When I was in grade 4 I had a crush. He was completely lovely and totally cute and he sat opposite me. I let him borrow my textas, which I arranged in perfect colour order on my desk. My crush on Nathan Carr is the earliest crush I remember having, and I had visions of sneaking out of my room and walking along the beach with him, hand in hand. Being 9, innocent and ever optimistic, I decided to write this fantasy down in a love letter to Nathan. I agonised over whether or not to sign my name at the end, and then decided that I should so that he could fall in love with me and we could live happily ever after.
One Thursday, I hung around after class and left the letter in his tow tray for him to find in the morning. It was definitely the most agonising night of my life. I was paralysed with fear of rejection, and the anticipation of the possibility of the glorious future that lay before us! When I arrived at school the next day, it was clear that he had received my letter. His brother and all his grade 6 friends rode right up to me on their intimidating razor scooters with the letter in their hands, saying “Jordan? Are you Jordan? Want to walk along the beach with me too?”
Oh, the agony of a broken heart! I spent the whole weekend wishing I could attach a paper bag permanently to my face so that no one would ever recognise me again. Note to self: NEVER SIGN YOUR NAME ON A LOVE LETTER. Period.
Sometimes, prayer can feel a bit like writing a love letter to a boy you have a crush on. You feel vulnerable, nervous, and you’re not sure what the answer will be. You have a vision of what things could be if God answers positively, but live in fear of your prayer being rejected. I spend a lot of time with high schoolers and uni students, and one of the most common questions I hear – from both Christians and non-Christians – is, ‘Why do we bother praying if God’s will is going to be done anyway? Does God even hear us? And if he does, why doesn’t he answer us?’
We pray fervently for opportunities to tell a friend about Jesus, and when we it comes up, all we can do is babble and blubber. We pray for guidance about decision-making, and all we seem to receive is white noise. We pray for healing, and we can practically hear the chorus of crickets from heaven. It’s embarrassing. There have been many times that I have wondered if there’s a divine frequency that I’m not tuned in to. Is there a SCAN button that I need to navigate in order to get in touch with God? And yet, we are implored to ‘pray without ceasing’! So what are we missing here? Surely if God wanted us to pray, he would make it a more fruitful experience!
The key to understanding the cosmic, earth-shaking power and value of prayer can be found right there in Matthew 6, when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. The line vibrates and dances right beneath our noses, but is so little acknowledged or understood amongst the repetition of the liturgy at Sunday night church. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Friends, the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in our hearts is centred on conforming us to the likeness of Jesus Christ, who, when faced with death, boldly declared ‘Not my will, but your will be done’. We submit all things to the Lord, by prayer and petition and thanksgiving, in order that His good and perfect will might be manifest in every sphere of our lives. The very purpose of unceasing prayer is that every relationship, every anxiety, every situation, every decision, every joy, every trial, and every doubt is brought before the Lord in order that you might catch a glimpse of the vision that He has for the destiny of His Kingdom and your position in it.
Dietrich Bonheoffer writes, ever so profoundly, ‘Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays’. When we ask, ‘Why bother praying if God’s will is going to be done anyway?’ we are, maybe accidentally, getting to the very heart of the purpose of prayer. It’s not that God might conform to your plans and your dreams, but that by His glorious grace, he might transform your heart to want what he wants. And isn’t that the profound mystery of the gospel – that our gracious God invites us into His love letter, which is the story of a God who loved his people so much that he would go to extravagant lengths to win them back. Now whose love letter is it, really?