Christianity 201

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

May 31, 2019

Keep on Asking Means, Keep Up the Prayer Process

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy. Once you shut the door, it’s shut. Work done. But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

7 “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

7 “Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

7 Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

7 “Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

7 Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

May 23, 2015

Keep on Asking

If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy.  Once you shut the door, it’s shut.  Work done.  But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

“Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

“Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

 

December 4, 2014

Praying Without a Doubt

Today we pay a return visit to the blog, Created to Give God Glory and its author Prentis McGoldrick. To read this at source, and look around the blog, click the title below.

 

Do Our Doubts Keep Us from God’s Blessings?

Mark 11:23-24 (ESV)
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
James 1:6 (ESV)
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

I do not believe that God gives us everything we want. I do not believe that God gives us things simply because we are deluded into thinking that it will happen just because we say it will. I do not believe that God supplies on the basis of our own desires that our wishes be granted. I believe that God provides on the basis of His word. His word reveals who He is. Therefore, He provides on the basis of His character. So, what do our prayer have to do with it?

The definition of prayer for many must be changed. It is more than “talking to God.” Prayer should reveal our hearts. Prayer should reveal our faith. Faith is based on the word of God. We believe because He has said it is so. Our prayers should simply repeat what God has said. Prayers will be in a general attitude, i.e.,” God I know you are loving and care about my situation”, and specific, “God, I need to pay my rent this week and I don’t have it. Will you please help supply my need?” However, there are times we must have more than a general or specific request. We need a specific word from God which allows us to ask and state what God will do. We can do so because we have heard from Him specifically.

Elijah prays that it won’t rain. He says he has done so at God’s command. Jesus prays that Lazarus will be resurrected because He has already heard from His Father. There must be some times in which we have heard from God and we pray that which He has already told us. Doubt in what God has already said is denying that God is truthful and/or powerful enough to answer our prayers.

God refuses to answer the prayers of people who refuse to believe Him. God desires a people who will know Him. People cannot know Him until they have believed in Him. They cannot believe in Him by doubting Him.

Years ago I spoke to an evangelist who said, “You must believe it is so when it isn’t so, so that it will be so because with God it is already so.” I asked him to tell me how you know its so. He said, “First, you have to receive a word from God.”

I asked, “How do I get a word from God?”

“That’s the hard part,” was his reply.

Most of us don’t want to spend the time receiving a word from God. It may take intense prayer. It may take fasting. It may take losing sleep (remember the Garden of Gethsemane). Yet, somehow God has to speak, we have to hear and believe.

How far can we go in our prayers to God? They are limitless. We can ask Him to speak to us about anything. However, we are ridiculous in asking for something we already know God doesn’t want us to have. For example: Please don’t let me get caught after I rob the bank!

Listening for a word from God always exposes the possibility He will refuse our request. He may say that He is simply not going to do so. Paul continued to have a thorn in the flesh. Jesus went to the cross. God’s word spoke to them and they quit asking God for what He had revealed. Thus, the answer may not be to our liking but it will speak to our faith.

Often, we need a word from God to be the real answer to our prayers. Are you willing to ask God to speak to you and continue asking until He does? If so, you must receive what He says by faith and you shall have what He has promised.

Faith in God’s word is the key.

April 19, 2014

“Don’t Repeat Prayers” versus “Keep on Asking”

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:26 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Matthew 6:7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Luke 18:7 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…

 

Prayer: I don't think Jesus ever intended it to be this complicated

Prayer: I don’t think Jesus ever intended it to be this complicated

Several weeks back, I discovered Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the subject index to find more topics.

Did Jesus send a mixed message about repetition in his teaching about prayer?

Q.  I appreciate this post and I had a bit of a follow up question. Over the years I’ve struggled with what I see as a mixed message in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” But in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight and in similar parables, Jesus seems to be saying that we should essentially pester God and repeatedly bug Him until we get what we are after. He also gives us the “Lord’s Prayer,” which seems quite fixed in its order and style. How do you understand this apparently mixed message? Do you think that a lot of the prayers we commonly hear in church are made up of the “empty phrases” Jesus warns against? Phrases like “be with us,” “protect us,” “watch over us,” “bless us,” “forgive us,” etc. Often unthoughtful catch phrases . . .

Actually, I think Jesus is talking about different things in these two teachings.

