Prayer is a tricky little subject. Praying/trusting/waiting/when/if/praying/trusting/waiting…. the cycle continues!
There are so many factors that come into play!
James 4:3 says “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” So there’s a wrong kind of asking!
We hear about persistence in praying (reference Luke 18 where the widow is persistently coming to the judge’s house wanting justice… she beats him down with her continual coming)…… so persistence in praying?? But then I’ve read commentaries that say this is speaking of persistence in prayer regarding the coming of Christ and His final triumph over evil, even when that coming is seemingly delayed. They base that on the previous chapter (Luke 17) which speaks of the coming of the Kingdom. And then in Luke 18:8 in the widow’s parable, we have a reference to said second coming….. I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily, nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” So where does this leave my “persistence” in praying? What exactly should I be persistent about?
And then we also have the very familiar scripture (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) where Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh, ……he prayed 3 times, and then came to understand the “thorn” was to keep him from being prideful and to know that God’s grace is sufficient.
So…. within the context of all this confusion on my part, let me share where I have landed in my own journey as I contemplate this matter of prayer.
My first consideration: Who do I need to be AS I’m praying (my mindset and focus) And then: The one for WHOM I’m praying… the recipient! (What’s their need? What’s their GREATEST need? …….sometimes these two are different.)
So mental inventory, …….what do we pray for specifically, and why do we pray that? Let’s consider what dominates our prayer life?
We’ve all sat in church circles where we give prayer requests …. what do we put down? A hospitalization will for sure make the cut! And sickness, if it’s severe enough, will be named! I sometimes think the sliding prayer scale is somewhat akin to those hospital emoji faces where the nurse asks you to name your pain…..happy to frowny to excruciating! And I often wonder…. why is it that within our “prayer requests” we tend to only name the physical/tangible…. the broken, if you will, that we want fixed!!?
In my own life, I’m admittedly cautious regarding “prayer requests”. I somewhat have a concern that I may be attempting to “pray away” something that God has specifically “brought me to”! Does that make sense? And thus I have a tendency to default to “Lord, thy will be done on earth/in my life/in this situation, as You have already ordained in Your Heavenlies.”
Now that’s not to say these physical/tangible needs don’t matter! They most assuredly do! And I will pray over them with fervor. They are our heartaches forevermore!! But with so much of life broken and shattered, I really feel like we need to get to the place where we can PRAY LIFE into these broken pieces….. infusing HOPE and TRUST into the situation, pointing people (pointing ourselves) to the the Author of life! Because for me, if I mainly just focus on “fix the broken”, I find that instead of praying life into the situation, I’m having the life sucked out of me….. especially if my “broken” isn’t easily or quickly fixed!
I was in 1 Thess 5 recently and found it so interesting that v. 16 says “Rejoice always” and then the very next verse v. 17 says Pray without ceasing. These two thoughts are neighbors! These verses live next door to each other!! So that says to me that at some level we‘ve got to figure out how to hang on to joy as we pray over life’s devastations…. because life is hard, this is a broken world, these are people we love, and the hits keep coming.
That said… we know the sustaining hope and joy that is Jesus! And we need to be praying this over these situations, pointing people to Christ…. not just praying bandaids — but praying LIFE!
So…. instead of just the ONE aspect of prayer (i.e. the petitions of our typical prayer lists), let’s look at FIVE aspects of prayer……. five aspects that reveal to our heart what prayer can be and should be! We short-change ourselves when we predominantly focus on just the broken pieces….. just the petitions. And who can say it any better than Clive (C.S.) Lewis! Ya gotta love him!
Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.
What prayer is:
- Presence, Vision, Enjoyment of God
What prayer ain’t (or ain’t JUST)
- wanting things to be the way they were
- wanting the difficulty to go away
- wanting the fear of “what might be” to go away
Think about this….. yes, we have that petition, but before we bring it to God, we take it across the threshold of Confession and Penitence. Are there things in our own lives that have put a wall of sin between us and coming into God’s presence? Perhaps our own worry and fear about said petition has become “sin”! So we come to God in confession and repentance and from there we move into that place of ADORATION….. adoring Him for who He is, in awe of being able to come into His presence! Ahhh….. at this place, we’re moving into that sweet realm of ENJOYMENT of Him! And as we come into His presence and as we hear His voice from His Word, suddenly we find our thinking and our vision beginning to change as we begin to see things as He sees them!
