to find a focal point to help her manage the pain. God is my focal point when I’m laboring in prayer. What if last night we’d prayed, “May Your glory fill these rooms; may Your presence here be felt by all who enter”—focusing more on Him than on us. What if I changed the focus and attention of my prayers away from the people and the need and drew my focus and attention onto God instead? What if instead of asking for money, we asked God to receive glory and honor by our godly choices and responses? Or invite Him to display His power. Instead of demanding that He heal every ache and pain, we could ask how He wants to proceed and ask for courage to get in line with His will so the nations will be drawn to Him.

Your thoughts?

2009. My sister Grace and I in front of a church that faithfully supported our parents

Ask and You’ll Receive

Journal 2010. Charlie was a proud and bitter man. When he was a little boy, his big brother told him God always answers prayer. So one night, Charlie knelt by his bed and asked for some candy—but none appeared. That was the day he lost all faith in a god who would withhold good things from him.

As I studied John 16 this week, I thought about Charlie.

Jesus is explaining to his disciples what is about to happen. He’ll be going away for a while, and then they’ll see Him again after the resurrection. When Jesus senses that they want to ask Him [questions] about this, He explains a little more plainly. And then He says, “In that day [after the resurrection and when the Comforter comes] you will no longer ask Me anything.” (He did not say, “ask Me for anything.” He meant ask Me any questions you have.)

“And besides,” He says, “I won’t be here anymore. Instead, you’ll ask [questions] in My name and the Father will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for [about?] anything in My name.” (Before Jesus ascended, the disciples could ask Him any question face to face, but after His ascension, they could speak directly to the Father, through Jesus.)

“Ask and you’ll receive [answers] and your joy will be complete,” He says. “I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you” (vv. 25-28).

The disciples respond: “Now we see that You know all things and that You do not need to have anyone ask You [questions]. (The rabbinic method of teaching was to ask questions, and Jesus’ teacher was the Father.) This makes us believe that You came from God.”

Jesus says, “You believe at last!”

Instead of “ask Jesus for anything” (as I’ve always been taught), this passage (context, context) is all about asking Jesus questions. Jesus said, “Ask what you will. . . .” He didn’t say ask for things or prayer requests.

If I’m reading this passage right, it would change a lot of theology, misunderstandings, and disillusionment when we ask Him to do something, and He doesn’t do it. Perhaps Charlie would have grown up a different man had he understood this concept.

Random Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2013 Journal.

I need a fresh start with prayer. I’m beginning to do the grocery list thing again. I’m glad God can focus on more than one thing at a time. I can’t. My mind wanders. And God understands because He made my brain this way. But I know I have to do my part and have a little self-discipline. Journaling slows my brain down and helps me focus, but even while I’m writing out my prayer, my mind skitters off onto a tangent. Sigh. What if I quit using the word pray and start using talk instead? “God, I want to talk to You about . . . .”

. . .

My perspective on intercessory prayer has shifted from “ought to” or “spiritual discipline” to “ministry opportunity.” Prayer is as much kingdom work as teaching Sunday School or taking a meal to someone who’s sick. The key is the word ministry I think. I love “doing ministry.” It appeals to my task-oriented mind. Intercessory prayer is different from gratitude or praise or confession. I feel like I’m such a beginner in this.

. . .

Come into His presence, said King David. That was fine for him to say, because God’s presence was located in a place. There’s something missing in this statement for me. How can I “come into” when I’m always there?

I sat down to have my Quiet Time this morning and immediately began to intercede for someone—no preliminary formula of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I hear some preacher’s voice in my head admonishing me, and it occurs to me that God is not on a timetable of morning, noon, and night. Maybe I thanked him last night, confessed at noon two days ago, and now I’m ready to intercede. I understand the mindset of focusing my attention on Him and quieting my heart, and some days I have to do that. But if His presence is there for me at all times, there’s nothing wrong with galloping into requests on others’ behalf. I think God can handle that!

. . .

I heard on the Barna report that the average person prays only 8 minutes a day. They compared that person to someone who was living in a dangerous community who prays continually. Well . . . yes . . . that makes sense. But it felt like shame and condemnation for lack of prayer on the part of those who live in peaceful places. But how does one quantify prayer? If one is continually in God’s presence, one’s very breath is prayer. Am I more spiritual because I say 50 words in prayer instead of 5—and that takes longer? Strange that we should equate time (minutes) with relationship. But I suppose there is some truth to that in the earthly realm.

Prayer is also listening. How do you quantify that? I listen all day long. Why is it so hard to let go of the rules and focus on relationship? Peter struggled with it when he went to visit Paul in Antioch and quit eating with the Gentiles. Not all rules are bad. We need them. But they are bumper guards in a child’s bowling game—helpful at first, but unnecessary when you get the hang of living the Christian life. You get into the groove of right living and obedience and you find the sweet spot of love for the game. Of course there’re always adjustments and self-corrections to be made.

. . .

I find that my prayers are directly tied to my emotions. Words flow when I’m feeling sentimental. I pray most deeply and earnestly when my emotions run deep and more cerebral when feeling flat. But my emotions are not what create results. It’s not the words I say, but rather, I believe, God reads the heart and the motive. I can invoke His name in a loud cry or a soft whisper. The power is in His name, not in my poor attempts to get His attention.

