THE PERSON OF GOD
Some people don't believe in prayer.
Nelson was one of my closest friends from college. We lived in the same dorm for the last two years and went to an urban semester in Philadelphia . I saw him become interested in his future wife, and was a groomsman at the marriage. Three years later we met at a conference in Milwaukee . He had attended a liberal seminary, as had I, but there was a difference. I had gotten a last minute scholarship to attend the conference and was telling him about how God was answering prayer. Nelson didn't believe in prayer, I discovered to my sorrow and consternation. None of my arguments carried weight. About ten years later I was able to contact him. He and his wife were divorced and he really didn't want to establish an ongoing relationship. He was working for the National Council of Churches, the last I heard. [There is not a 1:1 relationship, let me be quick to say.] If we believe in God, who we perceive God to be and who we perceive our self to be is pivotal to the practice of prayer.
The most effective prayer is based upon the deepest and most intimate knowledge of God. Prayer is normally directed to the Father, as Jesus taught us in the Lord's Prayer of Luke 11.
Our theology determines our prayer life
That knowledge is gained first through the Word of God, particularly its praise of God found in the Psalms. The best primer on prayer is the study of the Psalms, preferably a Psalm a day. One of the most helpful to me is Ps. 103, which reprograms my theology almost every time I meditate upon it. The first seven verses reveal God from His deeds and vs. 7-19 are a kind of palette of His perfections--the last few verses can't contain the praise.
The doxologies are another way to understand God's character. The Father is described in Revelation: READ 4:2-11. A favorite of mine is "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!" (Rev. 7:12, NIV). Or "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the Ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." (Rev. 15:3b-4). Or "God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen." (1 Tim. 6:15b-16).
You might try reading Job 38-42:6 aloud (especially ch. 38). We have largely lost the sense of the Otherness of God, of His overwhelming magnificence. This is why we have a crisis of worship in the evangelical church at large. We cannot give worship to One whose worth we do not understand. Nor can we pray to One we poorly understand. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." (Eph. 1:17).
God also reveals Himself by what He does in our life, and in the lives of others. Job said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:5-6). It is wise to record what He does, both for us and for our posterity. I have kept notes of outstanding answers to prayer written soon after the events and tucked them into a large envelope and later compiled them. I've begun a file entitled "God's Ways", which are patterns of what God has actually done in my life. God said of the generation of Moses, "For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, "they are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways." (Ps. 95:10).
A God who hides
Sometimes we know God by what He does NOT do in our life. He hides Himself at times: "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel." (Is. 45:15). His silence humbles us, and forces us to Himself, because we have, in truth, nowhere else to go. For a period of 3 months in the spring of 1994 I prayed and nothing happened. In fact, it was almost as if God was saying, "Not only am I not listening, I want you to understand that I'm not listening." That is almost terrifying, because the rug has been pulled out. There is no other real resource. It is like running toward the lawnmower. In such a case we should keep praying. "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds." (Hos. 6:1). "Come near to God and He will come near to you." (Jas. 4:8). "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8). Faith is the equivalent to persisting before God. Finally, after showing me how little faith I had, and what pride I had, He again listened.
The ancient hymn writers seemed to understand God on a much higher plane. Perhaps they had fewer distractions and fewer opportunities to be entertained. Read and sing the lyrics of hymns through 1600 AD to know God. I'd recommend taking a hymnbook with you when you go off to pray. Try singing "All People That On Earth Do Dwell" (1565), a later one, "Immortal, Invisible" (1839), "All Creatures of our God and King" (1225, St. Francis of Assisi ). Granted, there are some great choruses and scripture songs, "Thou Art Worthy", "I Love You Lord", etc.
KNOWING GOD INCREASES OUR FAITH
Until we are in the process of knowing God, we will not have the faith we need for our praying, and whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23 ). Or our prayers will be too small. The prayers of St. Paul were outrageously bold. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:16-19). Chew on that. He wants us to know love so deep that it cannot be known, and to be filled with all the fullness of God. That's all. Then, not content, he wrote, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." ( 3:20 -21) Daniel prayed, "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands..." (Dan. 9:4). Perhaps the limiting power at work within us is that of faith. Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of God (Rom.10:17). To be people of prayer, we need to be people who know the God of the Book. "Let us know the Lord, let us press on to know the Lord." (Hos. 6:2, NASB ). "This is what the Lord says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." (Jer. 9:23-24).
