The Mystery of Prayer (#628)

Is prayer more than, "throwing up a request, hoping for the best"? On a recent visit to Dallas, Wayne sat down with Tracy Levinson, author of Unashamed, and an occasional guest on the podcast. Tracy has been thinking a lot about prayer especially in the face of some difficult circumstances in her own life. That gives Wayne, and later Brad, a chance to revisit the critical topic of prayer and how it expresses our growing connection to God. Prayer is a much more profound experience than simply trying to get God to do what we think is best, or judging his reality or the depth of our spirituality on our ability to do so. Prayer is how God sculpts his life in the world through those who live in communion with him.

Podcast Notes:
Tracy Levinson's book Unashamed
Previous podcasts with Tracy: Unashamed, Taking the Shame out of Sexuality, and Mutually Shared Selflessness
Wayne's Travel Schedule in early 2018
The latest news from our project in Kenya
Add your voice to our question/comment line via Skype at "TheGodJourney"


  1. This is one area my husband I are really struggling in is prayer. Like Tracy we really believe more and more that He is in control, we can trust Him and know that He is God and will do what He needs in our lives. I really though can resonate with what Tracy has shared about where she is on prayer and having a hard time asking God for something. I deal with this and even have a hard time asking others to pray for me. I almost feel that is a lack of faith and that any requests I have should be between me and God. But I do find myself asking others to pray for me when I am really really dealing with something hard and I am fearful, confused or upset. So it almost seems like more of a cry for help and support when I really should be going to God. I almost wonder if many Christians just constantly ask others to pray for them but never truly take the time to talk to God themselves. And most of their requests are so minor or selfish that they would only need a little commonsense applied to answer their troubles. And I know nothing is too small for God but some requests can sound so silly.

    Right now special get togethers with family is a hard time when it comes to prayer at mealtime. It just seems to come from the head and not the heart and it is hard when family members expect you to pray and it feels forced. I sometimes just do it out of respect for some of them and pray a little differently. But I wonder does that mean I am not thankful for what He is given me? I don’t think it does, but can imagine others thinking this if I don’t pray over my food. I also come from a church background where I must have enough faith and pray the right way for God to answer and provide for me. Mostly with healing and financial prosperity. Plus we prayed openly all the time in tongues and it felt odd, forced, out of place…not sure what to call it. Looking back it almost felt demonic. But I am not saying speaking in tongues is! Just been in a lot of crazy wild services that I do not miss at all that included speaking in tongues and pushing people down. I haven’t spoke in tongues in years because I have been confused on the purpose of it. Have heard some say it is meant for private prayers. Any thoughts? Anyway, the podcast was encouraging and I think I will ask God to show me more about prayer and how I can come to Him with my requests and pray for others. Currently in my life I see prayer as a continuous conversation with God throughout my day and when I am really struggling with something taking more time to be still with Him. Thanks for discussing this topic!! Would love to hear more on the subject and even to hear more guest ladies on the podcast! Or parents talking about how they are raising their kids on this journey (something I need encouragement in).

    • “Right now special get togethers with family is a hard time when it comes to prayer at mealtime. It just seems to come from the head and not the heart and it is hard when family members expect you to pray and it feels forced. I sometimes just do it out of respect for some of them and pray a little differently. But I wonder does that mean I am not thankful for what He is given me? I don’t think it does, but can imagine others thinking this if I don’t pray over my food.”

      Amy: I hear you on this one. I did a blog post almost 5 years ago as I was struggling with the same thing.

      Now when I go to my Mom’s, I just wait for her to do her “ritualistic” praying and then we eat. I still sing with the family when we sing. It’s just not a big deal to me anymore. It is important to my family, so like I said in the blog post, I don’t rock the boat. But I am doing what I can to be real… to me and to my family. I guess I can honor them and honest… I just have to find that space with them.

      Hugs… from a fellow traveler

      Ruby from Calmar, Alberta, Canada

  2. The last few podcasts have really struck a chord for me. In this podcast, I could totally relate to what Tracy was saying. The more my relationship with God became personal, the idea of petitioning God for a request seems out of character to the relationship.

