Monday, December 9, 2013

Portraits of Prayer - Week One

This past summer, I wrote a 7-week prayer guide entitled Portraits of Prayer. As I began investigating prayer ministry more deeply this past summer, I realized that over the years, God has already given me an abundance of insight on the subject of prayer. As I reread these insights from past blogs, I was struck at how the progression of insight fell right into place--as if it were a study guide of sorts. Taking those blogs with some additions and rewriting, I wrote Portraits of Prayer and I am happy to share it with you here over the next eight weeks. Wait, I said 7-week prayer guide didn't I. Why eight weeks then? Well, I thought it appropriate to take a short break during the week of Christmas so that we may focus on the coming of the Savior. Enjoy!

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Faith Is Knowing God Will

There’d been a severe drought, and the members of a rural congregation were deeply concerned that their crops would be ruined. With the pastor’s encouragement, they decided to meet back at the church that afternoon to hold a special prayer service asking God to bring rain for their dying crops. Later that day after they had all gathered together, the minister stood up and announced in disappointment that they were cancelling the prayer service. When asked why, he told them because they didn’t believe it would bring the rain. “Why do you say that,” they asked. “Because not one of you brought an umbrella,” he replied.
 
This story paints a perfect picture of how many of us enter prayer. How often do we beg and plead with God, knowing he can, but unconvinced that he will provide, sustain, or whatever else we’ve asked for in prayer? Not long ago, I prayed about a desire of mine which is, for me, humanly impossible. I would have completely abandoned the idea altogether except I know that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV) We know that God can do the impossible—With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26, NIV) Granted, Jesus was speaking specifically about entering the kingdom of God and how it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for a person who appears to be perfect and seems to have all the right stuff to earn a halo by his own merit. What I’m hoping for is so much smaller than that. If God can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and his holiness, then he wouldn’t have any problem at all making my heart’s desire a reality. I know he can. What I can't answer is — why would he? I have to turn back to Jesus' words for my answer: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)
Young Man praying
krivenko/Shutterstock.com

digitally altered in Photoshop

Many people would say to me at this point, “Well if it’s God’s will, it will happen. And if it isn’t, it’s better it doesn’t happen anyway.” Why do we say silly things like that? Usually, it’s to make others feel better if things don’t turn out the way they want. Let me tell you right now—It’s not going to make me feel better! That never makes anyone feel less disappointed or devastated depending on the circumstance.
 
Sometimes we pray for something and then sit there like a couch potato, sending up a reminder to God from time to time…“I’m still waiting!” And when we don’t see any movement toward what we want the outcome to be, we say our prayer wasn’t answered or that the answer was no. Seriously! Do we really think that? God is our Heavenly Father. He’s not going to sit by and not say or do anything when we come to him with our needs and desires. He’s going to scoop us up into his arms and talk with us, not like the department store Santa at Christmas time going over a wish list, but like a loving, doting father who is drawn to the care and nurture of his precious little ones. We just need to stop listening for what we want to hear and looking for what we want to see and actually pay attention to what he says and does to know how much he loves and cares for us.
 
One more thought about God’s answers—When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping for school clothes. She’d tell me the total amount she was planning to spend and if I wanted something that cost more, then I had to pay for it myself. I could have what I wanted as long as I worked for it. I learned so many good lessons from that and it made our time together more fun because it took most of the usual teen/parent arguments out of the process. Maybe that’s what God does with us for some of things we pray about. Yes, we can have it, but we have to work for it and in the process, we learn some important lessons and get to spend valuable time with him.
 
So what about this secret desire I was praying about? I don’t know yet and won’t for a while. This is one of those long-term situations. What I do know is that God will answer and when I know and take hold of his answer, I will be happy. How do I know that? Because God told me so:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV)
 
Faith is not believing that God can. It is knowing that God will. —Ben Stein

Prayer is asking for rain. Faith is carrying the umbrella. —Robert C. Savage

Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer. —E. M. Bounds
 
When you pray, do you believe that God will answer your prayers? Jesus lived, died and rose for each one of us, even those who will ultimately reject him—What more does God have to do or say to convince you he loves you and wants good things for you? In Mark 9:24, we are given the perfect response to overcome our doubts—"Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!" (NRSV) Spend some time in prayer talking to God about your doubts and ask him to help you overcome them.

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