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The Privilege of Prayer
Psalm 50:16 "To the wicked, God says: 'What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?'"
Romans 8:15b "You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"
God is loving and merciful. He designed His plans to compensate for our weaknesses. Prayer is one of the most important parts of God's plan for each of us. He gave us prayer as a way to meet many of our needs for fellowship, comfort and closeness with Him. In prayer, God is giving you the opportunity and the ability to connect with His heart and interact with Him the way a concert musician interacts with the audience; something deeper than words, powerful, memorable, moving.
Prayer is such an amazing privilege. I can't easily get the attention of the people who run the town I live in, or the company I work for, but our Creator, our Lord, who controls an entire universe, is always ready to focus in on my prayers or yours, to meet with anyone on a moment's notice.
It's easy to get legalistic or complacent about my prayer life, to trade powerful times for a routine of "Please" and "Thank you", or even just "Please, Please, Please." "God, I prayed, so you owe me. Don't forget to keep your promise…" An important key to avoiding or changing that situation is remembering that prayer is real, it catapults us before God's throne, interrupts Him no matter what He was doing, and focuses Him on us, what we say, and who we are. He never insists on appointments. He already knows what's going on around us and inside us, before we say anything, so He doesn't need prayer. We need prayer. It's Spiritual Oxygen. Prayer is His gift to us, a gift he wants us to use thankfully, powerfully, every day.
The Power of Prayer
1st Samuel 1:20 "So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, 'Because I asked the LORD for him.'"
James 5:16-18 "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops."
Prayer is God's gift to each of us. What we do with prayer becomes our gift to God. Powerful prayers yield amazing results, because the action is the result of God's power and God's intervention, not man's power and ability. What are some key characteristics of powerful prayer?
The Peace of Prayer
1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Colossians 4:12-13 "Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis."
1st Peter 5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you."
Every day, whether we realize it or not, we face the same choice many times: Pray or Worry. Many of our circumstances and the events in our lives and the lives of others are beyond our control. If we think about them or try to change them by ourselves, frustration, worry and discouragement will be common feelings for us. God has a better plan: Pray. Trust. Surrender. Let God carry that burden. Things that would crush us flat are not too hard, too complex, too discouraging, too painful, or too worrisome for God. "Do your best, and let God do the rest" has been good advice in every generation. We need to become God's "obedient children", by cultivating the correct balance of awe, love, respect and trust in our hearts and minds. Prayer is an essential ingredient in that process.
When we give God our problems, He gives us His Peace. We need to learn how to get better at giving our problems over to God, and waiting patiently yet expectantly for Him to take action. For most of us, this means growing in our trust, our patience, and our prayer life.
Prayer gives us the power to always make a difference, since prayer focuses on God, who is not limited the way we are. Epaphras was helping many people by praying earnestly for them, even though they were far away physically. We can follow his example, wrestling in prayer for those we love. Is your prayer life intense enough that someone else would call it "wrestling"?
In the final analysis, Paul did not depend on his abilities to make important things happen. He trusted in God, cast his burdens on God, accepted God's peace, and praised God for the amazing results. God wants each of us to do the same. He's ready, willing and able to answer when we call.
Luke 18:1-8 "Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: 'In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, Grant me justice against my adversary.' For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' And the Lord said, Listen to what the unjust judge says. 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. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?'"
I found this passage hard to understand for a long time. Why would Jesus pick an unjust judge to represent God? Is God unjust? Do we have to wear out God? Does a prayer have to be repeated before God acts? The problem was I had missed the point: Persistent prayer shows deep faith in God. The judge was impressed with the widow's persistence. Is God impressed with yours? Jesus says that God's chosen people should be calling on Him "day and night" to intervene, to bring justice to an unjust world. The weak link in the chain is not God. It is our lack of persistent prayer. That is why Jesus said, "Will I find faith (true disciples praying faithfully and persistently) when I return?"
