"AS GOD INTENDED" (COSTUME)
Say what you will about Halloween. I’m not here to condone or condemn it. I don’t have a personal affinity for witches, ghosts or goblins, but I do fondly recall Halloween memories from my childhood; a trip around the neighborhood with good friends- a chill in the air and the sound of crunching leaves underfoot- harvest parties at the church and a “sugar high” that lasted until Thanksgiving. Costumes were always exciting to wear and my parents had a knack for creating wonderfully original wardrobes. There were no shrink-wrapped rubber masks or cheap party store outfits in our home! I was a pumpkin, a fireman, a mouse, a robot and even a crow (just to name a few). I enjoyed the festivities and the eclectic costumes, but the masks always left me a bit perplexed. Why? Because something always remained hidden behind them. It was never uncommon to hear someone say “...and who is THAT under there?”
You see, knowing exactly who we’re speaking to can change everything about our perception of someone. It’s difficult to trust in what we can’t see, but a familiar face or voice can bring comfort and clarity. What a perfect picture for the purposes of prayer. Faithful conversation with the Lord can make His presence and power known, but we wrestle with our flesh that challenges its usefulness and validity. When we embrace prayer the way God intended us to we find intimacy, but a certain measure of faith is required on our part. Do we confidently trust in His providence or do we approach His throne with doubt and uncertainty? Do we pray with a sense of entitlement- like half-hearted, distracted, disengaged children? Do we say “amen” only to walk away feeling like nothing happened and no one answered?
There are so many mysteries in the “why” of prayer that can build up or break down our faith. Today we visit just a small collection of some very big questions. Prayer is no meager topic and we shouldn't approach it lightly. We fight different battles and encounter different storms, but there are some universal questions we can’t help but ask. I wish I could respond from some deep theological understanding, but I too must sift through the haystack to find the point. Many times, I have leaned on God’s word and still been left with doubt. I’ve been stumped and confounded by God’s complexities and yet, come out with bigger faith. Prayer doesn’t always make sense, but one thing remains clear through the fog… it is our finest Christian privilege. It’s an invitation to come before the majesty of heaven (freely and willingly) with our deepest feelings. It’s is a dialogue with the One who formed our hearts and through it, we can better know His. This supernatural exchange can bring guidance, identity and purpose, but turbulent questions can leave us overwhelmed and frustrated, viewing it more as a burden. When we lift our cares to the sky and don’t receive a desired result, our foundations may feel shaken. Don’t give up! Needs, concerns, even crazy thoughts and irrational doubts have their place in prayer. Why? Because God can handle them all! We are pilgrims on this journey, but we never wander aimlessly. The Father will reveal Himself.
“IF GOD ALREADY KNOWS WHAT WE'RE GOING TO PRAY FOR, WHY SHOULD WE EVEN PRAY?"
We tend to think it, even if we don’t verbalize it. Perhaps out of fear that we might offend the Lord. Why would the all-knowing Creator of the universe need our prayers? That’s just the thing... He doesn’t! They don’t fuel His strength or build His confidence. Truth be told, God doesn’t need anything from us. He just wants to be close. Prayer is the vessel to make that happen and communication is at the core of any good relationship.
Parents seem to have a knack for knowing everything, even before their children tell them, and yet, out of love, they ask for the details anyway. How much greater is the Father’s love for you! The One who knows all things still desires the details from your lips. Why? Because He knows the bond of reliance it creates. God knows the frailties in your flesh and foresees the stumbling blocks in your path. He awaits your appeal and through it, He steps in to take control with rightful authority.
“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4: 6
Prayer (with supplication) brings a calm assurance. Supplication is understanding our “place.” It’s is a humble plea, made with a certainty that God is fully in control and working for our best interest. Couple that with thanksgiving and it brings a healthy perspective to the God who “is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.” (ref. Ephesians 3: 20). Why pray limited prayers to a limitless God?
To know “OF” God may very well lead to knowledge, but “KNOWING” God will lead to a relationship. He wants to be included in everything! We can aspire to the model left by the disciples in Acts, who dared not move without committing all things to prayer, seeking God for His guidance and deliverance. We don’t pray to impress God (fancy words and poetic language are not required). We don’t pray to inform God (we can’t tell Him something He doesn’t already know). A good friend just WANTS to hear what you have to say and the Lord is the best friend available. Your ticket is an open, innocent heart, with the faith of a child.
“Now that we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. And his Spirit tells us that God is our Father.” Galatians 4: 6
IS AN ANSWER TO PRAY REALLY AN ANSWER, OR JUST A RESULT OF CIRCUMSTANCES?
