Susanna Wesley strived to spend as much time in prayer as in her many other activities. She led Sunday afternoon church during her husband’s travels, homeschooled her ten children, and kept written records of her time with God. She did this despite facing grief, poverty, health issues, and the challenge of often being apart from her spouse due to his travels. Hard-pressed to find privacy in a full house of ten children, she often prayed with an apron over her head. Her example, however, laid the foundation for the prolific ministries of her sons John and Charles.
Every Wednesday evening from 6 to 7, rain or shine—or even snow—our little band of disciples gathers in our church’s tiny chapel to pray. Our prayer meeting is open to everyone, but there are usually just four to ten people who gather together.
Imagine receiving clothes you chose to never wear, cars you didn’t ever drive, or houses you never lived in. What would be the point? If we’re not going to use those things, we might as well not possess them.
When I was growing up, my mother established a wonderful pattern for our family. Every night before bed, she would gather us around her, open the Bible, and have us take turns reading a few verses. Afterwards we would all briefly discuss the passage, and then we would pray together. No matter how tired she was, my mother would always bring us to the Scriptures.
Sometimes we can feel guilty about our prayer lives. No matter how much we pray, we’re sure it’s never enough. We think we should pray more, but the phone’s ringing or emails are piling up or our toddler just squeezed syrup in her hair. What can we do? Consider this: You just might be praying more than you think!
“I never thought a fence in Finchley could be a place where I encountered God as much as at the Western Wall,” said a man at a retreat I was leading. He was referring to a prayer exercise we did based on the book of Lamentations and some of the Psalms. Using the Western Wall in Jerusalem—the surviving remnant of God’s temple, where pilgrims often slip prayer notes in the cracks—as inspiration, we wrote prayers of lament on slips of paper that we slipped into the cracks and crevices of the church fence as a symbol of releasing them to God. The gentleman who spoke up had recently been to Jerusalem and prayed at the Western Wall, but he also sensed God’s presence at a humble fence in north London.
If my mother could have chosen a super-power, it would have been invisibility. Mom did things the right way every time. She didn’t want anyone to notice anything amiss. Then again, she didn’t want anyone to notice anything at all! Mom was a textbook introvert.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has observed that many believers in Jesus “think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed. . . . I think that’s to get it exactly backwards.” A local church isn’t merely a gathering of people who already have a relationship with Jesus. Meeting together is central to that relationship.
It’s not uncommon for people, whether believers in Jesus or not, to wrestle with God as to why He allows certain things. When it comes to believers, it can shake our faith to see prayers seemingly go unanswered. But the questions we face aren’t new or unique to this age.
After a driver lost control of his vehicle and struck some trees, injuring a passenger with him, he blamed the accident on a spider. He told police that an arachnid on the car’s visor—above his head—distracted him. Fortunately, even though he crashed due to the conflict with this tiny foe, the passenger’s injuries were minor. The damage to the vehicle, however, was not. Things could have been much different if the driver had simply hit the brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and calmly dealt with his eight-legged enemy.
In our nightly prayers with our children, my husband and I like to end with the words Moses used when he instructed Aaron and his sons to bless God’s people (Numbers 6:24-26). This benediction reminds each family member that God loves it when we ask for His protection, favor, grace, and peace.
Maybe it’s just me. But it seems like the world is hurtling out of control, and that all sorts of things are coming undone—institutions, lives, families. I wonder, Has it always been this way?
When I first recognized that the Psalms were not nearly as ‘tidy’ as I’d imagined—but were immensely human and raw—it opened up new ways for me to encounter God. While the Psalms provide us with words to express robust conviction, they also give us words—and permission—to express our doubts. When a child dies or a parent leaves or God seems a million miles away, the Psalms teach us how to gather our fears (not ignore them) and carry them to God.
Dr. Richard Swenson in his book Margin writes, “We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. . . . Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in.”
During WWII, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hailed the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk as a “miracle of deliverance”. The event was so widely celebrated that Churchill had to remind people that “wars are not won by evacuations”.