Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Does God Answer Prayer?

Photo by Toby Hudson 2009

God, knowing and anticipating our needs, always answers the prayers of His children who are right in their heart attitude toward Him (Isaiah 65:24). We must not approach Him in rebellion or lusting after the flesh (James 4:3), but rather in humble submission, earnestly seeking God’s will and His face (1 Chronicles 16:11; Psalm 27:8; 105:4). God expects us to pray to Him to provide for us, protect us, and guide us in all that we do (Proverbs 3:-6). If we don’t pray, we should not be surprised that our prayers are not answered (James 4:2).

As we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, helping us to pray in accordance with God’s will even when we don’t know what to ask for (Romans 8:26). He will teach us to trust Him Proverbs 3: 5), deepening our faith (Mark 11:22-24) as we accept that He knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8), and that He will give us what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11).  God in His wisdom will provide what we need, even if it isn’t what we think we want (Luke 11:9-13; Matthew 7: 7-11).

Sometimes He answers “Yes,” sometimes “No,” sometimes “Yes, but in the right time,” and sometimes “No, because what I want to give you is even better than what you have asked for.”  He may answer “Yes” immediately if we delight in the Lord, resulting in Him giving us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). In other words, our love for and joy in the Lord lead us to desire His perfect will, which is the best blessing we could possibly receive, and a blessing that He Himself is delighted to give us. His mind does not change, but our desire does because our mind becomes conformed to His will (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16).

When we have a specific request for God, it is our human nature to want our needs satisfied right away. Yet God’s perspective on time is quite different from ours (2 Peter 3:8), and what appears to us to be a delay actually serves to strengthen our faith in His Word. God promised Sarah a child when she was already old and barren, but He saw fit for Isaac to be born nearly 25 years later! (Genesis 18:9-15).

One Sunday afternoon after choir practice eight years ago, I prayed my usual quick Sunday afternoon prayer that I would be filled with the Spirit for singing in the evening service. I felt that God was saying “Yes” to that prayer, but I also had a sense that there was something else He wanted me to do. “Lord, please show me what that is,” I prayed. Moments later, the associate pastor was waiting for me in the hallway to ask if I would teach a ladies’ Sunday school class! God answered that prayer immediately, resulting in my teaching God’s Word weekly to this day!

Yet on another occasion my husband and I had been praying for a long time over whether or not to prepare for a particular opportunity that might or might not come to pass. One day while praying about this I suddenly felt the burden of doubt lifted from my shoulders, and I had the clear sense that God was saying to prepare, for the opportunity would indeed arise. I ran excitedly to my husband to tell him the news, but little did we know that the promised opportunity was three years down the road!  When it did come, though, it was definitely worth the wait and preparation!

It pleases God to give good and perfect gifts to His children (Luke 11:13), so if we ask Him to meet our needs in accordance with His perfect will, we can expect to be blessed. The clearest example of this is the sinner’s prayer, which is one prayer God will always answer “Yes!” because it is His perfect will that all should be saved. When the lost person realizes he is a sinner (Romans 3:23), turns away from his sin, and trusts in Christ as the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) Who died on the cross, was buried, and rose again that we also may have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), God will save him (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).

Prayer always blesses us. However, the blessing we receive from prayer may not always be what we had prayed for, and it may even seem to our limited vantage point to be quite the opposite. When our beloved late Pastor was diagnosed at age 40 with lung cancer that had spread to the brain, bone and liver, our church experienced a great revival as we all prayed for his complete and rapid healing. As a church body, we felt that surely God would answer our prayer for him to continue his inspired and Godly leadership of his church and family, with two young sons and a third on the way.

God did answer our prayer for perfect healing, yet not in the way we had hoped, when He called our beloved Pastor to Himself six short months later. We continued to proclaim “We Choose Faith,” knowing that God had worked through this situation in countless ways, including 83 young people surrendering their lives to the Lord after they heard our Pastor’s testimony, and his daily journal, which was posted online and later published as a book, leading unknown numbers to Christ. We acknowledged that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9) and thanked Him for our closer communion with Him through prayer, and yet there were times of sadness and questioning God.

