Incline Your Ear, Oh Lord
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From King David to Susanna Wesley, the faithful have been writing their prayers down for thousands of years. Barbara Rainey talks about the benefit of getting real and honest with God. Rainey shares some of her own prayers.
Incline Your Ear, Oh Lord
Bob: Does God want us to make sure our prayers are theologically buttoned up, or does He just want us to pour out our heart/our emotions to Him, no matter how messy they are? Barbara Rainey says, “God wants both.”
Barbara: At the end of the day, I really only want one thing—I want to please God—that’s all it is. I know He’s okay with me saying what I really feel; but in the end, I’m going to choose Him: I’m going to choose His way, His timing, His everything; because I know He knows what He’s doing. I know that, if I were in charge, it would not turn out real well.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Jesus taught us, as His disciples, how to pray; but He also says, “Come to Me when you are weary and heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest.” Barbara Rainey joins us today to talk about prayer. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you guys a story.
Dave: I love, Bob!
Ann: This is story time. Here we go! Yes!
Bob: You ready for my story?
Dave: Story time with Bob.
Bob: And before I tell the story, let me just welcome back to the studio with us again, Barbara Rainey, who is joining us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome.
Barbara: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: We’ve already mentioned that she is here without her husband, which is an unusual circumstance; but we’re having a great conversation about prayer, which is the story I wanted to tell you.
When I was in high school, the church I went to in high school was a traditional, mainline church, where on Sunday at the worship service, there would be prayers that would be read out of the bulletin. I remember thinking: “Is anybody even paying attention to any of this? They’re are just mouthing words.” I mean, I was: I was just reading these prayers; I wasn’t paying much attention to them; didn’t know what some of the words meant.
So when I wrote a paper for my confirmation class in church—I’m in high school—I write this paper. I say, “In Matthew 6, it says that our prayers are supposed to not just be meaningless babel; it’s supposed to be from our heart.” I kind of came away with this view that prayer, that is not in the moment and spontaneous, is somehow not the way you’re supposed to pray.
Barbara: And I thought the same thing.
Bob: Right; you’re just/you’re just supposed to pray from the moment; and anything you are reading out of a book or anything—that’s just the way the pagans do it; okay? [Laughter]
Now, flash-forward about 20 years; I’m in New York City for the first time in my life, and I’m touring New York City. I walk into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. It’s on a Sunday night. Mass was not happening, but Saint Patrick’s is open all the time. People are walking into see it—the architecture/the whole thing. They’d had services there that morning, and there was a bulletin with all of these printed prayers in it. I picked it up; and I scoffing, started looking through this; I go, “Yes, let’s see what these prayers are all about.”
I opened up to a prayer of confession, and it was a traditional prayer of confession that’s used in the Catholic church and the Anglican church. It’s the one that says: “Lord, we confess that we have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. We have sinned with things we’ve done, with things we’ve left undone. We’re unworthy….” I’m reading this, and I go, “My prayers of confession are pretty mild compared to what this is.” I mean, this is really laying me bare differently than I do when I just am spontaneously going, ‘Oh, Lord, I blew it; sorry’”; right?
All of a sudden, I realized people spend time, thoughtfully pondering what it is they want to say to God. I mean, if you got invited to go to the White House to speak to the President—and they said, “Now, you might want to spend a little time thinking about what you’d want to say to him while you’re in the Oval Office,”—you’d probably spend a little time—maybe, even jot out some notes—rather than “I’ll just say whatever comes to mind in the moment”; right?
The reason I bring all of this up is because of the new book, Barbara, that you have written called My Heart, Ever His, a collection of 40 prayers that reminded me, when I first saw it, of the Valley of Vision prayer book—that is the old Puritan prayer book—which I know you’ve used.
Bob: Was there a point in your life, where you started to realize that pre-printed prayers and people spending time and thinking about how to craft a prayer, that that could be a spiritually-enriching activity?
