Fresh Power for Your Prayer Life
WRITTEN BY JODIE BERNDT // IMAGE BY KIRA BAUTISTA
Our 21-year-old daughter, Virginia, was headed to New York City, having landed the summer internship of her dreams.
My husband and I knew almost nothing about Big Apple life, other than that it was crowded, loud, fast-paced, and incredibly pricey. I wasn’t at all certain that our girl could find something that she could afford and I wondered where she would live.
“Don’t worry!” Virginia assured us. “I know lots of people there; I’m sure I can find a place to sub-let.”
I wasn’t worried (well, not too much, anyway), but I figured a little Divine help couldn’t hurt “Lord,” I prayed, “please provide Virginia with a peaceful dwelling place, one where she can enjoy security and undisturbed periods of rest.”
I didn’t make up that prayer; I borrowed it from Isaiah 32:18, a passage that talks about what happens when God pours out his Spirit. If peaceful and secure dwelling places were part of God’s best plan for his people, I wanted him to loop Virginia in, too.
Praying this way—couching my requests in the language of Scripture—is one of my most favorite approaches to prayer. And again, it’s not anything I made up; it’s simply how I read Christ’s invitation (some would say his command) in John 15:7.
“If you abide in me,” Jesus says, “and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
I’ll be honest and let you know that when I first read those words, I didn’t think they were intended for me. I mean, I know that all of God’s word was written for all of his people, but this particular passage—what with its emphasis on “abiding” and all—just seemed so…passive. Like it had been penned for the Marys of the world, more than the Marthas. For people who actually liked to sit down.
Plus, I didn’t even know what it meant to “abide.”
Clearly, though, it seemed to matter to Jesus. I started asking around.
“Do you know what it means to “abide” in Jesus?” I asked my long-time prayer partner, Margaret (who’s like Siri, only better, on Bible questions).
“I think it’s a choice we make,” she said. “It’s that sweet spot where we can experience Christ—all that he is and all that he has for us—in the midst of this world.”
That sounded appealing. I wanted more.
I picked up Warren Wiersbe. His writing has been a faithful friend to me over the years, ever since I discovered Be Joyful—his commentary on Philippians—as a college student. Here again, he did not disappoint: “Abiding,” Wiersbe wrote, “means to keep in fellowship with Christ so that His life can work in us and through us to produce fruit.”
That definitely kindled my interest! Words like “work in us” and “produce fruit” didn’t sound at all passive. They sounded dynamic.
Active. Productive…in the best kind of way.
I decided to take God at his word. Instead of coming to him in prayer with a laundry list of to-do’s and hoping that he would—like some sort of fairy godmother or magician—grant at least three of my wishes, I decided to do some abiding. To stay connected to Christ, and to allow his word—the principles and the promises I read in the Bible—to shape my perspective. To animate my thinking. To influence my prayers.
And an amazing thing happened.
The more I dug into Scripture—trying to see what God thought about stuff—the more my desires and requests started lining up with what God already wanted to do!
I realized that I wasn’t initiating or providing blessings in the lives of my loved ones, but I was inviting God to unleash them, in his timing and in his perfect way.
I felt like I’d tapped into a fresh power source for my prayers.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, verses like Hebrews 4:12 point to the sharpness and usefulness of God’s word, and in Isaiah 55:11, God tells us that his word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” Which is a verse, I think, that points directly toward Christ’s John 15 promise. Because when he tells us to stay connected to him, to let his words dwell in our hearts, and to ask him for stuff, Jesus is issuing that command for a reason. “By this,” he says in John 15:8, “my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Having used the Bible to give shape to my prayers for more than 25 years, I’ve come to realize that there is not a need we will face in parenting—or in any of life—that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in his word.
And when we tap into his promises as our power source, three things really do happen:
First, God is glorified (because we’re asking him to do the very things that he longs to do).
Second, our lives bear much fruit (as in, our prayers produce an abundant harvest of blessings, opening the door to everything from salvation and protection to things like wisdom, peace, and joy).
And finally, we prove ourselves to be Christ’s disciples—people who know him, who trust him, and who long to partner with him in accomplishing his kingdom purposes here on earth.
So when we pray this way—when we allow God’s word to give birth to our prayers—do we always get what we want? Does God have to do what we ask?
I’ll give you two answers to that very good question.
The first one is no. God does not have to do what we ask. In fact, back when I was praying Isaiah 32:18 over Virginia’s big city apartment, God’s answer didn’t look at all like what I was asking. She found a place, to be sure. But it was sandwiched between a stable (where the horse-and-buggy vendors lodged their animals every night) and a strip club.
To her credit (and to God’s), it was affordable.
(Needless to say, I was glad that I knew some good prayers for Virginia’s protection that summer. I think I wore God out with Psalm 5:11-12, “Spread your protection over Virginia; cover her with your favor as with a shield.”)
And the second answer to the “do we always get what we want” question is also no. Because God almost never does just what we ask. He almost always does something better, according to his nature in Ephesians 3:20 (he is “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think”).
Tim Keller puts it this way: When we pray, he writes, “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”
Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I love the idea that my Heavenly Father either gives me what I desire, or what I would desire, if I had his perspective. He gives me what he knows my heart—the one that’s connected to his—really wants.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m glad God’s not a magician, or some sort of fairy godmother. I’m glad that when outcomes are uncertain, he knows what we need. And I’m glad that instead of always looking for the gift, I can focus my eyes on, and anchor my trust in, the Giver.