Have you ever found yourself wondering, “...how do I know if it’s God answering me or just coincidence?” I have... often. Does life just “happen” or is God behind it all? When our faith wavers with uncertainty we can recall the promise that no prayer will go unanswered. We loathe the “churchy” advice that says, “God’s answers will be, ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘wait,’” but this should offer quite a bit of comfort. It reminds us that we WILL get an answer. Do you pray fervently (with passionate intensity)? Just because you don’t feel some spiritual “nudge” doesn’t mean you’re praying incorrectly and it certainly doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you. Consider the possibility that He’s just asking you to wait. Yes, waiting can be painful, but take heart, an answer is on the way! Occasionally, we can be so distracted by our desire for an answer that we don’t even realize it came and went. Find assurance in God’s timing and satisfaction in His word. Sure, we would much rather have certainty. Things would be so much easier if God spoke audibly, but would we have a need for faith? We’d prefer a personal phone call from the Creator. We look for the thunder to crackle and the mountains to quake. Anything less and we spiral into doubt. We claim to trust His omnipotence, but crave to have every answer spelled out in the clouds. When you pray, learn to stop… breathe... and embrace the wonderful truth that Jesus is praying for YOU. Yes, Christ, our advocate, our representative is actively bringing your cares to the Father. As we speak, Jesus stands before the throne to present your case.
“Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.” Job 16: 19-21
DOES GOD CHANGE HIS MIND WHEN WE PRAY?
Before we discuss this question, ask yourselves another…”are the intentions of my prayers aimed at changing God’s mind?” One piece of human frailty remains true- that many of our “humble” prayers are actually quiet attempts to dictate what God “should” or “shouldn’t” do. Do you feel entitled to steer His hand or do you patiently rely upon His judgements? When we’re truly transparent, does God consider what we have to say? Does He take our wants and desires into account? Can we, in fact, change His mind?
“The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart." Genesis 6: 5-6
“Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.” 1 Samuel 15: 10-11
“Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people.” Exodus 32: 9-11, 14
“When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” Jonah 3: 10
Noah, Saul, Moses, Jonah... Stories that spawn so many questions… A heartbroken God of remorse and regret? Anger burning at rebellious evil? We see a God fueled by desire. Did He somehow make a mistake along the way? Did He feel shame at poor decisions? In all His foresight, were there still things He couldn’t anticipate? Was creation just more wicked than He thought they could be? It would certainly seem so, but we would be utterly wrong. Friends, our God has a will, a resolution to be done here on earth (as it is in heaven). His will is His own and in its perfection, it is never confined by any law outside of that which He has created. God’s immutable, unchangeable nature is flawless. In His infinite wisdom, He holds His plans and all their outcomes. Is God somehow contradicting Himself if He decides to change His mind or humor the prayers of a righteous heart? Not at all! The Lord can change His mind simply because He’s God and as we cite our examples in scripture, we are reminded that our God “feels” all sensations of frustration and sympathy. When God speaks a promise or declares a command, He will never veer from it; for God will never go against Himself. He doesn’t change his mind according to our prayers or bend to the will of man’s convincing arguments, but He certainly does listen, compassionately considering what His children have to say.
“God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” Numbers 23: 19
“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” James 1: 17
MANY HEARTS ASK FOR PRAYER. MANY MORE SEEM UNWILLING TO PRAY. WHY?
I cross paths with many folks who eagerly ask for prayer, but seem reluctant to the pray for themselves. What causes this? Is it fear? Shame? Unbelief? To Christians, prayer is not a foreign practice. “Prayer requests” are a common staple in the Christian life. They’re part of our vocabulary. so it may seem a bit silly to think that anyone would hesitate to come to the Father. We hear it on a daily basis... “Please pray I do well on this exam… Please pray that my Mother gets better… Please pray that I get this job… Please pray that my situation changes…”
Some souls feel unequipped, declaring that they “just don’t know how to pray.” It’s easier to ask someone with more “experience.” Others find comfort in the thought of “many” prayers, enjoying the spiritual “safety net” it provides. Still others (who may not even believe in the power you pray to) are willing to take a chance on your God (or any other god who is willing to listen). My wife is a magnet for prayer requests and she lovingly adds each one to her list. I admire her compassion and diligence. However, I also have to chuckle when some folks seem to think she has God’s private phone number hidden in her cell phone.
Others will learn of your faith in God and they may present you with a common request, “you’re spiritual, so could you pray for me?!” The correct answer is “yes,” but do you pray? Consider how many times you’ve probably responded with, “I’ll be praying for you,” only to go about your business and forget to do so. When you’re asked to pray, just do it! Stop, wherever you are and in the quiet of your mind, lift up their cares to Jesus. There’s no value in saving them for later or adding them to a list that never gets revisited. Let me remind you that your prayers needn’t be complicated, lengthy or eloquent. They’re simply meant to bridge the gap for another heart in need. It would be too easy (in our busy, self-centered lives) to say, “pray for yourself,” but your willingness may be the first light of Jesus some folks will ever see. God will take over, but do your part in initiating the introduction. It isn’t our place to ask “why?” When someone asks for prayer, it’s an opportunity to put their hand in Jesus’.
HOW CAN PRAYER COVER EVERYTHING WHEN SOME THINGS JUST SEEM TOO BIG?