Barbara: I don’t have an experience that’s like yours, but I do remember getting a copy of the Valley of Vision prayers. Oh, I know—previous to that, actually—I started doing some digging into the life of Susanna Wesley. She wrote some prayers; I got her book. Someone printed a copy of that book—it was probably in the ‘90s—and I remember reading it. I loved her prayers; I loved some of the words that she used and some of the concepts. She used the word, “condescend,” which is not a word that we normally use much; but she wrote about how amazing it was that God would condescend to come down to our level.
I remember that phrase stuck with me; and it gave me a completely different view on what God did for us, just by reading her words. They were old words, of course, because they lived hundreds of years ago. That was my first introduction to—outside of the mainline church that I grew up in when I was kid—like you, that was my first introduction. Then The Valley of Vision was another one, and I read that thing over and over again. Those were kind of like primers; they sort of stirred that desire in my heart, I think, over the years before I actually started doing it myself.
Bob: There is something about other people giving thought and attention, and giving us words and language that wouldn’t come to us on our own—that causes us to go: “Yes, that’s how I’ve felt,” “That’s what I’ve been thinking,” “That’s what I’m going through,”—that can deepen our engagement with God as we go to Him in prayer.
Ann: Not only that, but I think it can help teach us how to pray—of what that intimacy looks like, and the honesty of what that can look like—and then even how we come back to praise, and trust, and prayer to God about it.
Let me say this, Barbara—I just want listeners to know that you have marked my life—
Barbara: Thank you.
Ann: —I think, by your modeling what a woman is: a woman who walks with God, who follows God, who yearns to really grow with Him. To watch your marriage has been so inspiring and really made an impact on myself and also on Dave.
And I think you’re thoughtful with your words—where I’m one that I don’t necessarily hold my words back; and they just kind of all flow out, and I don’t even know what they are saying—but you’re thoughtful. When you say something, your words are weighty; they have a lot of meaning and weight to them. I think that your book is like that as well—like your words are thoughtful/beautiful.
I think, when people pray these and read these, I think that they’ll find that their heart resonates with your heart, and your yearnings, and your longings. You wrote a prayer on marriage—
Barbara: I did.
Ann: —and I’d love you to, at least, read part of it.
Barbara: Yes; this was a fun one to write because marriage has been, for me, wonderful. It’s a gift from God, but it’s been far more challenging and complicated than I ever dreamed it would be.
Ann: —which most people may not assume that could be true—
Barbara: It is absolutely true.
Ann: —of you and Dennis, because you are the marriage experts.
Barbara: Yes, it’s absolutely true. I wrote this about marriage: “Why God, did you create marriage?” my daughter asked. I remember the day she texted me that, or called and asked me that, because she was struggling too. I started with her quote.
“Why God did You create marriage?” she asked. Sometimes, I wonder too. We all bought happily ever after; and too often, it is not. Your idea was conceived before Adam and Eve: Three-in-One imagined a plan to show Your oneness. Two free-will creatures formed by You: “Together,”—You declared to us—“display Us on earth.” That was our mission: to let people see Jesus in us.
The journey has been harder than I ever imagined on that happy “I do,” day. There were times, Lord, You remember, when I questioned Your design—wondered how we’d ever get past the present crisis—but by not quitting, we always arrived on the other side with new unseen strengths; endurance built into us; knowing more love, appreciation, respect than before; our foundation anchored more securely; our relationship better than ever.
I ended by saying this: “Marriage Savior, no matter what trials lie ahead, I want to be found believing You and Your every word. I want my marriage to be a beacon/a light, calling others to join us to ‘…death do us part.’ May all those who see our committed union be encouraged with great hope to believe in You; because nothing is impossible for You, even marriage. Amen.”
Ann: We could read that every day.
Barbara: Yes; we could. [Laughter] Yes; we could.
Ann: That’s beautiful.
Dave: And it is so well-written; as I said before, when I read it, I felt like I was in your prayer life and also in my prayer life. That was the thing—it was so authentic/so honest—I’m like, “I’ve felt these same things.”
But let me ask you this—even as we’ve said before—in some ways, your journal is much like reading a Psalm. In the Psalms, one of the questions that I’m having—and I’m reading them right now, which is interesting, just in my own life—I read Psalm 10 the other day. David did what he often does: He starts with a sort of lament or complaint, and then he ends with belief.
