for the prayers you keep praying

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There are certain prayers that God asks us to pray for a very long.

Mercifully, God also brings us to the point, where we can’t even stop praying those prayers. But although when we care about about a prayer, our hearts face temptation to grow weary. We long for answers. After all, that’s why we keep praying.

This week, I was faced with the feeling that we need to see prayers answered. You know what I mean? There are prayers where we struggle to understand why they aren’t answered; ones where finally receiving an answer would bring such relief. A subconscious question seemed to form in my mind: can we can receive some answers….quickly….?

Jesus doesn’t tell us that exactly. What He does say is that we ought always to pray and not lose heart. He does say to have faith in God. He does say that God delights in our prayers. And He does say that there is a reward for the labor and tears we bring to the Throne.

For anyone who’s praying the same things for a long time, this brings comfort to my own heart:

Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear;
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment, I’m under His care.
(Moment by Moment, hymn)

What grace it is, to remember we aren’t alone bringing a burden over and over to God’s door. We aren’t shifting the weight alone, hoping one day to let it go. Jesus is sympathizing and bearing, no matter the time frame. If it’s been years, Jesus is bearing that burden for all those years with you.

Don’t we want to trust God? Isn’t that the desire welling up inside us, that distinct longing that we cannot (nor ever want to) escape? Oh friend, trust Him with those prayers that you’re still praying. That’s what I want to do, too! God is instilling beautiful virtue in your life right now. These trials are making you more like His Son. Those prayers are precious to His heart, right now. He’ll carry them for as many years as He asks you to. And you will have your reward; God loves when His children trust Him!

From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
(Isaiah 64:4)

ahaziah’s fifty-one servants

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There was once a wicked king in Israel named Ahaziah, and although his nation was God’s chosen people, the God of Israel was far from his mind.

“Go, inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness,” he instructed his messengers when a time came that he finally felt a need of god.

But while Ahaziah was looking the other way, the God of Israel was far from helpless. Through His faithful messenger Elijah, the true God sent an unsolicited message back to the king. “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the LORD, you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.”

While the word of the Lord promised nothing good to Ahaziah, the king still had reason to give thanks: though he had forgotten God, God had not forgotten him. In fact, God was still speaking to him. But rather than pay attention to the God of Israel, the king turned his attention to Elijah—the messenger who brought these words of destruction.

At the king’s command, a captain in Israel accompanied by fifty men located Elijah. “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down,’” they commanded confidently.

Elijah replied with equal confidence. “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” At his word it was so.

Another fifty-one from the army of Israel arrived before Elijah with the same message and met the same fate. A third group of fifty-one arrived, ready to bring the casualties that day to a total of 153.

This captain, however, had a different concern on the forefront of his mind when he located Elijah. Falling on his knees before the prophet, he pleaded. “O man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.

That day there were fifty-one men who lived instead of dying.

Why did fifty-one servants of a wicked king live that day? Because the God of Israel is not impressed with displays of power, not intimidated by large numbers, or threatened by wicked kings but gives grace to the humble.

It took one person replacing confidence with humility to intercede for fifty-one people. It took one person falling to their knees, begging for mercy to see fifty-one lives spared. It took one person confessing helplessness for fifty-one lives to be precious in God’s sight.

If God cannot, does not change, then let’s consider this:

Fifty-one servants of the wicked king Ahaziah lived on a day they would have died because one man got down on his knees and humbly asked for mercy. God, true to His character and word, looked favorably on that humility and delighted to grant the request; as a result, mercy came to many.

Do we see people in need of mercy? Do we see lives ready to die? Do we see a great God promising grace to the humble? Do we see a Savior who died for sinners? Then now is a time to be on our knees humbling pleading for sinners to be precious in the sight of God.

(Story of Ahaziah found in 2 Kings 1.)

can i live without this grace?

