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Lesson from Christian Prayers

'Let go and let God' is a powerful notion that, along with prayer, can help you weather any of life's storms.

By Catherine Marshall

As appeared in

Like most people, when I first began active experimentation with prayer, I was full of questions, such as: Why are some agonizingly sincere prayers granted, while others are not?

Today I still have questions. Mysteries about prayer are always ahead of present knowledge—luring, beckoning on to further experimentation.

But one thing I do know; I learned it through hard experience. It's a way of prayer that has resulted consistently in a glorious answer—glorious because each time, power beyond human reckoning has been released. This is the Prayer of Relinquishment.

I got my first glimpse of this power many years ago. I had then been ill for six months with widespread lung infection, and a bevy of specialists seemed unable to help. Persistent prayer, using all the faith I could muster, had resulted in—nothing. I was still in bed full-time.

One afternoon a pamphlet was put in my hands. It was the story of a missionary who had been an invalid for eight years. Constantly she had prayed that God would make her well so that she might do His work. Finally, worn out with futile petition, she prayed, "All right. I give up. If You want me to be an invalid, that's Your business. Anyway, I want You even more than I want health. You decide." In two weeks the woman was out of bed, completely well.

This made no sense to me, yet I could not forget the story. On the morning of September 14—how can I ever forget the date?—I came to the same point of abject acceptance. "I'm tired of asking," was the burden of my prayer. "I'm beaten through, God, You decide what You want for me."

Tears flowed. I had no faith as I understood faith, expected nothing. The gift of my sick self was made with no trace of graciousness.

And the result? It was as if I had touched a button that opened windows in heaven; as if some dynamo of heavenly power began flowing, flowing. Within a few hours I had experienced the presence of the Living Christ in a way that wiped away all doubt and revolutionized my life. From that moment my recovery began.

Through this incident and others that followed, God was trying to teach me something important about prayer. Gradually I saw that a demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer. I understood that the reason for this is that God absolutely refuses to violate our free will; that, therefore, unless self-will is voluntarily given up, God cannot move to answer prayer.

In time I gained more understanding about the Prayer of Relinquishment through the experiences of others in contemporary life and through books. Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is a pattern for us, I learned. Christ could have avoided the cross. He did not have to go up to Jerusalem that last time. He could have compromised with the priests, bargained with Caiaphas. He could have capitalized on His following and appeased Judas by setting up the beginning of an earthly kingdom. Pilate wanted to release Him, all but begged Him to say the right words—so that he might. Even in the garden on the night of betrayal, He had plenty of time and opportunity to flee, but Christ used His free will to leave the decision up to His Father.

J. B. Phillips in his book The Gospels—Translated Into Modern English brings Jesus' prayer into focus for us. "Dear Father, all things are possible to You. Please let Me not have to drink this cup. Yet it is not what I want, but what You want."

The prayer was not answered as the human Jesus wished. Yet power has been flowing from His cross ever since.

Even at the moment when Christ was bowing to the possibility of an awful death by crucifixion, He never forgot either the presence or the power of God. The Prayer of Relinquishment must not be interpreted negatively. It does not let us lie down in the dust of a godless universe and steel ourselves just for the worst.

Rather it says: "This is my situation at the moment. I'll face the reality of it. But I'll also accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends." Acceptance therefore never slams the door on hope.