Does prayer really have to be that complicated?

I don’t remember the first time I talked to God, but I remember the moment I decided prayer was personal.

It’s funny how you don’t recall most of life when you’re three or four years old, but you can have these few vivid memories that play back like a well-worn movie.

I don’t remember how I knew my father had left us.  I don’t remember how I felt about the whole ordeal of divorce.

But I sat on a swing-set in my backyard one day when I was about four and I said this,

“God, You’ll have to be my Daddy now.”

That I remember.

And prayer’s always been that for me, not some awkward attempt to wax poetic before a stern God.  I’ve never felt like my prayers have to ‘measure up’ or ‘sound holy.’DSCF2151

Because it’s always just been me, a simple girl talking to Dad about life on a swing-set, about making tough decisions, about life as a mom, about life….

I found a prayer journal years ago with categories and lists, a calendar of prayer planning, verses and notes, bookmarks, quotes, all spiral bound for easy writing.

I’m a little surprised that it didn’t light up or play music.

But the thing about that super-duper-deluxe journal is that I never could use it.  All those bells and whistles complicated prayer, made it so cumbersome and bulky.

I’d been chatting with God all day, every day for decades, and I couldn’t cram all that intimacy into a multi-step method in this how-to of prayer.

Maybe formulas and fancy systems work for you.

Or perhaps you’re like me, who simply wants prayer to be communion with God, the recognition of His presence here in this place.

Samuel Chadwick wrote:

“The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying.  He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion.  He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray” Samuel Chadwick

There’s such power in this prayer, and yet too often we avoid it and neglect it because we over-complicate it.

We act as if we’re not really praying unless we pray for two hours straight, on our knees, in a prayer closet, with a prayer journal, and maintain an adequate ratio of praise-to-petition.

And, since we can’t do all that, we simply don’t pray at all.

But God doesn’t regulate prayer with some hierarchical system of holiness.

That’s Satan, complicating things so that we give it all up all-together, feeding us the lies:

Prayer is too hard.
Prayer is for the holy.
I get bored.
If only I could pray like her.  I guess I’m just a failure.
Surely God hears her prayers, but not mine because I don’t know how to start or what words to say and what if I get it all wrong?
I don’t have anything to say that’s important enough for God to hear.

Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt, when they overheard the Pharisees praying Shakespeare-quality performances every time they bowed their heads in the synagogue.

So, they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray….”

Maybe they expected a formula or a long lecture about the process of prayer or a complicated prayer  cataloging system.

But Jesus did the opposite.  The Lord’s Prayer fits into five simple verses, which Jesus prefaced with this:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:5-8 NIV).

Don’t pray to show off. 

Don’t feel like you need to pray for a long time.

Keep it simple.  Pray what’s on your heart, because God already knows what you’re thinking and feeling.

Over the years, I’ve kept prayers on Index cards, prayers in beautiful journals, prayers on my fridge, prayers in a Word Processor on my computer.

And you know what?  All of them were prayer.  All of them helped me rest in the presence of God, learning to trust Him with my needs and learning to listen to His voice.

As I continue this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, I choose this month to linger here:

In the end, what matters about prayer isn’t how we pray, it’s that we actually do it.

That’s what I’m thinking….Now it’s your turn:

Has prayer ever seemed complicated or difficult to you?  What do you want to learn most about prayer?  What’s the best advice about prayer you’ve ever been given?   What have you found that works?

To read more about this 12-month journey of pursuing the presence of Christ, you can follow the links below!  Won’t you join me next month as I focus on Praying Simply?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

VBS for Grown-Ups: Prayer Helps Us

All week long I’m thinking about the Bible points for our Vacation Bible School and what they mean for adults.  This week will be a mix of some old and some new as I share these lessons.

