The Lord hears when we pray


“Lord, have mercy” is perhaps the oldest and most common of prayers. It is a plea that is often voiced in the Psalms and frequently heard in the Gospels, where it is composed of two words in the Greek: kyrie eleison—Lord . . . mercy!

It is called an ejaculatory prayer—explosive, bursting out, called forth by desperate circumstances. It is spoken in a moment of urgent need, deep distress and sorrow, unrelenting pain, total confusion, or abject longing. It is the most useful of prayers; it may be prayed by anyone, at any time, in any place, for anything.

And it is comprehensive. In just two words it covers everything that is essential to prayer:

Lord—You are the Master of everything, the source of all provision, the giver and governor of life, the answer to every question.

Mercy—I am Your creature, wholly dependent on Your grace, humbly entreating Your favor, a grateful recipient of Your kindness and compassion.

Before you conclude that I must be a man committed to prayer, I confess that this discipline is the weakest point in my walk with God. In fact, disciplined prayer might be my greatest failure.

In the Scriptures I find myself convicted, both by the examples and by the exhortations:

Moses—whose conversations with God as friend to friend left his face glowing with glory;Samuel—who vowed that he would not sin by ceasing to pray for his fellow servants;Job—who by his plaintive cries prayed himself into silence;Elijah—who, despite what James says, is surely a more effective man of prayer than I am;

Daniel—who faithfully knelt before God three times daily in defiance of the king’s decree;

Jonah—who prayed from a fish’s belly with seaweed wrapped around his ears; The believers of Acts—who devoted themselves to prayer;

Stephen—who in prayer beheld the very Son of God in heaven;

Paul—who faithfully interceded for all the saints.

And there are the host of commands and instructions on how and for whom to pray: earnestly, always, without ceasing, with thanksgiving, boldly, with confidence, in the Spirit; for one another, for kings and those in authority, for everyone everywhere, with supplications and intercessions.

I have more books on prayer than on any other topic, and yet . . . I don’t feel I pray enough, very well, or with sufficient faith, and at times I am plagued with guilt about this.

Here I must reveal I have a hot tub. I did not want a hot tub. My wife did, and I objected on the ground that people buy them and seldom use them, wasting both money and maintenance time. But we got a hot tub, and the irony is that I am the one who uses it the most. For a good while I found myself in that hot tub four or five times a week, usually late at night, after a long board or committee meeting or an evening of working at the office.

I refer to it as my prayer tub, and it is a wonderful place to commune with the Lord—under the stars and in the midst of His creation. I have found that the moment I sink into that 100-degree water, I cannot help but emit a contented sigh and a “Thank you, Jesus.” I am instantly in an attitude of praise. I have spent many nights in my tub, praying out loud and hoping my neighbors don’t hear.

Recently, I was in my prayer tub having a good conversation with my Lord about prayer. I asked Him, “Lord, why isn’t my prayer life stronger, more consistent than it is? Why do I often pray last, not first? Why don’t I exhibit greater discipline in prayer? Why don’t I pray with greater frequency?”

There are many possible reasons why we do not pray as we ought, but God brought three to my mind that night. Yours might be different, but perhaps something in my experience will stir some thoughts about your prayer-relationship with God.

Weak faith—I don’t really believe God will hear and answer . . . so I’ll wait until my faith is stronger, and then I’ll pray.

Pride—I don’t really need God for this one; I can handle it myself . . . so I’ll save my prayer for something that is too big for me, and then I’ll pray.

And the ugly underside of pride: my sense of unworthiness—I don’t think I even deserve an audience with the Almighty, much less an answer . . . so I’ll wait until I have attained a degree of righteousness, and then I’ll pray.

In my discourse with my loving Father I sensed Him saying, David, can you set aside your objections and your analysis and simply obey My call to pray? Can you just do it because I have told you to, without regard to outcomes or expectations?

Suddenly, my mind went back to the night God turned my life around and set me on a new course. It was my “crisis experience,” though I did not know that term and had not yet discovered The Alliance.
I was 24 and in my last semester of law school. I had given my heart to Jesus as a boy but had drifted far from Him. In time, I forsook my heritage of faith and regarded the doctrines of the Church as too simple and unsophisticated for any intelligent adult. In fact, I had concluded that I was an atheist.

Then a series of unhappy events left me broken and bottomed out, to the point of having suicidal thoughts. I was in a trough of depression never experienced before or since, despairing of any hope or happiness ever again. At two or three o’clock in the morning, as I sat at the kitchen table weeping with my face in my hands, a voice filled the room, not audibly but as real as a clap of thunder, and I heard one word: Pray!

I was startled—by the “sound” of the voice, by the palpable presence in that room, and by the instruction itself. I could not remember the last time I had uttered a prayer of any sort. I didn’t go to church; I had no idea where my Bible was; I didn’t believe in God, for goodness sake! Why would I pray?

Yet there was something so real, so powerful, so compelling, so true in that voice that I knew inwardly—I can’t even say how—that all my hope was in that word: Pray. And I did.

In the years since, I have said that if faith is a matter primarily of believing, then I had little if any faith when I prayed that night. But if faith is primarily a matter of obedience, I could not have been more sincere. I didn’t know if anyone was listening, but I was desperate and at the end of myself. Somehow—God’s grace!—I knew my life was hanging in the balance at that moment, and I prayed a very simple prayer: Lord, I have made a mess of my life, but if You want it, You can have it.

That was it, and I meant every word. God mercifully responded to that prayer in the next days, weeks, and months; the rest of my days on earth and for eternity hinged on that moment.

Fast forward to my recent prayer tub talk with my God of grace and glory. As I wrestled with Him over my weakness and failure in prayer, Jesus instructed me:

  • David, stop trying to work up enough faith to merit an answer. You’re weary and burdened; come to Me for rest. Just pray.
  • David, stop thinking that you can handle things in your own strength. You can’t do anything apart from Me. Just pray.
  • David, stop believing the lie that you aren’t worthy of an audience with Me. You are clothed in My righteousness. Ask in My name—anything—I’ll give it to you. Just pray.
  • And, David, isn’t that the word—the one word—that I spoke to you nearly 40 years ago? Didn’t you obey then? Didn’t your obedience change everything? Can’t you just obey now? Can’t you just do it because I say so?

Yes, Lord. Yes! I can do that.

At its root, all prayer is an act of surrender: Here I am, Lord, yielding control and trusting in you.

Listen to the Word of the Lord:

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray
(Psalm 5:1–2).

I lift up my eyes to you,
To you whose throne is in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand
of their master,
as the eyes of a maid look to the
hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he shows us his mercy
(Psalm 123:1–2).

“Lord, have mercy.”
Just pray.

2 responses to Pray!

  1. Thank you, David, for your heart-felt words. I, too, struggle with consistency in my prayer life in spite of the fact that many people see me as a real prayer warrior. Sometimes I feel like such a fake! But I try to remember that God doesn’t care about when I pray, how I pray or how long I pray as much as He wants me to long for that connection with Him that says, “Lord, I know you’re there and I want to spend time with you. Would that I would hear His voice when He says, as He said to you,” Pray!”

  2. I have struggled the same way. This is exactly my life. I attend the Pentecostal church but can’t grasp the Holy Ghost . I have tried and prayed My faith is the issue that blocks the presence of the Holy Ghost. I read AB SIMPSON AND AW TOZER. This message was meant for me. Thank you.

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