THE CHALLENGE, FRUSTRATION, AND SATISFACTION OF PRAYER

I just counted the books in the prayer section on my book shelf and I have over 25 of them. I’m pretty sure I have read all of them, and would think I’d be much better at prayer than I am. The title of one of the books, The Struggle of Prayer by Donald G. Bloesch, probably describes a lot of us in terms of our practice of prayer. It certainly does me.

I can relate to Professor W. David O. Taylor’s assessment, “My own prayer life comes and goes. At times I have prayed faithfully every morning before starting the day’s work. At other times I have managed only tired prayers at the end of the day, and they often have not been very good prayers. At still other times I have found myself without prayer, or, more truthfully, without any desire to pray.”

I want to pray, and I want to pray regularly, but that is a challenge for me. After all these years I have still not settled into a daily and consistent routine of prayer. I think Anthony Delaney’s observation that “we pray a lot more when we are trouble than when everything’s going well” is spot on. And I think he’s right because what he says is true for me.

The Bible says a lot of about prayer as well as gives us a lot of examples of prayer. Jesus clearly expects us to pray as three times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7) he tells us “when you pray . . .” what to do and what not to do. In verses 9-13 he gives us a model to follow. In his final instructions to the Thessalonians in his first letter the Apostle Paul tells them “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Pastor and author John Starke encourages me with his suggestion that “the Bible imagines prayer to be a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people.” (In other words, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant to pray.) And then he convicts me with his observation that “It’s not an overstatement to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to begin to spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis for the rest of your life.”

Professor Taylor’s definition of prayer also encourages me: “Prayer is a funny thing, of course, it is about talking to God and listening to God. In practice, prayer is anything but simple.” I think praying can be simple, but listening to God in prayer for me is more challenging.

I think for many who pray, what can be frustrating is what we consider no response from God. With simple honesty, in one of his books Scot McKnight notes “we lay ourselves before God and sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t.” As I have heard many believers say, God sometimes says “yes,” sometimes he says “no,” and sometimes he says “wait.” It’s the “no” answer and the “wait” answer that frustrates many who pray.

I would not charge anyone whose prayer answers were “no” or “wait” of being guilty of his warning, but Pastor Dustin Crowe’s words are worth our consideration, “If honest, many of us pray self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish prayers that sound more like ‘my kingdom come, my will be done’ than ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer C.S. Lewis makes a powerful point. He says the clearest asking prayer in the Bible is Jesus’ request in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Lewis writes, “He asked, but did not get what he asked for. But he asked with a reservation—‘nevertheless, not my will but thine.’ This makes an enormous difference.”

I’m thinking the challenge and the frustration of prayer are both real, but my prayer life could be much more satisfying if I would follow Jesus’ example and ask with the reservation he did.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4433377″>Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4433377″>Pixabay</a&gt;

 

 

 

GROWING IN PRAYER

I have no way of knowing for sure, but my sense is that far more people pray than those who don’t. Not only that, my sense also is that many of those who do pray often wish they were better at praying. I am one of those who would like to grow in prayer.

A beginning point in learning to pray is the example Jesus set in his prayer life. Luke 11:1 tells us, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’.” His response was what we call The Lord’s Prayer and a model for us.

During the last couple of months I have been thinking and reading about prayer and how I can do better in my prayer life. One of the books I read that was the most encouraging and challenging was by Robert Benson entitled In Constant Prayer (pub. by Thomas Nelson, 2008). Here are some selections that I found motivating.

“At some point, we have to move from talking about prayer to saying our prayers” (p. 81). I don’t particularly like the phrase saying our prayers, but I was convicted to stop talking about prayer to actually praying. Benson noted “The only way to become a writer is to write” (p. 96). I paraphrase his next observation: you do not become a person of prayer and then begin to pray. If you pray enough, you may yet become a person of prayer. People of prayer pray every day.

Two chapters later Benson slapped me in the face so to speak with this affirmation: “it is far more likely that we do not recognize God’s presence in our lives than it is that God is not present in our lives” (p.130, emphasis added). My takeaway is that one of the ways we can better recognize God’s presence in our lives is through growing in prayer.

Near the end of the book his honesty both challenged and encouraged me with his acknowledgement: “Sometimes I feel as though I have traveled far on this rode. But the truth is that in a way I am in the same place I was when I began all those years ago” (p.147). Based on what I had read in the previous pages I could not help but think he was being a little too hard on himself.

