Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘does prayer work’

Prayers that Get Results

RESURRECTED JESUS MODERN DISCIPLESIf prayer is really so amazing and so important, the Bible ought to give us some clear guidance on how do it, right? What kinds of prayers is God most likely to favor?  Are there magical words that we should always use?  Is there a particular time of day when traffic is light and God is more likely to hear us?  Why doesn’t God write a blog, “Five Ways to Get All Your Prayers Answered?”  A list would be nice, wouldn’t it?

As you have probably noticed, there aren’t very many “How To” Lists in the Bible. God prefers to use stories and images to convey truth across many different generations.  In fact, when you stop looking for lists and start looking at stories, there’s a lot of guidance regarding effective prayer.  For example:

  1. God favors prayers that align us with him.  In Luke 18:14, two men pray, but the less religious fellow is answered.  He is a tax collector, so convicted of his own sin that he falls on the floor saying over and over again, “Lord, have mercy on me, The Sinner.”  God wants to show mercy to everyone, and he highly esteems humility.
  2. The Lord looks with favor on the prayers of people who are convinced he can do anything.  The message of James 1:6 is that people who call upon God should be absolutely convinced he is capable. You don’t have to wonder how much confidence you place in God’s abilities: just evaluate your own prayer life. If I don’t pray very often, I clearly don’t have much confidence in God’s power: he is just a last resort.
  3. Our heavenly father answers prayers that never give up. Remember the story of the widow in Luke 18: 2 – 8? She seeks justice from a corrupt judge who couldn’t care less, but she finally gets her wish when she goes back again and again.  Christ explains that if persistence can even influence a corrupt and uncaring judge, how much more will it influence a loving heavenly father?  A lot of answers apparently get left on the table by people who walk away too soon.
  4. Prayers that advance God’s purposes always carry more weight.  Whenever Jesus directs us to pray in his name, (John 16:26) that phrase means the same thing to Christ that it denotes in our world today.  When you do something in the name of another person, you are doing it under that person’s authority in order to fulfill that other person’s desires. You are literally taking care of his business the way he would like it done.  When we pray in the name of Jesus, we are confessing our desire to do his work his way, and are asking for his help in fulfilling the desires of His Heart.
  5. God favors prayers offered from a heart of faith. James 5:15 confirms that.  But Hebrews 11:6 makes it clear that New Testament faith is less about optimism and more about being convinced that God rewards those who seek him. God answers our prayers when he is the object of our affections; when the things we request are all incidental to our desire for his presence.

The Bible compares God to a father, not a vending machine.  Vending machines have only one purpose: dispensing things customers want.  Fathers care more about growing their families strong and protecting them; far less about giving kids everything they ask for at Christmas and birthdays.

One of the last prayers Jesus Christ prayed on earth was not answered.  He asked for God to take away the cup of death and spare him the agony of the cross.  Then he added, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours.”  He didn’t escape the cross, but he did get something far better: the will of God and the pleasure of His Father. That’s always best whether it was on my wish list or not. It satisfies.  It transforms.

Next time: what should we think about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  What can we learn?  How should we pray?  That question has come up several times this weekend, so I’ll offer you a scriptural principle that applies here the next time we’re together.

Lift up the Cross!

Why Prayer Doesn’t Work

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Many church people are secretly convinced that prayer doesn’t work.  Otherwise, why would the rest of us need to spend so much time encouraging them to pray?  If most Christians really believe prayer brings God’s power, why that constant confession, “I know I don’t pray like I should?”  If I know my prayer life is anemic, why not change that?  Or have I simply concluded it’s no use?  If it’s just pie-in-the-sky mumbo jumbo, what’s the difference anyway?

Our church family in McLean is preparing for 40 days of prayer beginning September 7.  Like a lot of other people, I am concerned about the bumper crop of hopelessness that is so evident in God’s church today; the famine of prayer.  When the people of God fall to their knees in prayer, God rises from his throne and turns on a generator in Heaven.  He opens the windows of His Great House and pours out amazing benefits.

Without a doubt, not every prayer can be answered.  Would you really want to live in a town where parents are obligated to blindly give their children everything they might ask for?  Wise parents say No a lot.  And scripture is clear that God reserves the right to pass over some of our requests as well.  For example:

  1. Prayer doesn’t work when it’s neglected. Scripture counsels us, “You have not because you ask not.”  Can you even imagine how many times that promise, “I’ll be sure to pray for you,” never gets fulfilled?
  1. Prayers can’t be answered when they run counter to God’s purposes.  In John 14:13, Christ promises that when we ask anything in his name, God will do it.  But praying “in my name,” does not mean invoking his name at the end: it means desiring his interests rather than my own.
  1. Prayers go nowhere when they are self-indulgent. See James 4:3. How can prayers for my personal ease and comfort be offered in the name of the Lord who says I cannot follow him without first denying myself and picking up a cross?
  1. Prayers can be shut out when our lives are in defiance of God. In Isaiah 1:15, God promises to shut his eyes and ears to the prayers of people whose lives are given over to behavior he despises.
  1. Prayers are put on hold when they are premature. Revelation 6:10 affords us a glimpse of martyred saints now in heaven calling on God to punish the forces of persecution on the Earth.  The Lord replies that the time is not right: a few more things must first happen before he finally avenges the Church.  Sometimes we need to pray and then watch for a while.

My prayer life becomes deeper and more time-consuming every year.  Most days, I cannot wait until it’s time for my appointment with my Father.  That’s because the presence and the power of God come most commonly when we call upon Him. Next time I’ll share some of the kinds of prayers the Bible promises God is always quick to answer.

Lift up the Cross!

Beyond Understanding

 “…And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:19 ESV

I woke up in the desert this week.  Just ten days before, I had been pouring myself out in ministry to pastors and leaders in Africa.  Suddenly the trip was over and I found myself back home, pedaling as fast as I could to catch up with administrative details and finance questions and county regulations.  Without warning,  I began to experience a condition we used to describe in Alabama like this: “I didn’t know if I was going or coming!”  It lasted for days; kind of like walking around in a dust storm.  Nothing was clear. People asked if I was okay.  I smiled but I wasn’t.

This morning, I was desperate to be with God.  I retreated to my prayer place and “shut the door.”  I surrounded myself with the Word of God in various forms and a copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  I pulled up a blanket and wrapped myself in the Word of God.  Within just a few minutes, I could almost feel the heart of God beating close by me.

Oswald Chambers cited Peter’s message from God, “Be ye holy as I your God am holy.”  Chambers writes, “Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted with them.”

Paul admonishes the Ephesians 5, “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,  “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

The ways of God are mysterious. Like the wind, he chooses to work without always revealing his comings or his goings.  I told God about my pitiful feelings and he told me about his magnificent plans.  After days of parched, spiritual wilderness, I began to sense the water of life stirring in me again.  The Holy Spirit gently pointed out sins and oversights in my life that were blinding me to the heart of God.  In little more than an hour of time with the Father, I experienced a status change all the way across the gauge from “E” to “F.”  It was hard not to pray.  It was hard to stop and go back to ordinary life.  But I had my marching orders and a full head of steam.  How does God do that?

You can’t describe the love of God.  You can’t even express it very well.  But history and experience show us time and again, you can be changed by it.  If you’re in some kind of funk today, block out some time and sit down with the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God.  If you’re desperate, cry out to Him!

And lift up the Cross!

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