During the summer of 2011, I worked full-time at a youth program to save for my next semester at DTS. Every day I came home exhausted. I cannot decide whether the exuberant teenagers or the sweltering heat caused my fatigue. Between bouts of “let’s hide from Ms. Margaret” and “go outside with us, Ms. Margaret,” I could not keep up with the mood swings. The only constant that summer was the Dallas heat.
Everyone expected the 1980 record of the most consecutive days exceeding 100 degrees to be broken in August. Up to that point, north Texas had experienced triple digits approaching the biblical number of forty. Many believed this hot season would exceed the record. I hoped it wouldn’t.
Why we chose to take our teens to the concrete jungle of Six Flags during the dead heat of summer, I will never know. I dread any summer outdoor activity without shade trees. So, I did like most in my situation—I complained.
Sometimes it takes a while for me to remember not to grumble, but to use those urges to communicate with God. At some point in my desperation, I did turn to the Lord and pleaded for relief. Please don’t let it be too hot when we go to Six Flags . . . PULEEZE.
I must confess, my prayers did not mention any spiritual disciplines. Forget self-control, loving my neighbor, patience. At that moment, I only wanted comfort. I did express some gratitude. Lord, thank you my current residence—where the heat can cause weeping and gnashing of teeth—is a temporary place and not the eternal one.
The day of the dreaded field trip finally arrived. The weather prediction echoed the previous forty days. Agonizing temperatures would continue to contain triple digits. I needed reinforcements—I wanted more saints to pray with me. If we all begged God together, he’d have mercy on us. My prayer requests encountered the usual, “Margaret, deal with it. The weather man said. . . .” “So let’s talk to THE Weather Man,” I responded.
I noticed my pleas weren’t availing much with men. So, I appealed to Scripture. “Look, Elijah prayed it wouldn’t rain. The Bible says we’re like him. Let’s pray about the weather” (Jas 5:16–18).
Another answered, “I’ll pray for God’s will.”
“OK. And I’ll pray specifically that God’s will keeps the temperatures from rising too high. During the hottest part of the day, the sun is like this,” I raised my right fist. “I pray a big, fluffy cloud will spread over it like this!” I raised my left palm and covered my fist. I didn’t care that I looked like the sole participant in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. I had a point to convey. I continued, “I only want one cloud, so you’ll know the power of MY God.”
The motivation of my prayer had changed. I no longer wanted a cooler day as a selfish reprieve from the heat. Instead, I wanted a magnificent display of God’s power. I wanted my coworkers to see that Philippians 4:6 is not hyperbole. Every believer should accept the motto, “Don’t worry; be prayerful!” Discomforts provide opportunities to talk with God. We will experience his peace when he answers.
As we loaded the bus, I left my reluctant “prayer partners” behind to their air-conditioned tasks. Hours later, the chatty teens filled the All American Café at Six Flags. I grabbed my tray and proceeded outside for solitude. As I sat at the table to eat, the sun kissed my face—a sloppy, wet kiss left a small drop of perspiration on my forehead. I glanced at the sky; heaven smiled and winked. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes in delight. I tilted my head further back, beaming with a lopsided grin of gratitude.
On our return, as I corralled the youth to get in straight lines, I noticed Mr. “Margaret, deal with it” approaching my co-teacher. I ear-hustled their exchange:
“How was Six Flags?”
“We had a great time. Not bad at all—not too hot. When the temperature started to climb, this one cloud came from nowhere and covered the sun for the rest of the day.”
“Margaret prayed for y’all,” he replied. Our eyes met.
God had revealed himself. Moreover, he used an unsuspecting coworker to confirm his answer.
Big Prayers for Small Things
Our American culture prides itself on independence. If we’re not careful, our self-determination can impede our experiences with God. Sometimes, unaware of what we have chosen, we take control of the small things. We tackle the things we can manage and leave the big things for God. The Lord loves to commune with us in every detail of our lives (Ps 139:1–18). In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote, “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.”
Proverbs 3:5 commands us not only to trust God but not to lean on our understanding. We need to challenge our independent streak. We need to cultivate the habit of praying about small things. As a result, watch God work in some amazing ways. Once, I prayed about what type of snack to buy. I’ll never forget the look in the homeless man’s eyes when I gave him a package of those graham crackers days later. With tear-filled eyes, he said, “I love graham crackers. I haven’t had any since I was a boy.” His eyes seemed to ask, how’d you know? I responded, “Jesus knew and cares.”