When we ask for healing of our loved one who is sick, and that person dies, we may despair that God has not heard our prayer or cared enough for us to answer it as we had hoped. Yet if that person was saved, God has indeed given him perfect healing and perfect peace, and He will use the situation to bring good into the lives of others in ways that we cannot begin to understand until we reach glory (Romans 8:28).

Paul asked God three times to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” a physical ailment that brought him great distress, but that kept his pride in check. God said “No,” because the lesson Paul learned of God’s grace being sufficient was a far greater blessing than physical healing would have been. This lesson enabled him to rejoice and be fruitful even when imprisoned, abandoned, and in other dire straits, because he was relying on God’s strength instead of trusting in his own flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

God the Father even said “No” to His own Son when Jesus asked that if it were possible, that the cup of suffering would pass from Him. Yet the Son yielded to His Father’s will (Matthew 26:39). Just as God said “No,” to Paul because He had a greater good in mind, so was this the case when He said “No” to Jesus. Christ’s perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins was necessary for our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life with Him (Hebrews 10:10-14; John 3:16).

The parallel account in John 17 of Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane on the night He would be arrested is sometimes referred to as the Lord’s Prayer because it is the Lord praying for what He is about to face, and for all of us. It is a beautiful example of intercessory prayer and of His self-sacrificing love, for His focus was not on His ordeal to come, but on our salvation, eternal security, and keeping us from evil.

God sometimes says “No” to us, allowing us to go through illness or other storms of life because they bring us closer to Him. If we seek His perfect will, He may sometimes calm the storm, as He did for His disciples in the boat on the troubled sea (Matthew 8: 24-27).

But at other times, His perfect answer to our prayer may be to calm us instead, bringing us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), the fellowship of His suffering that conforms us to the image of His Son (Philippians 3:10), strengthened faith, and wisdom and compassion to help those going through similar trials

Thank God for His infinite wisdom and infinite love, so that He answers our prayers in the best possible way! Have faith when you pray that God will answer your prayers with His perfect love, wisdom, and power; satisfy your needs; and grant your desires according to His perfect will.

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why and How Should We Pray?

Photo by Steve Evans 2009

As born-again Christians, we believe that God is in control, that He knows all, and that His will is done. Why, then should we pray? Because His Word commands us to (Psalm 62:8; Luke 11:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:17); because it is as an act of worship pleasing to Him (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4); and because it changes us. God promises to answer our prayers if we believe He will (Matthew 9:28-29; 21:22).

Most parents, even atheists, love their children and want to give them good things, as do Christian parents even though we are still sinners. God is the ideal Parent Who loves us infinitely (John 15:13), Who is perfectly good and has complete power to answer our prayers, so why would He not give good gifts to His children who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13; Matthew 7: 7-11) If anyone asks Him in prayer to be born again (John 3:3-8) by placing their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6), His Holy Spirit enters that person (1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13).

Once we are saved, God hears our prayers and gives us what we need, even though it may not be what we think we want (Matthew 6:8,32; Luke 12:30). The whole Trinity is involved, because we pray to God the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit within us helps us to pray even when we’re not sure what to pray for or how to pray (Romans 8:26). Even if we just pray “Help me,” the Spirit will transform our prayers and carry them to the throne room of Heaven.

I have heard the example of a young child wanting to give her Daddy a bouquet of flowers, so she goes outside and picks whatever she can find. Before she presents it to him, her mother lovingly removes the weeds and thorns, so that the bouquet is beautiful and fragrant, yet still a gift from the child’s heart. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit rearranges our prayers to be a more meaningful and pleasing tribute to God the Father.

Our prayers should not be directed toward changing God’s mind, since we know God does not change (Hebrews 13:8), but to align our mind and heart with the indwelling mind of Christ. Through prayer, we grow closer to Christ and become more like Him (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).  All the wisdom, power, love and light of the Holy Spirit is in us from the moment of salvation onward, if we yield to Him.

