The Central Asian pastor leaned over to my teammate after she said “amen” and broke the news. He knew she had meant to ask God to reveal his will, but she actually asked God to reveal his urine.
Intimidated by the mistakes of teammates, I preferred to save face and listen during times of prayer. But my Central Asian friends had other ideas. Anyone who attended the prayer time was expected to pray out loud. I would wait until everyone else had prayed, hoping they would end the long pause and close the prayer time. They never did.
With a deep breath and a pit in my stomach reminiscent of the feeling at the top of a roller coaster, I would open my mouth, fly over the edge, and spit out some often-unintelligible words of prayer in the local language.
Thanks to gracious local believers who waited for me through many awkward silences, I slowly learned to praise, repent, and intercede in the local language. Even so, I still feel woefully inadequate to express the yearning of my heart in a second language.
Learning a new language brings inevitable blunders. When you are trying to pour your heart out before the God of the universe, blunders like this are embarrassing reminders that prayer is hard.
“Pride, laziness, and self-sufficiency constantly tempt me with the lie that I am fine on my own.”
For the Christian, however, prayer is a nonnegotiable spiritual discipline. We are commanded to pray. Jesus taught us how to pray and set the example himself.
Prayer Is Hard
I’d like to say prayer is only hard for me because of language issues, but that would be a lie. Pride, laziness, and self-sufficiency constantly tempt me with the lie that I am fine on my own.
The best tool I’ve used to learn how to pray is the Bible, especially the Psalms and the many prayers scattered through the New Testament letters. They give me the words I need and confidence that I am praying according to God’s will.
New believers also struggle to pray, even in their own language. Former Muslims accustomed to ritual prayers stammer through their prayers, aware of their new relationship with a heavenly Father but hesitant in his presence. In discipleship of these new believers, the words of Scripture are my inspired workbook.
Whether you are a seasoned pastor or a baby Christian, you never outgrow prayer. It takes humility to pray, which means a prayerless life is a prideful life. Proverbs says that a prideful life is one that’s on the road to destruction. (Prov. 16:18). A faithful life, however, will move further up and further into nearness and dependence on God.
Prayer Is a Window into Our Relationship with God
In the Muslim culture of my city, prayer is not an anomaly. The mosques call people to pray five times a day. Men and women talk about prayer and perform prayer.
But the relationship I have with God through Jesus Christ opens the door to a kind of prayer that blows them away. I talk to God like I know him intimately. I call him my Father. I bring the little details of my day before him. I trust his love and wait for him to act in my life. And I can bring him into any conversation—anytime, anywhere.
In Central Asia, we pray the moment we see a need instead of telling someone we will pray for them later. Mindfulness of this practice opens many doors to pray with my Central Asian friends. I still fight that roller-coaster pit in my stomach—and sometimes I choose to back down—but when I trust God and walk in obedience, my friends notice.
Once, while praying, I was struggling with the grammar of my new language. The woman I was praying for kept finishing my sentences for me. I prayed for the burden on her heart. I also prayed she would know God and his love. I prayed she would understand Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:16). When I looked up, she was visibly moved, despite having finished half my sentences for me.
As we turn to our heavenly Father in trust and dependence, people notice. And for those in whom the Spirit of God is working, it is the aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15).
Biblical Prayer Makes an Eternal Impact
God promised in Genesis 3 that someone would come to crush Satan. Only a couple of generations later, people figured out the fulfillment of this promise might take a while, and they began to call on the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26). From those earliest days of humanity, God’s people have been asking him to fulfill his covenant promises.
“From those earliest days of humanity, God’s people have been asking him to fulfill his covenant promises.”
As New Testament believers, the heart of our prayer is asking God to fulfill his covenant promises in Christ Jesus to save and sanctify people from every nation, tribe, people, and language. We join in fellowship with believers through the ages, confident that God will fulfill his promises.
Another part of our practice in Central Asia to pray for a 5x5x5 list. Every day, we pray for five unbelievers, five believers, and five unreached peoples. After several years of praying for the Yaz Gulom people of Tajikistan, I recently was able to celebrate rumors of believers in their remote valley.
I encourage you to adopt your own 5x5x5 list. One of the other peoples I pray for every day is the Khalaj people of Iran. If you need a particular people, join me in praying that God’s kingdom will come among the Khalaj people of Iran.
We pray because it makes a difference. God is using the intercessory prayers of his people as he fulfills every one of his promises. As the canon of Scripture closes, the church prays “Come.” And Jesus answers, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Our prayers—even prayers with language blunders and weak faith—will be beautifully accepted and turned into praise as we eternally celebrate every promise made, every promise fulfilled.
Madeline Arthington is a writer who serves with IMB in Central Asia.