Before one road trip, I prayed about the specifics of which gas station to visit. When I pulled up to the pump, I met a distressed young man who’d run out of gas as he cried: “LORD, I need help!” What an incredible opportunity to witness the Lord’s timing. After asking whether he knew Jesus, I discovered he had received him as Savior a few days prior. He had traveled to Dallas to attend an event to learn more about Christ. The timing of our encounter confirmed for him that God existed. “This has shown me I didn’t make a mistake in trusting him.” His statement continues to bless me.
Answers to small prayers, like these, have taught me how God connects people. Every situation presents an opportunity to extend his love to the world. If we pray about little things, our perspective will expand to see God’s interworking hand in everything. Corrie ten Boom’s profound question in The Hiding Place provides an excellent challenge. “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
Small Prayers for Big Things
Sometimes life becomes too difficult to find the words to pray. I’m confident God answers even my shortest prayers. I have experienced times when trials have knocked me face down and speechless before the mighty throne of God. Often, life has handed me blow after blow in rapid succession. My tears had to suffice as prayers. The English language contained no words to convey the depths of my heartache to the Lord. Through sobs and deep sorrow, I have comfort in God and the power of intercessory prayer. I find solace in the fact that two Persons in our triune God intercede to the Father on my behalf.
Jesus promised us “another advocate to help [us] and be with [us] forever” (John 14:16). What comfort to know the Spirit of God knows all! He interprets all my sobs and moans. He knows the language of groans and prays according to the Father’s will for the things I can’t. Romans 8:26–27 states, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
What a beautiful comforter and intercessor we have who resides in us! He does not just appear when we’re in trouble; he experiences life with us daily. When I’m in deep sorrow, I can ask the Lord to use my tears as pleas for the Spirit’s intercession in my life. He will hear my cries and will pray for me when I can’t find the words. He will grant me peace and comfort when I’m at a loss for what to say. I can rest knowing if I can’t muster the right words, my God can.
When we’re in the midst of hard times, there’s a name we can cry out during life’s constant beatings. My experience with my sister has taught me the power of calling out a name. I know when my sister needs me by the tone in which she calls me. She doesn’t use my given name or one of my nicknames. When she desperately desires my help, I hear a soft, Southern twang-filled whisper: “Sistah.” It’s a privileged name based on her relationship with me. It transforms her from an articulate, DC attorney to the baby I remember rushing to at the slightest whimper. There’s a two-syllable name every believer has the privilege to call: Jesus.
If I can rush to my sister’s aid at her call, how much more will Jesus rush to ours when we call on his name. Driven by his love for us and his relationship with us, he, too, intercedes on our behalf (Heb 7:25). I find great comfort in Hebrews 4:15–16. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The books of Romans and Hebrews remind us the Lord handled our sins and secured our eternity. He can take care of any problem that bullies us. He binds our hurts; he has even endured wounds for our sakes. Thus, we can find comfort in the Lord and what he has done. What hope this gives—in what he can do—if we only ask and do so with right motives (Jas 4:2–3)! For Christ’s promise remains true: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14).
During tough seasons of life, I remember an old song I grew up singing. My little cries of Jesus’s name echo the lyrics by Rev. Cleavant Derricks. They beckon us to “have a little talk with Jesus” for “he will hear our faintest cry and he will answer by and by.” Indeed, the Lord answers every one of our prayers in his name and according to his will so we will glorify our heavenly Father (John 14:13).
The Lord desires not only his will in our lives but also intimacy with us now and for all eternity. A life of constant prayer broadens our perspective and deepens our view of his person, his power, and his care. It transforms our situations and our relationship with him. Many see August 11, 2011, as the day we lost the race for the 1980 heat record; I see it as a day of answered prayer. I witnessed the power of God despite the tone of my prayer. Like that cloud covering the sun during the hottest part of the day, our prayers cover the fierceness of life’s battles. God loves us deeply. We serve a God who longs to commune with us and answer our prayers. So, let’s open our hearts to pray about all things—big and small.
About the Contributors
Margaret Tolliver (MAMC, 2012) serves as the administrative coordinator for board meetings in the president’s office at Dallas Theological Seminary. She also volunteers in her church, ministering in praise/worship dance and teaching children about the gospel, God’s Word, and baptism. Her favorite thing to do is to encourage others to seek the Lord in everything that they do, especially if she can use the creative arts to do so.