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One day, there was a Canaanite woman who sought Jesus for help, needing Him to do something impossible. Her precious daughter was possessed by a dreadful demon and where else could she fine help but in Jesus? Unfortunately, she evidently chose the wrong day to come. Jesus had only just entered a house to seclude Himself from all the crowds when she arrived. To her heartfelt pleas, no one felt a need to answer her, except His disciples who wanted her sent away. After all of the people who had received answers from Jesus, today it looked like there was nothing more to be had.

What would have happened if the woman had turned away, deciding that she didn’t actually need to see a miracle for her daughter?

“You’re right, Jesus. I can live without that.”

In one way, nothing would have happened. She would have returned home, found her daughter still demon-possessed, and kept living in the nightmare of which she was a part. Simultaneously, she would have forfeited one of the most blessed moments of her life and consciously chosen agony over grace. Would we not mourn over her life for foolishly disregarding the opportunity for mercy?

Thankfully, Jesus’ well of mercy had not run dry that day and neither had His desire to bless those who came in faith. On the exact day when the Canaanite women came begging for help, Jesus had a difficult, merciful plan in mind to demonstrate His grace. He had a perfect plan that looked harsh and unkind but was actually overflowing with grace.

How many times while Jesus lived on earth did He reprimand people for trusting Him too much, staking too much claim on His promises, and desiring too much of His mercy for their brokenness? Can you hear him say it:

“I’m sorry. I know you thought I could help you. You even thought I wanted to, but this time you believed too much. You made my mercy out to be bigger than it actually is. I’m glad you thought I was the answer to your need, but what you really need is to just go home. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine without me.”

Oh, no! It was not like that! Not one time do we hear that Jesus turned people away who came humbly to Him asking for mercy. He delayed at times, verified their faith before answering, or tested them after giving the grace they requested, but He did not turn them away.

The Canaanite woman came to Jesus knowing two things: 1) Jesus, the Promised Messiah, was her all-sufficient, only hope and 2) she could not leave without His grace.

Can I live without His grace?  If I choose such a thing, I too would be picking agony over God’s blessing. How little of an expectation for God’s blessing do we possess at times, all while the depth of our need is incredibly great. Instead of foolishly giving up, we need God-given determination to seek for real mercy until He gives it- because we cannot live without the grace of God.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” -Hebrews 11:6

fellowship through prayer

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I can distinctly remember the first time I cried while praying with anyone other than my family. I was 15 years old and praying for someone’s salvation; the next thing I knew I was crying. Coming from someone who tried hard not to be emotional in public, this was not what I had intended. Yet there I was, trying to pray, and mostly sobbing over something that I didn’t even expect to affect me so much. I remember the prayer clearly, but even more so, I remember how I felt afterwards: embarrassed.

Since sharing last week’s post, numerous people have expressed their similar struggles for heartfelt honesty when it comes to praying with others. One big question that I’ve asked myself is, “Why experience the difficulty of praying these prayers together?” It’s easier to pray things before God alone and separate my fellowship time from my prayer time. However, we’re given the example throughout Scripture of praying together. 

Paul exhorted the church at Philippi to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” How better can we experience that sort of unity than by appealing to God together for the things that matter most in our lives? I’ve experienced the perseverance of praying certain prayers over and over, those continual comings to God that seem at times to be frustrating even to myself by their repetition (Luke 18:6). When I pray those prayers with my family in Christ, they have a deeper glimpse into my burdens.

As believers pray these prayers together, it is a two-way street: not only are we to share our burdens, but as Christians, we are to enter into the prayers of the saints and be unified in them. I’m sure many people have experienced the same feelings of embarrassment after praying truly honest prayers around other people. This often comes due to our self-consciousness about what people will think, yet the church can help ease the tension by showing unity and support. When we aren’t the ones saying the prayer, we have the ability to join in prayer and offer encouragement.

