My breathing was shallow and unsatisfying.
Palms sweaty as I gripped my bag, ears perked to listen for my name, eyes wide open staring at the ticket agent who held my destiny, and my feet – ready to sprint towards the gate to catch the plane back home.
This is what it feels like to fly standby. I went through this routine at least 4 times a year during the decade I lived in Russia. Usually, it was just a matter of selfish impatience, but I remember one particular standby experience where I was trying to get home before a precious loved-one died. The stakes were high. I felt completely out of control, yet every fiber within me was ready to do something, anything, to get what my heart desired – a seat on a plane.
What do you do in moments when your heart urgently longs for something, but you have no control over whether or not you get it? You might try to finagle or manipulate to tilt the odds in your favor. You beg with God to move on your behalf. You may just rehearse your wish over and over again in your conscious mind while trying to prepare your heart for disappointment. If you are like me, you may try a combination of these approaches.
That got me thinking. What is the difference between a prayer and a wish? I am a part of a community that shares prayer “requests” freely and often.
“I really need a job.”
“We put a contract on the perfect house.”
“I can’t find my wedding ring.”
“The doctor found a problem with our unborn child.”
“I have cancer.”
“The average age of a person being trafficked in our city is 12 years old.”
“Systemic violence has trapped thousands of people in poverty with no hope of escaping.”
“Refugees are flooding into Europe in staggering numbers with no food, no shelter, no hope.”
Whether big or small, we all have circumstances that weigh on our hearts. Completely out of our control, our souls are consumed with the outcome.
So, when does a desire for a specific outcome turn into a prayer? What keeps it from remaining a wish left to chance – impotent and elusive?
The Bible has some things to say about this…
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Jesus speaking in Luke 11:9-13
Take delight in the lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4
He (Jesus) went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Matthew 26:39
The difference in a wish and a prayer is in who receives it. You see, prayer isn’t just a sentiment, it is communication. You learn in school that communication takes a sender and a receiver. It isn’t communication unless someone gets the message. At it’s best, prayer goes beyond communication to a conversation. A conversation implies a relationship. The kind of conversations that are most satisfying are those that happen with people who “get” us. They are safe. We are free to share ourselves – hopes, dreams, failures, without trust being broken or having to fear that our words will be used against us later on. Beyond the transfer of information, a conversation serves to build the intimacy in the relationship itself. It is a beautifully complex element necessary to any loving relationship.
So how can we dare to hope that a holy God would hear our big concerns much less our fleeting desires, much less do anything about it? It is because of these five truths.
He is infinitely powerful.
He is all present and all knowing.
He himself satisfied the consequences of our failures.
He is good and kind.
He loves you.
How do we know this? Well, we wouldn’t know it unless He revealed it to us. One of the most important sources of revelation is the Bible. Is it reliable? Is it authoritative? I believe it is. I bank my life on it. And while, much like my own parents did with me in my childhood, God doesn’t always give me everything single thing I desire, I trust His love and His goodness even when things don’t go as I think that they should. I know it will ultimately work out for my best. How do I know that?
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28
Prayer is much easier to talk about than do. Even those of us who realize that it is essential to living a life of purpose, impact and fulfillment struggle with doing it – much like we struggle with any relationship. While we don’t have to go through the ritual of physically folding our hands, closing our eyes and speaking out loud, we do have to direct our desires to a conversation with God himself who is always waiting to hear even the smallest issue on our hearts. He is the only one who has the power to advocate on our behalf, knowing what is best for each one of us, and He blesses us beyond our imaginations when we merely choose to have the conversation with Him in the first place.
If you want to learn more about the reliability of the Bible, click here.