Do I have anything new to say about experience with prayer? Of all the disciplines this is the one we’ve literally all had experience with. Think about it. You can’t become a Christian without first praying. And then from that point forward your only means of talking to Christ, to learn from him, is but through prayer. What could I possibly add?
All I really have of value to add to the discussion is to share my own experiences with how my prayers have changed. The transformation was gradual and varied in stages depending on the subject matter. To illustrate this process, I’ll reflect on my prayers around a sensitive, ugly subject: human trafficking.
For almost 2 decades, I have prayed over this horrible reality. I, myself, was never a victim nor do I know anyone who has been a victim. But for some reason, perhaps a God reason, the subject has been very close to my heart. And given the length of time I’ve spend praying through and around human trafficking, I’ve noticed my prayers have gone through stages:
- Start with what you know. God always looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He’s not impressed with high & lofty phrases or the depth on our knowledge of a subject. So just approach it with what you know. For me, my earliest prayers were centered on the victims. I prayed for their identity to be preserved and that the perpetrators be brought to justice. Thanked God for ministries like A21, who have the means & wisdom to pull victims out of the fray and rehabilitate them to a “normal” life after years of abuse.
- Sanctified Imagination. What a powerful gift from the Creator himself, who was very imaginative to create the entire universe out of nothing. Instilled within us is the same gift, because we unlike the rest of creation where crafted in His image (Genesis 1:27). If we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, renewing our minds, then our imaginations can be sanctified and used as a powerful tool in prayer.Over time, as I drew closer to the heart of God, my prayers were transformed. Using my imagination, I tried to place myself in the shoes of the victims. I not only thought about the identity of the victims, but expanded to their physical needs.Painfully, I imagined the bruises from being held captive and treated like cattle, the deterioration of their bodies as chemicals were injected against their will, their psyche being broken & their humanity stripped from them. I thought through the conditions they were leaving in, the hopelessness and despair. Having reflected on these things, I wept and felt small.
I imagined justice in full form, breaking in and capturing the perpetrators. That liberty is just around the corner, within minutes of rescuing them. That God had influenced local governments to actively take part in raiding the hideouts. I prayed that all the clues pointed to their whereabouts and once found they could be made whole again.
- Praying the heart of God. Do you know the story behind the song “Amazing Grace”? John Newton, a slave trader, penned it after an encounter with God that changed his life. That’s right, a slave trader. The lyrics reflect his painful realization that he was nothing less than a wretch for what he had done and how redemption came through. You see, the heart of God doesn’t stop at the victims.I began to weep to for the perpetrators. That the humanity of their victims would be restored to their eyes and hearts. I prayed for conviction and redemption.While the world so full of hate would only know them by their deprivation, that they would recognize there is no condemnation in Christ. There is a family that would welcome them in into the fold, where love and God’s grace could heal their broken identities as well. Years of abusing others would leave some deep cuts but they are not terminal. That they would come to grips with what they have done, the depth of its wrongness and repent, so that they could become instruments of grace for others. Their inside knowledge of how trafficking works could bring liberty to so many other victims.
Not all my prayers are that level. For many, I am at stage one. I haven’t had the time or experience to dive that deeply. But the end goal remains the same: to get closer to the heart of God.
Nor is this a perfect model. What about you? Have you noticed your prayers in stages? If so, how would you define them?
Discipline of Prayer Series
Interested in reading more about prayer? Be sure to check out the other posts in the series:
- Spiritual Discipline: Prayer
- Prayer: Lens of Tradition
- Prayer: Lens of Tradition II
- Prayer: Lens of Reason
- Prayer: Lens of Experience