Benson also reminds readers that there is “the need for us to pray corporately as well as to pray personally” (p. 148). I have been present and participated many times in corporate prayer. Some have been moving and meaningful and others have been a mixed bag. Some of the most satisfying times of prayer for me have been in small groups, some with just me and my prayer partner of several years.

I’m for corporate prayer and believe Christians should be praying together. But my desire and challenge to readers of this post is to take steps to grow in our personal prayers – even if we begin with baby steps.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or social media.

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/40646519@N00/21944196312″>Praying Outside St. Patrick’s</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

IS IT TIME TO PRAY?

The title of this post is not hard to answer, is it? Of course it’s time to pray; for Christians it is always time to pray! There are occasions, situations, circumstances, and seasons when our prayers are more intense, but as children of God and followers of Jesus we are a people who are invited, encouraged, and taught to pray. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us “there is a time for everything,” To borrow from that, I’m thinking “anytime and all the time is a time to pray.”

The record of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels makes it clear Jesus was a person of prayer. Three passages especially get my attention:

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1).

Jesus has not only set the example for us, by his example he has given us direction.

We’re not surprised that the Apostle Paul, the most prolific writer in the New Testament, also set the example and gives us direction. Reinforcing the point of this blog, Paul challenges us:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18).

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Paul also models for us asking for prayer from other believers in Romans 15:20, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

Yes, it is a time to pray, and it is always a time for believers to pray. To repeat what I wrote in the first paragraph is this post: there are occasions, situations, circumstances, and seasons when our prayers are more intense. I think we all will agree we are now in one of those situations and seasons. Right now our list of people and needs to pray for is longer than it usually is. I encourage you to reread the passages quoted above and follow the examples and instructions of both Jesus and Paul.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

Image by <a href=”https://pixabay.com/users/OpenClipart-Vectors-30363/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2026186″>OpenClipart-Vectors</a&gt; from <a href=”https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2026186″>Pixabay</a&gt;

 

 

TROUBLED?

Christians sometimes are surprised when they face and deal with difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks. And part of the reason they are surprised is because they think being a follower of Jesus should protect and insulate them from such things.

The Bible, however, does not promise that committing to live the Christian life guarantees constant smooth sailing. Not only does the Bible not make such a claim, it clearly teaches otherwise.

The clearest teaching, and perhaps best known, about this comes from Jesus himself. In what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in John 16:33 Jesus tells his followers “In this world you will have trouble” (NIV). Another translation (NLB) expands the idea of trouble with “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”

Having made my initial decision to be a Christian at the age 12 in 1963, I certainly have not lived a trouble-free life with no trials and sorrows. And I’m confident that neither has any other believer who is reading this reflection.

What got me to thinking about this was the encouragement of Psalm 62:8 that a couple of authors cited in a book I recently finished (Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, p. 102). Here’s Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (NIV).

Note and consider the three points of the verse. First, it calls us to trust God. And then because we trust him, we are to pour out our hearts to him. Finally, the Psalmist tells us why we should trust God and pour out our hearts to him – because he is our refuge.

Taken by this verse, I checked some other renderings and thought The Contemporary English Version expanded on parts 2 and 3: “always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.”

I’m drawn to and encouraged by the instruction of Psalm 62:8. I want to trust the Lord and pour out my heart to him telling him all of my concerns; and I want to do that because he is my refuge and a place of safety.

There is much more to prayer than just what Psalm 62:8 teaches us; but because we all will be troubled at times, I don’t think we should ignore or fail to put into practice what this verse teaches us. Do you?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: eshao5721 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/165868022@N02/47220399102″>Anelito</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a

A PRAYER REVERSAL

Last week while I was praying I had what I’m calling an “epiphany.” There are a variety of ways the word is used, but the definition I’m using is “a moment of sudden or great revelation that usually changes you in some way.”

Since I preached about surrender last weekend, and am preaching again this weekend on the same subject, I’ve been thinking a lot about surrendering to God. Even though I’m preparing sermons to challenge people in church to surrender, what I’m studying is having an impact on me. My “epiphany” last week confirmed that.

After class one day last week I went home and into my office to prepare a test. When I finished the test I moved to my easy chair to sit and pray. I brought several concerns to the Lord telling him what I wanted. I then prayed that God would want what I wanted. It was as I made that request that I had my “epiphany.”