When he warns in the Sermon on the Mount against “heaping up empty phrases,” he’s specifically saying that we shouldn’t expect God to hear us and grant our requests based on how many words we’ve said—that is, how much time and energy we’ve put into saying long and repetitive prayers.  This is really a form of “works,” of trying to earn something from God by our own efforts.  Jesus directs us instead towards grace:  “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  What we receive from God in prayer is an expression of His love and goodness towards us, not our efforts.

On the other hand, in parables like the one about the Friend at Midnight, the Persistent Widow, etc. Jesus is saying that once we have become convinced that something will advance God’s purposes in our lives and in the world, we should pray for it with a persistent, relentless faith.  We shouldn’t pray one or two half-hearted prayers along the lines of “Well, if you think you might want to do this, and you could maybe get around to it, we’d appreciate it.”

Rather, the kind of persistent prayer Jesus describes in these parables is what the author of Hebrews calls “boldly approaching the throne of grace.”  But note that in this case as well the answer to prayer comes as a result of God’s grace, not our efforts.  Hebrews makes clear that it rests on Jesus’ own high priestly intercession for us.  And it begins with a revelation to us of God’s purposes in the world; we then join in those purposes through our prayers, with the faith God gives us to pray them and believe for their answers.  (I suggest in my study guide to John, for example, that Jesus turns the water to wine at the wedding in Cana because “Mary’s persistent faith and implicit trust show him that God is powerfully at work at this very moment.”)

As for the Lord’s Prayer, I think it’s important to recognize that this was Jesus’ response to his disciples request, “Lord, teach us to pray,” after they had seen him at prayer.  When we see it as a teaching, we realize that the Lord’s Prayer is designed to show us what the themes and priorities of our own prayers should be:  for the advancement of God’s kingdom first, and then for our own needs in the context of our participation in that kingdom, as well as for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation.

The Lord’s Prayer is, therefore, a model prayer that we are meant to imitate but not necessarily to repeat verbatim over and over again (as by trying to do “penance” by saying “ten ‘Hail Marys’ and ten ‘Our Fathers’”).  However, I think the Lord’s Prayer can nevertheless be used very effectively in liturgical settings.

For example, when I was a pastor we realized that even in our small church we had speakers of a dozen or more languages—African, Asian, European, etc.  So one week, at the time when we usually shared the concerns of the congregation and prayed for them together, we instead had people take turns simply saying the Lord’s Prayer in their own native languages.  This was a powerful and beautiful experience that people talked about long afterwards.

Another time we were visiting one of the great British cathedrals, York Minster.  At noon a voice came quietly over the public address system reminding us that this was not just a historic building, it was a house of worship, and that it had been that since the early 600s.  And so we were all invited to join in a brief moment of worship by saying the Lord’s Prayer together, once again in our native languages.  This, too, was a powerful experience that illustrated the unity of God’s people through space and time by means of shared liturgical material.

Finally, as for the “empty phrases” that can creep into our prayers (“bless them, Lord”—how, exactly?), I think you’re right, we need to take an extra moment to think about what we really mean to say, rather than fall back on platitudes.  This is one more good warning to take to heart from Jesus’ multifaceted—but not mixed, I would say—teaching on prayer.

March 29, 2014

Are Your Prayers Charismatic or Contemplative?

Mark O. Wilson tweeted a link to this 2013 article yesterday, and while it’s not a typical item for this page, the more I considered it, the more I had to include it. To read it at source, click through; it appeared under the title Believe Like a Charismatic, Trust Like A Monk.

In Bible believing circles, there are two influential schools of thought regarding prayer.

1) The Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle
2) The Contemplative Listen in Childlike Trust Circle.

Christians pray differently, when facing a challenging circumstance, physical illness, financial adversity, or perplexing dilemma, depending on which circle they’re in.

The “Charismatic Claim it Boldly in Faith Circle” people pray something like this:

“Lord, you said a grain of faith can move the mighty mountain! You said a prayer of faith will heal the sick! We take you at your Word and claim your promise! Mountain, MOVE in Jesus’ name! By His stripes we are healed! Your faith has made you whole!”

The “Contemplative Listen in Childlike Trust Circle” people pray along these lines:

“Abba Father, I come to you as a hurting child. I am broken, poor and needy. Yet, I know your love and grace flow freely to the darkest place. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Please be near me as I walk this difficult valley, and help me not to struggle against it. Teach me, from this experience, that I may be more like Jesus.”

So — which way should we pray?

