Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 48: The prayer list

Then He said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything. ' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. (Luke 11:5-10 NASB)

In the previous post, we looked at one of the parables about persistence in prayer. One of the problems I encounter is that so many things prick my heart and move me to prayer. I'm concerned about family members who are not living a godly lifestyle, people I love who are far from Christ, friends who are going through a difficult time, sick people in my church, the direction of politics in my nation, doing the right thing and serving my tiny town well. The problems around the world are a source of concern and prayer for me. Nigeria's issues worry me, the mess in Iraq and Syria, our soldiers around the world, the terrorists (both individually and corporately) and those who are in bondage because of those terrorists. On and on and on.

Perhaps you have this problem, too. It's hard to be persistent about everything! One day last week, I pondered about the absolute impossibility of keeping everything that concerns me before our Lord all the time. I'm like a dog with a bone about many issues, but it's impossible for me to deal with everything. If you have a similar problem, maybe I can help. My system helps me pray persistently for the most pressing needs. It works in three ways.

1) I have prayer partners with whom I pray on a regular basis. Both groups text back and forth about pressing needs, updates on progress, and requests for urgent prayer. It helps us persevere in prayer because the needs are always before us.

2) I use my smartphone alerts to remind me. Not every need gets a special alert. I currently have seven alerts that serve as prayer reminders for a variety of needs. The alerts are scheduled throughout the day. When the alarm sounds, I'm reminded to pray, and I do. Though the prayer may be very brief, it is still persistent. Some of those needs have been on my phone for years. Others have been there for a season and removed once the need had been met and was secure. If a need makes it to the smartphone alert list, it gets persistent prayer for as long as needed. (I just realized today that not one of those alerts is for myself. I don't need an alert to remember my own needs!)

3) I have a paper list that I review several times a week. I've used this for years, too. It's not a fancy journal. It's a handwritten list on a few sheets of paper in the back of my calendar/organizer. Sometimes I use a spiral bound steno pad. I was cleaning out a box of papers and found one of those steno pads from two decades ago. It was shocking to see how God had worked in many of those needs. Twenty years later, I could see that God had answered every prayer. It had just taken time.

One of the reasons prayers aren't answered is that our hearts aren't really in it. We don't care enough to persist in praying for the need. Persistent prayer requires that we make an effort. It requires that we keep on praying when we are tired of the effort and ready to move to something else. Of course God knows from the start how much we care. If the man who needed bread had quit asking after the first time he failed to get bread, would his friend have gotten up and given him bread? Not likely. 

This is, of course, a story of contrasts. God is never too sleepy to answer our prayers. He is never too tired to figuratively "come to the door" when we knock. We serve a God who is concerned about the things that concern us. He is ever listening, ever responding. Sometimes, however, he requires us to persist in prayer before He moves. 

Today, let's consider those things about which we have prayed recently. Which things need persistent prayer? Why not join me in making an organized effort to pray persistently about those things? There is nothing more exciting than looking over a prayer list, crossing off the needs as they are met, and realizing you need a new list because God has already taken care of everything on the old one!