If the avenue of prayer keeps us anchored in an intimate relationship with God, then perhaps when we find our communication with God becoming less frequent, less prioritized, less transparent, less vital, we can safely assume we are drifting. When we find that we are moving away from dependence on God to self-reliance and independence apart from Him, then we are drifting.
Martin Luther, the German priest and theologian who sparked the Protestant Reformation, once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” From my experience, I couldn’t agree more.
When it comes to drifting, prayer is one of the practices that keeps us the most anchored.
I say this because we see in Scripture that Jesus stayed connected to His heavenly Father through prayer.
He prayed when He was alone (Matthew 26:36-44).
He prayed when He was with people (Luke 10:21).
He prayed before eating (Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:26; Luke 24:30; John 6:11), traveling, and making important decisions — like when He prayed all night before choosing His twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-13).
He prayed before, during, and after healing people (Mark 7:34-35; Luke 5:12-16; John 11: 41-42).
He prayed for Himself (John 17:1-5), for His disciples (Luke 22:31-32; John 17:6-19), and for all believers (Matthew 19:13-15; John 17:20-26).
He prayed for His Father’s will (Luke 22:42).
He prayed for others to be forgiven (Luke 23:34).
He prayed in His pain and in His suffering (Matthew 27:46).
And what’s especially astounding to me, to this day, He hasn’t stopped praying; He ever lives to make intercession for you and for me (Hebrews 7:25).
But for us — though we all want to be like Jesus — letting go of prayer can happen so easily. We can get busy, forgetful, or distracted, and before we know it, we can start viewing prayer as a last resort or an activity to fit in — if and where it does — versus a time to connect with the One we love… and who loves us. Or if we feel disappointed or discouraged with God, or even angry with Him, then it’s easy to let a day go by without praying, and for that day to become a week, and that week to become a month, and before we realize it, the months have grown into a year.
Have you ever wondered how much God misses us when we drift away from Him? When we stop running to His throne of grace like we used to? Jumping into His arms. Telling Him all about our day and our dreams, our cares and our concerns, our joy and our victories. Telling Him all about the people we love and the people whom we desperately want to know Him the way we know Him. Pouring out our hearts to Him when we feel blindsided by heart-wrenching moments we never saw coming. Trusting Him when we don’t understand what’s happening or why. Leaning into His comfort on our darkest days.
I wonder how He feels when we pull back, though the answer is in the pages of Scripture. So many times, over thousands of years, He has said to his people, “Return to Me” (Nehemiah 1:9; Hosea 6:1, Hosea14:1; Zechariah 1:3) or “Come back to Me” or, to those who don’t know Him, “Come to Me” (Matthew 11:28; John 6:37).
The whole of Scripture reveals God’s heart — from creation to our being a new creation — of His desire for relationship, of His unending love for us.
All of us know the pain of having someone we love pull away. And the truth is, God has experienced this more frequently — and at a greater level — than any of us ever have. Still, He loves us. He reaches for us. He pursues us, no matter why we’ve drifted.
Sometimes, when we feel He hasn’t come through for us or answered our prayers the way we had hoped, it’s easy to want to quit talking to God, just like we naturally want to withdraw and quit talking to people who disappoint us, who don’t come through for us. It’s as though the same reasons we run to God in prayer can be the same reasons we drift away.
I know what it’s like not to have prayer answered the way I hoped. I’m sure you know what that’s like too. Even the members of the early church knew what that was like. At a time when the church was absolutely flourishing, King Herod Agrippa wanted the favor of the Jewish people and their leaders — at any cost.1 So he went after the Christians to persecute them, including two of the apostles who had been especially close to Jesus. He had James arrested first — and then beheaded (Acts 12:2). Next, he had Peter arrested (Acts 12:3) — and this was for the third time. The first two times, Peter had been set free (Acts 4:7-21; Acts 5:18-20), so on this third occasion, Herod put him under maximum security, with sixteen soldiers taking shifts to guard him. Two at a time were even shackled to Peter (Acts 12:4-6). Herod knew these Christians had a way of escaping. They either rose from the dead like Jesus or were rescued like Peter by angels. Either way, he wasn’t taking any chances this time.
But then, the night before Peter was to stand trial, an angel appeared and walked Peter out of that prison (Acts 12:7-10). Once again, he was miraculously set free.
What I want us to focus on here is how, the whole time this miracle was happening, the church was praying (Acts 12:12). Earnestly. Fervently. Even though not everything was as they hoped. James was now dead. And Peter was alive but imprisoned yet again. The early church was heartbroken, but when they could have grown discouraged, despondent, angry, or hard-hearted, they kept praying. They didn’t seem to have a faith dilemma with James dying and Peter living. They seemed to understand that prayer is predicated on trust in God, even when we don’t understand what He is doing.
More than two thousand years later, I don’t know why some people live and some don’t. I don’t know why things we pray so hard about don’t always work out. I don’t know why unimaginable heartache and tragedy happen, despite our best efforts in prayer. Despite getting everyone we know to pray with us and for us. I would imagine that we all have a James in our lives. The person who died instead of being healed. The child who went further away instead of being drawn closer to God. The marriage that fell apart instead of being glued back together. The investment that went belly-up instead of padding our retirement. The job that let us go instead of promoting us as we’d hoped.
What is your James? Is there a reason why you quit believing that prayer can change things? Is there a reason why you might not be running to God with the same kind of faith the way you once did? With the same fervor you once had?
Whatever the reason, when we find ourselves not wanting to talk to Jesus as much as we once did, or for as long as we once did; when we find ourselves wanting to talk more to people than Jesus, we’re drifting. If we’re thinking more than we’re praying, posting more than we’re praying, venting more than we’re praying, even asking others to pray for us more than we’re taking things to Jesus ourselves, then we’re drifting — and it’s time to run to Jesus once more.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Herod Agrippa I,” January 1, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-Agrippa-I.
Excerpted with permission from How Did I Get Here? By Christine Caine, copyright Case Writing, LLC.
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Have you felt yourself drifting? If so, what is your James? What happened? Turn back! Turn to Jesus in prayer! Run to Him! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full