I propose that we approach the throne of grace with a blend of both! Pray with the boldness of a pentecostal preacher and the trust of a contemplative monk! Both perspectives are valid, yet both can lead to error. Jesus blended the two approaches in the prayer he taught to his disciples: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

We must pray with forceful strength: Thy Kingdom come!
We pray in faithful surrender: Thy will be done.

Pray with Forceful Strength.
God is bigger than any problem, and we need to pray in light of this greatness. God is big enough for anything! People who fail to pray boldly will see few miracles. When we refuse to engage in the spiritual battle, we won’t experience the victory. As Jesus said, “the Kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men take hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

Yet, the “claim the promise” people can easily fall into arrogance, judging those suffering adversity as “lacking in faith”, and promoting their own agenda rather than Christ’s. When prayers are not answered according to expectation, the great faith often evaporates into despair and disillusionment. Genuine faith runs much deeper than bluster.

Pray in Faithful Surrender:
Our prayers should share the spirit of Jesus in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42 KJV). Step out in faith to pray boldly — and then, in simple trust, leave the results to God.

He might work a mind blowing miracle and change the entire situation. Or, he might perform a hidden work of the heart, and grow us in grace. The way He chooses is always best, and it’s not our job to second guess Him.

October 2, 2012

Unwavering Belief

While rummaging through the archives at Thinking Out Loud, I discovered a lengthy post for  Halloween I reblogged from writer Carole McDonnell.  I decided to see what she has been up to lately, and discovered this piece about belief. I strongly encourage you to click through to read this at source; you might find other articles of interest. For those of you here for the first time, scripture verses at C201 appear in green because God’s word is life. (There’s a lot of green in this excellent Bible study!)

There are many verses in the Bible which encourage the faithful believer to trust in God’s willingness to answer prayer.

John tells us that “we know we have what we pray for because we keep His commandments.” (1 John 3:22.) If we’re keeping God’s commandments, and are praying for the glory of God, and feeding our faith by studying God’s character and Jesus’ Great Finished Work on the cross, we should trust that our prayers have been answered. After all, Jesus Himself told us that when we pray we must believe that we HAVE received and we WILL receive whatever we ask for.

We are told to pray with thanksgiving. This means we must pray and give thanks for what we will receive as if we have already received it, seeing that which is invisible. Jesus gave us a wonderful example of this when he prayed for Lazarus to be brought back to life. Even before Lazarus came from the tomb, Jesus ended His prayer with the words, “I thank you, Lord, that you have heard my prayer.”

We pray every day using the word “Amen” which can be translated to mean as Surely, truthfully, verily, this is a true statement, or it’s done. Jesus told us to approach the throne of grace with boldness and courage. Our prayers end boldly, but although the world “Amen” is a bold ending to a prayer, we don’t really rise from prayer believing that our prayer has been answered. We tend to think that either God hasn’t heard our prayer or that He will spend the next few days mulling over a decision or that He wants to drag out the answer for a while in order to teach us a lesson. This is doublemindedness. We are not believing what God has said. As the apostle James said, “this kind of double-minded attitude is not going to get anything from the Lord.” Why? Because our unbelief vies with our faith.

If we use the sowing and reaping metaphors that Jesus and the apostles used to show how the kingdom of God works, we can readily see that we have more faith in the physical act of sowing and reaping than we do in the spiritual act. In the case of a physical seed, we actually believe there is a seed with the power within itself to germinate. Yet, even though Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and others told us that the word of God is active and alive and has power within it to germinate and flower, we hardly believe.

The Bible says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Rom 3:4) And yet, unbelief is a wonderful theologian. If we aren’t careful, we –or a really intelligent minister– can convince ourselves that God will do the most heinous evil because he loves us. Some great religious writings can convince us that although Jesus came to heal those who were oppressed by the devil that somehow our particular oppression is not from the devil but from God.

St Paul tells us that “We are accepted in the Beloved.” Eph 1:6 This is the Greek word Charitoo which is translated as “full of grace” and “highly favoured” in Luke 1:28 when the angel spoke to Mary. It means freely bestowed overwhelming love. This means God loves us and has placed us in such a favored position that, like the loving Father He is, He wants to bless us more than we’re able to receive it. We’re adopted children who are His very special favorites. John says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has for us, that we should be called the Children of God.”

