Leaning In: Prayer that Brings us Closer to God

Prayer Blog 4 leaning into GodMy Fears in Prayer

When the prospect of joining the prayer team was first presented to me, I had a lot of questions. How was I supposed to engage in spiritual warfare? What if someone came to me for physical healing prayer? What if I prayed for one thing and the exact opposite ended up happening? What if God asked me to do something that I was really, really uncomfortable with?

In every question I brought before I God, he seemed to answer with the verse, “Submit yourselves, therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” 1. At first I thought this answer seemed a little too obvious, elementary even. I found myself sort of saying, “That’s it? I’ve been a Christian for a lot of years, I know which side I’m on. Submit to God, resist the devil. Okay, got it (like in basic Christianity 101).

But the more this verse looped through my mind at the turn of every question I brought before God, I began to see how often I had been getting this basic verse backwards.

For example, on some fundamental level I was resisting God in any area of praying for physical healing. When the idea came up, I pushed back and leaned away. Let someone else deal with physical healing was my thought, its not my calling, not my passion. But in reality what I was doing was taking a faithless approach to a very biblical concept. I was afraid of looking like a freak, afraid of praying for healing and the fallout when healing didn’t come, afraid of putting myself in a position to be disappointed by God, afraid of praying without power and being ineffective when someone else’s quality of life depended on me to come through. I had similar questions and concerns in many other categories of prayer, but God began to show me that by just brushing these things aside and leaving them for someone else to deal with I was letting my fear rule and in doing so, I was resisting God and submitting to the devil.

Leaning In

And so, I began to ask God how I was to change my heart and change my mind in all these areas of uncertainty in prayer, and He gave me these words, “lean in”. Meaning that in all things, everything I was afraid of, confused about, or uncomfortable with, in all things I was to take a posture of leaning in toward God verses leaning back and resisting God. I began to see that areas I couldn’t wrap my mind around created in me an immediate reactionary response of leaning away and God was challenging me, inviting me to press deeper into him, to get closer, to move with him even as I sorted out all that was still unclear to me.

Why We Resist

We resist God for a number of reasons, each I suspect unique to our own personal defense mechanisms that we’ve used to function within the world. For me personally, it so often comes back to self-protection. If I’m not actively living in courageous faithfulness and trusting God in the daily moments, my self-protection can slip into one of at least three lies as I try to relate to God: the lie of the fearful spirit, the lie of the orphan spirit, or the lie of the religious spirit.

The Fearful Spirit

The fearful spirit comes up as a shield…er, barrier between God and I because I am trying to protect myself from disappointment, shame, or confusion.

How many times have I not approached God from the truest, deepest questions of my heart because I was afraid that he wouldn’t show up for me, afraid that he would leave me hanging, to figure it out on my own. Which then I would have to conclude that either he didn’t want to meet me in my area of greatest need or he couldn’t, and both conclusions would leave me reeling in a black hole of panicked faithlessness. So I protected myself from this disappointment, by simply not going there with God. But in doing so, I severely limited, crippled even, the life, freedom, and richness of love I could know with God and all because of a fear that was built on a lie.

If we approach prayer from a fearful spirit, we are faithless, we do not trust God and so we are rendered ineffective within his kingdom. We will have forfeited our own power, but even more alarming than that, we will have allowed ourselves to be robbed of the deep intimacy and adventure we could have known in an active partnership with God. Fortunately, we have a profound truth with which we can combat this lie whenever it creeps into our hearts, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 From here we can take courage, lean into God, and dare to enter into that which scares us.

The Orphan Spirit

Another lie is the lie of the orphan spirit. This lie says, you are on your own. If you want to make something happen, you have to do it. God isn’t going to hold your hand and show you the way. He’s given you the information, now figure it out.

This lie is a tricky one, because all of Christianity is a process of growing up, of maturing in the faith, and the more we mature, the more God will entrust us with within his Kingdom. So no, maybe it isn’t always appropriate for God to hold our hands and walk us through something the way a parent leads a toddler who hasn’t quite got the walking thing down pat just yet. Surely there is a time for that with God, but that time is not supposed to last forever. We hope to grow. We want to know what it is like to run, to dance, to climb mountains within the Kingdom of God, so we have to learn to stand and move on our own, but that does not mean that God has left us to figure it out on our own, he is there training us for each new level of growth, each new phase we enter into as we learn to wield the power and gifting he has entrusted to us.