I’m probably not the only person to pray what I prayed last week, but as I thought about what I had asked for I was embarrassed. Who am I to ask God to want what I want? It didn’t take long for me to realize the presumption of my request.

I’m pretty sure I was convicted by the Holy Spirit and acknowledged the inappropriateness of what I had just asked. I told the Lord I wanted to take back what I had asked for and reverse my prayer. Rather than asking Him to want what I want, I asked Him to help me want what He wants.

I’m confident a lot of what I want is what God wants, and a lot of what God wants is what I want. But in keeping with the idea of surrender I want to stay with my reversed prayer rather than my original one last week. Lord, help me want what you want.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

IF IT’S SIN, I’M GUILTY

Noting the title of this post, you are probably wondering what the “it” is to which I am referring: it is worry. Many readers will be able to identify with me as I confess I am a worrier.

Yesterday our four year old grandson had dental surgery. We had known for several weeks that it was scheduled for today, but as the date grew closer I realized I was worrying more and more.

For the past few days I’ve been thinking about my habit of worrying. My recollection is that I have been a worrier pretty much all my life. My worries have never been debilitating, but they have had an impact on me. Many times worry has added stress to my life and eroded my joy.

In retrospect I remember my mom was a worrier. I don’t know if worry is hereditary or can be learned from a parent, but I have always been grateful for her interest and concern. I just wish she had not worried so much. However, as a worrier myself I understand.

But I’m asking myself, “Is worrying a sin?” The New Testament suggests in at least two places that it is.

One is from the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:34 Jesus concludes a section of his teaching, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Respected author John R.W. Stott, and one of my favorite writers, concludes from Jesus’ teaching that “worry is incompatible with Christian faith.”

The second passage is from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done” (New Living Translation). Commentator Ralph P. Martin notes, “[worry] betrays a lack of confidence in God’s protection and care for his people.”

It seems obvious from Jesus, Paul, John Stott, and Ralph Martin that worry is indeed a sin.

Possibly as an excuse for my own worry, I’m not sure all worry is sin. My worry is not due to a lack of faith and trust in God. In connection with my worry I practice what Paul instructs in Philippians 4:6 – I pray taking the things I worry about to the Lord.

I find some comfort and encouragement from what a couple of other writers say about Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on Jesus’ statement, “Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34), D.A. Carson notes, “It is as if Jesus recognizes that there will be some unavoidable worry today after all.” Archibald Hunter concludes, “. . . the principle is surely this, that, taking reasonable care, we are to face life with [trust], accepting each day fresh from God, and leaving the unknown future in his hands.”

My sense is that most of us need this teaching from both Jesus and Paul. I know I do. As a matter of fact, I’m a little worried about what some may think about me in light of my admission that I worry.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST

All of us who are Christians would agree that prayer is an important aspect of the Christian life. While driving to a meeting yesterday I realized my prayer life had waned. Right then I acknowledged it to the Lord (without bowing my head and closing my eyes!) and resolved to get back on track.

This morning I read in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters Screwtape’s observation that if his subject [a Christian he was tempting] was attending to God Himself, both he and Wormwood would be defeated. Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood was that the simplest way to prevent such a thing was “to turn their gaze away from Him [God] towards themselves.” I wondered if that is what I had done. Later I was reminded of one of the great testimonies in the Old Testament about this matter.

Most readers will remember the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three young Jewish men refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar. He had set up an image and ordered on his command everyone to fall down and worship it. In keeping with the king’s mandate, because of their refusal, they were going to be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Daniel 3:16-18 tells us their response to Nebuchadnezzar, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Even in their trying situation Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were clearly attending to God Himself and did not turn their gaze away from God toward themselves. Even though we are not told they prayed, we can assume they did. And I think we can be encouraged and learn from their response.

  1. Note their commitment expressed by telling the king they didn’t have to defend themselves to him.
  2. Note also their faith that God was able and could save them
  3. Note finally their acceptance of whatever God decided.

In his book Eyes Wide Open Terry Lewis observes their words even if he doesn’t “is not a lack of faith, it is the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.” Lewis then makes application for us, “What God does about our situation is up to Him, but we do know that He is able!”

In terms of the title of these thoughts – PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST – I’m suggesting it takes faith to pray as well as trust in accepting it when God says no to our prayer requests.

(For those who may be interested, I recommend the new collection of C.S. Lewis writings on prayer entitled How to Pray: Reflections and Essays.)

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.