I recently taught a seminar for our church on the prayers of scripture and how to have a vibrant prayer life (notes here). Thesobering truth is that often mine isn't. It's not that I don't know how. The fault lies entirely with me, not with God.
I've been reflecting more on prayer lately, even seeking to be more diligent to pray for ministry friends. I can't overlook the reality that the vast majority of my prayers continue to be inner prayers. Simply put, my prayers are consumed with my internal world.
It's amazing to me how much activity happens just in my mind and heart! As I struggle daily to surrender my will to God's in loving obedience and real choices, I could spend all my prayer energies consumed with my own mental and spiritual issues. Yet, God is abundantly active and powerfully moving out there. Away from me - in other's lives. In our world.
I suspect that you feel the same? An internal preoccupation in prayer seems to drag our heads down, like our noses have a fish hook in them, with the fishing line tied to a stake on the ground below us. We dare not lift our head up for fear of the pain it would cause. So we stay buried in inner prayers.
The reality is that God knows our need for our praying for ourself. The Psalms are full of inner prayers. Consider:
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: (Psalm 77:1-6)
I'm grateful that the Father invites our inner prayers. However, I want to not stay inner but be diligent to pray for others, for our world, and most significantly, for God's glory.
To think that God can actively hear (and listen to) all our inner prayers is astonishing. Who can think like the Lord or even scratch the surface of His works?! If I spent my hours attempting to record, catalog, file, describe and journal all that the Father is doing, I'd quickly run out of things to write for four simple reasons:
I cannot see beyond my own sphere.
I cannot interpret what He is doing.
I can only see that things are happening.
I do not know other's thoughts/prayers and how God is working in them.
I can't write it all down becauseI have limited observational skills, and I am finite. Plus, the world doesn't have enough ink.
Even more incredible, God delights to use the ordinary to accomplish wonders. Random, routine conversations so often are used by Him to prick a heart, to speak encouragement, to change a mind. Even with music, who could ever track how God speaks to hearts, penetrating close-mindedness or stubbornness with a melody?
It all reminds me of the scene from Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey is suddenly privy to everyone's prayers and is driven crazy. To hear is one thing, to hear and to know the pray-er and see past, present and future is mind-boggling. God doesn't just hear the prayer, know the pray-er, understand the context, but He also has a plan. His plan includes love for the pray-er and the redemption of the universe, and He is able to answer in a way that glorifies His Name and blesses the pray-er and the world.
How God does this is beyond us. God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient: all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing.
I'm so thankful that God hears my inner prayers. I want Him to hear more from me. I also am eager to grow in my outer prayers.
In Mark 11.17, Jesus confronts the Jewish religious leaders about how inner their prayers were. In essence, these leaders were focused on themselves. Jesus said:
“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
I think it's obvious that Jesus wanted the temple to be open to people from all nations, to come and pray and seek God. However, I also think that Jesus wanted the prayers of His people to be for all the nations. That's outer prayer.