Today at Kingdom Rock VBS (Group Publishing), we’re learning: Prayer Help Us…Stand Strong!kingdom-rock-logo-hi-res

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything (Philippians 4:6)
Originally published as “Run to the Throne,” May 6, 2011

“Teach me to run to you like they run to me for every little thing.”  That’s what Caedmon’s Call sings in their song, Sacred.

Yes, that’s true in my house.  I button buttons and zip zippers, diffuse arguments and mediate disputes, kiss bumps and supply Band-Aids for nearly invisible scratches, refill juice cups and find lost toys, help with homework and hard-to-sound-out words.

I answer to “Mom” all day, every day.  And, while at times I would like to sit still for more than five minutes at a time, I love that they turn to me for help.  At some point I know they will feel too grown up to bring all their problems to me.  Or maybe they’ll still come, but their problems will be so big that my supply of Band-Aids and apple juice won’t fix them anymore.

God must love when we turn to Him for help with all of the hopeful innocence that I see in my daughters’ eyes.  We could struggle to solve our troubles in our own strength or we could offer them up to Him—both the life crises and the daily concerns—-giving them over to a God both big enough to handle them and compassionate enough to care about them.

And as we do, we confess belief.  We say, “God I believe that You are Lord over all things, that no situation is too much for Your strength or too small for Your compassion.  I believe that You have saved me and will continue to save me.  I believe that You are Love.”

Years ago, a godly woman gave me this advice: “run to the throne before you run to the phone.”  Before we call on our friends and our own mommas with a problem, we should bring it to the God who can actually solve the problem we’re facing.

Too often we don’t.  We worry, we fret, we gossip, we chatter with others and seek solutions of our own making.

And all along, God’s waiting for us to just bring it all to Him.

Philippians 4:6 says:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

and Ephesians 6:18 says:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

We are to pray “in everything,” and “on all occasions.”  We should drop to our knees over a health concern or a family in crisis or a daughter’s lost toy.  It’s all too much for us anyway.

That’s what men like Daniel and Nehemiah did.

When King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream no one could interpret, Daniel and his friends plead “for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery” (Daniel 2:18).  When the decree was signed saying no one could pray to any god but the king, Daniel went home in front of an open window and “three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10).

Nehemiah prayed when he heard about the horrible state of the walls surrounding Jerusalem. When the king asked him what he wanted, Nehemiah “prayed to the God of heaven” before giving an answer.  Enemies threatened the work of Nehemiah and his crew, “but we prayed to our God” (Nehemiah 4:9) and when the enemies tried to frighten the Israelite construction team into quitting, Nehemiah prayed to God: “now strengthen my hands” (Nehemiah 6:9).

They went to God with every annoyance, difficulty, burden, sadness, disaster,  enemy, and worry.Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_5902698_mature-woman-sits-on-the-beach-with-her-head-bowed-and-praying-as-the-sun-sets-on-the-water.html'>sframe / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

At times, I’m overwhelmed by the weight of the requests I’m carrying to the throne.  I’ve been duped by impossible-appearing circumstances into thinking that it’s fruitless to pray any longer.  That there is no hope.  That the marriage is truly dead.  That the housing situation will not be solved.  That the cancer statistics are too certain.  That the job market is too sparse.  That I’ve prayed for so long with no answer, nothing could possibly change now.

A friend confessed this in a whisper to me this week:  “I’m just tired of praying about it.”

I knew exactly what she meant.  Fighting and fighting to have faith for so long, to pray and pray with no evident answer, no release, no deliverance, it makes a body tired.

But we are to “always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  And God, who is so gracious and compassionate, knows the exact moment when we need to see a glimmer of His light in the dark places and when we need the smallest reminder that He is active and alive where we only see death.

And He does this.  He gives us these glimmers of hope and hints of His glory and it becomes prayer that helps us stand a while longer, stand no matter what, and even stand strong.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Online Prayer Meeting: We’ve Got To Pray

“You know what we need to do, girls?  We need to pray.”

