I am sometimes hesitant to share a testimony too early in its infancy since it is based largely on early returns and is still a work in progress. However, I can’t help but share how my prayer life – and life in general – has been completely changed by recognizing one key. Since recognizing this key, not only has my actual prayer life grown, but there’s been an incredible peace throughout my daily life; I have less anxiety; there is less – to no – inner monologue of negativity in my thoughts; my attitude is instead generally characterized by praise; I face the day with the feeling of inevitability that victory is mine; and I find myself naturally eager and willing to talk with people about spiritual matters, rather than trying to figure out a way to force it into conversations.
What is that key? Not to sound like a salesman, but it is very simple. When I pray, I don’t ask God for anything; instead, I thank Him for everything. This is because we are changed into the image of whatever our minds dwell upon. So if my prayer life consists of asking God for something, then my mind will believe that it is only a possibility, that it is incomplete, that it may not be God’s will. And thus my life will be characterized by a half-hearted spirituality where I wait for God to act at some yet-to-be-determined time in the future.
But if I am praying by faith, and thanking God for what He has already promised in His Word, then I will be changed into that image because I am focusing on an accomplished fact, rather than a mere potentiality.
And this has the power to change. After all, Peter tells us that we have “been given . . . exceedingly great and precious promises that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). So if God has “given” us great and precious promises, we have the privilege of simply laying a hold of those by faith, knowing that they are God’s will for our lives; and thus to ask Him for them is a redundancy and powerless. Prayer simply comes along and grabs on to them by faith. And this is what the prayer life does.
Let me give you three recent examples from my life:
1. Last week, I decided to start really praying for my church members. I was inspired by an article by my former seminary professor, Joseph Kidder, in which he said he decided to pray for his church for eight hours a day, for one day a week. He didn’t seem to ever get to eight hours, but he found himself praying for 1-2 hours; and God brought awesome results.
I got inspired by this, but then said, “But how can I even pray one hour for my members, without getting bored?” After all, there’s only so many times you can pray “be with” this person or “be with” that person. This is boring and powerless.
But then I realized that I could pray the promises of God on behalf of my members – and to simply thank God for what was already true, based upon His Word. So I started to do just that. I went down my membership list and prayed for my various members; even the ones that I had never seen or heard of before.
For those who were not attending, I prayed this powerful promise, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day” (Ezek 34:12). I simply thanked God that He was searching for His scattered sheep and believed that He was doing what He said He was doing. This took the pressure off me and gave me the ability to simply join up with God in His work, rather than begging Him to do it or thinking I had to carry the load.
Grasping this promise by faith, I started to feel impressed to contact some of the members that I was praying for and just tell them that I was praying for them. One of the ladies, who I had never seen before, I decided to call – in the off chance that her number was still working. It was! It turns out that she is a 75-year-old woman who hadn’t attended my church since the 1960s. She was delighted to hear from me and we had a 15 minute conversation. She asked me about one of the ladies that had been instrumental in bringing her into the church and I informed her that she was now in a nursing home. When I told her which nursing home she was in, she was amazed to discover that it was the same nursing home where she had just retired as a nurse from, and a place where she still volunteered. She planned to go visit the woman at her earliest chance.
I plan to continue to pray for this woman, of course, and continue to reach out to her – believing that God is working on her by His Spirit.
Prayer, when characterized by thankfulness, simply laid a hold by faith of what Christ was already doing. He, after all, promised He would search for His sheep who were scattered. And I am simply joining up with Him.
2. Having a thankful prayer life has also given me a spirit of gratitude and peace throughout my day. I find that since my attitude has already been set on the course of gratitude from the beginning of the day, I am more easily able to deal with adversity, temptation, or opportunities for frustration. Victory thus comes, not in the moment, but in the prayer closet. Because, when temptation assails me, I am not trying to react at the moment but am merely acting from the attitude that has already been established from the morning – an attitude of faith and thankfulness.
Let me say it again: victory does not come in the moment but in the prayer closet. So many times I have tried to fight temptation in the moment by quoting Bible promises or exerting my willpower. But when victory is achieved in the prayer closet, when these temptations come my way they just bounce off me because they are not even alluring to me. My course has already been set another direction – set upon the goodness and love of Christ which is far more attractive to me than any temptation that might assail me.
For example, last week, when we were down in Massachusetts, I had already deduced that Camille was going to want to stop at Ikea on our way back to Maine. Normally, I would have pouted about this and ultimately given in begrudgingly. I’m not a big fan of shopping, and Ikea tends to be a zoo. But, having begun my day in the Spirit with a heart of gratitude, my attitude was already able to handle the proposition. And it wasn’t a big deal!
So when Camille said a little while later, “Hey, I was thinking we should stop at Ikea,” I said, “Oh, yeah, I figured you would want to – and that’s cool.”
3. This morning, I woke up very discouraged and plagued by a dooming thought. For the first part of the morning, I was greatly troubled by it and I couldn’t shake it. I figured I ought to try to get rid of the thought through various means, but the thought kept creeping back into my mind. My proclivity would have been to pray to God and ask Him to get rid of the thoughts; to cause them to vanish. I would have then wallowed in the thoughts for a while until something else distracted me from them.
But then I decided to take a different route. I opened up my Bible to 2 Corinthians 3:18 and simply thanked God for His promise: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” At that moment I didn’t feel like God was transforming me into His image, but I claimed the truth of it by faith and thanked Him for it; and right then and there, in the blink of an eye, the anxiety and foreboding thoughts vanished.
I realized it was not my battle to fight – that God has promised that He is transforming me into His image, and so my “job” is to simply take Him at His word and believe that He is, in fact, doing it. And thus I don’t spend my day fretting about and analyzing my inner motives, or beating myself up for wrong thoughts, or worrying about pending temptations, or regretting something I did or didn’t do. I simply praise God for the forgiveness He has given and the victory He has promised, and grasp them by faith – moment by moment.
And this is the key thought in all this: if my prayer life is characterized by complaining to God about my misery, my woe, my situation, my sin, my circumstances, then I am simply going to continue wallowing in the mud of my despair. Because we become what we think about. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
On the other hand, if my prayer life is characterized by always asking God to do something in my life (or in the life of my church), then my life will be characterized by an incompleteness, a wavering, a waiting for God to do something at some point. This is what my prayers have been chiefly characterized by in my life; and then I keep wondering why God hasn’t acted yet – thinking that He will at some point, I guess.
But if my prayer life is defined by thankfulness, this means that I am simply acknowledging that what God says is true is true. This is because God has given us ample evidence of what His will is in our lives, and I can simply pray the will of God. I know He wants me to be sanctified, that He wants me to be transformed, that He has already forgiven Me. So why do I have to keep asking Him to do it – as if there was any doubt that He is trying to do it? As James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receiving anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8).
These Scriptures are starting to make sense to me as never before!
So when God says He is taking away my heart of stone and giving me a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26), my “job” is to believe that it is so and lay hold of this promise by faith. And so I find my mind dwelling upon the reality of what God says is true – and this has the power to change my life, because “by beholding we become changed.” If I behold God in His power, my life will be characterized by much power.
I am always skeptical, of course, of individuals who present prayer as a “formula,” and I am not prescribing this method for you – as if it has some power within itself. But I do believe it is the key to change one’s prayer life and one’s life. I have seen it for myself.
And thus I truly understand, for the first time, this powerful thought by Ellen White: “Prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence” (Steps to Christ, p. 95).