On the occasions when I’ve prayed honestly and perhaps ended in tears, I’ve been ministered to when someone comes up and offers me some encouragement in light of the prayer. “I noticed how much this matters to you- I want you to know I’m praying for that burden too.” This week, I witnessed a beautiful thing in a prayer meeting- when one sister couldn’t pray further through tears, another sister instantly joined in and continued praying for her request. There was unity and fellowship experienced through that prayer. By allowing us to experience so many of the same struggles, God has given us the ability to appropriately encourage one another. When someone shares a burden, it is our privilege to bear it with them.

As we make it our practice to pray honestly together, we can grow past the difficulty and experience fellowship– and God will make it worth all the struggle that may be involved.     

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2

(I hope it would be unnecessary to say this, but for clarity’s sake I’m not saying we need to pray every personal pray in front of others. Some prayers I only ought to pray with other sisters in Christ. Some prayers ought to stay between myself and God. Other honest prayers can be shared with my entire church family or any other believer. With a desire to share fellowship through prayer, we can trust God will give us all wisdom in what prayers to pray.)

honest prayers together

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Years ago, some friends and I prayed for missionaries on Saturday mornings. Really what that means is mostly my friends prayed. I bowed my head, mentally attempting to gather courage to also pray. Whenever I had “finally decided” what I wanted to say in my prayer, I would still wait before starting. Inevitably, someone else always seemed to pray for the exact thing I had in mind to say. Oh well, I guess I wasn’t supposed to pray this time. 

There are always excuses available to keep us from doing right, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt some sort of anxiety at the thought of praying aloud. While praying to God, even behind the security of bowed heads and closed eyes how easily we become self-conscious about what people will think. However, besides the nervousness of praying aloud, another hindrance I have noticed (and participated in) is the temptation to pray mostly impersonal prayers in public.

What I mean by that, is oftentimes, public praying becomes comprised of praying for legitimate requests that either:

  1. Have not been the subject of our prayers in private
  2. Have not been a burden on our hearts
  3. Have not felt like they have a bearing on our lives*

Christians need to pray honest prayers together: the prayers that burden us, and keep us awake at night; the prayers we’ve been praying for days, months, or years and still wait to see God answer; the prayers about our own sins and the battles we’re fighting; the prayers that come from heartfelt humility. Pray those prayers with other Christians. Perhaps public prayers should look surprisingly similar to private prayers much more often than they do.

I don’t say that this is easy, but there’s nothing wrong with speaking the prayers that will end you in tears or give a fellow believer a clearer picture of who you really are and what you really face. There is hardly a more encouraging, relationship strengthening pursuit we could engage in with other Christians than praying honest prayers together. 

Who knows the depth of joy, fellowship, and authenticity we’ll experience together? And who knows what we might see God do when Christians join in prayer over the very requests where they desperately see their need of grace?

(*Note: Sometimes we haven’t prayed in private, but we should have. We are not burdened, but we should be. We don’t see the connection to our lives, but it is there. If this is true about some of our prayers, that doesn’t mean we should stop praying for those requests, but we should ask God to make us more heartfelt in our praying about them.)

a mediation on prayer

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There’s an unusual (and wonderful) thing about night, being that it carries with it a very real recognition of our finitude. I am human: I must stop my “living” and rest (not just once in a while, but every single day). I will sleep and the world will go on with ease apart from me. Every night I go to bed is almost a formal declaration that I have no input or strength necessary to the existence of the world. God is, has been, and always will be over everything, holding, sustaining, breathing (as it were) the world’s existence, all without my help.

At night, with this recognition of my finitude, I am often overcome with a more real sense of my own helplessness. What Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” rings more true at night, and prayer is not a struggle then.

The desperate need is for continual prayer–day and night–flowing from a constant sense of our helplessness apart from God.

The One Plea

She glanced around the room one last time before slipping out.  She could not leave her sister with the girl for long, and now was her only opportunity to go.  She had dreamed of this day for so long.  Her heart was even filled with a tiny drop of joy—something she had not felt in many days.

