Why Thoughts Aren’t Prayers
According to my car, the outside temperature was 103 degrees. But inside the car, where a glitch caused the air conditioning to intermittently stop working, it felt like the surface of the sun. My GPS showed a solid red line of traffic on the parched Florida highway stretching on for miles and miles.
“God can fix it!” I thought, wondering if he would send an ambulance, sirens blaring, to administer intravenous fluids just in time to save me from heat stroke. Maybe he would open a new lane before me like he parted the Red Sea, or send a vexing spirit to the three mechanics who’d been unable to find the problem.
But even with hot, humid wind blasting through the open windows and a podcast playing to distract me from the sweltering heat, I sensed God whisper, “Honey, you know you’re not actually praying, right?”
I’d been thinking about God’s power to zap me out of this jam, but I hadn’t asked him to do it. So I turned my heart and mind toward him, pounded the dashboard with my sweaty fist, and whispered back, “Lord, please help.”
Cold air instantly gushed from the vents like a fresh mountain breeze.
Now I’ve prayed a lot in my life (though not nearly as much as I should), and I know God doesn’t always answer the way I want, when I want, the split second I bang on the thermostat gauge. But this time he did, and I’ve been thinking about what he said ever since.
God can read my thoughts, but how often do I dwell on my problems without asking him to intervene? Instead, I worry and fret, vividly envisioning the worst possible outcomes before I daydream about happily-ever-after endings (with myself as the heroine, of course). I write scripts for stinging conversations with people who don’t even know their role in my imaginary drama. I try to manipulate and control things I have absolutely no say-so over. Then I put a holy charade over my schemes by telling myself, “With God, all things are possible!”
My tiny miracle on the turnpike allowed me to escape the steamy car and see my own folly. When I pray, I relinquish the entire situation into God’s capable hands. When I pray, I give up my right to complain and yield to trust. When I pray, I allow God’s peace that passes understanding to enter my heart. Praying doesn’t guarantee that my a/c will be fixed but it acknowledges that I’m incapable of fixing anything on my own. Prayer permits God to do what only he can do in the lives of other people, without my helpful nagging. Prayer opens the floodgate for miracles beyond my own making… or prayer may alter nothing but my own perspective while my circumstances remain exactly the same.
If I’m going to “never stop praying” as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (that’s it, that’s the whole verse!), I need to pray while driving across scorched-earth in the Sunshine State, over a sink full of dishes, and in the shower (my favorite). The apostle Peter famously fell asleep when Jesus asked him to pray (more than once), and I’ll admit that many nights I drift into dreamland during my prayers. Peter also gave this advice about prayer:
The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7 NLT)
“The end” can be the end of days… or the end of our hopes and dreams. Believe me, I’ve had a lot bigger problems than a fickle car. I’ve never answered the door to find a police officer standing there, but I have found an IRS agent. A fun shopping expedition with a friend turned out to be the outfit she was buried in. I visit too many of the people I love in cemeteries instead of coffee shops. For those end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moments, Peter’s advice is to pray intently, deliberately, and specifically.
Other Bible translations describe Peter’s type of prayer as self-controlled, sober-minded, alert, wide-awake (see what they did there?), clearheaded, reasonable, specific, focused, serious, and watchful. This is a whole lot different than a half-hearted “God can do this!” wish.
When I neglect my prayers, God is like a friend whose read reply is instant on my texts even though I’ve been ghosting him. Peter also said, “…the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Peter 4:12, quoting Psalm 34:15). God stands ready, willing, and able to respond when we finally call for help.
“The end of the world” is also the end of suffering, when God will dry every tear and there will be no more death, grief, crying, and pain (Revelation 21:4). Personally, I’d like to believe every day in eternity will be 72 degrees with low humidity. Until then, even though the a/c glitched again even before I even got home, you’ll find me praying prayers instead of just thinking thoughts.