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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

James 5:13-16

The biggest danger for any generation is prayerlessness. – Joel Virgo

I have been struggling with this post for months.  My main issue has been the amount of information from which I have to draw.  I have eighty-seven pages of notes that deal strictly with why we should pray.  Quite simply: I've been overwhelmed.  In my attempts to write, I have tried to be clever.  I have tried to be cute.  I have tried to be challenging.  I have tried splitting it into two or three posts.  Nothing has worked.  Five minutes ago, I was ready to walk away and write something different this week...but God wouldn't let me.  He wants me to face this.  He wants me to write this.  Now.  In so doing, He made it clear how I needed to write it: Matter-of-factly.  This week's post may come across sounding more like lecture notes than my typical "voice," but it is how God wants it delivered.

Thy will be done.

Why should we pray?

We Are Commanded To Do So
The Bible tells us to pray and we should do what God says.  If we are not “devoted to prayer,” we are disobedient to the scriptures.  That is foolish and dangerous. – John Piper

We are constantly instructed to pray throughout the Bible (Colossians 4:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:17 for starters).  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s a command.  We are to pray.  God wants to hear from us.  He wants to communicate with us.  When we avoid this part of our Christian walk, it hurts Him.  By not praying, we turn our backs to the Father.  Some may disagree with this statement, but I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that a failure to live a life with constant, consistent prayer is a sin.  If we are commanded to pray, and we go against that command, we are sinning.  As Charles Spurgeon said, “A prayerless soul is a Christless soul.”

It is God's will that we pray to him. Sometimes we struggle to know the will of God for our lives. But there are some things that you do not have to struggle to know. One of them is that God's will is that you pray to him. – John Piper

It’s An Honor
We pray because it is simply a staggeringly awesome privilege. – John Piper

The presidential election was last week.  Imagine if you had President Obama on speed dial, and he not only picked up every time you called (regardless of what he was in the middle of doing), but he stayed on the line and listened to every word you had to say (regardless of how long you spoke).

No one has that kind of access to the president, yet we all have that access to God.  Really let that sink in for a moment.  The One who created everything answers your call on the first ring every single time.  You have a direct line to the most powerful being…why wouldn’t you utilize that?

It Develops a Relationship
God desires a real relationship.  He is a friend.  He is someone who is interested in my life. – Peter Kasirivu

As we grow older, we drift apart from many of our friends.  Why?  Whether it’s different interests or a change in location, the longer we go without talking to that person, the weaker our relationship.  We don’t suddenly hate this person...we just fail to communicate consistently and it wears at the relationship.

Piper says that “without personal communion with God in prayer, we will not really know Him, but only know about Him.”  Communication is the foundation of every relationship.  What kind of friendships would you have if you never spoke?  What kind of marriage?  The more you put into a relationship, the more you receive from it.  Prayer draws us closer to God.  If we want a true relationship with Him, we must open up the channels of communication.  Prayer is that channel.  God wants you to tell Him about every mundane moment of your day.  He wants to hear about your joys and frustrations.  He wants to be a part of that.  Let Him.

The goal of prayer is the ear of God, a goal that can only be reached by patient and continued and continuous waiting upon Him, pouring out our heart to Him and permitting Him to speak to us. Only by so doing can we expect to know Him. – E.M. Bounds

Jesus Prayed
‘Nuff said.

It Is Essential To Our Salvation
To build muscles, people lift weights. To grow trust, Christians pray. Nothing else builds trust quite like facing all of your ongoing problems and unsolved struggles by getting down on your knees and not trying to fix them the way you would your gutters or broken refrigerators. – A.J. Swoboda

I really just want to sum up this section by quoting E.M. Bounds: “We can do nothing without prayer.”  Or Dr. Timothy Keller: “Prayer submits to God.”  We are such a stubborn creature.  We believe we can handle everything ourselves.  Asking for help shows weakness.  The thing is, we are weak.  God is not.  Bounds is absolutely right—we can do nothing without prayer.  We would be lost without Him.  Satan would attack us over and over again, wrecking havoc on our lives, because he would know that we’d just let him.  That we’d try to take him on by ourselves...and we.  Would.  Lose.

Keller is also right—prayer submits to God.  Prayer is saying to God, “I am nothing.  I am small and weak, and I can’t do this without you.”  Prayer isn’t telling God to fix it, it’s just admitting to Him (and yourself) that you can’t fix it alone.  Have you ever tried to take on a project (at school or at home) by yourself?  Isn’t that project so much easier—an oftentimes more fun to do—with someone else?  Remember: God wants that relationship with you.  He wants to take on life’s projects with you.