Dave: Like here is Psalm 10; he says: “Why, O Lord, do You stand far away? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” I’ve got to be honest—I’ve been reading one a day—and so, as I started this Psalm, I’m like, “There he is whining again.” [Laughter] You know? I mean I like it—
Barbara: I mean, like right off the bat; it’s only Psalm 10. [Laughter]
Dave: I know. I’m like, “Man; I mean, every single psalm.” One part I appreciate; the other part I’m like, “Really, dude, you’re going to do it again?” Then, at the end of this one, he’s like: “O Lord, You hear the desire of the afflicted. You will strengthen their heart. You will incline Your ear.” I’m like, “Wow; what a journey from honesty”—
Barbara: “Where are You?”
Dave: Yes; “Where are You?”—we’ve all felt that—but then, by the end of the Psalm, which is 18 verses later, he has this belief.
I want to ask you this, because I read it even yesterday; I’m like, “I wonder if David wrote this Psalm in one sitting, or is this journey over days or weeks or months?” Same thing for you—as you walk through some valleys and some questions—were these psalms in one sitting? Or does that belief and trust for you—did it take time? Does it, sometimes, not come at the end of the writing of a psalm?
Barbara: Yes; I think the answer is, “Both.”
Barbara: I think some of them, it was just very easy to write them all in one sitting. I didn’t necessarily feel like God was near when I finished writing them; I didn’t feel any different at the end of it. It wasn’t about changing my circumstances or feeling a different way.
It was a really—it was really a faith exercise—“This is how I feel, but this is what I know is true about You. I want You to know how I feel, but I’m going to choose this—I’m going to choose to believe in You—no matter what; because at the end of the day, I really only want one thing—I want to please God—that’s all it is.” I know He is okay with me saying what I really feel; but in the end, I’m going to choose Him: I’m going to choose His way, His timing, His everything; because I know He knows what He’s doing. I know that, if I were in charge, it would not turn out real well.
Barbara: I would mess things up, and I’m content to let Him have the final word.
Some of the prayers were really quick; but some of them, I kind of had to think through and decide, “What do I really think about this?”; so it was/they were different.
Dave: Do you find that it is healing to write? You know, even Bob, you were saying earlier, when you would see somebody read a prayer instead of spontaneously, you think it’s not as meaningful. Yet, many times, the opposite when you take the time to say, “I’m going to write this out.” Like Bob said earlier, the prayer of confession—when I’ve listed my sins on a piece of paper, you’re gripped—it’s like, “Oh my goodness; look how—this is horrible,” rather than just flippantly, like you said—
Dave: —“It’s no big deal.”
As you wrote those down—I think even the psalmists: they went on this journey that they might not have gone on unless they sat and said, “I’m going to write this out.” Did you experience that?—
Dave: —sort of this journey of healing.
Barbara: Agreed. Yes; absolutely, I did. I think there is something about putting it on paper that makes it concrete. When it’s up here in the brain, and I’m just talking to God, as I go, I get distracted—I see things—I mean, I just lose my train of thought. But when I was writing these out, I had to really evaluate: “What do I feel? What do I know is true about God? How does all of this reconcile?” It was very healing.
Bob: I’m guessing that once you turned in these 40 prayers to the publisher and said, “Here is my book,” you’ve continued the discipline?
Barbara: It’s not as much of a discipline as it was when I was trying to meet a deadline. [Laughter] However, I have continued to write some; and I’ve enjoyed the process. Yes, I’m still doing it and want to do more. I’m kind of in a little bit of a lull right now.
Ann: How are you different today than you were as a young mom? Is there anything that you wish you would have implemented, as a young mom, that you’ve learned over the years?
Barbara: The answer is resoundingly, “Yes.” What would it be?—I’m not really sure. Without question, I’m radically different than I was as a young mom; because I was just trying to figure out life; I was trying to figure out marriage.
Ann: You’re just surviving.
Barbara: Absolutely; it was just surviving. I wanted to please God, and I wanted to do it God’s way; but I didn’t really know what that was. So I was trying to figure that out. I didn’t have the space in my life to write prayers; I didn’t have the space in my life to do the kind of Bible study that I have in my life right now. A lot of those years—I look back—and I was just frantic, really/frantically trying to keep pace with all that was happening in my life.