Life can be a whirlwind of exhaustion. There is no shortage of pain, fear and confusion. We’ve all been there! Friends, your battle is your own. No one can take it away from you. No one except Jesus! The trials you face, the burdens you bear and the wounds you sustain are personal. Your scars tell tales. Who can make light of your sufferings? Who can fully stand in your shoes? No one except Jesus! A mountain to one heart is a speed bump to another. Who can tell you how to feel or how to face things? No one except Jesus! Some obstacles just seem too big. Some agonies just feel too great. How can prayer possibly cover everything? It does. It just does!
Too often, we let the circumstances of our past contaminate our present. Our image of God gets tainted by thoughts and feelings that rush back in like frigid water. We forget what God has done for us. Hope turns to fear. Anticipation to pessimism. We begin to pray as if we expect God NOT to answer and while we may not assume that God “can’t” do everything, we quietly convince ourselves that He “won’t” do anything.
In the privacy of your own heart, you have to determine if God is big enough. I can assure you, He is, but you have to discover that for yourself. When you suffer, do you run to God’s promises? Do you seek out His word? It would benefit your journey to remember that suffering is a part of this life. You’re not spared from it because the earth is no longer sterile and sinless. However, our loving Father clasps this world in His capable hands. The wars you face are not fought alone and ultimately, the battle belongs to the Lord. Recognize the awesome truth that you fight alongside the victor.
“I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way.” Psalm 142: 1-3
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PRAY WITH PASSION?
“Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. Give us each day the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation.” Luke 11: 2-4
As Christ-followers, we walk as Jesus walked. In turn, we also seek to pray as He prayed. Through the praise of God’s holiness we learn to lift Him high. Through the invitation of His kingdom we find eager anticipation. Through the request of daily bread we show contentment in His sufficiency and as we find forgiveness in His grace, we can gain the strength to forgive others and the power to resist the enemy. Christ left us a shining example of passionate prayer and through it, we declare our mission statement. We become workers with him.
“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” 2 Corinthians 6: 1-2
Passionate prayer emits from a heart of unspeakable joy; a heart that knows (beyond all doubt) that God is enough. Passionate prayer grows and develops our faith. It’s what separates our half-hearted, emotionless words from prayers that carry power. Christ understood what prayer could do and we are called to follow His lead. Without a dependency on God we would cease to approach Him. Prayers without faith are just wishes. Challenge yourself to pray with a passion.
“Have you ever prayed and didn't receive immediately what you asked for? What did you do? You kept on praying, but you also began to search your heart and life to see if something was hindering God's answer. Many times there is. God uses prayer to grow us.” -Dr. Adrian Rogers
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55: 6-11
IS IT WRONG TO PRAY DESPERATE PRAYERS?
Hannah cried out with a longing...
“Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you.”
1 Samuel 1: 10-11
David was wrought with the feelings of abandonment...
“O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?” Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?” Psalm 42: 9-10
The disciples fought panic in the storm...
“The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” Mark 4: 38-39
Can we relate in our own moments of brokenness and isolation? God’s light shines brightest in the dark and He often works the greatest miracles when we step aside and let Him move. The circumstances of the downtrodden are an opportunity for Him to make His love known. Desperate prayers erupt from the heart that knows there is nowhere else to turn. Desperation is not weakness, but complete faith in surrender. Bold prayers set our lives up like a canvas, awaiting God’s brushstroke.
Hannah’s prayers were answered...
“...the Lord remembered her plea, and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.” 1 Samuel 1: 19-20
David’s eyes were brought to truth…
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” Psalm 42: 11
The disciples learned of the Savior’s true power…
“He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4: 40-41
WHEN DO WE STOP PRAYING?
Our hearts feel worn and weary. We’ve run out of words and our prayers feel like a "rerun". What’s left to say when the waiting seems too difficult? God knows our heart, doesn't He? Maybe we should just quit.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
“Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.” James 4: 2-3
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7: 7-8
Ask, seek and knock. Pray without ceasing. Learn to be thankful regardless of situation or circumstance. Gratitude and joy are central to God’s plan for your life. Check your motives and remind yourself of why you pray. Do you welcome God’s will above your own? Things tend to change if you do. When can you stop praying for something in particular? When you get an answer; regardless of what that answer is. When should you stop praying? Never! Effective prayer is persistent.
God doesn’t dodge our words and wishes. Nothing is too grand or too small, too outlandish or too simplistic for Him. We have countless questions and He has endless answers. We pray and plead for Him to “do something,” but what if we trained our hearts to pray for what He has yet to do? In anticipation and acceptance of His will we could stand back with confidence, praising God for His work behind the scenes. This is the difference between gratitude and faith. Pray with belief that the work is already done. When we pray the way God intended, we get to know Him better. No mask, no costume, no hidden agenda; just the boundless grace of a loving Father who has (and will) give all of Himself.
“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help.” Isaiah 30: 18