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.

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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.

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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.)

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