Unexpected by Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.
My year of prayer is taking an unexpected turn. Or maybe the turn started last Easter, in my first year of prayer, when I felt prompted to learn more about human trafficking, particularly of young girls for sex. What I learned horrified me, to say the least, and I began to write about it. With the help of several generous friends, I raised over $1o00 for International Justice Mission (IJM) and Love 146, two organizations working hard to combat sex slavery.
As a result of my research and writing last year, I signed up for International Justice Mission’s weekly prayer update. Every Thursday I’d get an email with a half dozen or so requests for their work around the world. I confess, I’d usually read through it and say a couple of yes, God’s or thank you Jesus’s before deleting the email.
In the intervening year, though, I’ve learned a lot more about the work that IJM does—and the prayer that undergirds it—and I’ve been stunned buy the stories I’ve heard and read of God’s providence and provision and care both for the justice workers and for the people on whose behalf they’re working. God really does answer prayer.
And that makes me want to pray more.
So, much to my surprise, my year of prayer—which I originally envisioned as being somehow about me—is turning out to not be about me at all. (Shocking, I know.) God is slowly calling me out of myself; calling me to pray beyond the borders of my small house, my big family; calling me to set aside my doubt and my questions for a few moments and just. pray.
In the past several months, I’ve become more intentional about praying over IJM’s requests. Thanks to my iPhone, I can read the email anywhere, so I recently started pulling up the IJM prayer requests whenever I’m standing in a line. This means I now pray over them multiple times each week—at the grocery store, the post office, my favorite coffee shop, even the library.
The more I pray, the more I want to pray. I confess that the cynic in me expects that this is just some sort of honeymoon phase. Yeah, I’m all gaga about Jesus and prayer right now, but it’ll fade. The rest of me hopes my inner cynic is wrong. I pray about that, too—that when my googoo eyes wear off, I’ll still love Jesus, still love prayer, and that if I don’t, I’ll still practice it anyway.
The funny thing about all this—at least to me—is that I am one of those people who’s always buried her head in the sand. I never wanted to know about the awful things happening in the world. I didn’t want to feel the pain of other’s suffering. I didn’t want to feel the guilt of not doing anything about it. And I certainly didn’t want to risk hearing God call me to some far-off place without indoor plumbing.
Yet here I am, eagerly awaiting the next prayer email from IJM, emails that frequently break my heart and make me weep for people I’ve never met. I’ve even started fantasizing about maybe going on a mission trip someday. How is this possible? Who is this person I’m becoming? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I want to do something about the horrors in this world, and prayer is doing something. As Bethany Hoang says, “for every follower of Christ, being obedient to God’s commands to justice is….a daily, on-the-ground, person-by-person work of prayer.” Prayer is the fundamental work of a Christian.
I don’t understand how prayer works any more than I did a year ago. But I’m starting to see that how it works is less important than that it works. And that my work is to stop thinking so much about prayer and actually pray.