    Like in a “conversation” with anyone else, I come to Him with the circumstances in my life and tell him how I feel, and what is concerning me. Since I know He knows what is going on, my conversation with Him includes asking for His thoughts and plans on the matter. Sometimes I ask for specifics, but more often than not, I have become less interested in my need, but rather that He be glorified, and that I might know Him more through whatever the outcome might be. That I trust Him.

    When I pray for others, I find myself praying that God would be made known to them whether that results in experiencing healing or not. Is this the right or wrong way to pray? I am not sure, but when uncertain of how to pray, this is how I approach it, and also where tongues comes in for me. Letting the Spirit pray through me.

    Personal experience tells me that difficult circumstances often lead us deeper into Him. Is not then difficulty an act of mercy since it forces us to look beyond ourselves? In hindsight, I see some of my most difficult periods in my life to be the most mercy filled, and God-present times. And I become thankful for them and realize that this what I actually NEEDED in order to shift my position of thinking. I think others can relate to this. So then do we say that God is not behind the difficulty? That in itself is not biblical.

    So if we pray for the removal of difficulty but God has purposed for it to bring us closer to Him, it would seem we are praying incorrectly. If God were to answer our prayer then it would be to our detriment.

    I think we may be finding ourselves in the sovereignty of God discussion which has always been hard to wrap our heads around.

    Our perspective in usually based on human reasoning. In western culture we have put human reason as the highest order, and we have been so immersed in it (in the church too) that we do not recognize that this reasoning could be – and most likely is – wrong when it comes to things of God. We have brought this reasoning into our prayer lives.

    God has said His thoughts are not our thoughts. When we say that God does not bring difficulty, could it be that this is based on limited human perspective and reasoning, and therefore grossly flawed?

    Our reasoning tells us that God is good so therefore He cannot do certain things that we as humans disapprove of, and yet He does, or at least allows them. And that confuses us. Many people think that because the God of the Old Testament seems to do some very “wrong things” in human terms, therefore God is not worthy of respect, or they do not want to serve a God like that. Oh puny human specks of dust! We have elevated our minds to think that we are gods. We have devoured the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and have become the judges over God. How foolish.

    Yet this big holy awesome, omniscient, and omnipresent God is so interested in these specks of dust … it boggles the mind. Perhaps God is not so much interested in our desire for happiness (another human mantra of today) but desires something much deeper and profound for us. I am choosing to go with the latter.

    I realize there are lots of scripture on prayer, about asking and receiving, about coming to God to ask according to His will. And I do not negate any of these, but perhaps each are a limited attempt to describe a facet of an infinitely-facetted God, where the truth is the infinite whole, and not a single facet. Limiting God to a single facet, because a particular verse says so, is diminishing God with our human reasoning.

    Thanks for letting me ramble… 🙂

  3. Hi Wayne, I love it when the things that God is saying to me are confirmed by the things you and Brad discuss, along with others who join your podcast.

    I was about to launch into a very long story to explain what has happened to me and then realised it wasn’t necessary in order to share what I want to say about prayer. So here is the very, very condensed story. I was thrilled when Brad mentioned his reliance on speaking in tongues, because although a lot of people know nothing about this gift, I thank God every day that I learnt about it and can use it.

    I have been facing a major event which could have ended good or bad, but I didn’t know how to pray about it. I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to pray in tongues. I don’t feel comfortable praying in tongues out loud in my house because my husband would be very disturbed by it, so I decided that every time I went out in my car I would pray in tongues. If it was going to be a long trip, then I would pray to a certain point in the trip and then relax. As I have continued to do this over the last couple of months I have found such a power being ignited even though I haven’t a clue what it is that I have been saying.

    Just recently God reminded me of Daniel, when he was praying for 21 days until finally the angel was able to break through the demonic interference and meet with him. I don’t know how Daniel prayed, whether he had the gift of tongues or not, but I felt the point was that there are demonic influences that we know nothing about, that are often hindering what God wants to happen for us, and as we continue to pray, we get the break through. Praying in tongues takes no effort on my part to know what is the right or wrong thing to pray. I don’t have to know what the battle is, and I don’t have to know God’s will in the situation, I just need to speak in tongues and the Holy Spirit, who knows God’s will, gifts me to pray that way.

