Friday, October 18, 2013

The Challenge that is Prayer

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find;  knock, and it shall be opened to you.  For, everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened.  Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone?"  Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?  If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"    --- Matthew 7:7--11

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."   I John 5:13, 14

How gracious of the Father's Spirit to inspire the writers of Scripture in making such amazing prayer promises! And, in the light of such promises (and many more than these), is it not troubling that many believers consider their prayer life their most difficult challenge of the Christian walk...?

At least three aspects of prayer are worth pondering, in order to pinpoint possible pitfalls to an enriching prayer life.  Attention needs to be paid to: (1) Expectations; (2) Timing; and (3) Who God is.  

(1)  Expectations.  "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it."  "Ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done."  Some believers read such statements (out of context, without comparing them with passages such as I John 5:13, 14) and assume God is obligated to answer every request with a resounding "Yes."  Such assumptions lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and certainly dismay.  As a result, many question God's goodness, as well as His willingness to answer our requests... leading some to impugn His character, while others quietly give in to the assumption that God won't answer anyway, so why try?  Thus, their prayer lives become a drudge or non-existent.  This suits Satan's purposes perfectly, since he knows better than we the power that God wields in response to His people's prayer.  

(2)  Timing.  Persevering is not one of our favorite indoor sports.  "Keeping-on-keeping-on" doesn't please our flesh (as do quick and obvious answers we often see on televised church services)... much of our tendency to give up in praying stems from:  (a) misunderstanding prayer's purposes; (b) underestimating our enemies' opposition; (c) forgetting the faithfulness of God.  

First, the primary purpose of prayer is to know and glorify God.  Learning Him, loving Him, longing for His will and way... these are at the heart of theocentric (God-centered) prayer.  Our asking, seeking, knocking are commanded out-workings of the basic love relationship that is already established in yearning for Him, simply for Who He is.  If the roots of knowing Him are sunk deeply into our soul's soil, then trusting Him, regardless, will produce lasting fruit of making Him known to others (Psalm 9:10).    
Secondly, we tend to think that prayer should be easy.  Prayer promises are presented in many pulpits as spiritual MasterCards, by which we get what we want, how we want it, delivered promptly to our doorstep.  What is often overlooked are the three implacable foes who oppose all godly endeavors: the devil, the world system, and our flesh.  The two "outer" enemies have an "inside" man, through whom they wield much persuasive power.  Only as we walk by the Spirit have we hope to defeat these ever-present enemies who hate our soul.  And they especially hate prayer, knowing better than we the spiritual forces moved by it (Daniel 10).  In our own strength we fail continually (John 15:5c)... tending to give out, give in, and give up.  
Thirdly, when we stop praying, we've lost sight of the faithfulness of the living God.  This is why self-sermons are so critical... to rehearse the truth to ourselves, recalling the times He has unmistakably answered in the past, meditating on the truth that He never changes, and so encourage ourselves that He will answer yet.  

(3)  Who God is.  His character is at the absolute heart of prayer.  Musing upon His attributes, slowly, praising deliberately, lovingly, adoringly the sovereign LORD of the universe... this is what He loves, and what He blesses.  In so doing, our spirit is softened (countering the hardening effect of sin's deceitfulness [Hebrews 13:3c]), our sensitivity to His Spirit is heightened, and our willingness to obey His instructions is deepened.  And obedience bears the fruit of Christ-likeness. Being usable, He uses us.  He is glorified, and we develop ever-increasing yieldedness.  Best of all?  He is pleased (II Corinthians 5:9)... our life's purpose fulfilled.


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