Years ago, I found a quote that changed how I viewed prayer: “[The] chief purpose of prayer [is] to realize the presence of your heavenly Father.”
Deuteronomy 4:7 agrees: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?”
The Creator of the cosmos bends His ear to our praises, listens to our pleas, and pauses to hear each need. Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
Jesus spoke of prayer as a deliberate and regular habit: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
Your “room” may be anywhere. Just ask Jonah.
Recently, I studied the Book of Jonah and tried to imagine how Jonah felt as he flew overboard into the Mediterranean Sea. The shock of cold water soaking his robes and pulling him downward. The stinging salt. The sense of drowning. The ominous shadow of a sea creature. The sensation of being swallowed alive. The slime and mucus. The claustrophobia and seaweed and smell.
How would you have felt? What would you have done for the next three days?
Jonah could have screamed incessantly. He could have kicked the fish in the ribs and beaten his fists against its stomach. He could have tried to escape, struggling to crawl out the way he came in. He might have sunk in self-pity and depression. But we’re only told of one thing he did: “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. From inside the fish Jonah prayed” (Jonah 1:17–2:1; emphasis added).
He prayed earnestly and intelligently. Though Jonah was entombed beneath tons of water, his prayer flew to the highest heaven, unfettered, unhindered. And it changed Jonah, it changed Nineveh, and it changed history. More precisely, God was with Jonah there in the fish, showing him that prayer isn’t the last resort; it’s the best option.
I’ve never been swallowed by a giant fish, but I’ve been inside a lot of problems that made me want to scream, rage, worry, despair, languish, overanalyze or give up.
But Jonah turned his panic into prayer and his prayer into praise. It calmed his spirits and restored his mind. He drew closer to God in the sea than he had been on land. Jonah said, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2).
The longer Jonah prayed, the better he felt and the sicker the fish became, finally spitting him onto dry ground. And that’s what prayer does. It thrills the Lord, nauseates the devil and frees us.
Our problems simply cannot imprison us when we pray. Without prayer, we’re trapped by the troubles of life; when we pray, God turns those troubles into tools for accomplishing His will. Prayer invites God into our space, and when He comes in, He takes over.
Eliza Garfield, a widow of strong faith, determined to raise her children alone. Her son, James, left home at 16 to work on the Ohio and Erie Canal.
One rainy night about midnight, James picked up a coil of loose rope on the bow of the ship and lost his balance, falling headlong over the railing into black waters, just like Jonah. James cried out in prayer. Suddenly, his hand felt the untethered rope. As he grabbed it in desperation, it snagged on something.
James pulled himself, hand over hand, onto the deck. He discovered that as the rope had zipped along the railing, its end had caught in a crevice. He realized God had a plan for his life.
Arriving home almost too weak to walk, he staggered toward the cabin with a light in the window. Peering in, he saw his mother kneeling in the corner, praying for him.
He later became the only president of the United States who was also an ordained minister. Eliza was the first mother to watch her son take the oath of office as commander in chief, and all because Eliza knew how to take her burdens to the Lord.
Prayer isn’t a matter of sending words billions of miles into space toward an unseen power. Prayer is recognizing the presence of the heavenly Father and casting your cares on Him.
Are you in deep sorrow? Deep anxiety? Deep trouble? David wrote, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (Psalm 18:16). There are no depths like the fathomless billows of God’s love. So, when you come to the end of your rope, don’t sink in despair. Find a knot, hang on, and draw near to God in prayer. ©2023 Robert J. Morgan
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.
Adapted by permission from Always Near: 10 Ways To Delight in the Closeness of God, published by Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee.
Robert J. Morgan is the leader of Robert J. Morgan Ministries and the author of more than 35 books.