I thought for a while about what I should talk about in regards to Thanksgiving. I mean there are so many things I could say because we are so unbelievably blessed. I could talk about my family, who are a huge part of my life; my children whom God has graciously allowed me to stay at home and teach; my marriage which has been miraculously redeemed; my mom who is always willing and able to help me; my ability to run and my health; my church who took me in during a time when I legitimately doubted I would ever darken the doors of any church again; my pastor who is always there for us and always full of grace. I could spend hours talking about all of these things in regards to gratitude. But the one thing I kept coming back to is prayer.
And I know it sounds so Sunday schooly to talk about being thankful for something like prayer. Like, oh, please, Lori, come back from super spiritual land and rejoin us on earth, right? So I need to preface this by saying it is not meant to be cliche or a Sunday school sounding answer as if to give the impression that I am more spiritual than I really am. If you bear with me, you will find it should be just the opposite of what I’m trying to say.
So, prayer. Six months ago the Lord began to deal with me about prayer. He did that by putting a pray-er in my path. After this pray-er laid hands on me and prayed for me, the Lord gave me an overwhelming sense of joy unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Afterward, he gave me an overwhelming desire and urgency to pray unlike I had ever known. I began to pray 1-2 hours each morning and the Lord led me in how and for whom to pray for. This from a girl who always struggled with prayer. I have always been more of a studyier. I would rather listen to God by reading and studying His Word than have to talk to him about what is really going on in my life. I mean, doesn’t He know? Hearing God through carefully and tediously examining His Word was always how I best communed with him. That is where I heard him and where he spoke to me.
But isn’t it just like the God who send Paul the Jews to preach to the Gentiles to call a theology nerd into a ministry of prayer? And if you had told me that was God’s call for me six months ago I would have rolled my eyes and not been happy. I like books. I like teaching. Praying is hard work and I basically have always stunk at it. But that’s just the kind of stuff he does.
Prayer was always hard for me. Sometimes it still is. But I am thankful for it and what God is teaching me about it. Just recently I had been praying about a specific situation that was causing me stress for several months. I waited for God to show up not really believing he would. Even fasted. But he did and it was very obvious and at the perfect time. The day after those prayers were answered, I was praying about something else that was very troubling to me, only it was much more personal. I prayed half-heartedly feeling mostly angst and despair about the situation. But I prayed a very specific small request and I heard the Holy Spirit remind me, “Didn’t you see what I did yesterday?” Don’t you think I will do the same for this?” And He did. He answered that very specific prayer less than an hour after I prayed it.
So what does all this have to do with Thanksgiving?
When I was a little girl, I was in a situation where I began to feel very overwhelmed. I was at Vacation Bible School and we were making a craft. It was a place mat of some sort and we had to lace up yarn around the edges to hold the pieces together.
I was a pretty independent child, teen, adult, which is another reason why prayer is so hard for me by the way, but this project was not working for me. As I watched the other children get farther and farther ahead on their projects, I began to feel more and more desperate. The teacher was helping someone else and I did not know what to do. When the first child was completely finished, I could no longer hide my state. I burst out crying and everyone looked at me. The teacher came and asked what was wrong and I said, “I can’t do this by myself.” She began to help and reassure me and the other kids began to encourage me even showing me their work and how to do it correctly.
So maybe the story of my prayer life is really just a story of pride and humility. Pride says I wont ask for help even though I need it desperately. Pride says I’ll keep trying all day to do it myself even though I know I can’t. Pride says I’ll study books on how to pray but I won’t actually spend much time praying. Pride says I will believe God for others’situations but not my own. Pride says I would rather fail than ask for help. Humility, on the other hand, says simply, “I can’t do this by myself.”
I am really thankful that the Lord is teaching me to ask for help. Because he isn’t an overworked, underpaid Vacation Bible School teacher with so many other children to preoccupy him. He promised to always be available if I will just ask. And when I ask, He often places some of his other children beside me to encourage and help me with the parts I can’t seem to figure out. Others still show me their work and I learn how to do mine correctly.
When I do not pray, it is usually because I am being prideful. Pride gets angry when it asks for something God fails to provide – especially if it has been asking for that something for a long time. When we want something good and right and just and God just keeps asking us to wait and forgive. Forgive and wait.
So, back to Sunday school. When I was a little girl I had one particular Sunday school teacher who I loved. She was fun and she was so, so pretty. Her name was Jane. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. And I thought, “Jane has brown hair. I have brown hair. Maybe I will grow up to look like her.” She was so beautiful.
Right now I am that same little girl looking at you strong pray-ers. When a person spends time – really spends time with the Lord in prayer, they radiate God’s grace. They look like him. They talk like him. They act like him. They have a peace because they trust him. Pray-ers are like Jesus. And they are beautiful to be around.
I do not remember one thing Jane taught about in Sunday school. But I do remember her well because she was so beautiful to me and that left an impression. I even named my first daughter Mia Jane after her. (Mia from another girl I’d met briefly who was also an exceptionally beautiful brunette.) Jane did not leave an impression on me because of what she said or thought or taught or did. I remember Jane to this day because of who she was. She never knew her part in my life. She never heard about how much I admired her. She never got accolades for her work and investment in me personally. But her very identity – the physical features and unique disposition that God gave her outwardly – was what set her apart and made being a Sunday school teacher who sacrificed for children who don’t remember what you teach them appealing to me. I wanted to be just like her.
That is the purpose of being a pray-er. That is the heart of learning to pray well. Often, it is not what you say or do that changes things or attracts others to the gospel. It is who you are – a Christian who loves God so beautifully that it does not matter if you get accolades, admiration, approval, preference, position, or even ever see growth or change in those for whom he calls you to pray – it is simply who you are intrinsically that changes people and makes the gospel attractive. That is what makes us beautiful to a world living in despair.
I want to look like Jane inside. I believe God is calling me to prayer in order to make me as spiritually beautiful and attractive to a post-Christian culture as Jane was physically beautiful and attractive to a pre-Christian child. I can’t help but be thankful for that.