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the heart behind a prayer

Dear Maliyah,

I have learned that prayer has the power to change lives, but the heart behind a prayer matters even more.

I prayed all growing up. It was modeled by so many people around me, and so it became a part of my life. I prayed for those who were sick, a math test I had the next day, or when I felt hurt by a friend. They were simple prayers lifted up by a child, and were lovingly heard and received by my Father. For many years, there was never anything urgent I needed to pray for. No massive requests or heartbreaking situations I was going through, and all of my prayers were answered the way I would have expected. It made prayer a very simple, fundamental, logical way to approach life.

But, that all changed.

In May of 2012 when our sweet grandpa, Fuzzy, was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer, it was the first big hit I had ever experienced. It was the first time I felt real fear about losing someone. As we learned more about the cancer and how much it had invaded his body, the reality set in of the fight that was about to go down, and the chance he had of winning.

I remember the night after I found out, I prayed for healing, but I also begged my Father to protect my faith through this. I knew that it was in moments like this, moments full of uncertainty, fear, and potential heartbreak that the devil was on the prowl and I was determined to not make any space for his lies to seep in. I had watched too many people lose their faith because of moments like this. I knew I couldn’t survive without my faith, so it was vital that it be the strongest it’s ever been.

For six months we all prayed and fought alongside him, but on October 25th, 2012 our sweet, strong, and loyal grandpa went to be with Jesus.

Initially, I felt relief. Relief that the fight was over and that he was free of pain. Then, I felt sadness as I realized the massive hole that was now left in our family. After that, it turned into frustration and anger at our Father for not healing him in the ways we had been praying for and suddenly Matthew 7:7 became a big lie to me.

“Ask and it will be given to you…”

For the first time ever, what I asked for was not given to me, and my heart was shattered. This book of truth wasn’t all truth…

And so I wrestled. I sought guidance from others, I prayed, I read up on it, but I could not figure out why my Father would tell me that whatever I asked for He would give me when the biggest prayer of my life was just ignored.

Eventually, I was sick of fighting it. I knew that my Father was good, and so I stuffed my feelings deep down. For many years after, when certain songs would come on the radio that reminded me of this, I would turn it off. When someone spoke on Matthew 7:7, I would ignore them. I decided that the Bible was mostly truth.

After Fuzzy died, I began to pray every morning that my family would be safe and healthy. And if I’m being completely honest, I had this deep-rooted fear that if I one day I didn’t pray this prayer, a family member was bound to get sick or get hurt. I felt such incredible pressure to keep everyone alive daily with this prayer.

Four years later I was in the middle of a podcast series on prayer and I was in the middle of training for a half marathon. It was five in the morning and as I was running and listening to this podcast, my Father tapped me on the shoulder and revealed something to me that changed everything.

He told me that when I prayed, it was out of fear and gaining a sense of control. That rather than putting the power of prayer in the hands of the One I prayed to, I was putting the power in my hands believing that my words were what really mattered. He assured me that it was His job to care for His children, not mine, and that rather than making prayer a burden in my life, He desired for it to be something that brought freedom.

As He reminded me of His power, His strength, His perfect will, and His insane love for His children, I realized how little credit I had been giving Him. Me, a simple child who knew so little, had been using prayer as a way to dictate to God the things I wanted, believing that was how it should work.

And in His most gracious loving way, He gently tapped me on the shoulder and revealed to me not only my inadequacy to do this, but also the lack of need to do this.

That His desire for His children is to be a refuge. A safe place. A place of freedom and peace.

That when we come to Him, it isn’t stemming out of fear and a need for control, but rather an intimate knowledge of who He is.

This truth that He is good. He knows all. He sees all. He has our best interests in mind. He adores us.

And in knowing this, all fear is gone because it is replaced with an unexplainable trust and faith in His plan.

In that moment, my Father was offering me a life of freedom. One where I can come to Him at all moments of the day, with anything, in any state, with any feeling, and pour out my heart to him in complete surrender knowing that He will take care of it all.

Rather than a prayer life dictated by fear, He was asking me to adopt a prayer life rooted in trust.

A prayer life where I surrendered it all to Him, and then waited expectantly for what He was going to do.

“In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3

And now, that is what I do. At all moments of the day, with any worry, joy, or frustration I bring to Him, eager to see what He will do with it.

“Ask and it will be given to you…”

I see now where my misunderstanding was. It isn’t an “ask for whatever you want and what YOU believe is best” but rather “bring it all to Me, pray for My will, and trust that I will take care of it”.

I think of my students and the way they come to me. Whether they need their shoelace unknotted, they can’t figure out to spell a word, their water bottle spilled, someone said an unkind word to them, or they are being hurt at home…they come to me with no filter and no fear, trusting that I will take care of their problem because they know I love them.

Our Father is no different. He desires for us to come to Him, trusting in Him, resting in His love, and surrendering it all to Him eager for what He will do.

All my love,

Sissy