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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Like Armpits, We All Have Them, and They All Stink

A lot of believers looks at Jesus as their personal savior, but see God as someone that wants to punish you for every little mistake that you do.  They live in fear of God, not respect of God.  Then there are those who see God as a provider.  “If I need something, I pray to God.”  These people frequently only turn to God when they need Him to provide something.  We need to look at God like a father.  Someone we can have a personal relationship with.  Someone we can turn to at all times.  Someone who is interested in the smallest areas of my life.  A God who wants to be involved in everything I do, and a God that wants me to include Him in everything I do. – Peter Kasirivu

Last week, I looked at why we should pray, but I failed to tackle an important issue regarding prayer:  Why don’t we pray?  Let’s face it, most of our prayer lives are awful.  Why is that?  We know that we’re supposed to pray...we know the benefits of praying...we even enjoy praying (sometimes).  Then why don’t we do it more often?

Possible reasons why we don’t pray:
-         We don’t want anything.  In short, we’re “comfortable.”
-         We think God won’t respond (or that prayer doesn’t work).  We believe we’re too small and God isn’t interested.
-         We think God will respond, and we won’t like His answer.
-         It’s hard to stay focused.
-         We feel guilty because we aren’t living up to His expectations.
-         We’re “too busy.”
-         We think we can handle everything.  “If I just work harder...”
-         We don’t know how.
-         We don’t see the point.  “If God is all-knowing, why do I need to pray?  He already knows everything that I would pray about.”
-         We don’t understand prayer.  Prayer is kind of a supernatural action.  We are communicating with an entity we can’t see or (physically) hear.  That idea doesn’t fit into our understanding of the universe.
-         We don’t want to “bother” God.  We feel that He has more to worry about than our puny issues.

“I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” – Isaiah 7:12

There have been times where I wanted to pray, but stopped myself because I felt my issue was petty.  We all have.  Part of that is ingrained in us.  We look at the world around us and think, I have nothing to complain about.  My problems are so small compared to theirs.  Maybe that’s true.  Perhaps in our world, your problems are small compared to what others go through.  However, no problem is too small for God.  He wants you to come to Him with your issues, regardless of size.  He wants to show you that He can handle every issue.  He wants you to trust that He will.  Mainly...He just wants you to come to Him.

Another fear we have is that God isn’t listening.  There are so many people on this planet, how can God possibly hear my tiny prayer amongst all the others?  Simple answer:  Because He’s God.

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. – Psalm 4:3
Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer. – Psalm 66:20

Maybe you think that God isn’t listening to your prayer because you aren’t receiving an answer.  We’ve all been frustrated by what we perceived as “unanswered” prayer, but rest assured, God answers every one we send His way.

God hears and answers all prayer.  Sometimes He says yes.  Sometimes He says no.  Sometimes He says later.  It’s like being a parent.  You would be a terrible parent if all you said was yes, yes, yes.  Sometimes a good parent has to say no.  Sometimes a good parent has to say later.  We persist in prayer because the answer might be later. – Mark Driscoll

I think we need to look at ourselves when we claim that God isn’t listening or that He’s not answering our prayer.  Did God fail to answer, or did you just not like His answer?  Failure to receive what you asked for is not a lack of an answer.  I love another quote from Driscoll:  “We can’t make Jesus give us an answer that we want.  He is the commander-in-chief.  I can give Him a request, but I cannot give Him an order.”  If you pray and receive what you asked for—thank and praise Him.  If you pray and are told no—thank and praise Him for listening, and trust that He knows what He’s doing.  If you pray and are told later—thank and praise Him for listening, and persist in prayer.  Keep asking.  He wants you to keep asking.

Sometimes, we stop praying because we don’t want God to answer.  As a child, I loved overnights with friends.  However, if I wanted to stay overnight at a friend’s house on Friday, I was often expected to complete my Saturday chores before I left for my friend’s.  I’ll be honest…there were times when a friend asked if I wanted to stay the night, and I lied and told them my parents said no.  The truth was, I didn’t want to ask my parents because I didn’t want to do my chores that day.  Not doing chores occasionally trumped fun with friends.

From time to time, we fail to pray because of that.  Richard Foster writes:  “None of us will keep up a life of prayer unless we are prepared to change.”  Many times, we just want God to fix it for us.  What’s beautiful is that sometimes…He will.  However, sometimes He wants us to get our hands dirty as well.  He tells us that He’ll give us what we’re asking for, but in order for that to happen…we have to make a change.  Sadly, we’re not prepared or not willing to do that…so instead, we just don’t pray at all.  Which leads to guilt.

The main issue in our prayerlessness is we have a problem believing and grasping that God likes us, enjoys us and delights in us.  If you have ever betrayed someone, if you have ever lied to someone and they know, if you have ever fallen short of someone’s expectation of you, what’s our response?  Avoidance. – Matt Chandler

Guilt crushes our faith.  It keeps us from prayer, it keeps us from church, it keeps us from God.  We read things from prayer warriors like E.M. Bounds, who writes, “We cannot talk to God strongly when we have not lived for God strongly,” and think, This is why my prayer life sucks...because I’m not a Godly man.  We sin and believe that we’ve let God down.  Perhaps that’s why He’s not listening?  Because He’s disappointed in me?  Better to just not pray.  I’m clearly not worthy of His attention.

