My heart knows nothing quite like being a witness to the passionate prayers of another Christian... it stirs my heart in ways I struggle to describe.
I didn't grow up in an evangelical church / household and as such, prayers were rarely heard out loud and even reading the Bible was not openly practiced nor encouraged. This left me feeling as though spirituality was something privately shared between an individual and God, and to be honest, it left me with more questions than answers.
Years later when I began to see people praying out loud, I was surprised. People did this? And not just out of a book or a text in front of the church?
I fell in love with hearing others pray, especially my friend Michelle, with her prayers so tender, eloquently simple and beautiful. Being witness to someone's prayer seems like an intimate glimpse into their passionate love for Christ, and it often left me feeling overwhelmed but also in awe.
Even though I loved to hear others pray out loud, I dreaded being asked to do the same. I felt completely inadequate! Up to that point, my prayer life took the most direct path, from my heart to God's. I was quite comfortable with the status quo, feeling free to pray intensely, gently, joyfully, tearfully, gently, brokenly and every way in between, every prayer wrapped in passion and love for the Lord who would receive those prayers. Sometimes my prayers were felt, prayers I couldn't describe or put words to. I knew that regardless of how I prayed, God would stand in the gap of whatever I failed to express... that even without words, He would hear what my heart brought to Him.
I felt it wouldn't be the same if I prayed in front of someone else, someone who'd simply hear my meager words and offerings for Him. My gift is for the written word; speaking comes less naturally. Someone may be disappointed by the little I had to offer when they asked me to speak up. It felt more like a stage than an altar when prayer had an audience of more than One, and that left me very uncomfortable.
Then last November while visiting with two of my best friends, Tia and Elizabeth, Tia asked me to pray out loud with her. I knew this was important to her, so I braved it and did the best I could. She took it a step further and encouraged me to continue doing so daily. She has heard me pray countless times since and keeps encouraging me.
Tia's lessons reminded me of a gift I'd been given long ago. Elizabeth had prayed out loud for me back on February 18th, 2005, at a time of critical need. It was one of the very few things I remembered from being in the hospital that week, and it left an indelible imprint on my heart. Beyond that, her prayers had led to an unforgettable and humanly inexplicable healing that very night. What if she had not been willing to pray out loud? What if my reluctance to pray out loud robbed someone else of the same gift she had given me?
God brought it all together in His perfect time. Our week in Honduras was filled with prayer time and I knew that praying out loud would be inevitable. Still, in the presence of those whose prayers seemed like a sacred spiritual symphony, I felt as though mine were meager and weak. I'll never forget holding hands with Damary and Maria while Bessy and I listened to their powerful, passionate, intense time of prayer, and feeling as though I had been witness to a sacred, intimate moment between these women and God... which both left me in awe and unsure of my own prayers.
Why couldn't I pray out loud the same way I pray when it's just Jesus and I? Why won't the words and the passion flow the same way they're felt? Is that an indication of my prayer life, my faith and my relationship with God? The enemy wanted nothing more than to let the doubt creep in.
Not wanting the enemy to continue to whisper this uncertainty to me and to take away from my time with the people of Honduras, I came home asking myself "what should a prayer sound like, look like, feel like?" It wasn't about learning to pray exactly like them, or being "good enough", it was about understanding what God expected from me personally. I've spent the last few weeks seeking answers and refocusing on what prayer means to me.
Prayer means conversation -- it isn't necessarily something one sided! Imagine your child coming to you, pouring their heart out in a passionate prayer of gratefulness and of heartfelt cries, and not being given the opportunity to respond to your child? Imagine how God feels when we do this!? What if it's not that God isn't responding to our prayers, it's that we're getting in the way of His attempts to respond to us? Are we truly listening to Him?
Prayers shouldn't be put in a box, forced into a peg hole, nor are they one size fits all. They are unique to the individual, to the circumstances, to the emotion, and to the relationship between God and the person praying. If a certain level of prayer had to be attained in order for God to take note of our prayers, if prayers were measured and put on a scale... we'd all be in serious trouble because the responses may be pro-rated in accordance with our proficiency. What a fine mess that would be. In reality, God hears them all, from the unabashed prayer of a young child to the bold prayers for the "sun to stand still" (Joshua 10:12)... from the awkward and simple prayers of the inexperienced to the intense and passionate prayer of the broken hearted... the quiet prayerful meditation spent in silence.... even the prayers without words.
What the enemy wanted to steal from me, he inadvertently made stronger through this introspective experience. Does he realize how counterproductive that is for him? Shhhh!
Whether out loud or inaudible, prayer is as personal and individual as we are.
In the wise words of my friend Tia:
"When God created the mouse, He didn't expect it to roar like a lion... and when He created the lion, He didn't expect it to squeak like a mouse."
It's perfectly OK if I feel more like a mouse when I pray out loud than a majestic lion... I'm going to
In the end, what matters to Him is that I continue to pray intentionally from the heart in a way that's personal and meaningful, and that I grow in my prayer life, always giving Him my best and never settling for just squeaking by.