    I am now coming to the final conclusion (hopefully) of the major event that started this learning curve and I was wondering whether I would be so committed in praying in tongues in my car once it is all over. Then I felt the Holy Spirit encouraging me that I can use my tongues for whatever purpose God is about at the time. It isn’t all about me and my needs. He wants willing vessels who are willing to give of their energy to speak in tongues and offer those tongues to be used for whatever He is getting done at the time. It could be to help break the darkness over a child in deepest Africa, or to protect my neighbour as he drives in bad weather, or for a billion other happenings that the enemy is trying to destroy and God wants to break through.

    I often wondered why God bothered offering us the gift of tongues. I confess once I had received the gift I very rarely used it and wondered if it was actually still relevant for today, but now I consider it to be the very best gift, after salvation of course, that we have. If only we could get a glimpse into the supernatural world to see what is happening and to see what our tongues are doing through the direction of the Holy Spirit. If we had that insight I think we could say with Paul ‘I pray in tongues more than you all’ and ‘pray without ceasing’. 🙂

  4. Isaiah 45:7 The One forming light and creating darkness,
    Causing peace and creating disaster;
    I am the LORD who does all these things
    Maybe Wayne could through more light on this.
    Is this not our experience when we are in thick darkness? When you are in thick darkness if you will quiet your soul and pay attention I believe that more often than not you will begin to notice that you are not alone. You will realize that there is one that walks with you, quietly, sure footed and with great patience. He walks with you through the darkness waiting for that moment when you will speak, when you will reach out, when you will ask for His help. C.S.Lewis
    I have been on a long journey with a loving Father and faithful friend and can look back over my life and have learnt that I had never been alone, even though at times it may not have felt so. I had come to know a reliable and constant friend in the good times and the more difficult times. It was in those times that my walk with Him became so much deeper. For all things have worked together for the good, for those who love Him.
    Prayer to me has been a mutual conversation with one I could talk to about all things full of kindness love and compassion. The most difficult times were when The Father had gained the greatest changes in my life.
    The book of Job gave me a greater understanding of situations I had found myself in. Satan could not do anything unless God allowed it, which seems to give some understanding to Isaiah 45:7 Darkness is there but the light shines into the darkness and the darkness cannot withstand it. Though I walk in the darkness the Lord is a lamp for my feet. Surely in His Presence is fullness of Joy. Sometimes life can be like walking through a tunnel but there is always light at the end.
    Liked the podcaste and the comments.

  5. are we sure we want to go there? the way tongues was talked about in the podcast and commented on above one would think that god speaks through us the words he needs to hear in the way he needs to hear them so that he might then have the opportunity to do that which he wants to do…

    • Kent, perhaps it’s best not to demean something you don’t understand. I’m not sure what your issue is here or if you were just trying to be humorous, but the gift of tongues is less for what God wants to hear than it is for us to be illuminated in our engagement with him.

      • i want to apologize to you, wayne, and anyone else that my comment hurt. to tell you the truth, i was horrified when i saw the way it was interpreted. it was not intended to be hurtful or judgmental. i take very seriously the opportunity i have to comment on this site, and i am truly sorry… kent

        • Kent, no apology needed. I didn’t take any personal offense, I just didn’t want people potentially turned off to a great gift. I have appreciated your contributions here, which is why I didn’t know how to take this one. As a joke I get the absurdity of how it sounds when phrase that way, but if it was meant to some how make light of his gift, then I just thought it needed a response. More than you know, I appreciate your very gracious response to my mine. That’s a rarity in the online world!

  6. When ever your well being hinges on the response of another person (or God) you will try to manipulate them.
    I think this quote can be also be use with prayer.
    We should not be trying to manipulate God.

  7. Wayne, I and my husband, we are just trying not ask God for material things and solve problems. We learned this along of the time but now we are requesting God to teatch us how to pray. We are trying to learn only give thanks God for the blessings and left everthing on his demand.