The lie of the orphan spirit attempts to rob us of our teacher, our mentor, our father. It says, “Sure, there’s eternal hope for you, but on the day-to-day living, you really are on your own. You’re an orphan left to survive the streets alone.” If this were true, that faith in Jesus gets us heaven but nothing else, it would be enough, but the glorious truth is that when Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom and set the new covenant into effect, we were offered both eternity and today with God. Jesus himself says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” 3 This statement directly follows the declaration that the Holy Spirit, our “Helper” will be with us and even dwell within us. And then again in the book of Romans we see Paul declaring that followers of Christ have “…received a spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”4. I have learned that if I approach prayer from an orphan spirit, I will miss just about any direct insight or connection from God because I have made an agreement with the enemy that I really am alone and this too is nothing but a lie.

The Religious Spirit

The third lie I have dealt with in my own prayer life is that of the religious spirit, it is similar to the orphan spirit in that the root of it is a faithless self-reliance, but it is different in that this one comes with a touch of pride, which can deceive us into thinking it is strong and secure. The religious spirit attempts to do the God thing, but without inviting God to lead it. This attitude approaches life from a biblical filter that is somehow godless. Like using the Bible as a moral code and general directions for living a good life, but not as the words of God himself.

Consider the difference between the pharisees and the disciples, both groups believed they were living for God. The Pharisees believed they were living “biblically” to a tee, but they missed the heart of God, even when he was literally standing in their midst. Now, remember the exchange between Jesus and his disciples when he asked them, “‘Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you… For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’”5.

I don’t want to approach prayer from a religious spirit. Just thinking about trying this hard to get it right and totally missing the intimacy and closeness of having God reveal himself to me makes my heart ache. It is not enough to live for God, I must do life with God. I must know him and be known by him, nothing else will satisfy. Without the relationship that grows through communication, prayer would be utterly pointless.

Red-Flagging an Attitude of Resisting God

Perhaps we can red-flag an attitude of resisting God within ourselves by looking at the categories of the Rebellious Heart and the Resigned Heart.

The Rebellious Heart

If we were to attempt to submit from a rebellious heart, we might look like the disgruntled employee with God. Grumbling as we go along with the bosses decisions, but we aren’t going to contribute anything of value to the project, with a rebellious heart feigning submission we might not try and thwart the bosses plans, but we certainly are not going to help the mission gain momentum.

The Resigned Heart

On the other hand if we are submitting to God from a resigned heart, we might be like the disillusioned church-goer, consistently going through the motions, but without any real hope that any of these “religious activities” make any kind of actual difference. We don’t have a bad attitude, necessarily, like those with a rebellious heart, but we have grown stale and stagnant in our apathy.

What Does it Look Like to Lean Into God?

So, practically speaking, what does “leaning in” look like? How can we recognize a submissive heart verses a resisting heart at work within our own souls? Here is the list I’ve complied so far: Leaning in/Submitting to God means:

  1. I enter into a situation with a soft heart.
  2. I search God out, I seek his heart on a matter.
  3. I don’t give up on God when hope is deferred, but I persist on the narrow path with patient endurance.
  4. I don’t retreat when it gets scary, I continue to show up, leaning on God for courage.
  5. I trust God even when I don’t have it figured out.
  6. I cultivate faithfulness toward God in all uncertainties.

Submission & Responding

There is a correlation between submission and responding. The goal of each is unity, movement together, moving forward. It implies a partnership. Think of a couple ballroom dancing, one leads, the other responds. There is a fluidity, a rhythm to the exchange that makes it captivating. The responding of the “submissive” partner happens within the leader’s timing, they are in sync, moving together, moving as one, and yet, there is a clear leader and a follower. Something is required of the follower, she must show up fully. Imagine how differently the dance would look if the follower misunderstood submission as do nothing, go limp and let the leader drag you to where he wants to go…not so captivating anymore.

