“Let us then ask the Lord to teach us how to pray with holy confidence, so that we might enter into this life, the life that will truly make us saints.”
As I walked into the airport at Washington, D. C., I was overwhelmed. I had never been in this airport before, and while it was small, the layout was not one I was familiar with. To top it off I had to check a bag (which I almost never do), and this step only added to my anxiety. I quickly read the signs, got my bag tagged and weighed, and walked over to the place I was supposed to drop my bag. Imagine my surprise when I saw that instead of there being a person to hand the bag off to, I was supposed to just slide my bag under a rope to join a caravan of other bags waiting to be sorted by the airline workers, none of whom were in sight.
There was no way for me to know what was going to happen to my bag. There wasn’t the normal security of handing my bag off to another person and so there was no guarantee that someone else was going to take care of it after I left it there. Resignedly, I shot up a quick prayer: “Jesus, this bag is Yours. You have to take care of it now.” And I walked away.
This was a major triumph for my weak little soul. I wish I could tell you that this was a normal response for me, but to honest I generally hate situations like this I hate giving up control. I’m uncomfortable with just doing what I can and stepping back to let everything else happen. I want to know what’s going to happen. I want to be sure of the outcome before I say yes to the process. But for this one little moment, I was able to let go of my baggage, both my physical bag and this spiritual baggage, and let God be in control where He was supposed to be in control. For one moment I caught a glimpse of the way we are invited to live at all times.
Scripture is filled with examples of this holy confidence, of people who step out in faith, doing their part and trusting God to do His in circumstances much more serious than simply dropping off a suitcase. There is our father Abraham, who left his home with his wife and all that he owned to go off into the wilderness, without the faintest idea of where God would call him. There is Joseph, who boldly interpreted dreams to Pharaoh and trusted that he was proclaiming a message that was true. There is Jesus, Who in a human way trusted Himself to His Father at every moment, always listening to where He wanted His Son to go and what He wanted Him to do. Jesus did not hesitate to do everything that was asked of Him, and He trusted His Father to be with Him and to see Him through it all, even to His very death. This is the confidence we are called to live out of at every moment, in every circumstance.
But, how do we do that exactly? What each of these examples (even my experience at the airport) tells us more than anything is that if we want to act with confidence, it is important that we first pray with confidence. Before Abraham went off into the wilderness, he heard the Lord call him there. He had established a relationship with the Lord that was already loving and already trusting, and so was able to respond to His call. Before Joseph interpreted dreams to Pharaoh, he learned the voice of the Lord, and so could recognize when the Lord was speaking to Him and giving him the message he needed to share. And of course, Jesus constantly went off to pray by Himself, to be with His Father and communicate with Him. He brought everything before the Lord, praying with confidence: “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me…” (John 11:42). So, if we as followers of Jesus want to live a holy and radical life, we first need to have holy and radical prayer. So the question we really need to ask is not what do we do, or how do we live, but how do we pray?
The book of the little-known prophet Habakkuk offers us some surprising insight into this question. In this book, Habakkuk is praying on behalf of the Jewish people, who have once again found themselves under tyranny and oppressive rule. He cries out to the Lord with an honest heart, “How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and You do not listen? Or cry out to You, “Violence!” and You do not intervene? Why do You let me see iniquity? Why do You simply gaze at evil?” (Habakkuk 1:2-3) He is unafraid to call the Lord to fulfill His promise of saving His people, and is unwavering in his pleas for justice and mercy.
At the same time as he makes his complaints, and boldly cries out for justice, he waits expectantly for an answer. He declares resolutely, “I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart. I will keep watch to see what He will say to me, and what answer He will give to my complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1) Not only does he have the confidence to proclaim the needs of his people and to hold the Lord to His promises, but he also has the audacity to stand before the Lord and wait for His reply. He anticipates that he will be heard and that God will respond to him, and is steadfast in his expectation.
In his final act of confident praise, Habakkuk declares the glory of God. He says, “O LORD, I have heard Your renown, and am in awe, O LORD, of your work. In the course of years revive it, in the course of years make Yourself known… For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine,… yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. GOD, my Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:2, 17-19) He calls upon the Lord to once again show His strength and His power, yet he gives God praise and pronounces his confidence in God even as he awaits the promised outcome.
The boldness of this prophet, his honesty and his confidence, his daring to go even to the point of confrontation in his encounter with the Almighty One, is a real challenge to me, and I think to all of us. Do I pray with this same boldness, with the audacity of this man’s faith? Do my conversations with the Lord match the pitch of this holy prophet, or can I step out farther in my dialogue with the Lord? Can I also dare to speak to Him with such confidence and expectation?
It might feel unnatural to pray with this kind of fire and to step out in this way. We might even be tempted to think the Lord will rebuke us for our boldness. But the Lord has made it known that He will listen to us and He will hear our ardent cries. The Lord responds to Habakkuk, and He responds to others in the Scriptures who dare to speak to Him with expectancy and faith (see Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:20, and the prayer of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-9). And His response in unequivocal: He will save. He will bless. He will work miracles. And He will keep His promises. So we may have confidence that if we dare to ask of Him great things, He will come through for us too.
Friends, there is no reason to be afraid. The Lord desires to live a bold and radical life with you. He wants to do with you the things He’s done with all His saints. He wants to live in intimate encounter with you and make you capable of things you never thought possible. Let us then ask the Lord to teach us how to pray with holy confidence, so that we might enter into this life, the life that will truly make us saints.