I fear that too many of us approach prayer with a mental picture of ourselves making a laborious attempt to come before God. Or, maybe we have a picture of ourselves trying and mostly failing to get God’s attention. Either way, the effort is all ours. The distance between heaven and earth appears too big to bridge, and our burdens seem trivial. They are dwarfed by God’s vastness, and they are lost in the cacophony of prayers being made across the planet at any given moment.
I’ve learned that prayer is not about little people waving their puny arms in God’s face. Nor is prayer like my own small voice pushing aside all others in order to make its way into God’s ear.
Rather, prayer is like a river. It is always flowing, and we are not its source. Its source is the Christ “who was raised to life,” for we know that He “is at the right hand of God . . . interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
To pray is to step into the rushing water.
Even the words we say are not our own. We pray, like Christ, “Abba, Father.” Instead of distance there is the intimacy of family.
And when we have no words? We groan, but even in this we are not alone. Our groan joins that of creation (and who can doubt that creation groans?). Even better, our groans are echoed in God’s own heart, for the Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). Our pain, our uncertainty transformed by God himself into powerful, purposeful prayer.
Quieting myself, I can just hear the sound of the river. It is the sound of One singing over us, and His voice “is like the sound of rushing waters” (Zephaniah 3:17, Revelation 1:15).
How do we find this river? How do we hear its voice? And, most importantly, how do we jump in?
I’m not sure that I’ve figured it out. All I know with certainty is that the river is there and sometimes it finds its way to me.
This week it found many of us at a monthly women’s worship service focused on the arts. Women sang, women danced, women spoke, and women painted. Yes, painted.
Some of us took Sharpie markers and wrote our prayers on one of several large, blank canvases. Of course, I wrote the name of my boy. I wrote the word Fear. I wrote the word Food. And then the painters began to pray and create, and our words were caught up in swirls of color.
By the end of the service, the canvas I had chosen (or the canvas chosen for me?) was covered in a wild rush of water. The artist’s brush had spelled out across it: “The Healing River Flows.”
How could I ever think that my prayer for healing is mine alone? Or even that I am its source?
The source of my prayer is Christ. The same one who gave me these words when I first prayed for a child: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). Back then, I read those words and knew that my prayer had been answered.
Now I know that “answered” is not really the best word-picture for what sometimes happens when we pray. Instead, it is less like being spoken to and more like being swept away by water that was always already pushing in the direction we longed to go.
We don’t need to fight to get God’s attention. We do need to remember that our Savior with the voice like water has never stopped praying over us.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb . . .” (Revelation 22:1).