Bagfuls of Prayers

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. (Romans 8:26 NIV).

From my 2013 Journal. As I pray a bullet list of requests for God to grant, He hands me a fistful of bags, heavy as gold but light as fairy dust, in which to carry the requests. First, I hand one to Alan for his trip. He accepts it and thanks me for it.

Next, I hand a bag to Betty. She shows me the needy children she cares for. I don’t have to drum up compassion. I have to walk the path God put me on and follow His leading in humble obedience. He will show me who I am to care for, and Betty will care for the ones in her care.

After that, I give one to Cherie. She drops it in her pocket, but I urge her to carry it next to her heart where the holes are.

Deidre comes next, but she wrinkles her nose, holds it at arms’ length and drops it. God instructs me to empty the contents over her head. Pretty sparkles of light and flower petals rain down.

I hand one to Edith, who cries with gratitude and eats it for strength, absorbing the nutrition for her mind, soul, and body.

Fran asks for one, too, but she’s too weak to hold the container. I empty the contents onto her reclining body and gently massage it into her skin—a healing balm. The prayer covers her like a mud bath to remove all the impurities and draw out the shame and inadequacies and fears. Next, she must choose to dip into the Salt Sea. My prayers cannot force her to do it. But in the spirit of adventure, I know she will leap in and be cleansed. Just don’t wait too long, dear one, or the mud will dry, and you’ll feel itchy and ugly. Go wash and be clean!

Gina begs for a double-triple portion—afraid that only one bag won’t be enough. I laugh and assure her that God’s power is immeasurable and His grace sufficient. Like Peter, she begs to be washed all over. But I’m instructed to squeeze only one drop from her bag onto her index finger. I don’t understand why, but I obey. She’s curious too. What to do with it? Jesus tells her to rub the ointment into her eyes so she can see clearly!

These bags of prayers (all alike I thought) from my lips change into different forms and substances, according to the needs of the receiver. How amazing is that!

Who’s next? I have so many bags left. I want to distribute them all, but they seem to be multiplying like the loaves and the fishes. I hurry over to offer one to Helen. She thanks me, smiles, and says good for me for handing them out and then carefully places it on her shelf, next to her idols. Sigh. Maybe her idols will topple over in the presence of the Holy One like the Philistine god Dagon.

One for Ira, who gladly accepts it and carries it around with him wherever he travels. He’s grateful for it and recognizes its power—ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Next I offer one to Janine. She thanks me, declares it smells good, and tosses it into the back of her car. I decide that’s not good enough, so I secretly toss a bagful, like fairy dust, over top of her house. Curiously, the particles dry up and dissipate before they touch her roof. I try a second time, and it happens again. What gives? There seems to be an impenetrable shield over her house that deflects my prayers. And now I know why. Instead of a believer’s bag, I need to hand her the red one—the one that contains the blood of Jesus. Sprinkle that one . . . no . . . use a hose! Cover, saturate, flood that home! It’ll force her to exit and look up. I happily spray her with it as well. She laughs. She tastes it on her lips. She wants more. She wants to drink it, dance in it, twirl like a little girl before she first got hurt. Jesus says, “Just hold the hose, Karen, just hold the hose.” Then she grabs it from me and sprays her neighbors who have come out to see what the commotion is all about. More laughter.

I box up two bags with extra padding and send them off to China. Though I don’t know their addresses, God safely delivers them to the doors of Kang-Chun and Liang-Lee, two persecuted pastors. There’s healing ointment in the one, I see, along with some bandages. I can’t tell what’s in the other box. The pastor isn’t home. Oh, there’s bread and wine and cheese and rice (of course!) for the starving wife and children. Like the widow’s oil, it keeps replenishing itself. Splendid!

I set down the rest of the bags. M through Z will have to wait for another day.

And now, Lord, I need one for myself. It’s in pill form, easy to swallow. I don’t need to know what’s in it. God’s work/word is unseen as it nourishes my body, gives life to my brain, feeds my arms and my legs, my liver and my heart. Nothing gets wasted or eliminated. “Drink,” He instructs me. “Drink deeply of Me, of My presence, My Spirit, My love. Let it cleanse your every pore. Let it wash through you and make you clean . . . strength for today and always. Breathe deeply. I’ve given you the breath of life itself. It’s My breath. I breathed into you to make you a living soul. Your very being is a testament to My power and creativity.”

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Fighting Fires

From my 2016 Journal. I feel like I’ve been fighting fires for months—rows of houses are ablaze or burned to the ground, and I’m tired of holding the hose, climbing ladders, and rescuing people. I’m weary, and the fires keep spreading. I also see gleeful little gremlins throwing gasoline over the houses.

Lord, I need your help!

A strong wind blows the fire back on itself, and water from the sky douses the flames. But suddenly the scene shifts and my perspective changes. The water is actually coming from a watering can, and the blaze is no bigger than a campfire. I’m just a little ant, so everything looks enormous—unlike from God’s perspective. All my effort and fretting just made me tired.

And so I ask the Lord, “What is my role? Do You want me to hold fire hoses or stand back and watch you work?” I think of Moses who obediently went to Egypt, but it was God who did all the work once he arrived.

I’m tired before going to my next appointment.

“Just show up and obey My instructions,” He says. “And I’ll do the rest.”

That helps. I can rest in that thought.