It’s that time of year again — when the calendar compels us to look back over the preceding year and make plans for the new one. Those reflections and resolutions can encompass many parts of life. Relationships, health, and career goals are popular targets for review. One area that might be neglected is one’s life of prayer.
I know that throughout my life, I have brought many concerns to God in prayer. Some of these have been for very minor issues. Others have literally brought me to my knees with tears of desperation mixing in with the plea. There have been times when the pain has been so intense, I haven’t even been able to form the words and the prayers came entirely as an aching soul reaching out for God. Sometimes, it is hard to see God answering the prayers. Especially in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to sense God’s presence, to trust that He has a plan. There have been times when I clearly prayed for the outcome I wanted. There have been times that things worked out just the way I had hoped. I have even experienced a couple outcomes I would regard as miraculous. There have been other times when the answer was “wait;” then, there are the times that God most definitely took life in a radically different direction. Each time, the prayers helped me to accept the outcome (admittedly kicking and screaming on occasion.) With age and wisdom, I have become better at praying that God’s will be done, regardless of my personal opinion. It’s not always easy, however, and there are still times when I let God know exactly what I think should happen. As with everything else, I am a work in progress in that area.
I offer many prayers for other people as well. These may be people who I have heard are sick or who I know are facing difficulty. They may be people I know well, or a stranger someone has asked me to offer prayers for. In either case, I am happy to offer the prayers, to be of service in some way to a person in need. There have been many cases when I have continued praying for a situation long after the issue has been resolved simply because I wasn’t aware of the resolution. People often ask you to pray – you frequently aren’t told that you can stop praying! No matter – in the eternal scheme of things, the prayers still count and still offer help.
There are times, however, when prayers seemingly go unanswered, when it seems that it is all for naught. It is hard to resist discouragement at those times. Debbie Macomber offers an interesting way of working (or praying!) through that discouragement and seeing God at work even when, at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be any movement. In her new book, “One Simple Act,” she suggests keeping a prayer journal. She writes down the intentions she is praying for. This allows her to recall all the needs she is bringing to God as well as help to keep her mind from wandering during prayer. As she states, “I’ll be praying during my quiet time and my mind will move from, ‘Oh, thank you, Jesus, for everything you’ve done’ to ‘What should I have for dinner tonight? What’s in the freezer that I can use?’” I think that most of us can relate to that problem! One day when she was feeling that God wasn’t answering her prayers, she began flipping through the pages of her journal. She put red stars on all the prayers that had been answered and made notes about how God had answered them. Macomber writes, “I wasn’t into the exercise long before I recognized God’s hand in each circumstance. I came away with a sense of awe, humbled by all He had done for me and my lack of recognition.” Sometimes, even though the outcomes may not be what we had hoped, we may find that “the whole time God was doing something far better.”
If the end of this year finds you feeling discouraged about how God is answering (or seemingly ignoring) your prayers, a prayer journal may be just what you need for the coming year. Keep track of your prayers and their answers. It may make it that much easier to trace God’s movement in your life when another year is drawing to a close.