I find myself saying that more and more to my kids.  I never expected that the problems of a preschooler, a first grader and a second grader would be beyond my ability to fix so much of the time.  I never imagined how much of motherhood is spent on your knees. 

We’ve prayed for stolen glue sticks, mean girls, renegade classmates who won’t behave in art class, forgotten homework, lost lunch boxes, friends whose parents are divorcing and other friends being teased on the playground.

When you open the floor to prayer requests from kids, they’re willing to be downright honest, maybe even uncomfortably truthful at times.

If their parents fought, they’ll tell you.  If their grades are bad, if their teacher is tough, if their friend is sad, if a bully is mean, you’ll hear about it.  Children will spill it all out there.

We seem to learn privacy and shame over time, learning to keep things quiet, afraid to ask for prayer for our real problems because others might know the truth: We don’t have it all together.  People might judge.  The gossip chain will be initiated. It’s teenagers who start sharing “unspoken” prayer requests and adults that simply  remain silent when the Bible study leader says, “How can we pray?”

Until maybe the crisis is undeniable and so great we finally confess that we need prayer, desperate intercession on our behalf because the truth is—we’re broken and there’s just no hiding it anymore.

I’m saying this now to you as you sit here reading this blog, maybe munching away at your lunch or settling down to read your email messages at the end of the day, or grabbing a few minutes in between phone calls or during your toddler’s nap time….

“You know what we need to do?  We’ve got to pray.”

I left church yesterday overcome with sorrow at deep hurts that I can’t fix, far beyond the stolen glue sticks and renegade classmates of my children.

And me, all by my lonesome self, can sit here at my kitchen table with my Bible and prayer journal and pray for these friends.

And I will.

Scripture, however, reminds us of the power of praying together.

When Esther prepared to enter King Xerxes’s presence uninvited, placing her life in jeopardy in order to save her people from mass genocide, she didn’t just pray on her own.

She organized a nationwide prayer meeting, instructing all the Jews of Susa to “fast for me.  Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  My maids and I will do the same…” (Esther 4:16 NLT).

Jesus didn’t just fall to the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane alone as he waited for his betrayer to arrive with an army of soldiers and an unwelcome kiss.  He took along “Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.  He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:37-38).

Paul, who seemed so confident and capable in ministry and who always seemed content and able to rejoice despite circumstances, wasn’t afraid to ask the church in Ephesus to “pray for me, too.  Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan…” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT).

So rather than bowing my head alone, I’m asking for you to do something totally different with me.

Let’s pray together.  Would you join with me in prayer today?  I have some folks on my mind and heart.  You probably do, too.

Just leave a comment on the blog or Facebook this week saying, “I’m praying, too” or something simple like that and then spend some time this week in focused prayer for others.  It’ll take just a second of time to post that comment so we know you’re praying.

And if you have a prayer request, don’t be afraid or ashamed, please share that with us, too.  You can leave a comment here on the blog—even anonymously if you wish—and you can keep it simple, “My marriage.  My job.  My kids.”  We’ll join with you on our knees today and ask God for help.

Or, you can email a prayer request to me here: heatherking@cox.net

We’ve got to pray, friends, and not just individually, but together.  Please take just a few minutes and join in our “online prayer meeting” today.
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Here are some prayer prompts.  Please share if you have any other ideas of how we can pray…
  • For marriages: For husbands and wives to pursue marriages based on Ephesians 5:22-33.  For faithfulness, love, affection, honor, making marriage a priority, friendship, spiritual unity, and for freedom from abuse.
  • For depression and spiritual stagnation: For revival and a return of joy, for friendship and God’s Word to come alive for them again.  For hope.
  • For finances: For freedom from debt, steady work and well-rewarded labor.  For wisdom and abundant blessing. For those looking for work.
  • For children: For salvation, for the wayward child, for restoration of broken relationships, for wisdom to make wise choices for our kids, for help guiding them spiritually.
  • For churches/ministries and pastors/ministry leaders: For God’s vision for 2013, for strength, energy, refreshing, wisdom, and clear direction from God—for their families and their finances and health.  For God to fill them up as they pour themselves out.
  • For caregivers: That God would bring peace and freedom from pain to their loved ones, for salvation for those suffering, for strength for each new day for the caregivers themselves.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Praying for them and praying with them

My girl clambered into the minivan after school, heavy backpack on her shoulders, heavy thoughts in her heart.