Jonathan Cone wrote a great piece on this a few years ago for Relevant Magazine.  I strongly suggest you give it a read, especially if guilt is hurting your prayer life (click here for the article).  Meanwhile, let me sum up Cone’s piece with a quote from Joel Virgo:  “Resist discouragement—It’s from the devil.  Your Father loves you.”

ADD is my biggest prayer downfall.  I begin to pray and my mind wanders all over the place.  I’ll start a prayer in the morning in regards to my day...which will get me thinking about what needs to be done that day...which will get me thinking about what unit I’m teaching...which will get me thinking about what’s working in that unit and what isn’t...which will get me thinking about what worked in the past and what can be done for better success in the future......the next thing I know, I’m thinking about dinner that night, what sporting event I want to watch...or my personal favorite: brainstorming for this blog.  That’s right, my prayer life is frequently disrupted by me thinking about what to write for that week’s post...regarding God.  So, I’m disciplined in communicating about Him...just not with Him.

How do we combat this?  Ironically—with prayer.  Francis Chan says that while he has always been easily distracted in prayer, he could always re-focus.  “I’d fall on my knees...I’d speak out loud...anything so that it made sense.”  This is what we must do.  When our prayer-ADD kicks in, we must learn to recognize it, and re-focus.  Turn your distraction over to God.  Ask Him to clear your mind of all the other garbage in your life so you can isolate on Him.  Re-focus, and start again.  Keep repeating this process until you finish your prayer.  It takes patience, but you’ll find that it gets easier with time.  Your prayer life will begin to become more distraction-free.

I have an entire post planned dealing with those that feel they don’t know how to pray, so I won’t write much here.  Let me just use this analogy:  There’s a saying in basketball:  “When you’re hot...shoot.  When you’re cold...shoot more.”  The basic premise, of course, is that by shooting more, you’ll force yourself out of your funk.  Also, if you’re missing a lot of shots, you need to shoot more because you need the practice.  The same could be said of prayer.  Prayer is nothing more than talking to/with God.  If you struggle in prayer...pray more.  Just talk to God.  The more you do this, the easier it will become, and the less you’ll worry about “how” to pray.

While we use all of these reasons to explain why our prayer life isn’t better, my personal favorite is that we don’t have time.  We’re so busy that prayer often slips our minds.  This is pathetic.  As D.A. Carson puts it, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.  Cut something out.”  There is nothing going on in your life that is more important than time with God.  Nothing.  In fact, the busier you are, the more you should turn to God.  Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

I’m not suggesting that you spend the first three hours of your day in prayer, but focus on the message:  I have so much to do.  If our lives are that busy, we need some help, and that help comes from God.  Ask Him to take some of that burden so your plate isn’t as full.  So you aren’t as stressed.  So you have more time.  Prayer is time with God, and you should tithe your time like you do your money.  Colossians 4:2 tells us that we are to “devote” ourselves to prayer.  Not when we need something.  Not when there’s a crisis.  Not when we feel like it.  Devotion is continuous and constant.

We will make time for things that are important.  When I was a teacher, some kids would explain their lack of homework with “I forgot.”  I would then ask why they hadn’t forgotten their clothes.  The idea behind their explanation was that homework was that unimportant.  The idea that we are too busy to pray is insanity.  What could you possibly be doing that is more important? – Joel Virgo

What could you possibly be doing that is more important?  Work?  TV?  Video games?  Texting?  Facebooking?  Going to clubs?  Bars?  Sporting events?  Concerts?  Napping?  Is there anything on this planet more important than time with the Father?

You will find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13
When was the last time you sought God with all—key word: ALL—your heart?  Try it.  Pray for five minutes.  Just five.  Turn off the TV.  Turn off the computer.  Turn off the cell phone.  Turn off the iPod.  For five minutes, don’t think about the outside world around you.  Just talk to God.  Give those five minutes to Him.  Trust me, you’ll be different after just five minutes.  You’ll feel different. – Francis Chan

I’m going to throw a challenge out there.  Pick a day this week—any day—but for one day, if you feel the need to text someone, make a quick prayer to God instead.  However long it would have taken you to text that person, spend that long in prayer.  Instead of logging on to Facebook...pray.  However long you would have been on Facebook, spend that long in prayer.  Do this for one day.  Next week...try doing this for two consecutive days.  The next week...three days.  Keep increasing this until you go an entire week without texting or Facebooking.  At the worst, you’ll begin to learn how much of your “valuable” time you spend on such meaningless areas.  At the best, you’ll begin to develop a stronger prayer life.

AW Tozer wrote that “Every man is as close to God as he wants to be.”  The underlining truth behind this post lies within that sentence.  We are as close to God as we want to be.  At some point, we all have used every one of these reasons to explain our poor praying habits.  That has to stop.  The bottom line is—We simply don’t care enough.  If we did, these excuses wouldn’t exist…because, in the end, that’s all they are.

It drives me crazy when people say, “I wish I were closer to God.”  No you don’t.  If you did, you would be.  It’s not like God is up there going, “I know you want to be closer to me, but I’m not going to let you.”  God gave His son to us so we could have intimacy with Him.  So if you’re not close to Him, guess whose fault it is?  It’s not a lack of desire on God’s part, it’s a lack of desire on your part.  We live in a culture and a church age where excuses are so popular.  Everyone has an excuse for why they sin, why they’re not close to God, why they’re not this, this, and this.  And the truth is?  It’s all you. – Francis Chan

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