John states, “This is the confidence we have in God: that, if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.” I John 5:14. He writes earlier in the same chapter, “whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world, even our faith.” Through Jesus’ name, and faith in that name, we are “more than conquerors.” And St Paul tells us that “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

Yet in the face of all this overwhelming evidence of God’s love towards us, the ancient inability to trust God remains. From the day our first parents hearkened to Satan’s “Did God say?” to today’s modern taunts, we humans have found it difficult to believe that God means us well. We forget that He who freely gave us His life will also freely give us all things. Plain and simple, we love God but like unworthy friends we often believe what others say about our Dear Friend more often than what He says about Himself. If it’s through faith in God’s Love and Power that we conquer the world, how can we conquer our own Promised Land if we allow rumors of giants to make us feel like grasshoppers. (Numbers 13)

The Bible tells us, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Rom 3:4) And we know better than to come right out and say that God is a liar. But we work around that by making Him way more inscrutable than He really wants to be. This is not to say that we understand everything about God. We don’t. But the Bible has made His personality clear to us. He doesn’t have some hidden secret plan which prevents Him from answering our prayers. The Bible states that God does nothing without revealing His will to His people. (Amos 3:7)

We also make God unpredictable and flighty. Instead of saying that God’s promises and spiritual laws work all the time, we say that God does heavy micro-managing and sits on His throne deciding which spiritual law will work in every case. We say that whatsoever a man sows he will reap, yet we often think that in this particular case – our own problem– that particular spiritual law will not work. God’s word is sure. God does not change. His word abides forever and He honors His word. God is aware of all His children, but He does not micro-manage. Spiritual laws are as dependable as physical laws. Unfortunately, like many physical laws some spiritual laws need a faithful heart to set them in motion. The law of gravity, for instance, tends to work all the time…unless one understands how to override it. As powerful and universal as gravity is, it is routinely conquered by pilots and birds all over the world. Yet, although gravity has its weak moments, it’s not a good idea to defy it. Seeds will grow into plants if we continue to water them and so we know that we should not cast away our confidence when a physical plant seems to be weakening. We should not be weary with well-doing: God is not mocked. In due time, we will reap if we don’t faint. We depend on physical laws. This attitude should be the same when we rely on spiritual laws.

For instance, Jesus commands us not to worry and in Mark 7:14-15, He gives us some insight into spiritual law when he tells us that evils within the heart are what defile the body. As American Christians we half believe Jesus was right about this. After all, the medical world has taught us all about the dangers of being a type A personality. But do we believe what Jesus says simply because Jesus said it? For instance, do we believe that adulterous thoughts can also affect our health? Other spiritual laws or insights include: the law of giving and receiving, the power of the tongue to steer a life towards good or ill, the evil that comes upon those who hate Israel or Jewish people.

In Mark 9:23-24, when the father of the demon-possessed boy asked Jesus to help him, Jesus said, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” To which the distraught father replied, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” This, unfortunately, is the state most western Bible-believing Christians have found themselves in. We believe greatly, and we doubt greatly. At the exact same time. Let us search the Scriptures and learn to understand and love our God. John warns us that many antiChrists are out in the world and we should test every word we hear. And Jesus tells us that if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit. (Luke 6:39) But Jesus warns us to “take heed how we hear.” (Luke 8:18) Let us learn to love our Father. As Jesus said, He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father. (John 14:6-20) If we know the love of Jesus, we cannot help but trust Him with our lives.

We have a great and high calling with many doors of opportunity opened to us and there are many adversaries who – wittingly or unwittingly– have set out to steal the word of truth from us or to mingle it with worldly philosophers. Let us not be removed from the simplicity of the gospel. (Gal 1:6; Rom 6:19; 2 Co 11:3 ) Let us arise and dream great dreams, let us hold onto the promises of God. Let us do great exploits and not cast away our confidence. Let us arise and shine, because our light has come. Is 60:1

~Carole McDonnell

January 10, 2012

Believing Prayer

Today’s devotional reading is by Robert Moon, who happens to the husband of the author of yesterday’s post.  In many ways this is very similar to yesterday’s theme.  It appeared at the blog Musings by Robert under the title Prayer Memo.

II Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

Paul in his introduction greets the brethren with encouraging words but I want to emphasize the words “Your faith is growing abundantly or exceedingly.” Faith is all there is for the believer.

By faith we are saved, and receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, if your denomination allows it. By faith we approach GOD in every way whether in worship or in prayer. We use our faith to accomplish great things for God, and stand when victory is slow in coming.