    • Hi Fatima, this is Wayne. Thanks for posting here. I’m glad you’re asking God to teach you to pray. There’s no better way to learn and being more thankful and more trusting will never steer you wrong. In time I think he’ll teach you you how to ask again in a way that invites his wisdom and shapes the very things we’d ask for. Much blessing to you!

  8. Since I have been on my detoxing journey from religion, the thing that took the biggest hit was my understanding of prayer and where that fits into this life of mine now. Listening to today’s Podcast on “The Mystery of Prayer” (both with the conversation you had with each other and the conversation with Tracy) has helped ease the inner guilt of the downslide of my prayer life.

    This is what resonated with me as I listened to the conversations on the podcast and revisited my own thoughts on prayer.

    1: Prayer isn’t about asking for stuff.

    I gave up asking for “stuff” for me or for anyone else. It’s not helping me at all. Not that I don’t believe that God desires to bless me and provide for me and care for me… I just don’t see him as a vending machine anymore… where I can drop in my prayers and get what I ask for. I think that idea was debunked in the movie Bruce Almighty.

    2. Prayer requests can be very awkward.

    It is very awkward for me when it comes to prayer requests, but I have maneuvered around them and avoid them when possible. I don’t discourage others from asking, because, I think some still need to ask. Some are encouraged, lifted up from the pits when they know or hear people are praying for them… I’m just not one of them. I don’t feel people’s prayers. Unless someone told me they were praying for me, I wouldn’t know it. Even then I am not sure what a difference knowing that would make for me. It was good to hear that I‘m not alone in my awkwardness.

    3. Prayer is about a journey with God… how did it become the subject of countless how-to books?

    I gave up reading books on prayer. I know there are authors out there that think they have the answers on how to pray… and there are people that will buy the books, because they think someone else has the how to guide on to communicate with their Creator. I’m not one of them anymore. I may be broken when it comes to prayer… but I don’t even think Phillip Yancey can help me fix what is broken. Maybe we need more conversations and less how-to books.

    4. Tongues takes prayer farther than English can ever go.

    The biggest saving grace in this challenging journey called prayer… is my spirit language. I don’t “pray” with people in English… haven’t for a long time… again… very awkward for me. But I have found when I am in a place where I need to be with someone and reach out to my Father… I will do it quietly in my spirit language. This happens mostly when there is a presence of pain, which usually brings on the desperation to connect with God. I totally agree what Wayne said about what that does on the inside of the person praying. When I let my spirit do the praying, I tend to feel compassion, empathy and understanding for the person I am praying with.

    5. I enjoy being in the presence of God… not talking.

    This I can relate with. I find that space mostly in nature. I don’t have much to ask these days, but I like being that kid that hangs out with Daddy. In those moments, I feel safe and loved.

    6. I don’t pray for freedom from tragedy. This world is broken, I get that!

    After my nephew’s death in 2017, I am more convinced just how pointless it is for me to pray for safety or freedom from tragedy or brokenness. I can look for God in the midst of my pain, but I won’t ask him to spare me from it. I am sure my sister and mom, prayed daily for the safety of my nephews for the over twenty years they have been on the planet. If a mom’s prayers and a grandma’s prayers couldn’t keep Benjamin alive… then my prayers for even my own safety aren’t going to bullet proof me either. I can only be thankful for each day that I have with the people I love and for each day that they have me.

    7. I don’t pray much… because I don’t think “praying” makes a difference.

    Maybe that makes the most sense from your conversation. Maybe, one day, I will believe again that my praying makes a difference. Maybe I am still detoxifying from religion and prayer to me still requires a swim in the pool of ritual. That seems so fabricated. I admire the ones who have gotten around the ritualistic stench to find a real connection in prayer, I just wish I was one of them.

  9. I don’t know if the above folks are Jesus followers or not and I’m not sitting here in judgement. I am surprised though.
    Jesus prayed and whether we get our way or not my understanding of His Word is that we are suppose to pray and let
    the Holy Spirit be in charge of the rest of it, in Jesus Name. It’s a commandment. I’m pretty broken but I want to get as much of it right as I can even if my prayers are amateurish(I dont know if that’s a word or not). He’s everywhere. I know He hears. He, Jesus loves you!!

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