Friday, April 20, 2012

A Key to Faith in Your Prayers

Are there challenges beyond your own strength and abilities looming in the not so far future? Overwhelmed!?!?!
Maybe you’ve felt that before. Have you taken inventory of the types of prayers you offer during those pressure packed segments of life’s journey?
Sometimes, to my shame, I have thought, “Maybe if I prayed a little more earnestly or just one more time or stepped out and did a good deed, it might change something. Then, just maybe, God would honor this prayer.”
When I think about some of my paranoid ramblings during life’s seasons of desperation for God’s intervention, a Scripture comes to mind. Jesus gave these instructions just before He presented His disciples with the model to pray, what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”.
Matthew 6: 6-  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  7  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  8  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Even though I don’t stutter when I pray (the original meaning for babbling), my prayers are repetitive (probably fall into the ‘many words’ category), and God hears the same thing again, and again, and…. That’s not all bad -- especially when you take the story from Luke 18 into consideration. There was a persistent widow who kept badgering a judge about receiving justice.  Consider this: if an unjust judge finally gave in to her pleas, how much more will God, our loving Father, work in circumstances to bring about justice for us. What is problematic is when petitions from my heart are offered without closure. What do I mean by that? Here’s a verse to illustrate:
Philippians- 4: 6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Thanksgiving will help spur your faith amidst agonizing, heartfelt cries that each of us feels when waiting on answers and offering our persistent prayers. It’s mentioned, but almost in passing right in the middle of a command, not to be anxious. Offer the prayers ‘with thanksgiving’ (v. 6).
“How do I thank God when I’m going through harsh circumstances in my life that are clearly out of my control?” you may ask. I think you mix the thanks ingredient into prayers by reminding Him and yourself of promises in the Bible that counsel you with the truth that He will never leave you, that He will not sleep on the job, that He will guard and keep you, that He will direct your steps as you live in submission to His plan for your life, and that He works in your circumstances to bring about His glory and your good. Rest in confidence that He said that He wants to bring you hope and a bright future. When you choose to put those kinds of statements in your prayers, the petitions and requests that you bring to Him are surrendering to HIS good purposes in your life. Choosing to trust that HE truly gives a rip about your heartfelt desires and trusting His heart are central to the thanksgiving. So, choose that posture.
It encourages me to remember that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8)  If we truly believe that,  we can move on with expressing faith in our GOOD God. Thanks mixed with your deepest expressed longings is key to prayers full of faith.

"Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it." A. W. Tozer in Signposts

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Some recent thoughts on Prayer…

“Prayer changes things! Don't doubt it my friends.” That status on Facebook caught my attention. I know prayer does change things! But, why do I still doubt it at times?

Do you ever struggle with prayer? There’s God’s will, my will, and everyone else’s on the planet as well.  Now if we could just align them all, we might be onto something.

Why don’t we have a formula to follow for the physical healing of someone we love?

Why doesn’t God tell us exactly how to pray to Him if we have a financial need?

Isn’t there something specific to do if we want to see a transformational change in a family member or a miraculous remedy in a toxic relationship?

Or why doesn’t He answer our prayer for a Caribbean Cruise, preferably on a ritzy liner. Right about now, a floating mattress near any beach would suffice.

Have you ever thought about how boring life would be if we received all the prayers we prayed? Boring may be too nice a word. Some prayers we initially prayed, if answered, could be disastrous. Yet, we have audacious promises from the Bible with Jesus saying, “Ask whatever you will in my name, and I will do it”. If we read more, we find that we need to have faith (Matt. 21:22), remain or abide in Christ(John 15:7), AND the prayer should align with God’s will (1 John 5:14) and bring glory to God the Father (John 14:13). 

Maybe you diligently strive to honor God in all you do, and you pray to God consistently about an issue, and you don’t understand why God seems to be so silent on the subject. The prayers have been offered for years, a decade, or even longer. Here’s a shout out about a current book you ought to read on prayer. It is The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and he says, “The hardest thing about praying hard is enduring unanswered prayers. If you don’t guard your heart, unresolved anger toward God can undermine faith. Sometimes your only option is to trust because it is the last card in your hand, but it’s the wild card. If you can trust God when the answer is no, you’re likely to give Him praise when the answer is yes…You can't pray for open doors if you aren't willing to accept closed doors, because one leads to the other."

I’ve been in that place where my faith has been rocked by the silence of God. At the time, I felt more like a lab rat than a human, wondering what type of test He might be performing on me. But, I’ve also grown up within a heritage of prayer for which I’m grateful. So, I’ve seen a power in prayer that I can’t deny, and when someone writes or speaks about how God moves in response to our heart’s cries, I can sense in my spirit, “Right ON!”

I’m learning to embrace the mystery of it all. In the midst of the embrace I’d like to make these assertions about the subject of prayer:

·         Prayer is a discipline-- discipline is never easy.

That’s why it is called "discipline". For a ripped body, people incorporate a great diet and routine heart throbbing repetitions of cardio and strength training.  On a similar note, If we long to see God do the miraculous in us and through us for His glory, we need to avail ourselves to this training in moral/spiritual development on a regular basis Sadly, Christian families go through a daily routine without ever pausing as a family to thank God for the meal on the table, praying for encouragement of the pastor, for a neighbor’s life, or strength for a missionary with whom the family has developed a relationship. It’s my prayer that we’ll see more emphasis in local churches to underscore this important discipline in the lives of believers corporately and individually.

·                Prayer is about relationship rather than results.

One of the underlying obstacles might be that we approach the discipline of prayer more concerned about results than relationship. Instead of a tight formula for the results we desire, we have an invitation to pour our hearts out to Christ and have faith that HE has our best interest in heart and mind, no matter the outcome. We grow as we wait and keep our focus and faith in God.

Earlier in this entry, I mentioned the challenge of aligning our will with God’s. When we’ve made obedient decisions in our relationship with God, our will more closely parallels His will, and we see more results. His ways are still higher than our ways, so that is why I use the term, “closely”. So, be disciplined, keep the faith, and keep on knocking!

·         Prayer is our opportunity to alter His story.

John Wesley, founder of the United Methodist Church, had a thought provoking quote that said, “God does nothing, but in answer to prayer.” And, it is difficult to deny the effects of a concerted effort in prayer when people honestly seek God and ask for His kingdom to reign in the hearts or people and circumstances that surround us.

Mark Batterson writes, “In the grand scheme of God’s story, there is a footnote behind every headline. The footnote is prayer. And if you focus on the footnotes, God will write the headlines. It’s your prayers that change the eternal plotline.”

So, let’s ask for God’s Holy Spirit to give us the bite into this discipline, focus on aligning ourselves with the Lord rather than all of the results we desire, and placing ourselves in line to be part of HIStory.

“Prayer is the inheritance we receive and the legacy we leave.” Mark Batterson