I don’t know exactly know how to say what I’m going to say. and that is one of the hardest things to get by, is when we pray and then miraculously the answer comes. Then at another time, we pray and it seems like the heavens are closed. The door to answered prayer is shut tight and our exercise of faith can’t get the door to budge. Confusion attacks us with questions, and we mull over without a conclusion.

Having had to deal with this phonemon many times I have learned a few things, and there are still a few questions I am working on. If one is not careful they can get lost and spiritually weakened when this happens; but when properly understood this is the time for faith to flourish. This is the time to continue to give substance to our requests.

Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

Always keep in mind we are at war with the forces of evil and must always be armored up as in Ephesians 6:13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand and having prayed, stand until GOD answers or says otherwise.

I believe in GOD!  I believe GOD!

~Robert Moon

September 27, 2011

For Praying Out Loud

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:01 pm
Tags: , , ,

Elsie Montgomery is a Canadian, blogging daily since 2006 at Practical Faith. She also teaches people how to write Bible study materials and devotionals. Six months ago, she became an instant ‘add’ to our blogroll at right! This piece appeared last week under the title, Faith and Praying Out Loud.

As a writer, I’ve learned that reading my work aloud helps me spot errors more readily. It is the same with prayer. For that reason, I pray aloud, sometimes intensely loud. In doing this, God has helped me see what I believe and what I only think that I believe.

This morning’s devotional reading is about a man whose son was afflicted with a demon that not only robbed him of the ability to speak, but also drove the boy to suicide attempts. This man brought his son to the disciples and they were unable to help him. Then Jesus appeared on the scene and began asking questions.

And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:21–23)

I love what Spurgeon did with this. He said, “Now there was an ‘if’ in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the ‘if’ in the wrong place. Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the ‘if,’ kindly puts it in its legitimate position.”

I immediately think of all the times I’ve put an ‘if’ in my prayers. Sometimes it is, “If You hear me . . .” or “If You care. . . .” But most often if is like this father, “If You can. . . .” Usually I don’t say those words, but I am thinking them in my heart. That is why praying out loud is important for me.

Even my rational mind apart from pure faith, reasons that God is unlimited. He can do anything or He could not be called God. That makes saying “If You can. . . .” out loud a total nonsense. If I heard myself say that, I would shake my head and maybe give myself a smack. What am I saying? Duh.

However, this man also said something that, for me, seems to come out more easily when I say it aloud.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

For me, mulling the issue in my mind and in silent prayers, makes it easier to skirt the real issues or to rationalize and deny what is going on in my heart. Out loud, it becomes clearer to me: God knows what I am thinking — I might as well say it. There is no pretending when the words come out. I cannot easily lie to myself when I hear myself talk.

This helps identify doubt, but praying out loud has an upside to it as well. For instance, when I say things like, “You are God, You can do anything,” I am reinforcing my own faith. This is a strong biblical principle. We need to speak what we believe.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9–10)

Verbal confession is vital in salvation. It cements faith, makes it concrete (pun intended) and gives it voice. Obviously, those who say they believe with their mouth, but do not believe in their heart are not saved. On the other hand, if someone thinks they believe, but refuses to say so, they could be holding back so they can change their mind. God wants us to say it, to tell others.

Speaking what I believe works in a similar way in prayer. It affirms and gives strength to what I know is true in my heart. It also battles the Liar, Satan, who whispers words of doubt and deception into my mind. Out-loud words drive away those temptations to unbelief. Singing spiritual songs has the same effect as we give expression to the truth.

Back to prayer. I love to go for long walks and pray, but praying out loud is a bit of a problem. I imagine a well-meaning observer calling for the little men wearing white coats to take me off to the psych ward. So I whisper and move my lips, which is almost as good, but not the same as talking with volume.

************

Lord, the lessons of speaking my heart are important. Speaking out loud may not be for everyone, but the larger lesson here is for everyone, and for me today. I need to watch that I put any “ifs” in the right place. Prayer should firmly stand on the confidence that You keep Your promises and that You hear my prayers, aloud or silent. The “if’s” do not belong to who You are or what You can do. They always belong with my failings, fears and doubts. Forgive me for trying to project my own shortcomings on You, as if You are the doubtful side of this equation. How foolish of me. You are Almighty God, God who is unlimited in power, love, grace and mercy. Truly, all things are possible to those who believe. In my weakness and lack of faith, keep on giving me words that turn my focus away from supposing wrong things about You and that put the onus of my unbelief where it belongs.