TIME WITH GOD
Faith comes from praying
We also know God by spending time with God. This is frankly mystic, I realize. There are parallels. Jesus said that He would "disclose" himself to those who obey Him (John 14:21 ). Abraham knew more about God after praying for Sodom (Gen. 18:16-33). In that time we can ask Him to reveal Himself to us. We can wait upon God in silence (Ps. 62:1,5, NASB ). He can implant ideas and desires within us as we spend unhurried time with Him. It is good to havea pen and notebook or planner to remember to do what He may indicate. We can also record prayer requests for future reference.
As we learn who God is in Scripture, take note of His interventions in our life, and spend time in praise and fellowship, we have more faith by which to approach God and with which to pray. Our faith spirals upward. We lay hold upon God for ever greater mountains.
OUR TRANSCENDENT/IMMANENT GOD
God is perfect, holy, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and the essence of love, but we are not. "The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?" (Ps. 113:5-6). Yet in the next verse, the next breath, we learn, "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap." (v. 7). He is concerned about even those WE are LEAST concerned about, generally. The poor, dazed victim of war, famine, pestilence and violence, He gathers up.
This is a great mystery. This is an unutterably great God. "Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust." (Is. 40:15). Yet He raises the poor from the dust.
"Do you not know, Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom." Yet, in the next verse, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." (Is. 40:28-29). The unutterably Other, condescends to intervene in the lives of the poor, the needy and the weary and the weak. And that is us.
One more example. "This is what the Lord says--the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty." (Is.45:11-13). Isaiah's last dated ministry was in 701 BC. Cyrus II (The Great) did not ascend to the throne until 559 BC (New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. p.521,258). He made the heavens, yes, also He'll create a man by name, even a Gentile, even 150 years down the celestial road. And give him a specific mission.
GOD INVITES OUR PRAYERS
But He does not simply intervene at His convenience, leisure or whim so to speak. The profound and wonderful truth is that He invites us into His presence at our discretion. We are truly King's kids. We are always welcome into the Control Room of the Universe, at the knees of the King.
Jesus said, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what you have done in secret will reward you." Matt. 6:6-7. No hours are posted on the celestial doors, just when you pray.
God delights in our presence
Beyond that, God seems to delight in our presence. Daniel was a man "highly esteemed" by God (Dan. 9:23). It was his habit to pray three times a day, "giving thanks to his God." (Dan. 6:10). David prayed evening, morning and noon " when in distress (Ps. 55.17). He described himself as a "Man of prayer" (NIV translation) and wrote the majority of the Psalms. He was a man after God's heart. It seems that the closer we come to God, the closer He draws to us, "Come near to God and He will come near to you." (Jas. 4:8; 1 Chron. 28:9).
He seems to delight in communion with us (Lord's Supper) through prayer, since He already knows what we need (Matt. 6:8). He also seems to delight in faith. He rewards secret prayer openly (Matt. 6:6).
But beyond even that, God wants us to "pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17). Now even those I consider to be the neatest and best friends, even my wife, I would not want to talk with all the time. But such is God's love that He is happy for us to be with Him ALL the time. In fact, He will be doing just that in the New Jerusalem, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (Rev. 21:3). The servants of God "will see His face and his name will be on their foreheads." (Rev. 22:4).
What does it mean to pray unceasingly? It doesn't mean to be literally praying at every moment. If so we would be in sin to sleep. But as you think over the life of Paul or John or Peter, can you think of a time when they would not have been at least able to have prayed during waking hours? I cannot. The analogy of the "2-way radio" approaches this concept. Both the base station and the portable unit or both portable units are on the same frequency. They are not constantly talking, but monitor one another and are conscious of the presence of each other. One or the other breaks in unannounced at any moment.
Wesley Duewel gives some illustrations of this kind of praying:
General Stonewall Jackson said, “I have so fixed the habit in my mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without asking God's blessing, never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal, never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward, never change my classes in the lecture room without a minute's petition for the cadets who go out and for those who come in." p. 30
A beloved English physician of the 1600's, Sir Thomas Browne, was an example of constant prayers of blessing. He said, 'I have resolved to pray more and pray always, to pray in all places where quietness inviteth, in the house, on the highway and on the street; and to know no street or passage in this city that may not witness that I have not forgotten God....I purpose to take occasion of praying upon the sight of any church which I may pass, that God may be worshipped there in spirit, and that souls may be saved there; to pray daily for my sick patients and for the patients of other physicians; at my entrance into any home to say, 'May the peace of God abide here'; after hearing a sermon to pray for a blessing on God's truth and upon the messenger; upon the sight of a beautiful person to bless God for His creatures, to pray for the beauty of such an one's soul, that God may enrich 30/31 her with inward graces and that the outward and inward may correspond; upon the sight of a deformed person to pray God to give them wholeness of soul, and by and by to give them the beauty of the resurrection. Touch the world throughPrayer, p. 31
We come as sons and daughters
Finally, we are invited into God's presence not only when we wish, and unceasingly, but as sons and daughters of God. In fact, it is just as if we said to God, "Daddy, I need something." That is the Aramaic equivalent of "Abba", which is translated, "Father". Perhaps the most urgent prayer of Jesus' life was prayed in the Gethsemanae Garden : "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36 ). That was the only recorded time that Jesus used the familiar term for "Father". I have found that when the pressure is greatest, so much the more is intimacy needed with the Father. But do we have the same right to this term? "Because you are sons," Paul wrote, "God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father'." (Gal. 4:6). So it is God the Spirit who cries out from within us, to the Father, in such intimacy. It is not only legitimate, but natural, for the child of God. "The fear of the Lord is clean.", but we are given the Spirit of Sonship to dissolve craven and crouching fear of God. We may come just as confidently as a hurting five year old into his father's lap, when we are hurting before God. This God of quasars and quarks.
BARRIERS TO PRAYER
There are essentially two barriers to such fellowship with God. First is our sin, which has made a separation between us (Is. 59:1-2). Christ has become our peace in His body on the cross, that by faith in Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, we might have "access to the Father by one Spirit". (Eph. 2:14-18). He died that we might have access to the Father. This is great news, but not new news to us.
The second barrier, for a Christian, is failure to use that access. From a theological perspective, the gap has been bridged by Christ; from an experiential one, the gap is bridged by prayer, through Christ (Eph. 2:18 ; 3:12 ). But what does that failure to pray imply? It might imply a defective theology. It might imply that we do not (1 really believe God's "very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Pet. 1:4b) (2 our faith is such that not being able to see God, we don't believe in the efficacy of prayer ("faith...is being certain of what we do not see." (Heb. 11:1). (3 we don't believe, in fact, that God can help in our particular circumstances (4 we have not been able to learn who God really is (5 our darkness is such that, in brutal honesty, we think we can do well enough without God, as a rule. God offers us the vehicle of prayer, but offers little without it. "You do not have because you do not ask God." (Jas. 4:2). J.I. Packer put it this way:
Prayer, as we said at the beginning, is a confessing of impotence and need, an acknowledging of helplessness and dependence, and an invoking of the mighty power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In evangelism, as we saw, we are impotent; we depend wholly upon God to make our witness effective; only because He is able to give men new hearts can we hope that through our preaching of the gospel sinners will be born again. These facts ought to drive us to prayer. It is God's intention that they should drive us to prayer. God means us, in this as in other things, to recognize and confess our impotence, and to tell Him that we rely on Him alone, and to plead with Him to glorify His name. It is His way regularly to withhold His blessings until His people start to pray. 'Ye have not, because ye ask not.'" (Jas. 4:2)..."But if you and I are too proud or lazy to ask, we need not expect to receive. This is the universal rule, in evangelism as elsewhere. God will make us pray before He blesses our labours in order that we may constantly learn afresh that we depend on God for everything. And then, when God permits us to see conversions, we shall not be tempted to ascribe them to our own gifts, or skill, or wisdom, /123 or persuasiveness, but to His work alone, and so we shall know whom we ought to thank for them." "Paul was a great evangelist who had seen much fruit, but Paul knew that every particle of it had come from God, and that unless God continued to work both in him and in those to whom he preached he would never convert another soul." Knowing God, 122-123
There are dragons on the landscape of prayer that I'd like to cordon off. Here are a few smoking ones:
God cannot be manipulated by prayer. He is simply too big and too far above us. God does whatever He wants to do (Is. 46:10; Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Dan. 4:35 ). Prayer is relationship with God. God knows our motives, and those motives can nullify our prayer (James 4:3; "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."). Even if we are Christians, believe, ask often, use Jesus' name and pray with thanksgiving, the answer is "No.", with those motives. This separates the Bible from books such as I Ching, which contains formulas to control the supernatural. We cannot move God by a barrage of words, or repetitions, as the Hare Krishnas believe (Matt. 6:7).
We need to avoid a kind of gnostic cult of secret prayer principles. This or that method is a "deep secret" of the deeply initiated which guides us into what God does and does not respond to. Since prayer is so very experiential, we must beware the dragon of simple experience, that has no basis in fact, as known in Scripture or allowed in Scripture. It is good to begin prayer sessions with reading the Bible. It tends to anchor our prayer in reality. It helps to turn aside the wandering mind and to focus us above the plain of the mundane. It helps us to begin to worship. For instance, I used to teach, based upon my experience, that God does not use the likely channels to provide financial support. That had indeed been my experience. The church I grew up in doesn't support me, but a tiny one–room church atop Shut In Gap sought us out and did, as long as we stayed with Cedine. Events have proven me wrong. A very wealthy couple we know “dried in” our house. Prayer can lead to subtle pride.
We have to beware of formulas for the sequence of prayer, such as ACTS: Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication. It is good to begin prayer with thanksgiving and praise. Does Scripture not teach to "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise."? (Ps. 100:4). In fact, it may be good to do both. But it may be good to do neither. When Christians prayed for Peter's release from prison, they began with quoting Scripture (Acts 4:24ff). There is no one right way to pray, except perhaps when we sincerely pray the Lord's Prayer, of Luke 11. Similarly, we have to beware possible bondage to prayer lists and other rituals. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Such lists can be very useful. I have one list that I use bi-weekly. Another that I use weekly. Donald A. Carson, Research Professor at TEDS, takes prayer letters, alphabetizes them, and prays through the sheaf, but not all at once. But we can come to dread lists.
God may have His own prayer agenda. In fact, we don't know what to pray for, so the Spirit must pray for us (Rom. 8:26 ). He may want us to concentrate upon a given agenda. We pray in the Spirit (Eph. 6:18 ). On one occasion I did not use my prayer list and found myself praying for the city of Chattanooga in various ways. That was not a conscious agenda. Rees Howells, a famous Welsh intercessor during World War II, said, "effective praying must be guided praying." (Rees Howells, Intercessor, in Decision Magazine, "The Mysteries of Prayer", John White, 10/94, p.14).
A subtle pitfall is to have faith in prayer, rather than in the God behind answered prayer. There is a similar idolatry possible with the Bible, that we elevate it above God. One writer on prayer exuded, "We were created to pray." (Duewel). No, we were created to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31 , whatever we do, do all to the glory of God).
We can hide behind prayer, instead of meeting actual needs with our actual resources. "Be well." "I'll be praying." Sometimes the Lord may not direct our heart to help—which is fine. If we do say we'll pray, it is good to write it down quickly, perhaps at the beginning of a monthly calendar.
We can be selfish in prayer. People at times could care less about our prayer needs, just so long as we're praying for them. One lady asked me to prayer for her "every day". That was laying a snare, and I couldn't agree. I told her that I'd pray, "As the Lord leads."
We can demonstrate pride in telling answers to prayer. We can use prayer as a platform for attention, guilt-tripping others, and magnifying our self instead of God. I'm sure that I've been guilty of this.
Trying to replicate the prayer life of someone else. Praying Hyde, who spent days on end in prayer, urged others NOT to follow his example. God led him to specific disciplines, such as working all day and praying all night at times. We might not know the whole story. Those who get up at 4 AM may retire at 8 or 9 PM.
To fail to confess sin, thus being dishonest before God, either without really thinking about it or avoiding the issue. It is good to ask God to cleanse us from secret sins (Ps. 19:12 ).
To think that we know enough about prayer. One of the organizers of Concerts of Prayer in Chattanooga is Jim Millard. He almost invariably prays, "Lord, teach me to pray." We can always learn more. Often it will be through hearing or reading the prayers of others, which will conceptualize prayers that never occurred to us before. They expand our categories. Even a Book of Common Prayer can do this. Wesley Duewel has written, and I believe correctly, that we learn to pray by praying.
Prayer and Us
THE PRESENCE OF GOD
Which is best: to work 2 hours; to work 1 hour and pray one hour; or to pray 2 hours?
Our prayer life is a valid reflection of our worldview. The whole issue of prayer rests upon our understanding of where we fit into the universe. Prayer is like a "reset" button. When life causes our perspectives to become distorted, prayer gives the proper reality. It "centers" or re-focuses our world once again. "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28), as even a pagan Greek poet understood.
