I believe in prayer. I believe that it works, that it changes things for the better. But more than that, I believe that praying works in me, that it changes me for the better.
I’m a list person. I keep lists of all kinds of things, and two are related to prayer. One is a list of things I’m currently praying for. Some of those things are so much on my mind that I don’t even have to write them down, while others are needs that friends have asked me to pray for or situations that I have read about or seen on the news and felt moved to pray for. When anything seems to warrant more than a one-time prayer in passing, onto my list it goes.
About three thousand years ago, a wise man named Agur said, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand.”
Really? I used to think. Only four? Of course, he did pick four good ones.1
I recently considered some of the ways I benefit from prayer. I was especially reflecting on various aspects of stability and clarity—inner poise and grace—that prayer adds to my life. In keeping with Agur’s group of four, here are my top four gains.
Prayer—secret, fervent, believing prayer—lies at the root of all personal godliness.
—William Carey (1761–1834), English missionary
Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.
—E.M. Bounds (1835–1913), American minister and author
When I sat down to write an article about prayer for this magazine, I heard a little inner voice say, “You can’t do that. You don’t pray enough!”
That set me back a bit, and I had to think about it. It’s certainly true that I don’t pray as much as I could and probably should. So instead of writing, I closed my laptop and went to the kitchen to prepare the dough and start slicing toppings for a pizza dinner. Meanwhile, I couldn’t shake that thought. Do I pray enough?
What may seem logical to you in a particular situation isn’t necessarily right, because you’re human and fallible. It also may not be the way I see it, because “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”1
You may be able to figure some things out and get some things right, but you’ll do much better if you learn to ask Me for My insight and solutions.
Question: You say that God can and wants to turn my personal weaknesses into strong points. I’ve prayed for that, but so far nothing has changed. Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?
Answer: It sounds like you expect God to work an overnight wonder in you, with nothing required of you beyond wanting and praying to do better. That’s not the way it works. God will do for you what only He can do, but He also expects you to do what you can. It takes both. Personal growth is a partnership.
“Grandma, why do you always pray before you drive?” The question came from my eight-year-old grandson. He and I had been vacationing at the beach with his uncle and cousins, and we were about to start the five-hour drive home in the rain. My two grandsons, who are about the same age and had become inseparable, were traveling with me.
The 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon said something that to me defines the role of a Christian in regard to prayer. “As artists give themselves to their models, and poets to their classical pursuits, so must we addict ourselves to prayer.”
I must admit, though, that at times I have had a hard time maintaining a strong prayer life. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to pray—to the contrary—I just had a hard time sticking to my good intentions. It seemed that whenever I’d try to pray, thoughts would flood my mind and I would quickly find myself embroiled in other things.