On Dry Prayers and Friendship with Jesus

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For a long time, I prayed that God would grant me grace to love him with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength, and grant me grace to love my neighbor as myself. When John 15:15 found a home in my heart, I understood for the first time that the key to fulfilling the greatest commandment lies in first feeling the love of God for me. The apostle John wrote, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). So my first prayer of the day became, “Father, let me feel your affection today.”

A wilderness lies between knowing God loves us and feeling his love for us. When I was a Young Life leader, high school boys stared at the ground when they said to me, “I know my father loves me.” I thought, If that’s true, why are you so sad when you say that sentence? They had a theoretical knowledge of their father’s love but so little experience of it.

I hear that same forlorn confession all the time in the church today. The Christian who stares at the ground and says in a sad voice, “I know God loves me,” is still living under the power of the lie that our value to God lies in our service. For a long time, I increased my hearers’ pain by hurling obligations at them instead of offering them a Person to enjoy.

Today I stand on stages and tell people stories of my experiences of God’s affection. I give them scriptural prayers to pray to feel God’s love. Ephesians 3:16–19 is one of my daily prayers:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—­that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I love the metaphor of being “rooted and established in love,” not our love for God, but God’s love for us. When I feel God’s love for me, I am like a tree with deep roots in the soil of his love, and the storms of life can’t knock me down. Or I am like a building built on the solid foundation of his love for me that can offer shelter to others when disaster strikes. This is not a love experienced in isolation, but in the body of Christ with other believers. God’s love for us is not something we can come to by ordinary knowledge, by simply reading about it. It has to be revealed to us by the power of the Spirit.

I pray throughout the day to feel God’s affection for me. I wouldn’t say I feel his affection every day, but it would be rare to go very long without some experience in which I feel his pleasure in me.

I try to begin the day by praying and meditating. I want to have pleasure in my mornings of prayer and meditation, but it doesn’t always work out that way. A few years ago, I was so bored in my morning prayer that it felt like I was reciting a shopping list to God. It seemed like I was only getting a religious exercise out of the way so I could go on with my real life. I stopped, looked up to heaven, and said, “God, are you enjoying this? Because I’m not. Is this dry prayer really important to you?” I meant it as real question, but he didn’t answer me. I finished my list.

My son is a journalist, and I pray daily for his writing.

Three days later, my son Stephen called me in the morning during my prayer time. At the end of the conversation, he said, “Oh, Dad, I just won best feature writer in the state of Missouri again.” Before I could say, “Wonderful!” I heard God say, “Is this really important to you?”

He is so creative in the way he shows us his love and answers our questions.

The Lord is so merciful that he is not offended by our dry prayers. A famous old revivalist whom I came to know and admire at the end of his race used to say, “God doesn’t answer prayer. He answers desperate prayer.” And my friend did pray with a great deal of emotion that seemed sincere to me. But Scripture does not teach that God only answers desperate prayers; Scripture teaches that God answers persistent prayers (Luke 11:5–8; 18:1–8; Acts 1:14; Romans 1:9–10; 12:12; Colossians 4:2, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). In my experience, praying every day requires a great deal of faith and perseverance without adding the burden of conjuring up emotion.

It became easier to pray daily when I learned that God wanted to be my friend as well as my Lord. Friends talk to each other. It gives God pleasure to tell us and show us he loves us. He also speaks to us because we need his guidance to fulfill his highest purposes for our lives, just as Jesus did, just as the apostles did, and just as all his friends in the New Testament did.

Are you interested in learning how to hear the voice of God in your life? This is an excerpt from Jack Deere’s new book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God. This is the story of how Jack Deere learned to hear the voice of God and, in doing so, became a friend of Jesus. Now a modern classic, Jack wrote Surprised by the Voice of God over twenty-five years ago. Based on that first book, Why I Am Still Surprised by the Voice of God has been entirely rewritten and includes additional thoughts and insights from a lifetime of hearing God speak. Deere guides you through the Bible to discover the variety of creative, deeply personal ways God still communicates with us today. You’ll learn how God speaks with people apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it.

Perfect for:

  • Groups desiring to learn more about how prophecies, dreams, and visions function
  • Individuals wanting to study the biblical foundations for hearing the voice of God
  • Churches ready to embrace and experience God speaking in community

In these pages you will:

  • Learn through Bible study, compelling first-hand stories, and sound arguments
  • Witness the way God carries forth the biblical pattern for speaking to us in contemporary ways
  • Be trained to hear and recognize the voice of God in your life

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Dr. Jack Deere, formerly an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, is a writer and lecturer who speaks throughout the world on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He is the author of the bestselling book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit and Even In Our Darkness. He was a speaker at New Room Conference in 2019.

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