Thursday, April 16, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 50: Asking and receiving

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)

The "name it and claim it" brand of theology is alive and well in the church today and, in my opinion, is extremely destructive to the cause of Christ. Prayer is a "church word" for talking with God. It is a conversation, not an opportunity to present a shopping list. If I subscribe to the "name it and claim it" theology, I make God little more than a celestial Santa Claus. 

With that in mind, let's look a little closer at answered prayer and the promise of Jesus to "ask and it will be given to you." We looked yesterday at the word for "given to you" and found that it is the same word as that indicating a seed giving forth fruit. Just as the fruit looks nothing like the seed, so the answers to our prayers may look nothing like we expected. 

The gospels are full of  promises of answered prayer. "Whatever you bind on earth is bound is heaven." (Matt. 18:18) "If two or more of you agree... they may ask and it will be done..." (Matt. 18:19). Mark records a promise that we can ask, believe, and receive (Mark 11:24). If those are the only verses I read, it is easy to think that I can ask for anything and expect to receive it. Mark 11:24, however, is followed by Mark 11:25, which begins with "and forgive". John 14:13 records a promise that Jesus will do what we ask, but includes the caveat "that my Father may be glorified".  John 15 tells us that we can ask whatever we wish and it shall be done for us, but is preceded by the stipulation that we can ask IF we abide in Christ and His words abide in us. Matthew 17 records a situation where the disciples were unable to heal a child despite their prayers and Jesus told them that some things only come out by prayer and fasting.

It turns out that answered prayer is possible but is contingent upon my life of discipleship. If I actually do what Jesus said, in belief, fasting, obedience in forgiveness, and in right living, I can come to Him with my requests in anticipation of answers. The purpose in answering our prayers, however, is so that the Father will be glorified. Glorifying the Father should be the objective behind all our prayer requests. 

James clarifies this for us. James 4 includes that famous phrase "You have not because you ask not".  It is immediately followed, however, by the clarifying statement, "You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." God created us to have a relationship with Him, not so that we can be "happy" and have everything our heart desires. As followers of Christ, our objective should be to glorify Him, and not ourselves.

What, then, makes it to my prayer list? My first thought is that everything gets on that list, but, admittedly, not everything is a typical request. Here are a few examples that may help clarify what I mean. When it became clear that an automobile manufacturing plant would come to our town, I prayed that God would send us a company that would be environmentally responsible, that He would somehow restore the trees that had been cut down, and that it would not destroy the lifestyle of our little town. His answer to that prayer was everything I prayed and more! My request did not glorify me at all. I wasn't even an elected official at the time I began to pray. Instead, I was praying for protection of the people who live in my town and protection of the environment God had created. 

When my dog was dreadfully sick recently, (Mamie the apprentice wonder puppy), I prayed for her healing. That may not seem like something that glorifies God, but the Mamie stories based on the antics of that tiny dog have been viewed by hundreds of people and have been used to teach the truth of following Christ in a simple and understandable way. He healed her.

I lost my step tracker recently. That also doesn't sound like something that glorifies God, but it has helped me increase my exercise, lose weight, decrease my cholesterol, and lower my blood pressure. I'm much healthier because of the tracker. When I lost it (apparently the wrist band came apart and I didn't notice it), I did all I could do to find it, then asked God to restore it if it was His will. I still find it hard to believe, but the company is sending me a new device. God provided.

I pray daily for people who are going through a hard time, people who are lost, people who are prodigals, people who need wisdom. I pray through the newspaper for situations that concern me, people who are making decisions that impact our country, and for the consequences of those decisions. My enemies and the enemies of my country are on my prayer list as well. The multiple terrorist organizations and the individual terrorists in those organizations are on my list, as well as the people affected by them. The persecuted church and those currently suffering for the cause of Christ. The people of Nigeria and its leadership. (God has given me a great love for Nigeria). There are several Christian parachurch organizations that do a tremendous job of bringing in the harvest and reaching the world for Christ and for whom I pray regularly.

In all this praying, I also pray for myself. As I sit down to write every morning, I review what was written the day before and ask God to show me what changes need to be made. When that is done, I ask Him to tell me what to write, and He does. Wisdom, holiness, purity are all topics of prayer.

Not all my praying is solitary. I have several prayer groups with and for whom I pray.

Whew! I'm not sharing this to make you think I'm a great woman of prayer or that I do anything remarkable or exceptional. I am not. I am doing nothing more than what I was called to do, what we are all called to do. We are supposed to pray without ceasing. If we are in a constant state of prayer, we can pray for all of the things I've listed and more. We are supposed to pray like this. In fact, I don't pray nearly enough. We don't pray nearly enough. 

If we are supposed to pray without ceasing, why don't we? Perhaps we think that means we are to stay on our knees around the clock. That's one way of doing it, but not likely the one that most of us will use. Here's my suggestion. As we go about our day, silently (or aloud) talk to God about everything you see, everything that concerns you, every need. As we read or listen to the news, let's discuss with the Lord those things that grab our attention. When we see flowers blooming, hear birds singing, receive an unexpected blessing, let's thank Him. When we see evidence of His hand in our lives, let's praise Him. Before we know it, we will be praying without ceasing!

What will happen if we pray without ceasing? Lots! We will find that we have the most exciting life imaginable because we see God at work constantly. We will ask, and He will answer, and it will be exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or think. God will be glorified and mountains will move.