So the question belies…. can we get to that place of seeing PRAYER like God sees it, as opposed to our flawed mindset of just wanting life to be fixed, or even just better. Prayer needs to be so much more than that! And anything less will be ANGST! If you’re having angst…. perhaps you’re just focusing on the “petition”!
Spoiler alert….. if you think there will be peace and happiness merely because a certain aspect of life gets fixed…. you’re wrong…
C.S.Lewis says: God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing!
As I ponder on about this matter of “prayer”, Paul tends to be my “go to”! He’s the poster child of a heart for God, total surrender, loving Him with pure abandon! (Acts 20)
Let’s look at a week in the life of Paul, as we observe who Paul is in the day-to-day, as we consider “who we need to be, AS we’re praying —
In Acts 20 we have Paul in stressful situations: (let’s fly over them, comparing ourselves)
TIMING/RUSHED, CATASTROPHE, TRAVEL, JOB TO DO (teaching) RELATIONSHIPS
Remember… we’re looking for “who PAUL is” in the day-to-day, but before we talk about any of this I want to pull one verse out…. I think v. 24 is indicative and telling of HOW Paul is able to keep his mindset and focus and stay-the-course himself in his own life. I want to call this a HINGE VERSE — because it seems that who Paul is hinges on who he is according to this verse….. This is a life shaper and life definer…..
v 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
So with “the Paul of v.24” in mind, let’s look at his day…. starting with his Sunday night service in Troas.
Paul’s preaching and suddenly…. emergency in the service! A catastrophe hits! Paul’s leading Sunday night services and he goes a little long…. it’s midnight! And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the 3rd story and was taken up dead.
How equipped are we for emergency? Paul goes down, bends over him, and taking him in his arms, said “Do not be alarmed for his life is in him.”
Now this is of the miraculous, undoubtedly, but Paul operates out of the mindset of God’s miraculous power…. the mindset of who God is! And I ponder this, and question…. How willing are we to go down, bend over, take in our arms and speak life-giving words. I think we’d be bolder if we were speaking out of the POWER OF WHO GOD IS….. as opposed to just speaking bandaids!
So I’m holding this Eutychus story in my mind, pondering all this, and then I move on to the next part of his journey……
Paul arrives in Miletus, where he calls the Ephesian Elders to come to him (rather than him stopping in Ephesus (because he’s RUSHED…. enroute to Jerusalem)
Quick overview of Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders….. he tells them about his own tears and trials and then he turns his attention to them and the issues and potential issues that await them. v.27-32 We’re not talking upcoming Disney trip for these guys!
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. (realize the holiness of your calling.)
Fierce wolves are gonna come in after I leave, trying to draw away the disciples….. Therefore BE ALERT, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (it’s a hard job this high calling) (How might Paul have prayed for that? Protection, slay the wolves, shut the door of opportunity if there is danger? He might’ve prayed that…. but he didn’t!!)
Instead he prayed…….And now…. I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
In this scripture we see Paul’s mindset toward those he’s praying for….
v32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace
Pray it and leave it! Trust God with it! Our Sovereign God has a plan! Trust that!
We can feel such freedom within this mindset……
Yes we pray for things, but we trust God with the outcome.
C.S.Lewis: We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
I would say…. we’ve got to trust Him with that pain, praying that He use it to His Glory!
And I think Paul would agree with C S Lewis when he said:
I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?
He is forever and always the answer to every prayer we utter! Matter-of-fact, we’re told in 2 Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him….. but sometimes we might be guilty of looking for other answers. Bandaids!
To sum it up:
Two important things about prayer….
Who I need to be AS I pray: ….. trusting in “WHO GOD IS” and pointing you there …not just seeking health and good will for you!
And how I need to see YOU, the recipient of my prayer (v32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace) Pray it and leave it! Trust God with it! Knowing our Sovereign God has a plan! When you trust that, you won’t lose your joy because of the ANGST!