I came across a John Piper sermon recently where he talked about prayer being the crucial element of our eternal life.  He compared it to breathing.  At one point, Piper said that believing “a life without prayer would result in an eternal life with Christ was like believing that you could spend as much time underwater as you could above it.”  He’s 100 percent correct.  If you don’t pray, you don’t have a relationship with God.  If you don’t have a relationship with God, you don’t know Him.  If you don’t know Him, you don’t spend eternity with Him.

Here’s what’s awesome: God can turn your mistake into a miracle.  If God can make the sun stand still for a moment (Joshua 10:7-15), He can change your life in a moment.  What seems impossible to me is nothing to God.  He who created the sun can stop it. – Steven Furtick

Prayer Calms Us and Clears Our Minds
Prayer is the freedom to share our anxieties with God.  More and more people go to psychologists every year to help with stress and pressure.  But if we would learn to pray, it would save a lot of money...and it would lead to less crises in our lives.  Anxiety comes when you think you are in charge of your life.  Anxiety comes when life doesn’t go the way you think it should.  We carry so many burdens that we shouldn’t carry.  Share them with God.  He cares for you—He wants to take some of the burden for you.  You can’t do everything.  This is unnecessary anxiety and stress.  Turn to God. – Peter Kasirivu

Have you ever prayed in a time of crisis or stress?  A time when you were absolutely panicking about something?  It calms you.  It relaxes you.  You’re sending up a flare to God, who responds with, “I’ve got this.”  As discussed in the previous section, you can’t do everything.  In fact, you can do nothing.  God can do everything.  Turn to Him in your times of panic.  Release that stress to Him.  Watch it melt off your back.

Praying also helps you sleep.  Normally, it takes me forever to fall asleep.  My brain is just so active with things I need to do at school, things I want to write about, emails, phone calls, bills, name it.  However, if I start to pray, I’m out in seconds.  Literally.  I’ll barely reach four sentences before I fall asleep.  Why is this?  Prayer brings peace (Psalm 3:5).  From the notes in my Bible regarding Psalm 3:5: “If you are lying awake at night worrying about circumstances you can’t change, pour out your heart to God, and thank Him that He is in control.  Then sleep will come.”

The Holy Spirit wants to give us wisdom, guidance, and direction in everything that we do.  The Spirit becomes our guide, leading us in the way that we should go.  The Spirit will lead you into the place that you should be.  Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord to show you what the best decision is.  He will speak if we ask for his help. – Winfield Bevins

Give Thanks/Praise
The reason for praying is so that God will be thanked when the blessings come.  And God loves to be thanked.  He loves to be acknowledged and praised as the giver of all good gifts. – John Piper

Two quick examples: We know that it is polite to thank someone when they do something for you.  I had my hands full earlier today, and a fellow teacher opened a door for me so I didn’t have to fumble for my keys.  Thank you.  A student dropped her pencil on the ground, and the person next to her picked it up and gave it to her.  She said thank you.  Steph and I say thank you to each other for everything from cooking dinner to taking an empty plate back into the kitchen.  We do all of these things without thinking, yet we fail to take time in our lives every day to thank God for all He does for us, even though we’ve already established that we can do nothing without Him.

You’re at an intersection.  The light says WALK.  As you begin crossing the street, a semi, whose driver hasn’t noticed his red light, comes bearing down on you.  At the last second, you are shoved out of the way.  Your life is saved.  Your hero, however, is not so lucky.  In the end, some stranger gave up his life in an effort to save yours.  You go on to live another 50, 60, 70+ years.  If you had the chance to thank that stranger, wouldn’t you do so every day?  Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that you could live for eternity…and you can’t find time in the day to say thanks?  A prayer doesn’t have to be long and majestic.  Spend a few seconds every day just to tell Him thank you.  If you actually think about all He has done for you, you would never stop praising Him.

It’s a very different thing to admit the reality of sin in ourselves…We are all sinners in need of a Savior, and his name is Jesus.  If you will not admit you are dirty, you cannot be washed clean. – Tim Smith

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: We all sin.  Every day.  Without fail.  When we do something we’re not supposed to do…we sin.  When we don’t do something we’re supposed to do…we sin.  It does not matter if it is a large sin or a small sin, it’s still wrong.  You commit sins without even realizing you’re doing it…and yes, that’s still a sin.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Justifying your sin is not acceptable either.  You’re just giving a lame excuse for why you did something wrong.  Simply put: We all sin.  Every day.  Without fail.