I was praying, and I was reading the Bible, and doing those things; but I didn’t have the space to really think. That’s what I need; that’s part of the way I’m wired—is I need alone time—I need time to kind of decompress, and think, and evaluate. I’m very contemplative by nature. The nature of raising kids is not contemplation. [Laughter] It’s fast-paced; it’s crazy; you’re constantly responding to needs and demands and all of that.
That was hard for me; that was a hard season of life. I loved it; I loved being a mom, but it was hard for me to keep my soul alive and refreshed because I didn’t—I just didn’t know how to manage the chaos and everything that we dealt with.
Ann: The reason I brought that up was because I felt many of those same things when our kids were younger. I felt a sense of guilt and shame—
Barbara: I did too.
Ann: —that I didn’t have more time—
Barbara: That’s right.
Ann: —and should be doing more.
Yet, I look at the different stages of a woman’s life; I think: “Now, you do have the time,” and “What a great gift for the young mom, who is frantic and doesn’t have the time.” But to even read her Bible when she can, to read a prayer like this—you could even scan through the pages—like even one of your prayers is the “Comparison Delusion.” Especially, young moms today and young women today, now we have the comparison on the internet, where we are comparing everyone in the world—
Barbara: That’s right.
Ann: —not just our friends—but everyone.
Ann: I think it’s really important for us to not necessarily feel that guilt and shame—because we might not be at a stage where we can put all the time and energy in these beautiful prayers written down—but what we can do is talk to God all day long/we’re in conversation with Him. Maybe, we can read a prayer.
I used to have my Bible—one in the bathroom, one in my car, one on the table.
Ann: I’d even have it playing—I would even have the audio playing on my—now, you can do it on your phone.
I think it’s so beautiful that you have the time to do this for us.
Barbara: I hope what this will be for young moms is similar to me reading Susanna Wesley’s prayers; because that sort of gave me that connection on another level that I had longed for, but I couldn’t do on my own. I’m hoping this will be that for a lot of young moms—that they will be able to take a piece, or even a line, or a paragraph and really commune with God in a way that, maybe, they haven’t been.
Dave: This would be a great book for husbands to buy for their wives—
Ann: It’d be a great gift.
Dave: —you know?
I was just thinking—I might have been reminded by somebody—[Laughter]—but when Ann was talking about those early years, with our kids little and craziness, I’d see her run into the bathroom, not having to go to the bathroom,—
Barbara: —just to go hide.
Dave: —just to have a moment of time.
Dave: You know the story we’ve told many times—but you know, when I come along and see this, I go upstairs and write, “Ten ways you can make your life more manageable.” I literally handed her that card—we’ve told that story—and she ripped it up and threw it away [Laughter]; but it would be much better if I handed her this.
Dave: This would be a gift to a young mom; wouldn’t it?—
Dave: —because it would, in your moment—
Ann: To any mom—not just a young mom—to any mom—
Ann: —a woman of any age.
Barbara: Well, and Mother’s Day is coming up soon; so there you go.
Dave: There you go.
Bob: I’m wondering if you had some subjects, that you wrote prayers for—where you were being empathetic as opposed to personal—where you said, “I know this is something that women are struggling with; and I’m going to write a prayer about this, even though it’s not something that’s a burden on my own heart.”
As I’m thinking about that, I’m wondering if David ever did that. I’m wondering if David ever sat down and said, “I’m going to write a psalm/a song for Israel to sing—not because I’m struggling with this—but because I know—
Dave: —“we are.”
Bob: —“we are: as a congregation, as a country, as a nation, we are struggling with these things.”
Were all of these borne out of your personal angst or were some of these because you saw—what your daughters were dealing with; or you had friends, who were dealing with stuff—and you wrote a prayer related to that?
Barbara: I would answer by saying I think most of them were personal. The one that Ann was referring to—“Comparison Delusion”—I don’t struggle with it in the same way that I did when I was younger, but it’s still real. It’s still real, no matter what age you are; you are looking at someone else, and you are comparing all the time. So that was just as real as some of the other ones. I’m not sure any of them were done, like, “This is a great topic; I need to write about this.”