She waited for my daily question, “How was your day?”

And then she spilled the news about “this boy in my class.”

“This boy” was loud and disruptive and didn’t follow the rules.  He cost them rewards in art class and never obeyed the teacher.  He did inappropriate things and wouldn’t stay in line.

She finished her story, pronounced a loud “harumph” and slammed her arms criss-cross around her chest to demonstrate her anger.

So many of our conversations take place this way, me angling the rear-view mirror to see faces, shouting back Mom-ly words of wisdom from the driver’s seat.  “You know what we need to do,” I hollered to the back seat.  “We need to pray for him and for your teacher.”

I expected her to shrug off my advice as impractical and unhelpful, no immediate solution and no personal satisfaction guaranteed.

But she didn’t.  I watched as a look of epiphany brightened her eyes and she lifted her face so her eyes met mine in the mirror.  She nodded in wholehearted agreement.

Later, snuggled together on our overstuffed blue couch, I prayed for “this boy” and for their teacher and when I was through, this child of mine–who finds kisses too embarrassing and 1timothy2declines to even hug much of the time–tossed her arms around me freely and tightly.

We parents, grandparents, teachers and leaders show our children how to pray over time, beginning with bowed heads over scraped needs and boo-boos on fingers.  We seek forgiveness for wrongs and take difficult situations to God.  And then we begin to pray for others, their hearts turning outward in ministry and compassion (and maybe sometimes frustration).

But it all begins with us, modeling the habit and discipline of “take it to the Lord in prayer.”  It’s bringing Jesus right there into the center of our everyday.

As Paul wrote, “The first thing I want you to do is pray.  Pray every way you know how for everyone you know” (1 Timothy 2:1 MSG).

The first thing we do is drop to our knees, not after consultations, Google-searches, strategies, all-night worrying sessions, and Facebook posts.  Pray first.

Perhaps God had been preparing me for that moment in the car because I’d been on my knees consistently for weeks over my girl.

Please God show me how to be the Mom she needs me to be, how to encourage her, love her, shepherd her heart, discipline her, and protect her.

I hadn’t just prayed, of course.  I’d tried the usual sources, asking for advice. Looking up some behavior issues on reliable Christian family resources.  Scrolling through resources from online sites, hoping to find that perfect book that would explain it all to me and box up my child into an understandable psychological package.

Nothing seemed quite right for my girl.  No formula or strategy was “it.”

What else to do BUT pray?  What else was truly needed but prayer?

Maybe God draws us to pray for our kids so that they’ll see us and learn how to bring His presence into the midst of all situations.  They’ll see our faith practiced in the everyday situations and learn to talk about life and God—-not life or God and never the twain shall meet.

Yes, this is more than Sunday morning belief or pew-sitting faith.  This is down and dirty life with God at our side, available to help us in every situation, to give us wisdom, strengthen our hearts, teach us to obey and discipline our desires.

We pray for children because we love them, still believing that God loves them so much more than we do.  We know them, but He knows them more.  He formed their hearts and personalities, gave them those gifts and talents that amaze us.  He knows the plans He’s laid out for them and how to guide them along “paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23).

And we also pray for them so that they learn to pray.  So that when they encounter “this boy,” they know they can carry his case to God.  And when their friend is hurt by teasing, they’ll give a hug, say a kind word, and petition God on her behalf.  When they don’t know what to do, they whisper to God a request for help and follow His lead.

Letting our children see us on our knees and hear our prayers for them teaches them how to pray—pray first, pray about everything, pray every way they can, pray for every one they meet.

