We have a tiny herb garden. It’s just a couple of plants each of a few different herbs– basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, etc., in small planters on our back stoop. Just enough to have fresh herbs for cooking. They smell really good when I go out to water them, or clip some to add to chicken stew or spaghetti sauce or noodles and butter.
They add flavor and color, too, but it is the smell that grabs the attention and brings immediate joy.
Our prayers are supposed to be like that, too. The Bible compares our prayers to incense with a pleasing aroma. God delights in the fragrance of our prayers.
That seems reasonable for prayers of praise, but what about prayers of pain? How can such prayers bring joy to God?
When I water my herbs, they give off a pleasing aroma. But when I chop and crush the herbs to use them, the scent is stronger, the flavor richer, as the plants give all they have to the dish. Left in their planters, they will grow tall, but they will not be useful. They will smell good, but they won’t fulfill their greater purpose.
God wants our praise– certainly. And He is worthy of it–completely. But God also wants our chopped, crushed, bruised, torn, and painful prayers of need and brokenness. He wants us to trust Him to make even our groans and cries for help into fragrant offerings.
Growing up, I loved going to pot-luck meals at our little country church. Neighbors, family, and friends would bring large dishes of home-cooked deliciousness for all to feast on as we chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another. There were certain dishes we all could count on–homemade yeast rolls, courtesy of Lulu M. Jello with fruit was my mom’s standard. Another lady almost always brought meat loaf. Baked beans, candied carrots, fried chicken, chocolate cake, scalloped potatoes– my mouth still waters just from the memories! The wonderful woman who has since become my mother-in-law brought her famous cookies, and often, a seven-layer salad.
I love Mom’s seven layer salad, and I have learned to make my own variation. It’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s healthful, and it travels well. I’ve seen other recipes that use different vegetables, don’t use eggs or meat or mayo–I’m sure they’re ok, but I’m happy to stick with the basic outline that follows below.
I was thinking about the seven-layer salad the other day– it’s a wonderful dish for this time of year– chilled and utilizing fresh produce, and I realized that you can use a similar “recipe” for prayer. So here’s my modified “Seven-Layer Prayer” recipe:
First, start with a layer of “Let Us”
Prayer doesn’t happen without an act of the will. We must be deliberate about setting aside time and thought for prayer every day. We should “leaf” the busyness and chaos of the day and “romaine” in fellowship with the Father!
Next, add a layer of “Care”-rots (shredded).
1 Peter 5:7New King James Version (NKJV) 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Give your worries and cares over to the One who cares most about you and all those you love.
Now you can add the “Peas” that passes all understanding
Trust that God hears and answers prayer.
Trust that God is in control.
Trust that God is Good, Wise, and Loving.
Rest in the knowledge that “God’s Got This!”
Here’s where I like to add some “Meet” (usually bacon!, sometimes ham or chicken)
While it’s vital that we spend time in personal, private prayer, God also wants us to meet regularly with others for fellowship, mutual encouragement, accountability, PRAYER, and guidance.
Now it gets a little dicey–diced onion (sometimes I substitute green onions or sliced or diced mushrooms)
Time to peel back the layers, and cut through to the root of anything that is getting in the way of a closer walk with God–confess it and give it over to Him.
Sometimes, this process may cause tears, or involve a little dirt– clean it up before you proceed!
Time for some dressing– mayonnaise or salad dressing. Annoint your salad, and your prayer, with oil. Remember, God has annointed you to spread His love and grace to others. Don’t forget to add this to your prayer life. Just as the dressing will coat all the elements of the salad, so God’s Spirit will surround and influence your words and actions done for Him!
“Cheese!” It’s a “gouda” idea to round out prayer with a time of joyful thanksgiving. Pile it on– God’s given us a LOT for which to be “grate”-ful!
Finally, the garnish– Hard-boiled eggs. These remind me of the new life we have in Christ, the Triune nature of God (we used to have lessons in Sunday School about the egg having three parts but being a single egg. We don’t use the shell in the salad, of course, but you can’t make a boiled egg without all three parts…), and also, the yolk reminds me of Heaven’s streets of gold. In prayer, we should remember God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, and the hope we have in Him.
That’s the basic recipe for a seven layer salad– enough of each ingredient for a healthy “layer”. I’ve added extra layers a couple of times–diced tomatoes or peppers are good if you are planning to eat the salad quickly, but they will cause sogginess if you let the salad sit. (Also, if you use peas, use fresh if you can– drain canned peas, or get rid of any ice crystals if using frozen peas. )
A good seven-layer prayer should also be presented fresh, and savored. It’s delicious, it’s good for you, it feeds others, and it travels well! Try some!
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I’m really bad about asking for help. I don’t mind asking for advice or opinions– I can listen and take the advice or ignore it; accept someone else’s opinion or not. But asking for help puts a certain obligation to accept whatever help is given. It also announces that you have a need; that you are struggling and can’t do “it” on your own. This is especially true in situations where we are embarrassed to admit to shortcomings, inabilities, or perceived failures.
Asking is difficult for most of us. Not just because we must swallow our pride and admit to a need, but because we must hope that whoever we ask will be willing or able to meet that need. Asking becomes more difficult when we don’t know who we can trust. Admitting weakness to someone who is kind is a small risk–it may bruise our pride, or cause the other person to pity us. Asking for help from someone who is deceitful, arrogant, incompetent, or abusive is a recipe for disaster.
Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help because we sense that there is no help to be given. We wallow in despair, thinking all is lost or hopeless. But fear and despair are not wise counselors–they cannot help us out of our problems; they can’t even see beyond the current chaos or the next panic. Sometimes, we are too proud to ask someone else to do what we feel we should be able to do– others can manage, others can triumph “on their own”– not realizing that they had help along the way, or that they need help in other areas where we are strong.
And sometimes, we don’t want the kind of “help” that is offered. We want help to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means bondage to addiction, or losing an opportunity that comes only with hard work or sacrifice. We want someone to lie to us, keep us comfortable, or flatter us, when our greatest need is someone to challenge us, coach us, and give us the truth, even when it stings. In fact, if we have grown lethargic, entitled, and arrogant, we won’t ask for help– we will demand a lesser form of help that enables us to stay as we are, and not help us become who we were meant to be.
So consider this as you pray today– the God of the Universe– creator of galaxies and microcosms, ruler of eternity, the God who hears every sigh of every human on the face of the planet and knows who made it and why, the God who gave His only Son to fulfill the law and restore your soul–this God is waiting for you to ASK Him for help, for guidance, for wisdom, for your daily needs, for forgiveness that only He can give completely. And He promises to give good gifts– joy, peace, hope, love. He will not scorn us in our need– He already knows it, Why are you waiting?