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In the school of prayer

November 2011 | by Sue McBryan

In the school of prayer

I was more than 6,000 miles from home, with no international telephone and I had just pulled a telegram from my pigeon-hole which read, ‘Father seriously ill. Taken to London hospital by ambulance’.

It was 18 months since I had last seen my parents at their Sussexhome and it would be another two years before I was expected back. My first thoughts were, ‘If dad is going to die, I want to go home now’.

Waiting on God

No doubt a letter was on the way filling me in on the details, but that would take some time to reach me. God alone knew the outcome and as I stood, telegram in hand, quietly praying for guidance, I felt peace and the urge to act left me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Dad would be alright and there was a lot more riding on this trip home.

A favourite verse of mine is Psalm 62:5: ‘My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from him’. David is speaking to himself, to his soul — the seat of his emotions. My emotions at this moment were urging me to act (as so often they do!), but I needed to wait on God alone and not let my emotions dictate.

A few months later I was saying goodbye to my fiancé at the airport (yes, since receiving that telegram I had become engaged and would need to sort out some matters at home, as well as borrow my sister’s wedding dress and accessories if we were to marry later in the year).

It was when I dug into my bag for my passport that I realised I had forgotten my little yellow book of vaccinations. There was no time to go back for it and, if I was allowed to travel, passport control could insist on giving me all the vaccinations (again!) — not at all a pleasant thought.

‘Let’s pray’, Arthur urged. I was truly amazed when on every occasion I needed to show my passport, both on my journey home and on the return flight, I was never once asked for my little yellow card. What an answer to prayer !

Prayer partner

One of the great joys of my life has been to have a prayer partner. Whenever we changed location, I would ask the Lord to direct me to a prayer partner.

My first prayer partner was a lovely Norwegian lady. We are still friends and share prayer requests to this day. My next prayer partner was a single mum with four teenagers — there was always something going on in her life!

I learnt so much from the ladies I prayed with. We usually met once a week and committed to pray for each other and our families. I will probably never know the full impact this has had on my family through the years. ‘If two of you agree on earth … it will be done’ (Matthew 18:19).

Whilst I have learnt more about the character of God through prayer, I have also learnt more about myself and often through unanswered prayer.

Sometimes I have simply been praying the wrong prayers, as, for example, when we were community workers on an inner London estate and the noisy late night or all night parties drove me to distraction.

‘Please stop the music’, was my constant prayer, but it was usually six in the morning before I drifted off to sleep. After many months and a lot of distress, I asked myself, ‘What did I want?’

I simply wanted to sleep. So as soon as I realised a party was starting up, I would ask God to give me sleep — and he always did.

Prayer is a school God uses in my life to teach me so much. Sometimes, like Paul who prayed three times that God would take away his thorn in the flesh, God says ‘No’.

God doesn’t always still the storm, but asks me to walk above the waves with him. But always his grace is sufficient for me, for God perfects his strength in me when I am weak (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Trusting the Lord

A number of years ago we went through a serious financial crisis. It came about because my husband Arthur was made redundant and then couldn’t get work. How we prayed for a job for him; how hard he worked at trying to secure one.

Everything would be put right when he had employment. We would wait for the call to an interview, but it didn’t come; or we would wait for the offer of a job after an interview, but again it didn’t come.

It had never occurred to us that God didn’t want Arthur to work (for surely work is the norm). Meantime, the bills were piling up.

Close to where I was working in the city of London was a walled garden. I would always go there in my lunch break when a crisis point was reached and it seemed like we were going under.

As I sat in this peaceful garden and brought every concern to God, I always came away with the assurance that everything was going to be all right and a deep peace filled me.

Sometimes God impressed upon me something I should do. I look back on those times as some of the most intimate I have had with the Lord, as he steered us over the choppy waters.

Years ago I shared with Arthur what Hudson Taylor, that great missionary to China, had said about prayer: ‘Learn to move man by God, through prayer alone’. One day I was being a nagging wife and Arthur retorted: ‘I thought you were learning to move man by prayer!’ Cheeky, but absolutely right!

Praying for others is both a privilege and a challenge. Not always knowing how to pray for others, I remember Jesus’ prayer for Peter, how he prayed that his faith would not fail in the hour of trial.

Jesus didn’t pray that Peter wouldn’t go through the trial, only that he wouldn’t throw in the towel when he realised he had completely blown it. Jesus knew Peter’s self-reliance needed to be broken down (for, hadn’t he said that he would die for his Lord?) and his faith built up.

Watching and praying

In our home my husband is the lark and I am the owl. As I open one eye he brings me a cup of coffee and I wake up nice and slowly. But that all changed when he became ill three years ago, and I have to help him get up in the mornings now.

He is wide awake at 5.30am, wanting to get up. So I struggle out of bed and help him get ready for the day. After breakfast, there is still time for me to have a good ‘quiet time’, without interruption.

I chaffed at the early rise and wished Arthur would sleep later. Gradually this has happened, so now I am called at 7.00am. But this means my quiet time is one and a half hours later and it isn’t so ‘quiet’ — often there are interruptions.

I was challenged recently through a book I was reading of the importance of meeting with God in the stillness and quiet of the early morning and I realised I had been missing out.

Now I am back to waking earlier, as before, but a few days ago it was just before 4.30am! ‘Too early’, I said, and went back to sleep for more than an hour. That day something happened that put fear into my heart.

I believe now that God woke me early that day because he wanted to prepare me for what was coming which took me completely off guard.

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Watch and pray so that you don’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’ (Matthew 26:40-41) — as I know only too well! By sleeping and not praying, the disciples were not watching as the greatest event in history was about to unfold.

As a Christian living in such challenging times, I am learning the importance of watching and praying and meeting God in the stillness to listen to him, as well as bringing my requests to him. What a wonderful privilege!

Sue McBryan