Hurrying down the street, she could not help but wonder.  Would she make it to the teacher in time?   Surely, he was her only hope now! Every time she heard accounts of his miraculous healings, her heart leapt.  She must find him and beg him to cast the demon from her little girl.

What strange circumstances had led her to this point in life, she mused.  She had been so happy for a time.  But suddenly everything had been taken away and she found herself a widow with a tormented daughter. Tears stung in her eyes, as she hurried along.  What a hopeless life lay ahead of her.

Then she saw him.  This was her hope, her only hope; and yet, her sufficient hope!  She could not hold back.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is cruelly demon-possessed!”  The words tumbled out in a frantic plea for mercy.

In her anguish she waited.  He would turn around and answer.

But, there was no answer, not a word, not a look of pity, not even a glance of recognition.

“Lord!  Lord!  Have mercy!” she cried out with everything inside her.

This time she heard horrible words.  The teacher’s disciples spoke. “Send her away because she keeps shouting at us.”

And the teacher answered them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Never in her dreams had she imagined this response.  He had healed so many others, and finally she was so close.  So close but suddenly so dreadfully far!  This moment she had dreamed of for so many days seemed to be slipping from her.  But her mind was made—how could she return home without his mercy?

Bowing at his feet, she begged with only words she could find. “Lord, help me!”

And he answered.  “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

He was right.  What right did she, a Canaanite, have to beg mercy from him, an honorable Jew?  “Yes, Lord;” she whispered, “but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table.”  There was nothing more to say.  She could only beg for crumbs. She deserved no mercy.

He looked at her—worn, miserable, and desperate—cast at his feet, begging for mercy.

“O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.”

*    *     *     *    *     *     *     *

Based on Matthew 15:21-28.

Confessions

I’ve shared this quote on my blog in the past; but, as there is no rule against posting something twice, I’m going to go ahead and…you guessed it!…post it again.  I’ve found it to be a very helpful thought; plus, it brings to mind one of the things I’m hoping to say in this post.

“Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.  We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer.  We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.  That means we must self-consciously set aside time to do nothing but pray. 

What we actually do reflects our highest priorities.  That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words. ”

(D. A. Carson, “A Call to Spiritual Reformation”)

Recently, I had several conversations with people in our church, the topics either being prayer or something that prayer was closely tied into.  I came away from both conversations encouraged–encouraged because I’d learned some things, encouraged because I’d been reminded of some important things, and encouraged because of the fellowship with other believers who took of their time to discuss things with me.  It was good.  I saw more clearly my need to seek God more through prayer in many and various aspects of my life.

But here’s the confession.  I didn’t do much of anything about it. 

I intended to spend more time in prayer.  I knew I needed to.  But I was busy with other things.

A few days (nights) later, and night owl that I am, I was up later than the rest of my family doing somthing…can’t remember what.  But then I ‘happened’ (i.e. God providentially made me) to read a blog post about prayer. 

It hit me very hard. 

I suddenly knew that if I just continued on this summer keeping busy with everything I had to do, I’d never find myself spending more time in prayer.  Just because I had good resolutions and did desire to pray, it wasn’t going to happen because I wasn’t placing much of a priority upon it.

And then God reminded me of this verse:

“…Apart from Me, you can do nothing”
-John 15:5

How often do I truly live with my actions portraying to others that I believe the reality of these words of Christ?  How often am I driven to my knees as I see my deep inadequacies for the tasks that the Lord has called me to do? 

I do not want to spend my life only learning and conversing about prayer while not actually experiencing it.  I do not want to spend my life hearing about people who knew God in very real ways.  I do not want to know intellectually these things.  I want to know God deeply and personally.  I want to be changed by the living God.

Pray

“Always respond to every impulse to pray.
The impulse to pray may come when you are reading
or when you are battling with a text.
I would make an absolute law of this,
always obey such an impulse.”
~Martyn Lloyd-Jones