My husband has, from time to time, had a little trouble with expiration dates on food. On more than one occasion, he has complained of an upset stomach after having eaten potato salad he found buried deep in the recesses of our refrigerator. If I’d asked if he could remember the last time we’d eaten potato salad for dinner, he would probably have admitted he had no idea. I’ve told him that a good rule of thumb is, if you can’t remember the last time you ate something, it’s probably best to pitch it.
Expiration dates matter to me. I start eyeballing the milk container suspiciously when my calendar date starts sneaking up on its sell-by date. I’ll open a carton of milk, take a deep whiff, and perhaps con an unsuspecting test subject into tasting it for me. I hate ruining a perfectly good cup of coffee by pouring sour milk into it, only to watch it curdle.
A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my spiritual director, and I realized I have a sort of limited shelf-life mentality when it comes to how I think about prayer. I told her I had assembled a prayer team, twelve women who have committed to praying me through some hard things I’ve got going on in this season of life. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, scripture tells me, and so I’ve enlisted faithful saints to battle alongside me, prayer being our unconventional weapon of choice. And twelve seemed like a good symbolic number. After all, Christ chose twelve disciples; there are twelve months in the year, and let’s not forget about the twelve days of Christmas.
I told my director I thought the prayers of these women were making a noticeable difference in my life. I’ve been sensing greater peace. I’ve been more conscious of God’s presence as I walk through my days. I’ve been less fearful about things beyond my control.
“But,” I said, “I know my own weaknesses when it comes to persevering in prayer for others. It is so easy for me to slack off after promising to pray for someone. I’m afraid of what might happen if my prayer support begins to wane.”
“I have seen God answer some of my prayers many years later,” she said, “some of which I had completely forgotten about.”
And I remembered something I had read in the book of Revelation about the prayers of the saints. There is a whole lot within the pages of that book which I don’t pretend to understand. But tucked away in chapter seven is a description of four living creatures and twenty-four elders bowing down before the lamb which had been slain. And it says this:
. . .each (was) holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8, ESV
I probably would never had said this out loud, but I guess somewhere deep down in my thinking I assumed prayer needed to achieve some sort of critical mass before it reached God’s attention and moved him to act. I behaved as though I was afraid the ones already offered would expire at midnight each day, needing to be replenished, or else my supply would be depleted.
Sometimes I can be such a spiritual dork.
The prayers I offer, and those offered on my behalf, never expire. They don’t disappear, evaporate, or dissolve. They are not stamped with a sell-by date; their shelf life is eternal. God’s willingness to act doesn’t depend on the faithfulness of those who pray or even upon the frequency of the prayer offered.
He acts because he is powerful and good, and he has promised to accomplish everything he said he would.
Persevering in praying is about acknowledging helplessness and dependence on God while waiting for him to act. And he treasures and keeps every lisping, stuttering request made to him, delighting in each as if it were incense rising in beautiful aroma before him. I don’t need to worry about how many or how often prayers have ascended on my behalf. God will respond to each request at the exact time and in the precise way which is best for me. I can rest simply in knowing I have been loved and prayed for.
Which is a very good thing, because I probably should be paying more attention to cleaning out my refrigerator.
Linking with emily, who welcomes spiritual dorks: