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