I think the beauty of the word “Submission” is deeply opposed by a vengeful enemy who seeks to destroy the goodness of life’s most meaningful relationships. And at the top of the list of abundant relational fulfillment is your potential ability to bond, connect, submit, and respond to God. The very idea of submission has been shrouded in a cold and oppressive darkness until the word can no longer sound relational at all.

One of my personal misconceptions about submission that God has exposed recently is thinking that submission means to lay down and disappear, play dead, essentially. This misconception carries with it the idea that the thoughts, actions, and input of the person in the submissive position are not really of interest or value and they are just to go along with whatever their leader decides.

This shows up in our prayers when we take the “God, tell me what to do” approach every time we come before him. Now, there is nothing wrong with seeking God’s will, we want to know his will so that we can live within it, but if our prayers are solely looking for instruction from God rather than drawing close to him and cultivating the relationship, then we are not showing up and standing on your own two feet, we are not bringing our hearts fully into the relationship and it is difficult to relate to a non-person. “Just tell me what do,” is not a relational approach to something, because it is removing the self from the equation. This is not how we get out of God’s way, this is how we become dead weight in the partnership.

Consider Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, he was seeking God’s will and ready to submit to it, but not from a place of empty resignation, rather he came before his Father as a full man with a full heart. He offered himself fully, requesting his unveiled desire. Do you see how there is no resisting in Jesus’ posture toward God, he isn’t dead weight because he has not deadened his heart to a place of resignation and he is not rebellious because he trusts God and he leans into his Father in all things, submitting fully from a full heart. Only from there could he agree fully to the will of his Father and commit to what needed to be done. He kept no pockets of resentment or resignation stored away to corrode his heart as he walked Via Delarosa to Golgotha. No, he was all in, in full agreement with God. His heart was present in his submission. If his heart had not been present, the submission would have seemed like a wall between him and his God, but with a present heart, the submission bonded them together in a joint mission of one heart and mind.6

Imagine This:

There is a sense of “getting under” authority that is present in submission, but not in a lay down so I can walk over the top of you kind of way, rather in a lean in, your head here, under my head, on my shoulder, fitting with me, putting yourself in a position to be loved and protected kind of way.

Imagine with me for a second that you are in a brand new relationship, you are young and have no idea how this whole dating thing is supposed to work. You are eager to be close to one another, but fairly stiff and and awkward as you wade into this wild new territory. As the girl, you are sitting next to your new guy, enjoying his nearness despite your apprehension when suddenly he puts his arm around you. You stiffen up out of fear and uncertainty and its horribly uncomfortable, his arm feels huge behind your neck and you sit like a log beside him, balancing with anxious energy so you that in your stiffness you aren’t tipped forward and sent falling off your seat. You begin to fidget, trying to figure out how this is supposed to work, when by either accident or some stroke of intuitive genius you lean in. You lower yourself a little so that your head moves into place just below his head, resting somewhere between his shoulder and his chest. You fit here in a way you did not when you resisted. You begin to feel his heartbeat and you know something of him that you didn’t before. Ah, yes, this is good. Your rigid discomfort finally relaxes within his arms and you begin to feel as though you could stay right here forever.

I’ve found “leaning in” to God to feel something like that. God calls me into something new, something scary, something that I have no category for, I don’t have answers for, I haven’t got it figured out yet, and if I resist, remain stiff, hard hearted, distrusting, retreating out of fear, this new thing becomes the most uncomfortable thing in the world and everything within me wants to go back to before when I sat comfortably next to God, but not directly engaged in something with him. But when I decide to trust, to risk, to hope in the character of God and lean into him, my head on his heart, awakened by what stirs and moves him, aware of his movement and responding to his lead, then, even though I might not have anything anymore figured out, all that doesn’t matter as much anymore because I just want to be here, close to my God, held within his arms, listening to the sound of his heart.

That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

By Makaila Mobley

  1. James 1:7
  2. 2 Timothy 1:7
  3. John 14:18
  4. Romans 8:15
  5. Matthew 16:15-17
  6. Matthew 26:36-46
  7. James 4: 6-8

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