Prayer reflects our actual understanding of what power we as human beings have, and what kind of power God has. It is a power issue, a Creator/creature--a sovereignty issue. Are we willing to get so close to God that He takes entire control of our life? Are we willing to surrender our "unlimited" freedom to the control of the Spirit of God? We are really NOT in control down here. God does whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3; Ps. 135:6; Dan. 4:35). He is not capricious--He chooses is bind Himself to His character. If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim.2:13). And He chooses to remain constant, "I the LORD do not change" (Mal.3:6). But He does whatever the counsel of His will dictates, and He usually doesn't consult with us in advance. He doesn't seem to need our input. Sometimes it takes a tragedy for us to realize His sovereignty. Everything is going our way until the incomprehensible happens.
God does not want us to act independently of Him. He wants us to call upon HIM in the day of trouble, for us to see HIS power in extremities (Ps. 50:14). We are utterly dependent upon God. Apart from Christ we can do NOTHING (John 15:4-5). That is His estimate of our talents, intelligence, training, perspicuity, basketball or golfing skills, prowess and charm. In HIS estimate, and ultimately that is the only estimate that will count for eternity, we can do NOTHING apart from Him. Failure to pray is a failure to accept His personal estimate of our place in the world, that disconnected from God we can accomplish nothing of value to Him. We are critical of humanists who believe that "man is the measure", and that what the majority of people want is what is right (sociological "truth"). Yet we may guilty of the same kind of hubris, the error that we can do it all right by ourselves, "But thanks, God, anyway."
The error of omitting God may NOT be intentional. We may hold a wonderful theology, anthropology and doctrine of prayer. It may simply be a matter of the wrong priorities: busyness, entertainment and the culture of comfort. But the effect remains the same as if we had intentionally omitted God.
Francis Schaeffer put the omission in terms of a supernaturalist/materialist continuum. He wrote in Death in the City,
The difference between a Christian who is being supernatural in practice and one who says he is a Christian but lives like a materialist can be illustrated by the difference between a storage battery and a light plug. Some Christians seem to think that when they are born again, they become a self-contained unit like a storage battery. From that time on they have to go on their own pep and their own power until they die. But this is wrong. After we are justified, once for all through faith in Christ, we are to live in supernatural communion with the Lord every moment; we are to be like lights plugged into an electric socket.
The Bible makes it plain that our joy and spiritual power depend on a continuing relation to God. If we do not love and draw on the Lord as we should, the plug gets pulled out and the spiritual power and the spiritual joy stop. (p. 292-293).
We must really sit in the supernaturalist's chair and pray. If a Christian does not pray, if he does not live in an attitude of prayer, then no matter what he says about his doctrine, no matter how many naughty names he calls the unbelieving materialist, the Christian has moved over and is sitting in the materialist's chair. He is living in unfaith if he is afraid to act upon the supernatural in the present life. (p. 296).
HOW BIG IS OUR GOD?
Is our God too small? Genesis 18:14, "Is anything too difficult for the LORD?" when promising a child to Sarah. Jeremiah prayed, "Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you." (32:17). God responded, "I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?". God gave quail to the Israel in the dessert, for 600,000 men plus their families, for an entire month. You could walk for a solid day in any direction and wade through three feet of birds (Numbers 11:21,31). The testimony of the New Testament is the same, that with God NOTHING shall be impossible (Matt. 17:20; 19:26; Mk.10:27; Lk. 1:37; 18:27). It fits well with the vine/branch analogy.
THE LARGER ISSUE IS GOD'S GLORY
Donald A. Carson, in a message on prayer delivered in Australia, said, "For a sovereign, transcendent, powerful God there are no degrees of difficulty." One thing is not harder than another for God. He went on to say that the issue is not the difficulty, but how much it will display God's glory. The supreme issue is not power. God has won over all contestants. It is not power in our life, as I see it, so much as one of God's glory. He makes known His goodness in His "vessels of mercy", to the rest of the world. When He answers prayer in a remarkable way, people of faith will and should glorify God, not the one who prayed.
Prayer is perhaps the most radical enterprise in the universe. Books on prayer are given, I've noticed, to making stupendous claims for prayer. We almost expect these claims. But there ARE stupendous claims to be made for prayer. And prayer is one of the clearest projections of our operational doctrine of God. Prayer bridges the infinite and the finite; the Sinless and the sinner;
eternity and time; present and future; here with anywhere. It holds promise to change the course of not only our own reality, but that of others. We can affect events, people, thinking, emotions, the body and even spirituality (1 Thess. 3:12-13; "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones". It can influence what is seen and can influence the realm of the unseen.
