"Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." When we don't know how to pray, these words from our Lord’s prayer express our longing to see the glory of God fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
My husband and I have lived and served in a few different countries—each with its unique beauty and unique brokenness. In each place, it has become more and more apparent that though God answers our prayers in different ways, the one prayer he always answers "yes" to is the heartfelt cry, "Give me Jesus."
In one country, it was difficult to keep a positive outlook when we looked out our window each day to the same trash, the same poverty and the same deeply ingrained societal problems. One day, as I visited a local orphanage, a young mother tearfully dropped off a small child, the youngest of eight. They could not feed all of their children and hoped that at least here, at the orphanage, their youngest child would have enough to eat.
I returned home completely disheartened by the severity of the needs around me and my own limitations as a mother of small children (what good would a bag of tangerines and a box of oatmeal cookies do in face of such great need?). Not knowing what else to do, I wrote down a prayer full of requests that seemed impossible unless the Lord were to intervene in a miraculous way.
I wrote, "Lord, I pray for M, who knows the truth but is wobbling on the fence. Please help her to sink her roots deep in you. Help her not to be drawn in to the lifestyle of her boyfriend (who, at the time, was in prison for dealing drugs)."
I continued to write. "Father, please help N's husband to be drawn to you. She loves you so much. And Lord, please help there to be a Christian school here, so some of these kids can grow up learning your ways. I prayed for an orphanage where they can hear about you from their very earliest days. And Father, please help some of these children to be adopted into Christian homes." And my list went on. Finally, when it was finished, I felt a bit better, folded up the paper and went on with our busy lives.
Ten years later, then living in another place, I came across that old prayer list, and realized to my amazement that each request had been answered in specific and tangible ways. There was a school and an orphanage there and several of those very orphans had been adopted into Christian families, some in locally and some abroad; M was working in another country among a minority population there, sharing the gospel; N's husband had come to Christ. Tears came to my eyes as I thanked God for answering every single one of those requests, each of which only God could have done.
It struck me then that most of the things that really matter—the salvation of a soul, the return of a prodigal are things only God can do. Sometimes we are blessed, as we were then, to see specific, positive answers to prayer. But sometimes he says no. Sometimes as sure as we are that God is able to bring the dead to life, we also live in a broken world with its reality that some pain might never go away this side of eternity. Whether it is chronic physical pain, a broken relationship, a discouraging brain scan or silence where we hoped to hear a heartbeat, in those instances we must depend even more on the promise that he will never leave us and one day will make all things right.
Currently, we live in a place where many people are anxious and fearful. We live in a place where followers of Christ are in prison. We also have the privilege to live alongside people from many countries, some who have trusted Jesus, and all from people groups we prayed for when our kids were small.
Every day, at least five times a day, I am reminder of why we are here, and we pray. We pray that people will be delivered from their bondage to fear, and experience God's perfect love in Jesus. We pray for believers in prison, that their hearts will be encouraged as they wait, and that the God who holds the hearts of kings in his hands will also put mercy in their hearts. Only God's perfect love can cast out the fear, lies and darkness that cause people in power to mistreat perceived enemies as they do.
There is one thing we can pray with confidence. In the final reckoning, God's justice will prevail, so we pray for his kingdom to come and set things right. Meanwhile, in the waiting, we thank him for his mercy, because there are still many, even many we know and love, who have not turned to him yet. And he is patient with us, "not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
In the waiting, God has taught me that although we may seem and certainly feel rather vulnerable and even powerless, Jesus has made a way for us to draw near to him. He gives us full access to the One who is over all, who knows our names and hears our prayers.
So we keep praying.