What an amazing privilege, that we can pray to God on His throne 24/7, without an intermediary, having to make an appointment, or being put on hold. Jesus is our great High Priest Who knows exactly what we’re going through because He went through it too! He came to earth in human flesh and experienced pain, suffering, betrayal, fatigue, hunger, thirst. We should come boldly, not afraid to share our innermost thoughts and desires with Him, to receive His mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Public prayer has its place, as in church to lead others to pray, but it is even more important to get alone with God in private rather than making a show of prayer (Matthew 6:5-6). We should think about the words we are praying and feel their meaning in our heart, not just repeat a prayer we have learned like a chant or a religious duty (v. 7). Praise God that He understands us better than we ourselves do, and that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (v. 8).

How should we pray? The letters P.R.A.Y. help us to remember to Praise God; Repent of our sins; Ask Him our specific requests; and Yield to His perfect will rather than demanding to have our own way.  The “model prayer,” (v. 9-13; Luke 11:1-4) often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, was Jesus’ example for His disciples. Even though we don’t have to repeat these exact words when we pray, it is useful to memorize this and other Scripture so that we can use it, not only in prayer, but to encourage ourselves and others and to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11).

Matthew 6: 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The prayer begins with “Our Father” (v. 9). Only believers can say this, for we are all children of the devil until we are saved (1 John 3:10). The word for Father is “Abba,” like “Daddy,” a term of love, trust, and respect. Our Father is on His throne in Heaven, and yet our prayers reach Him there like sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4). As Lester Roloff said, “Prayer is instant contact with Heaven.”

We praise God by saying Hallowed be Thy Name. The Name of Jesus is the only Name by which we can be saved (Acts 2:21; 4:12; Romans 10:13) and it is special, holy, and worthy of praise. We praise and thank God for Who He is and for what He has done and has promised to do, and we thank Him in all circumstances, realizing that it is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Thy kingdom come” means that we look forward to Christ setting up His earthly kingdom (Matthew 6:10), and to the Rapture and Second Coming before that. Because of this, we want to live lives that are holy, set apart from the world (2 Peter 3:10-15), and in His service (1 Corinthians 15:57-58). To do that, we yield to His perfect will, realizing that His will being done is the best possible outcome. Even Jesus, Who asked for the suffering of the cross to pass from Him if that were possible, yielded to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

The model prayer continues, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11), as we ask Him to satisfy our physical as well as our spiritual needs (Matthew 4:4). We should ask Him every day, not just once a week in church, and He will provide for us every day, just as He gave the manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4). We pray for “us,” not for “me,” as we should pray for others as well as for ourselves, and prayer has more power when we pray together about the same burden (Matthew 18:19-20).

The model prayer asks for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12). We should confess and repent of our sins, and He has promised to forgive us (1 John 1:9). He forgave us even though He had to die for our sins (Luke 23:34), so we need to forgive others and not hold a grudge or bitterness in our heart (Matthew 18: 21-22).

We should pray to flee temptation, while asking Him to deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). Many have experienced the temptation we face at any given moment, and even He Himself was tempted when He walked the earth, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Thankfully, He has promised an escape from every temptation we encounter, if we choose to take it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The prayer closes by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is our Lord and King, and that He alone has all power, glory and majesty. He has the absolute power to answer our prayers, no matter how small or great the need (Jeremiah 32: 17). He is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), present from the beginning of time and throughout all eternity  (Revelation 1:8).

Amen means “so be it.” The Hebrew word, amen, means “surely, indeed, truly.” When we say Amen after a prayer, it means we agree with the prayer and are also praying it.

May our daily prayers to Our Father praise the Holy Name of Jesus, ask His forgiveness, boldly bring to Him our requests great and small, and submit to His perfect will in all things. In so doing, may we please God and become more like Him!  

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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