[Luther] wrote, 'I judge that my prayer is more than the devil himself; if it were otherwise Luther would have fared differently long before this. Yet men will not see and acknowledge the great wonders of miracles God works in my behalf. If I should neglect prayer but a single day, I should lose a great deal of the fire of faith.”…Martin Luther spend his three best hours/day in prayer, Wesley his first two hours/day (Duewel, 156-157)
Charles Stanley has found that whatever his agenda in coming before God, God will deal with his sin first. It is wise to ask God to search our heart when coming before Him.
Make sure there is nothing in your own heart which would hinder your prayer. Remember that prayer can be checked by sin cherished in the heart (Ps. 66:18), pride (1 Peter 5:5-6), unforgiveness (Luke 11:4), personal conflict with another (Matt. 5:23-24), or marital conflict (1 Peter 3:7). "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps. 139:23-24; READ Is. 1:15-20) (Duewel, 165)
Since prayer brings us into immediate contact with God, He looks at our heart. He has His own agenda when we come before Him, and that is foremost. Prayer is thus beyond pure individualism. It can be individualistic. But here prayer has social consequences. Elsewhere we are to intercede for the needs of others. So it should have the result of connecting me with others, family, friends, enemies, Christians in need, nations, conflicts, dilemmas, as well as with myself, and with God.
Will we allow God to point out our sins and inadequacies as we seek to gain His ear to hear our prayers? We are washed as we approach God, as we agree with God over our sins, just as the priests washed before they approached God. We give proper place to self when we acknowledge our sin. Preparation for communion is an occasion for this kind of reflection (1 Cor. 11:28-29).
When we bow to offer praise to God, this also "resets" our worldview to the proper setting. "It is good to give thanks to the Lord." (Ps. 92:1). Habakkuk's world was about to end with the coming Babylonian invasion. Yet He remembered the awesome deeds of God. Whatever was coming down, he wrote, "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." Praise gives our personal world perspective and a sense of stability, and it is quite simply right to do. It is appropriate. We may try praying the Psalms to God. We can sing songs. We can even sing NEW SONGS, because God apparently gets tired of the old ones, or we sing them without sentiment or thoughtfulness (Ps. 33:3). David wrote, "He put a new song in my mouth." (Ps. 40:3). Try composing a new song to God extemporaneously. Make sure that no one can hear you, so you won't be shy.
The normal temperament of the Christian should be praise for who God is and thanksgiving for what He has done. "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phil. 3:1; 4:4). "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Th. 5:18). When we don't, we need to be "reset". Since we exist for God's praise, (Eph. 1:11-12), praising
God is a shortcut to the essence of our existence. We are most who we were created to be when we give praise.
Prayer is basically an act of grace on God's part. The Father is inviting His children to come to Him. Apart from realigning our worldview, and giving God His due, it is to be desired simply because of the fellowship with God. The God of quasars, and quarks, is interested in you and me--knows when we do even as mundane a thing as stand up or sit down (Ps. 139). Asaph wrote, "As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge." (Ps. 73:28). Time with God can become the best time of day. We connect with the One for whom we exist (Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:11-12).
THE ANSWER IS YES
Prayer presupposes that God is willing to answer our prayers. I am amazed that when we come to God, basically, the answer is YES. When a child comes to the father with a request, we generally try to give it, unless there is a good reason not to. Sometimes we cannot say "yes" because of lack of resources, but that is never true for God, who owns the entire earth (Ps. 50:12).
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened." (Matt. 7:7-8). Yes, we need to pray according to God's will, in Jesus' name, believing, not seeking personal lust. But it is GOD who is at work in us both to WILL and to DO HIS good pleasure. (Eph. 2:10). The answer is basically YES!!
So then, WHAT CAN GOD DO THROUGH YOUR LIFE?
What has God given you the faith to believe Him for? (Bill Gothard; Rom.14:23). God's plans never fail (Is. 14:27; Ps. 33:11). Therefore we need to try to understand God's will (Eph. 5:17; Jer. 9:24). This may not come quickly (Rom. 11:33). Jesus left us the example of frequently getting off to be with the Father to pray and seek wisdom (Matt. 14:23; Luke 6:12; 9:28; Mark 1:35).
