Recently, my personal study of Scripture led me to the Old Testament book of Jonah. One of the critical aspects of the story of Jonah is the role of prayer in the life of this prophet. The brief second chapter (worth reading today) is a prayer of despair, hope, humility, and thanksgiving. As with Jonah, prayer is too often what we finally do after we have used everything else in our arsenal to cope with life.
So, why do we need to pray at all? Does God have an insatiable ego that demands our constant praise? Hardly.
Prayer expands our capacity to receive God's grace.
Augustine of Hippo, the great North African saint and theologian of the fourth century A.D., profoundly influenced such Protestant Reformers as Luther and Calvin. He also inspired the writings of George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and countless others. In fact, C.S. Lewis’ book Letters to Malcolm is a virtual reworking of one of Augustine’s letters to a North African woman struggling with her prayer life. The work is called Augustine to Proba on Prayer. In this book, Augustine explains that the purpose of prayer is to expand our capacity to receive the sheer volume of grace God wants to give us. It’s a great image.
Our soul is likened to a wineskin being prepared to hold a vast amount of the very best wine. If our soul is a small, dry, and withered pouch, we won’t be able to take in God’s wine. It will either spill out, or else it will split us wide open.
God intends for our prayers to expand our capacity to receive the abundance he has to give us.
Augustine puts it this way: “His gift is very great indeed, but our capacity is too small and limited to receive it. That is why we are told: Enlarge your desires, do not bear the yoke with unbelievers. The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive that gift, which is very great indeed. No eye has seen it; it has no color. No ear has heard it; it has no sound. It has not entered man’s heart; man’s heart must enter into it.”
Prayer softens our souls to receive the Spirit.
When I was a young boy, I had trouble blowing up balloons. I would huff and puff and get blue in the face but couldn’t generate enough force to inflate the balloon. But then I learned a trick. I learned how to stretch the balloon before I tried to inflate it. What a difference that made! After I loosened up the balloon, it welcomed my breath. It made me a world-class balloon-blower-upper.
This image of the balloon helps us with prayer. As we pray, God’s hands stretch us and expand us to be ready to receive his breath.
Prayer softens our souls to make them ready to receive his Spirit. Then, he fills us and expands us to be something greater for him. Without prayer, we're just shriveled up and empty.
Prayer prepares us for the fullness of God's blessing both in this life and in the next. Prayer stretches our souls.
Will you allow God to fill you up today?
Today and every day, would you open yourself up to the breath of God and watch him fill you up? Like Jonah, we are made to bend and fold under pressure.
The tighter life squeezes us, the more we should bend to our knees and fold our hands in prayer. When we worry, we pray to the wrong God. Prayer is God’s antidote for our worry. And prayer is the means God uses to inflate us when we are deflated. Let prayer pump you up!
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God . . .” (Philippians 4:6)