Written by: Rev. Nathan Hill
I have been reading a book on prayer recently that has compelled me to think more about my personal practice of prayer as well as the corporate practice of prayer in the ministries that I lead as a pastor. This book is different than I expected—it is not ten simple ways to enhance your prayer life. Rather, it is a combination of biblical content and testimony that compels the reader to re-think the ways that they connect with God through prayer.
Essentially, there is “praying for” something…and then there is “praying through” something. When we pray at mealtime, we generally take less than a minute. Prayers longer than a minute, while piping hot foot is sitting on our plates, are generally met with a snicker—and this is ok! A brief reminder that all we have comes from God is sufficient for the context. Sometimes throughout the day we are reminded of a person or a situation and we mutter a sincere “God be with this/them” in the midst of our other daily tasks of work, children, and ministry. This too is a sincere way to approach God and suits the context.
But then there is “praying through”. This is different in its intensity, longevity, consistency, and urgency. This is also something that must be intentionally built into our lives because it will not just happen by accident. This is a commitment to constant prayer until something on heaven and earth moves. Has there ever been a crisis in your home or your church? Have you ever been with someone who was suffering a medical crisis? Has there ever been something that cut you or someone you care about so deeply that you feel as though you could not carry on in life until there was divine intervention? These are the times that we pray through…a short prayer for something just seems trivial.
There was a time when I was at a gathering of Christians and an individual collapsed. Once the individual was removed from the gathering to seek medical help, those in charge of the gathering “prayed for” the situation and then moved on with the other necessary items to be cared for. Meanwhile, a nurse from the gathering exited to provide continuous medical care for the individual. I felt compelled in that moment that this was a situation that needed to be “prayed through” and not just “prayed for”—if not by the corporate gathering than by at least one individual. Prayer was needed until the crisis was over. So, I myself slipped out of the gathering, found the individual lying on the couch, and while the nurse performed her assessment of the physical, visible situation I interceded on behalf of the spiritual, unseen situation. That moment was a kind of holistic “whole-person” care that we do not see or experience very much in our culture today.
Many times we want to do something…we are just not sure what to do and so we stand back and awkwardly stare a crisis in the face. Just like a first responder is told to take charge when they arrive at a crisis situation, those of us who know God can take charge of the unseen forces and pray through any situation.
When the disciples returned to Jesus having failed in their task of driving out a demon, Jesus’ response was that these things only come out through prayer and fasting. In the same way, I believe that there are some things that can only be accomplished in the spiritual realm by a prolonged period of prayer or a longer season of consistently bringing something before God. There are some things that can only be accomplished by “praying through”.
I do not want to define what these “some things” are, because I am not sure anyone really can nail it down. There is good place for a measure of mystery and unknown in our relationship with God anyways. If we could always figure Him out, His ways would in fact be our ways. But we know that they are not. Because of this, we need to constantly seek God and practice not only the discipline of “praying for” things, but also the discipline of “praying through” things when the context requires this.
We will never know the impact we might have had on our life or the life of someone else, we will only know of the impact that we did have when we responded to God’s nudge in our heart and “prayed through”.