As we yield our mind and body to God (Rom. 12:1-2), God is able to will in us and do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13), as illustrated by Jesus' life (Heb.10:5-7). It is good to plan, and to bring God into our plans (Prov. 16:3; 3:4-5). The excitement comes as we repeatedly bring these plans before God in prayer. Extended time in prayer gives excitement to the balance of the week. You now begin to look for God's answers to your prayers. David wrote, "In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." (Ps. 5:3). You realize that the supernatural God will invade the mundane routine. You are no longer limited by yourself, or other people, because God can overrule if He chooses. You can pray about the Mountains in your life, your children, their future, your future. You connect with the infinite, timeless God, raising the mundane to the limitless. Your future is now what GOD desires it to be. You have faith to believe God for new directions and opportunities. We are to think of ourselves in direct proportion to the FAITH He has given to us. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, that God would, by His power, "fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith." (2 Thess. 1:11b).
It is wise to unhurriedly decide what the most important things are to us in life. The people, the life focus, the goals for self, for family, for ministry, those we have a primary obligation for whom to pray. List the greatest concerns in your life. That is your prayer guide. Revise it, don't feel tied to it. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. As you use it, you will focus on those things that are most important, and will probably experience great peace when you have laid all these concerns repeatedly before God. Then consider a prayer plan, when and where to pray. Carson says that we will not pray unless we plan to pray. I'd encourage you to have regular or irregular prayer retreats, perhaps once a month or quarter or year, whatever you will do.
Among the important things for which to pray, list your mountains. Your personal stumbling blocks, the things that defeat you and others in your family, perhaps enemies. Then, speak to those mountains. "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." I sometimes talked to our house as it was being built. Even before the money came for it to be dried in, I commanded it to be built, in Jesus' name. I believed that God wanted it built. I'm not a closet Pentecostal, I just believe that it is a legitimate prayer principle.
HELP FOR BURDENS
God, in His grace, enables us to unload all of our cares upon Him. (1 Pet. 5:7). He helps us with any problem. We are in an intellectual valley. We need God's perspective. As men, we are called upon to solve any family problem. We're on call. Taxes, bills, vacation, injuries, financial decisions, interpersonal relationships, long range goals. The decisions and the responsibilities are finally, ours. We must be men of prayer to have the mind of God, to lead our family. We are invited to become dependent upon God. In this we are also invited to become publicly dependent upon God before our family. "I don't know, but God does." It teaches dependence upon God, rather upon a man who will eventually die, and perhaps reach senility before that.
Prayer is grace to get into touch with our self. It allows us to see our own tiredness, depression, or joy. Sometimes we don't even know how we are feeling. In solitude, we can get in touch with our self. In American culture, we don't spend a great deal of time unoccupied. There are phones, beepers, mobile phones, fax machines, portable computers, personal computer assistants, TV, Walkmans, to keep us connected with other activities. When is solitude? It allows us to see our “creatureliness”. Prayer is a way to give away our stress, and to ask for relief.
Richard Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline, (Harper San Francisco Book)
Find places outside your home: a spot in a park, a church sanctuary..., even a storage closet somewhere." "The fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts. “Don't you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God...You are welcome to come in and “listen to God's speech in His wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence."
Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, quoted William Cowper's poem from The Task, Book 3:
A life all turbulence and noise may seem
To him that leads it wise and to be praised,
But wisdom is a pearl with most success
Sought in still waters. (p. 128)
MacDonald also quoted Thomas Kelly: (p. 131)
We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow. . . We have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center!. . . We have seen and known some people who have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence. (cited in Richard Foster, Freedom of Simplicity, p. 78)
There comes a time when, as J.I. Packer put it, God leads us out of light into darkness. "Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel" (Is. 45:15). The familiar landmarks are gone. God is not answering our prayers in the way we are asking. There is little joy in God's presence, indeed we may be desperate. Again, that is the time to run "toward the lawn mower," because as bad as it within God's permissive will, it is worse away from Him.
It is time to look to that which is unshakable. Some directions are the character of God, that He still is good, and the promises of God, that He cannot lie. The good character of God guarantees the promises of God, in which we can hope. Frankly, I turn to Scripture promises and pray them to God. Some verses which have helped me in depressing times, which I carry with me in my planner are these: (Ps. 81:10; 84:11; 86:3-4; 91:14-16; 94:18-19; 123:1-3; 138:7-8; 142:3-7; 145:13b-15; Is. 45:5-7,22; Jer. 17:5; Heb. 13:5-6; Rev. 3:8), and to which I add.