It's easy to get by on shallow faith if God always grants a request the moment we ask. But God wants to produce in each of us the heart, mind, and character of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 2:5, Luke 6:40). He wants us to confront our doubts, and overcome them: Is God listening? Is God real? Am I just talking to the air? Does my prayer really make a difference? How important to me are these things I’m praying about? The correct response to all these questions is to continue praying, to grow in your commitment to prayer and your reliance on God through prayer. David waited expectantly (Psalm 5:1-3). We need to believe, "God may do this today!" and continue to look for God to accomplish some or all of the specific request. Faith anticipates the victory of God acting in response to our prayers (Hebrews 11:1-2).
Faithful prayer is heartfelt, intense and earnest. The most important aspect of an impacting prayer life is your reverent devotion to God. Jesus was heard because of His reverent submission, not because He was God’s Son or because of His loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:5). When millions of Israelites were praying for God to end a drought, God listened to Elijah, "a man just like us", for two reasons: his prayers were earnest, and he was the one really devoted to, listening to, and obeying God. And when the victory over Baal’s prophets was complete, and Elijah asked God to end the drought, he had to persist in prayer eight or nine times before God brought forth the rain cloud Elijah had asked for in prayer (1 Kings 18:41-46). Elijah "wrestled with God" (Genesis 32:24-30), refusing to stop praying until the blessing of the first rain cloud appeared.
One of the tools that strengthens my faith is a prayer journal. Get a notebook with lined pages. On the left page write the date and what you pray about (people, circumstances, heart and character issues, etc.). On the right page write how each specific prayer was fulfilled. This will help you to remember what you prayed about, and teach you to be looking for the fulfillment. Sometimes God answers prayers, but we’ve already forgotten and moved on to something else. If you look about once a month and write in new fulfillments, you’ll see that the things that happened couldn’t possibly be coincidence, and you’ll see which specific requests are worthy of more persistence on your part.
Doubt is a sin that can limit the impact of our prayers (James 1:2-8). We must see it as a sin, and treat it as a sin, not as a "character trait". Like every other sin, God gives us the power to turn away from it, and choose something else (in this case, faith) instead. In Matthew 9:27-30, the blind men were healed "according to their faith". Jesus commended several people for their great faith, because they believed that Jesus would accomplish a miracle before he had ever done one in their presence (Matthew 8:5-13, 15:21-28).
Faith is not easy. Faith is not automatic. It requires training, effort, and consistently choosing God’s Will instead of ours (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 5:11-14). Believing in Jesus, trusting in Him to redeem us and deliver us to heaven, is the true work of God’s people (John 6:29). Olympic athletes go into strict training. They use weights, ropes, balance beams, and so on, every day, and they don’t quit if they don’t see results in the first few days or weeks. Their crowns don’t last. They can’t take them with them when they die. In fact, even for the few winners, most of them have their glory eclipsed within a few years, and they are quickly forgotten by the same people who cheered and talked about their victories. Paul said that his spiritual training, and ours, needs to be Olympic-Gold intense, and that our crown will last forever. How intense is your spiritual training? Do you have a plan? Goals? Milestones? Are you making visible progress in spiritual areas (1 Timothy 4:15)?
Many people never make it to Olympic competition because they lack physical ability. I’m one of them. I’m almost 75, "outwardly wasting away, yet inwardly being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). At my best I would never have been an Olympic hopeful. But God, in His wisdom, made the Spiritual Olympics based solely on the choice to be faithful as explained in Scripture, something everyone can be successful at, regardless of health, wealth, talent, intelligence, beauty, culture, or whatever else you can think of. He set us all up for eternal success, but He won’t force us to be successful. We can all be spiritually fit. I am. Are you? It’s a choice we can make every day.
"When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" He could come back today. Or my lifetime. Or yours. Or thousands of years from now. We just don’t know. God is very patient, and He can hold things together here as long as He wants to. If Jesus comes back while I’m still alive, I’m determined that He’ll find faith in me and the people I influence. What about you? Will He find genuine faith in you? Your persistence in prayer (or lack of it) is one of the most accurate predictors there is. I call it the “N.G.U.” principle: Never Give Up!