I've been reading Paul Miller's A Praying Life. We've been going over it in a Sunday School class at church as well.
It's an excellent book, but so far has not completely answered a question I've struggled with for years. I recognize that prayer is a way God works in our lives and that waiting for answers is one of His means of sanctification in us. But too often I'm left feeling like there's got to be more, a lot more, to be experienced. Although viewing prayer in that light definitely helps us accept God's timing and sovereign control over every detail, it still leaves me feeling like something's missing. It's not that I don't want to trust God with every detail of my life, or even enter into others' lives with fervency in the same way the Apostle Paul did; that's not the point. It's just that I think prayer also involves connecting with the heart of God, entering into the Holy of Holies, and falling down like Isaiah in our weakness. It's seeing how big God is and how small we are.
Another way to describe and possibly expand this idea is to see prayer as a never ending fountain from which we experience God the Father and our Savior Jesus Christ on many levels - in our personal lives, in community with other believers, and in conjunction with God's kingdom purposes. It goes beyond what happens to us as we see the awesomeness of God; as with Isaiah, it links us to how God wants to use us as instruments to extend His grace. Isaiah ended up saying "Lord, send me." Prayer not only works its sanctification within us as we wait upon God's timing, prayer also compels us, motivates us, energizes us for what God wants to do through us.
Miller hints at this in different ways in his book but doesn't tackle it completely, or else I wasn't perceptive enough to grasp it in what he said. In any case, I'm fairly confident he would wholeheartedly agree. If I have my facts right, I believe he helped his father Jack run World Harvest Mission before entering into other areas of ministry. I think his book is the best I've read so far on prayer, so I'm not in any way disappointed with what I've learned from it. It's just that it doesn't go quite far enough (unless I missed it). What it DOES do that is especially helpful to me is link prayer with the Word of God. Miller says that in prayer we are putting the Word to work. I really like this idea. We need to be intentional in praying very specifically for needs, using God's Word as our foundation. I've done this on various occasions but have not (yet) made it a regular habit in my life. My normal pattern is to pray for a need with vague notions of how God's Word relates rather than using specific verses or passages.
Our best reference for how to pray is Jesus. We pray like Him, we pray along with Him, we pray To Him, and ultimately we recognize He is praying through us as He intercedes to the Father for us. Like Jesus, we draw into the Father's presence and submit our wills totally to the Father. We pray for our daily bread, for the Kingdom to come, for evil to be restrained. We cry out to Him when we are in a tough spot, knowing He's been there too. As Miller points out, we bring our burdens to Him and lay them at the cross. We leave them there and trust that what He did for us on the cross is our basis for hope. He conquered death and sin and it will never have the upper hand. And when we're struggling to pray due to unbelief, grief, or pain, we can simply rest in knowing He's there and interceding on our behalf. We don't have to have a big guilt trip over not praying; if we do, Satan's getting what He wants. Rather we can relax and wait for the difficult season to pass.
Like Jacob, sometimes we wrestle in prayer. We say "God, where are you?" or "God, why does it have to be this way?" This does not threaten God. In fact, it pleases Him for us to seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 says "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him." When we wrestle, we're seeking. We cannot do that if we deny His existence. We know He's there. We know we're not connecting with Him the way we'd like to. There's a disconnect between what we know and what we experience. We're acknowledging our lack of abiding in Christ - our ultimate call as believers. God may break our hip in the process and make us weak so we continue to depend on Him and have a reference point to go back to when our old nature manifests itself, but He is faithful to bless us in the end. Like Jacob, He renames us, remakes us, and motivates us to pursue Him and His kingdom purposes.