If it wasn’t borne out of personal angst, like a couple of them near the end—there is one on the incarnation; there is another one on the second coming of Christ—those weren’t borne so much out of a personal need as much as I know: “This is true,” and “I want to help myself and others focus on the reality of what an amazing/miraculous—there are not words to describe what it meant for Jesus to come and become a cell; I mean, He really did that for us—I mean, it is just so mind-boggling. Those two, in particular, were—because I’ve just been learning so much about the incomprehensible nature of God—I wanted to put some of that on paper too.
Bob: How many times does the psalmist declare the great glory of God? There is no personal, emotional trauma he’s just going through; he’s exalting in praise.
Bob: So, there is a little of that in what you’ve done here too.
Ann: I think all of your topics/all of your prayers will hit the heart of every single woman. They did for me; honestly, they were so beautiful.
Dave: Here is one of the things I would say to a listener—that you’ve modeled for us—“How about tonight you pick up your pen, or digitally if you want to do it, write a prayer out?” Maybe, you’ve never done that before. I remember the first time I ever did that; it was a real—it was sort of awkward.
Dave: I’d never done it, but—
Dave: —then, as I did, it was like, “Wow, my real thoughts are getting down on paper.”
I would add this—because this is what I think you modeled—before you put your pencil down, ask God His heart and perspective, and listen, and write it. Don’t end that just with a complaint.
Barbara: Right; right.
Dave: Be honest—like you modeled—but at the end, say, “Okay; God, what are You saying to me about what I’m writing here?” Well, listen to the heart of God; the Spirit of God will speak. Then you’ll end up—where you take us almost every time—“I’m going to still trust You in this.”
Ann: It’s so interesting, Barbara—Dave and I, when we were dating, is when our faith was new. We started journaling every day; we have those journals back from 1979. A lot of those are prayers that we wrote out and prayer requests; but it—for our kids, to go back and to read those—it’s so amazing, because it’s a glimpse into your heart.
Barbara: —into who you are.
Ann: It’s the intimacy of love and relationship with Jesus. I love that; I love that you’ve written these out. I would encourage listeners, too, like, “If you have the time, write them out, and ask God”—because you’re right, Dave; so often, we’ll pray/we’ll ask God for things; and sometimes we just need to listen and sit with Him.
Barbara: That’s how you develop a relationship with God. I do think that there was something very transformational about doing this for me. I know that it positively changed my relationship with God; and I really do love Him more than I did before, and that’s just a wonderful place to be.
Bob: You are welcome here anytime.
Barbara: Oh, good. [Laughter]
Bob: You don’t have to bring your husband along to come back. [Laughter] Thank you for the book; thanks for the time.
Barbara: You’re welcome.
Bob: We want to encourage listeners to get your book and, not just to read through it, but to start praying their way through it. In fact, we’re making the book available right now for listeners who can support the work of FamilyLife Today, which I know is something that you’ve been passionate about for a long time. FamilyLife Today is entirely listener-dependent. To be on this local radio station, for the podcasts to continue, for you to be able to listen when you want/where you want, we need people like you to make that possible through your donations.
If you can help with a donation today—and I know, for many of you, this has been a difficult spring. Some of you are still reeling from all that we’ve been through this spring. We’re not trying to be insensitive; but you need to know that ministries like ours—probably your local church—we’re having to deal with the impact of the coronavirus as well. So if you are able to help with a donation, right now is a particularly helpful and strategic time for that.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; make an online donation, and request a copy of Barbara Rainey’s book, My Heart, Ever His; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; make a donation over the phone. Again, ask for Barbara’s new book, and we’re happy to send it out to you as a thank-you gift for your ongoing support of the work of FamilyLife Today. We’re grateful for your partnership with us.
We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to make some memories together this weekend and worship together. I hope you can join us Monday when we’re going to introduce you to Esther Fleece Allen, who has learned the importance of just being honest and authentic, even when it means people know about the messiness of your life. She’ll be here to share her story. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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