I try to pray with my son before his nap each afternoon. Often it sounds something like this: “Dear Jesus, please give Isaiah a good rest, so that he can wake up refreshed, (so he won’t be fussy and I can get lots of stuff done).”
One afternoon at the end of my prayer, as I left my son to continue playing with his toy smartphone in his crib, I felt God asking me what else I wanted Him to do in my son’s life.
Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Open Hands, says, “The prayer of little faith makes us cling to the concrete circumstances of the present situation in order to win a certain security. . . wishes which beg for immediate fulfillment.”
Sometimes, my days alternate between feeling sorry for myself (when there’s a huge pile of dishes to be washed, child throwing a tantrum, or my efficiency plans get tossed in the trash) and feeling sorry for others (when my brain stops long enough to realizes there are other people around me and around the world who are going through unimaginable hardships).
When I pray, I want to see God act. “Help the people affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Let things go smoothly with my friend’s delivery. Heal my mom’s foot pain.”
Praying With Hope
But what if God doesn’t seem to be answering? Part of living a life of faith involves praying with hope.
Nouwen says, “If you pray with hope, all those concrete requests are ways of expressing your unlimited trust in God, who fulfills all promises, who holds out for you nothing but good, and who wants to share goodness and love with you.”
He goes on to say that “Our numerous requests simply become the concrete way of saying that we trust in the fullness of God’s goodness. . . expressing an unlimited faith in the giver of all good things” (p. 46).
So how do we pray with that kind of hope? Dictionary.com uses words like believe, desire, trust and rely when defining the word hope.
Hope and faith go hand in hand. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
According to Nouwen, “Hope includes an openness where you wait for the promise to be delivered., even though you never know when, where or how this might happen” (p. 43)
It’s easy to hope in things we feel are under our control–our home, children, work, even the reliability of our car. These securities can cause us to forget the One who is in charge of it all. When the roadblocks do come and our feelings of control are shattered, our loving Father is always there with His arms out to welcome us back to His peace.
When we practice praying with hope in God, the roadblocks we encounter can draw us into even deeper intimacy with Him.
One way God has guided me in prayers of hope is through focusing on what He’s already started doing in the world. Here are five areas we can pray with Him.
1. For unbelievers to know Him.
Tragedies occur every second of every day. Natural disasters and evil people make others suffer and die. We live in a broken, sin-stained world. But since the beginning of time, God’s desire has been for people to know Him. As we pray for deliverance, comfort and relief for those in pain, we can also pray that through it people would know Jesus. We can even pray for terrorists, dictators, and murderers to be brought to their knees in surrender to Christ.
2. For people to remember Him.
We are forgetful people, and pain can shock us into remembering who is really important. I don’t need to pray for my son’s life to be hard. It will be. But I can ask that God would use his hardships to draw him closer to Jesus.
Some of my friends have recently had babies. I’ve prayed that the babies would sleep well at night and cry less. I’ve prayed for healing in the mothers and protection from depression. But nothing can prevent it from being a hard season, so I can also pray that in all the difficult moments, these moms would feel God’s presence with them. I can pray that as their babies need them constantly, they would be reminded of their need for Jesus.
3. For daily communion with Him.
Many times we can’t relieve people’s struggles. It’s impossible for life to be easy for my friends living overseas. Language, cultural blunders, and going from shop to shop just trying to find floss is exhausting. I pray for deliverance from their current struggles. But I can also pray that through the challenges, they would have a deeper communion with Jesus.
4. For Him to use us to shine His light and glory to the world.
We are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4), and God often uses our broken places to shine His light. When we are vulnerable enough to share our struggles with other people, it gives us the chance to point to Jesus.
We serve a Savior who was perfect so we don’t have to pretend we are. Instead, we can pray that God would use our experiences in the daily grind of life to show others His greatness. And why not even thank God for how He’s going to display His glory through people we’re trusting Him to bring to the faith?
5. For us to live in the hope of heaven.
No other religion can offer this sure hope to those who only see suffering ahead of them on earth. When my son cries, it seems like the world has been drained of all happiness. When I read the news, I often wish I hadn’t. The suffering is too much to imagine.
Whether the pain is slight or suffocating, God is always there, holding out the hope of eternity. It’s always within reach.
Nouwen reminds us that, “Prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you are open to God’s promises, and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world” (p. 79).
Let’s ask God to guide us in that hope, so that we can delight in Him as we share it with others.