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God of the small things

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The story is famous: when Elijah went looking for God, he searched for him in the grandiose, in the mighty, in the massive. But he didn’t find him there – instead, he found it in the still small voice. One way to read this is to realise that, for instance, our busyness or our worries stops us from hearing God. Yet there is a lot more to the “still, small voice” than this.


Photo: adapted from Joe Lencioni, under CC License

The story also depicts us and our own expectations: it describes how we think God will show up in great and marvellous ways; and forget that he also shows up in the mundane. Ignoring God’s presence and action in the everyday life, may be just down to our desire to retain control over the mundane:

  • in remembering the miraculous (that Jesus fed the multitude with barely anything), we find an excuse to forget the example that is set (for instance, that people were fed and welcomed. Or that the start of it was food belonging to the disciples, not conjured up out of thin air.
  • in looking at the big miracles first – and yes, that includes the resurrection – we allow ourselves to box Jesus into someone who concerns himself only with the big issues. Jesus performed miracles, yes. But that is far from being his predominant activity over his three-and-a-bit-year ministry.
  • in thinking in terms of salvation first – whether it be issues of soteriology, eschatology or predestination – we shockingly allow ourselves to make Jesus irrelevant to our day-to-day lives.

The truth is far more beautiful: God is relevant to our lives: as a model to follow, someone to imitate, yes. But also, and just as importantly, God is a constant presence in our lives: someone who cares about the mundane and acts in the little things as well as the big.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves that our prayers should not be limited to the supernatural, the unexpected. I myself have a tendency to push prayer to the extreme:  to ask beyond my expectations of what might actually happen. And there is a place for such bold prayers. But not all prayers should be reaching for what we couldn’t do ourselves.

Because I’m afraid that if we do limit our prayers to what we couldn’t do ourselves, we quickly reach a stage where we feel we have to sort ourselves out before we can come before God. And then, those areas of our lives that most need healing, we cut off from the one person who can heal them.

When’s the last time you prayed for the natural rather than the supernatural?

Have you ever felt your situation did not merit God’s attention?

Praying is testing God (sometimes)

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Being bold in prayer is tricky.

Don’t get me wrong: boldness in prayer and a faith to move the mountains are good things. There are also practical ways to increase boldness in prayer. But in all of that, there is a difficult balance to strike, between expecting our prayers to be answered and considering that as a right that we have come to acquire.

The danger is there, that we start demanding things from God, as though he were indebted to us, rather than the opposite. The Israelites did:

They tested God in their heart
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?”

Psalms 78:18-19 (ESV)

And God got angry at them for it.

I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss this as God being angry at some form of lack of faith on the part of the Israelites. Or to think that the Israelites wanted to make sure of God’s power before they went on and trusted Him. After all, they had all left Egypt on the basis of that faith, the power of God had just been shown them when they were thirsting for water.

Yes, their prayer was a test; but one that we can be led to put God to in our own prayer life, without noticing that we do. We test God in our prayers when we allow our faith to depend on the outcome of the prayer.

Expectant prayer becomes tricky, then: we want to both be  bold in the assurance that God will provide, but we need to not let our faith depend on it. Prayer, and our relationship with God, cannot become a utilitarian thing. How do we achieve that, though?

In remembering that our prayer comes from faith and relies entirely on that faith. Yes, answered prayers can feed a little into faith; and both may grow together. But we must not allow ourselves to turn to a system where faith relies on answered prayers.

The Lord’s prayer, rightly, starts with a statement of praise of God. This is not only a statement of what is the most important, but also a way of giving us the right state of mind for prayer: one that looks at God first, and  then allows us to respond and ask for our daily bread expectantly.

To conclude, though, let us remember that after being angered, God still provided the manna. He still answered the prayer, even when it did not rely on faith alone. Prayers born out of necessity, prayers born out of strife, or those where we doubt our own worth in God’s eye and therefore God’s answer – these are all acceptable. But let’s not make a habit of them ;-)

6 ways to become bolder in prayer


God longs to be asked for what he wants to give. And God’s riches for us is infinite. Therefore, we should pray with boldness, whether for others or for ourselves.

Image credit: detail from J. Hannan-Briggs, reused under CC license

Praying with boldness is not simply praying for extravagant things.

I could see a dead body and pray that it come back to life. I could equally pray for peace in the Middle East. But unless I have faith, not only that God can do what I ask, but also that he will, then my prayer is that of a hypocrite.

For that reason, bolting onto prayer coping mechanisms for when prayers might not be answered can be a very bad idea. Because if I pray, thinking “if it doesn’t work, then it will all be put to right when the Kingdom comes”, then I am not expecting an answer to my prayer.

For that reason too, I limit the content of my prayer to what I believe God will do, and try to push those boundaries, rather than the boundaries of what I pray for.

So how can we increase real boldness in prayer?

1. Pray with others. Chances are, other people in your group, will have boldness in some areas where you.
2. Wait on the Spirit to inspire your prayers, and trust that he will lead you well in prayer (how to increase your trust in the Spirit is another matter, though!)
3. Hear “success stories” of prayer. This has its converse, obviously, which is to tell people about your success stories. Careful, though, as keeping a prayer diary may soon turn in “checking whether God is answering my prayers” – which is a sneaky way of doubt to be instilled into your own prayer practice.
4. Offer to pray for others when you see something is up with them. I have found it easier to believe God will help others, rather than help “unworthy me” (though there is no truth in that belief, sometimes you can’t help feeling that way!)
5. Be ready for the consequences. Think what will happen when you pray for patience. Or for your heart to be opened up to be able to love more. Just in thinking about what your prayer will do, its reality will hit home and you will be more confident to pray (or realise you didn’t want what you were going to ask for).
6. Pray for more boldness.

Anything to add to the list?


the opening sentence is paraphrasing from Forsyth’s Soul of Prayer, quoted in another very good piece here.
you may also want to read my older post on prayer, which I’ll soon move to this blog along with the comments here.