Two verses which are particularly valuable to me are Ps. 50:14-15. I discovered the last week of March 1994 that I owed about $1,100.00 in taxes on April 15 because I taught at Chattanooga Christian School in return for tuition for our children. All I had were these two verses--no money. So I would go into the woods and plead with God and plead these promises. By April 15 I had received perhaps one or two hundred dollars which we could apply. But at 11 AM on that day a friend called, Betty Hodges. I'd asked her about that tax issue about a month earlier. She asked about my tax liability and I told her. She said that she had set aside some tithe money and would like to pay that bill, and asked me to come to her office that afternoon. We quickly got a rose at a grocery store and rushed over. At the board room of the accounting firm she handed us a check for about $1,625.00. It was "too boring" to give just for taxes, so she added some. The sequel to the story is that a year later we found ourselves in a similar predicament, only owing about $2,000.00. This time, without knowing the need, she called about three weeks in advance of April 15 and again paid off the entire amount. She called for several years afterward, and now supports us regularly. Ps. 50:15 says that after God delivers us we are to honor Him. Not to forget, which is one reason for relating these stories. "Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God." (Is. 50:10).
SUGGESTIONS FOR SPENDING A DAY IN PRAYER
- Plan in advance for it by marking the time off on your calendar.
- Bring a mat or plastic sheet to sit on and insect repellent, if you'll be outside, and perhaps an umbrella. You might want to bring some water.
- You might want to bring, along with your Bible, a hymn or song book, your planner or equivalent, and a notebook with pen to record prayer requests and impressions received.
- Let your wife or husband know where you are, but with instructions not to disturb you unless there is an emergency.
- Find a place where you cannot be seen (Mark 1:35), if possible and safe. Also a place where you cannot be heard if you raise your voice or sing. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." (Heb. 5:7). You might want to bind away any forces of Satan in the area which would hinder your time with God through dullness of mind, tiredness, insects, distractions, no spirit of supplication.
- Vary your position. Walk, sing, pray in various postures so that your body will not become cramped.
- Allow the Lord to be in control of the time and set the agenda. He may have plans you are not aware of.
- You might want to begin reading the Bible. You might want to spend some time singing hymns and songs and making up a song.
- "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise." (Ps. 100:4). Spend time thanking God and praising him. This comes much more easily after reading the Scriptures and singing.
- You might want to spend time in confession of sin and allowing the Lord to search your heart and for the Holy Spirit to have freedom. Check your guidance. Confess and ask God for grace to correct what He reveals.
- At this point you may want to spend time in intercession. Here is where a thoughtfully prepared prayer list is helpful, so that we at least cover the matters that are most important. There is nothing too big for God, so we don't have to keep requests small. You might want to begin by praying for your family, for those for whom and to whom we are responsible. We can pray for the world, for Christians who are suffering, and for the testimony of God's people around the world. For Christian unity, to testify of Christ. For those involved in wars, for leaders, for nations, for more laborers for the harvest. We may want to narrow things down to our state and county and city. At this point you can pray for special requests that people have given for your praying recently. You can pray for those involved in the circle of your ministry. You can pray for those associated in your work, if outside the home. You can pray for your church and its leaders. You can pray for the unsaved. You can pray for world missions, the "10/40 window" (using Operation World). You can pray for the Mountains facing you. Pray for revival. For new opportunities and directions. For the coming responsibilities on your calendar. For finances. For people with whom we are having a difficult time relating and for enemies. Ask the Lord what else He would have YOU pray for. Spend time throughout your praying to thank the Lord for His answers (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2).
- Allow a time of silence at some point. Give God a chance to speak or impress upon you whatever is on His mind. We need to record the impressions and the things He is leading us to do throughout the day.
- Do not reveal this time to anyone unless necessary. God who sees in secret will reward openly (Matt. 6:4).
- A very different plan, and one that can be interspersed with the above ideas, is to come before God with thanksgiving and praise, and allow the Lord to direct all praying.
- It becomes apparent that no matter how many hours are allocated to prayer, there is not enough time to pray for everything, which is probably why we are told to "pray without ceasing".
- After spending such a day in prayer, beware any tendency to think that our praying is done for the week. We need God's power and presence daily. As J.I. Packer put it, yesterday's power is not sufficent for today (Knowing God).
- You may find less structure to be more helpful, with time.
PRAYERUS 11/21/96 Jim Sutherland www.RMNI.org