Praying with Hopeby Lydia Powers
They sit edge-seated before me every day —eyes that are fresh with wonder and delight at the world around them. Bodies that jump and pirouette down the hallway on our journeys that rarely waver from their scheduled course. Laughter that erupts at the slightest whisper of a word that has somehow managed to elude the ban of our little classroom. You see, I spend my days among the young-of-heart-and-age whose beliefs truly will shape the world that we live in.
It was mid-morning as I paged-through the now-twenty Bible lessons that we had covered over the course of the year. Had any made a mark, unlocked truth that would help guide these ones on the yet-uncharted seas of their lives? As my hand paused at the lesson of the day, my eyes fell to the bolded theme that held my attention: How God Answers Prayer.
Holy Spirit, help, I prayed.
Within the seconds of processing time that I allowed, my mind and heart felt the weight and importance of what was to be discussed. Despite the paper footballs and dream prom gown designs going on behind me during the seconds of classroom transition, my heart was fixed on the moments ahead. How would I frame this ever-holy transaction to little hearts alive in our already-but-not-yet world?
As I began to write tall, expansive letters, I knew of only one word that could reconcile the mixed experiences of the lives before me — one word that resonates in the depths of my own heart when my understanding fails.
The Key to an Unoffendable Heart
Before I could even approach the subject of how (or why) God answers our prayers, the holy spirit whispered how I must begin —with the unchanging nature of God.
Even at such a young age, my small-but-mighty carriers of hope had already experienced what felt like victories and defeats in this life. They had already known the feelings of moments when it seemed like God had forgotten or seemingly failed to answer their prayers. Yet as the holy spirit handed me the key to begin our conversation, a central truth resounded in my heart – no matter what our experiences look like, because God cannot deny himself, every answer to prayer must be consistent with his nature.
If I would choose to first trust in his character rather than in an expected answer to my prayer, my heart could remain pure and unoffendable in its pursuit of him.
From Disappointment to Hope
As we positioned our hearts together in the goodness of God, the conversation turned from what could have been stories of disappointment to conversations that were not without hope. Because we had set our hearts toward the unchanging nature of his goodness, no earthly experience could supersede the constancy and truth of our God.
In Psalm 102, a malnourished, sleepless, and woebegone David finds himself in a real-life moment when his earthly experience looks very little like the heavenly kingdom about which he has dreamed. In the midst of a trial that has clearly perpetuated grief and fervent prayer, David lays bare his heart before both God and the humanity who would find his private hymns as soul-salve for generations to come. Only minimal relief seems to be found by the end of the chapter as David grasps for whatever hint of truth that his mind can hold. Why isn’t God answering my prayers?
Yet as both understanding and peace seem to elude his reach, David remains relentless in his pursuit and would be rewarded for his faithfulness. Suddenly, divine revelation seems to kiss the blank space between chapters 102 and 103, and the verbiage of David’s prayers suddenly takes a dramatic turn. Here, the spirit teaches him how to receive peace in the midst of less-than-ideal circumstances.
As he pens the words for chapter 103, hope is restored as David reminds his soul of the unchangeable nature of God:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
By the end of chapter 103, David is no longer focused on his own circumstances, but is exhorting even the heavenly creatures to praise the God who never changes!
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.
Praise the Lord, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
The Land of Hope
I believe that as we choose to view our lives through the lens of his goodness, we will watch the dust of disappointment be washed from our lives just as David experienced the same transformation. Like David, I want to lay hold of this key: that my faith would be unshakable and my hope infinite because our eyes have become fixed on our God.
“David said it all: I saw God before me for all time. Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side. I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic; I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope.”