Sin dirties us.  It muddies our soul.  What’s awesome, though, is that because of Jesus Christ, these sins can be washed away.  We can be made clean again.  All we have to do is admit to God that we’ve done them—admit that we sin every day without fail—and we’re forgiven.

Now the question becomes: How often do you take advantage of this amazing gift?  You sin every day.  Do you pray for forgiveness every day?  Once a week (perhaps at church)?  Less?  If sin is dirt and God is the shower that washes us clean, are you saying that you don’t shower every day?  That sometimes you only shower once a week?  Less?  Please don’t be the smelly kid in class.  Bathe yourself in God’s forgiveness every day.

Ask and Receive (Answers)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and the one who knocks, the door will be open…How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” – Matthew 7:7-8, 11b (Jesus talking)

Jesus tells us to come to the Father when we are in need.  He tells us to ask.  However, people often misinterpret this to mean that regardless of what you ask for, you will receive it.  John Wesley says that “God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”  So the message is: If you believe hard enough, God will grant all of your wishes.  Right?

God is not a genie, and it’s insulting to treat Him as one.  If what you seek is good with the Lord, you will receive it.  If you pray for Him, He will be there.  If you pray to better know and understand Him, it will happen.  Mark Driscoll says, “The Bible is the truth.  Who wrote the Bible?  God the Holy Spirit.  So if you want to know the truth, it starts in prayer.”  Trust in God, and He will answer.

Surely the point of this lavish array of promises is to say to us: Be encouraged to come.  Pray to him.  It is not in vain that you pray.  God is not toying with you.  He answers.  He gives good things when you pray.  Be encouraged. – John Piper

God Will Change You Through Prayer
The point of doing spiritual things at all (like prayer, or reading the Bible, or singing in worship, etc.), is not so we can say we did them or to make ourselves feel like better Christians; the point of devotion is to open our deepest selves to the God who saves, to the God who engages the human heart, to the One who draws near to us when we draw near to Him.  Devotional time is to be more about God than it is about us and what we do. - Ed Gungor

This is the hard one for most of us to accept of fully understand.  Prayer isn't about us.  Shocking, isn't it?  It's not about us, it's about Him.  Prayer forces us to turn to God and open up to God and share with God.  We submit to Him.  We become humble is prayer, and it is in those moments when God responds.  Pipe says that "God's customary way to move your will is through your mind."  God often responds by giving us the knowledge and the power to deal with life'd issues.

Driscoll says, "Prayer is not about making God do something.  Prayer is about you and I aligning our will with God's, and being able to trust Him enough to say, 'Your will be done.'  You may get cancer.  You may lose your job.  You may struggle.  You may suffer.  You may be abandoned.  You may be betrayed.  And when you're in the middle of it, it's okay to say, 'God, please fix it.'  But you always need to end with, 'Your will be done.'  Meaning: 'God, I will receive whatever it is that you will for my life.'  It's a good thing to pray, 'Your will be done.  God, I love you.  I trust you.  If you want something, I accept that.'"

In January, I prayed for the health of my sister-in-law Christen.  When she passed anyway, I asked Him why.  God does nothing except in response to believing prayer, right?  Was His answer telling me I didn’t believe?  What about the hundreds and thousands of believers who were also praying?  Was God telling them that they didn’t truly believe?  Why was this done?  I felt that God responded by telling me to wait.  Wait…watch…and trust.

What I’ve witnessed since has been remarkable.  God used Christen’s passing to bring me back to Him.  And countless others.  I have seen the Spirit move in my life and the lives around me more in 2012 than in any other moment of my life.  It crushes me that it had to happen this way, but God knows what He’s doing, and I (we) must trust Him.  I prayed for God to perform a miracle, and He did.  On my life.  On the lives around me.  Praise God.

Why do we pray?  Driscoll says that the point of prayer is “that our will would become aligned with God so that we would be participants in what God is doing.”  Prayer isn’t about you.  It’s about God.  And God wants that relationship with you so that you and He can work together in your life.  So that you can work together in bringing others to Him.  A prayer to God asking why He had to take Christen resulted in my own renewed faith, which in turn brought me to this blog and working with Wyldlife.  I am now a participant in God’s plan.  Prayer changed me.  It will change you.  Start this glorious relationship with God now and continue it daily.

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.  I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.  "Selah.”  You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.  I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.  My heart mused and my spirit inquired: "Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished forever?  Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?"  "Selah.”  Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High."  I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Psalm 77:1-12

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