In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord said, “Write down the revelation” (NIV). He said this because he knows our natural tendency to forget. At best, we have a strong propensity to misremember. A pen is a great tool against the facts that fade with time, and I’ve learned that it is a great guide to mark the very passing of it as well.
A few years ago, I discovered the discipline of circle prayers. Mark Batterson introduced the world to this practice,[i] and his storytelling made it come to life. He wrote about Honi, a sage who lived outside the walls of Jerusalem in the first century BC. A devastating drought had crippled the land, and it threatened to destroy an entire generation of people. They needed water. Honi was known for praying for rain, and he was their only hope.
Honi brought his six-foot staff into town with him, and he drew a meticulous circle in the sand. Kneeling boldly in the center of the circle, Honi called down the rain. He prayed aloud to the Lord of the universe, and he promised not to move outside that circle until the rain came down on these people and their land.
Mark wrote, “Then it happened. As his prayer ascended to the heavens, raindrops descended to the earth.”[ii] But Honi was not satisfied by a few raindrops. He boldly asked for more. As the sprinkling turned into a torrential downpour, Honi stayed and prayed inside his circle. The rain soaked the land, and their spirits were soaked in faith. The circle he drew in the sand became a symbol of power.
Sometimes you have to stand in the circle and make your requests known to the God Who Sees, the Lord Who Listens. Click To Tweet
I read Mark’s book in a time when my church family had encountered a crisis, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. I could only pray. How odd it is that we tend to offer that when we have nothing left to give, when really that’s the heartbeat of all there is. I can always pray.
How I Pray for Big Things
So I began praying differently. I wrote down just a few words at a time, and I circled them with my trusty pen every day. There is nothing magical about drawing the circle, but it gave me something to do with my hands, something to watch on the page, as I prayed for big things. I didn’t expect this bonus, but the discipline also gave me a way to measure the passing of time. I watched the circles pile on top of one another. The circle grew darker and thicker until the individual lines became one bold, dark band of fortitude. I had before me a visual representation of long obedience.
This discipline changed my life. Now, several years later, I’m still circling—many things every day. There were some seasons when it felt like my prayers weren’t going any higher than the ceiling, but I needed to keep circling. There are things I circle with the knowledge that I will never stop circling them, not as long as my hand can hold a pen. I ask God to protect my children and the schools they each attend. I ask him to give me an awakening to understand Scripture. I ask for wisdom. I’m asking God to send these things, and I watch to see how he answers.
Some things I am circling will have a clear and definite finish line. I have asked for a spouse for my single friend who longs to share her life with a companion. I have prayed for work for my parents in seasons of unemployment; I have asked that God would give them the perfect jobs to match their skills and that he would bless the work of their hands. I’ve asked God to forgive my financial mistakes and equip us with additional income that will get us out of debt. I have prayed for a friend to find sobriety. I’ve prayed for another friend’s husband to come back home to her. Each of these prayers has a specific finish line. I will know when we have crossed it.
Marking Long Obedience
Especially with things like these, I have begun adding tally marks. It’s a way of collecting the days and showing the march of time. I can remind myself how long I have stayed in the waiting game. Forty-one days. Seventy-eight days. Six hundred and fourteen days.
It may seem like it would be discouraging to see the days pile up, but I’ve found just the opposite to be true. The tally marks show a measure of focus and loyalty. When I start to think, God isn’t doing anything with this one. I should stop asking, I can counter my own skepticism by counting the tally marks. It’s akin to looking back on a map that shows how far we’ve come. “Eighty-three days? We can’t stop now. Not when we’ve come this far.”
I keep all these circles in one bound journal with colorful tabs to show which ones still need my attention, which journeys I’m currently walking. I pray them every day. And best of all, when I see a prayer answered, I know just what to do: I open to that journal page, and I write today’s date. I mark the finish line. I can stop asking for this one, because God said yes. I asked, I waited, he answered. I close my eyes and take a breath filled with gratitude. I notice that he heard me.
Sometimes he gives me a clear no. There are times when his word is final, when I feel like I can imagine him saying (just like I say to my kids about some of their requests), “You can keep asking, but it’s a hard no on this one. I’m not changing my mind.”
When I get a solid answer—sometimes yes, sometimes no—I take the tab off that page. It doesn’t need my patience or attention anymore, but it serves as a reminder of the journey. The asking. The waiting. The answer. The gratitude. The finish lines.
And then I move the tab to the next empty page, an invitation to stay in the game. To watch for the next big ask. To wait for the next big answer.
You’ve been reading with Tricia Lott Williford from her book Just. You. Wait. Read the first chapter for free here. Get your copy of Just. You. Wait. at Navpress.com. Tricia also wrote You Can Do This: Seizing the Confidence God Offers. Check it out here.
[i] Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Zondervan, 2011, 2016).
[ii] Batterson, Circle Maker, 12.