You can read other devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Pray for Us, Part I

“Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you”
2 Thessalonians 3:1

Bible Study time done, the group started sharing prayer requests.  Please pray.  Please pray.  Please pray, we ask one another.  For my friend.  For my child.  For my husband.  For my coworker.

For me.

Dialoguing with myself silently there at the table, I jotted down the requests of others and thought, “mine seems so silly, so selfish, so small.  Haven’t I prayed for myself already?”

Surely I had.  Not more than one hour before sitting down at that table to teach others, I had been face-to-face with my carpet, not just on my knees, but prostrate before God.  All stretched out before His throne in humble need (hoping my children didn’t come searching for me and find Mommy on the floor).  Not for cancer.  Not for death.  Not for brokenness.  For a string of bad days, for lack of sleep, for a husband who was away, for knowing that I felt far too ill-equipped to teach anyone from God’s Word that night.  What else to pray, but “help me, God!” and to tell Satan to get lost—in Jesus’s name, of course.

Yet, knowing full well that it matters when others pray for us, that the combined power of saints on their knees works in ways that my private prayers do not, I shared my tiny need with the group of ladies gathered at the table.  “I need the rest of this week to get better.  I need my children to sleep and not wake up grumpy, whining and so quick to fight with each other.  I need no more animal mishaps like 30 of my fish dying from some freak thermostat disaster.  We’ve had such a rough start; please pray for us.”

We prayed.  I went home, chased children around the house with pajamas and toothbrushes, climbed into bed all weary myself.  The next morning I woke up for the first time in months, not to the sound of a child, but just because of morning sunlight.  I awoke to a day that got better and better and a week no longer plagued with sleeplessness and stress.  I awoke to notes from friends and family saying they were praying for me.

We prayed.  God answered.

How often have you sat in your small group, though, looked around at Christians you love and you trust, and not shared your prayer need?

Because you were afraid to share the request you have, maybe even ashamed and embarrassed.
Because everyone’s prayer requests seemed so much bigger than yours.
Because it seemed so selfish to ask for prayer for yourself and much more acceptable to ask on behalf of others.

Remember these things:

We Need Others to Pray for Us

Paul poured out prayers in his letters to the churches, that they would understand the love of God, know His will, and persevere in the midst of trials.  To the Thessalonians, he wrote: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2).  Then, he asked for their prayers in return, “Finally brothers, pray for us, that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

There is no question that Paul himself was praying for the effective spread of the Gospel; nevertheless, he requested those same prayers from others.  He knew that corporate prayer has power and the unified petitions of the saints have impact.  So, praying in your own home and in your own car is good and necessary, but you should not be ashamed, embarrassed, or reluctant to call for backup and enlist the prayer support of others.  It is part of the giving and receiving that we do in the Body of Christ.  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

In some ways, Paul was giving the Thessalonian church a gift.  He invited them into ministry partnership with Him, asking them to pray for him and his missionary team as they traveled and shared the Gospel.  We give each other a gift when we invite others into prayer partnership with us.  They now have a part in healing marriages, restoring broken relationships, shepherding wayward children, defeating disease, leading ministries, and redeeming finances.  Not in their own strength, but because they intercede before God on our behalf.  They struggle in prayer and wrestle the Enemy and receive victory in partnership with us.

There are times when our friends must carry us to Jesus, paralyzed as we are like the man in Capernaum.  He could have lain their unable to move and simply hoped that Jesus would notice him on the outskirts of the crowd, but the needs were many and the mob of people overwhelming.  Instead, four friends carried him to Jesus, parting the crowds as best they could and then climbing up on the roof and lowering him down to Jesus’s feet (Mark 2:1-5).  We need friends with such faith, friends who will bring us to Christ’s sandaled toes and request healing for what paralyzes us.

Do you have someone to pray for you and with you?  It could be a small group or it could be one faithful praying friend.  Seek that out so that you do not battle the bad days or the life crises alone.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King