Prayer is a Portal

By Michael Agnew
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What if in order to be happy you had to embrace suffering? What do you think of when Jesus says you must die to yourself and pick up your cross?

God wants us to know Him more than anything else we do, but we have a big hurdle in the way that we allow to keep us from going to Him, when that hurdle is something that should drive us straight to Him: Suffering.

Suffering is one of the main things we run away from and avoid at all costs, yet no one has ever been able to escape it. So why do we run and how do we deal with suffering? How do we pick up our cross and die to ourselves?

As far back as I remember, I have known a type of suffering. I was always scared of people, scared of speaking, and scared of trying. I had a significantly traumatic childhood which created layers and layers of trauma. I was born to parents who loved me very much and wanted to give me a good life, but who themselves had layers of trauma they weren’t even aware of. My father was an addict and a violent man, and therefore my mother and I left Mexico when I was eight years old. My mom remarried when I was 10, but my new stepfather, who also had good intentions, turned out to also be a very traumatized man who had neither dealt with his past nor subjected himself to God, and he became broken, inwardly focused, and inclined towards mentally and emotionally abusive behavior. His actions crushed any semblance of confidence, self-respect and dignity I had left and so naturally, I turned to pleasure to numb the pain. Already addicted to pornography, I was wading into drug addiction at intense bitterness and anger by the age of 14. I was arrested at 17 and everything seemed to be going downhill...until I ran into Kayla.

Meeting Kayla changed things, and our dating life was straight up romance-novel material. Kayla was, and still is, the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and eventually we got married. The romance distracted me for a while, but slowly I became everything I feared and hated. I became an addicted, abusive, coward of a man, spinning out of control with my addictions and exposing my wife and two children to a nightmare, much like the same trauma I experienced as a child. I ruined my family’s life and deeply damaged them. I lost the respect of the only people who really loved me and were there for me. I had to leave my job. My health started to decline. My life was filled with suffering, yet I still hadn’t turned to God.

But I remember one night that caused me to look for Him. I was up late, overcome by intense fear with the terrifying feeling of evil all around me. So I began to pray – I prayed for protection and commanded the evil spirits to leave my family and my home.

I begged God for His forgiveness and begged Him to heal and protect us, and amid my terror, God showed up. I felt God’s presence in a violent way, like a tiny bird being held by a mountain, and God replaced the fear and anxiety with peace and quiet. When I think about that night, which is often, I’m brought to my knees in worship for God’s goodness.

That night changed everything and opened a new (to me) portal through which I could see and hear God: Prayer.

Do you remember in Scripture when Jesus told us to look for God first and all other things will be added? He’s asking us to reorient our entire lives to prioritize looking for God above all else. If you haven’t don’t that, you can start by praying and asking God to open your eyes and lead you to confession and to teach you how to put Him first.

It sounds simple, but it’s nearly impossible to do with our own strength. You can go to him in prayer and ask Him to forgive you and give you the ability to put Him first. In other words, He will put Himself first for you, all you must do is show up, otherwise known as prayer.

Prayer is the means to everything; it is the oxygen of the Christian life. It’s how we connect and communicate with God. Praying is where you go for strength so you can die to yourself and embrace suffering, and it’s where you go when you don’t die to yourself and need forgiveness. Prayer is where you go when injustice and abuse happen to you or anyone and where God heals and directs towards a course of healing and correction. Prayer is where you go when you are desperate and have no answers and it is also where you go to rejoice and give thanks for all the goodness God pours out endlessly on all of us. Prayer is where we go individually and collectively to ask for our needs and the needs of the world. Prayer is the place where you will worship God the most intensely. Through prayer God hears us and through prayer we hear God, but more importantly, through prayer we grow in relationship with God.

Prayer has become more like a place to me, like a secret place I can always go no matter where I am and where God is always waiting. I used to primarily go to that place for help, and while I now go to that place for EVERYTHING, I go primarily to be with God. Sometimes we don’t even talk. I just sit there with God, and just sitting in His presence has become more fulfilling than all the riches and pleasure or anything and everything anyone could ever want and have in this life or the next.

I haven’t had an easy life, and perhaps you can relate, and because of it I had concluded that suffering was the cause of my pain and should therefore be avoided, that no one loved me and God didn’t care. You can imagine how appalled I was when the only answer I would hear from God when I cried out in desperation for all the suffering I’ve known was: My grace is sufficient.

I wrestled with God for years because of that and slowly realized that he did care, and he wasn’t being mean; he was instead drawing me to Himself. All that suffering I experienced allowed me to see my brokenness and realize my desperate need for Him. Through years of praying and searching for answers, one main thing happened that I didn’t expect, but has become my biggest purpose and joy: intimacy with God.

So what do you do with suffering? Prayer. It is our response because He told us to look for Him first. God is the only one with answers and is the only one with the power to do anything. Through prayer we will know how to respond because He will tell us and we will carry out His will in our lives, not our own. Apart from God we can do nothing. Prayer is how we stay close to God. It’s where we embrace suffering, which doesn’t mean liking it, but running to God so He can heal you.

It means praising God amid suffering and trusting God despite it. God himself is my comfort. God's biggest purpose for your life is to fill you with joy and the greatest joy is intimacy with Him. That’s why God wants you to look for Him first. Because He wants to know you intimately, because knowing Him is the solution to suffering and when you know Him intimately, you live abundantly, filled with peace and joy in the midst of all the chaos and suffering.

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God is calling us, the people of Irving Bible Church, to become a multi-ethnic movement of missionary disciples, formed in the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

We want to be a transformed people who experience vibrant spiritual growth together. We want the Spirit of God to shape us more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we follow him.

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