WHY SHOULD I PRAY? PRAYER DOESN’T WORK!
THE CRY OF THE WORLD
How many times have we heard the cry of the hurt: “When my wife was ill and in terrible pain, I prayed and prayed and she died! Either God is a horrible God, or He doesn’t exist, or prayer doesn’t work! So, I’m not going to bother with prayer again!”?
And how many times do we, disciples, struggle with prayer ourselves – knowing that it is our enemy, the devil, battling with us in the mind, whispering to us “don’t bother praying – God won’t hear, God won’t listen, God won’t answer”?
On the other hand, countless people – today and down through the ages – testify that God is a good God who has heard and answered their prayers in the most wonderful of ways. What is the truth about prayer?
This is not meant to be a definitive search of this subject. But, it will focus on a few aspects of prayer that you might find helpful. As such, I draw your attention to the series on Prayer that we studied in the Autumn of 2019.
EXODUS 32: 1-14 – PRAYER: HOPELESS OR HOPEFUL?
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’
There’s a couple of things here that I want to highlight in the context of our current situation:
· Leaders are SOOOOO important! The nation fell-apart because Moses was not with them. As we go into this season of “Elder recognition” let each one of us take the process really seriously! The health of the church depends on it!
· On the other hand this shows the danger of relying on one man so much! Moses had gone a long way in teaching the people that they had the responsibility and the ability to live well and stay close to God – but they were clearly “not there yet”.
· When people turn their eyes away from God they will so quickly be enticed by other “gods” – other people or other things that they hope will look after them, save them, meet their needs…such as money, relationships, power, health. Take care to be “coals that remain in the fire” of the Spirit.
Let’s carry on and see what happened next…
2 Aaron answered them, ‘Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.’ 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the
shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.’ 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterwards they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
7 Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
9 ‘I have seen these people,’ the LORD said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’
Now this is important! Do you think that this decision by God to destroy the rebellious Israel and to “start over” was a serious one? Was it just a “test” to see how Moses reacted? Does God lie!? Of course not! God was telling Moses what He was about to do!
11 But Moses sought the favour of the LORD his God. ‘LORD,’ he said, ‘why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance for ever.”’ 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Let’s look at how Moses responded to God, and in doing so, let us understand what prayer is really all about…
· He spent time in God’s presence: Moses was up on that mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24: 18). Prayer must begin with spending quality and quantity time with Him – on your personal mountain top – whether in your “prayer chair”, your “war room”, your “holy hill” or your car journey to work (please keep your eyes open!).
· Before he said a word to God, he listened to Him. He listened to what He had to say. What is that old saying? We have two ears but only one mouth – so listen much and talk little! It was only because he was listening that He knew what God’s intention was.
· Here is now the significant thing about Moses’ prayer life with God…he did not simply accept God’s decision – he argued with Him.
Ø Hang on! Haven’t we heard in the “Lord’s Prayer” those significant words: “Your will be done”? When Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane immediatetly before His arrest, didn’t He declare “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:
42)? Don’t we believe – passionately, even though it’s hard to live it out – that we are called to trust in our Good Father, that He knows best and that we should always simply seek to know His will and then accept it? Of course!
Ø But Moses shows here that it is OK to challenge God; it’s OK to tell God what we want; it’s OK to wrestle with Him when we feel strongly about something. I’m reminded of the powerful story told by Pete Greig. He spoke of his wife being seriously ill – certain to die – and of his anger rising when a friend prayed for God’s will to be done in her life. Pete wrestled with God – telling God that he did not want his wife to die – even threatening to reject God if He did not restore her to health! God heard his prayer and healed her.
Ø It’s not that we cannot argue with God. The point is how we respond to God’s final decision. How would Moses have reacted if God had gone ahead and destroyed the Jews in any case? How would Pete Greig have responded if his wife had died? We don’t know. But we do know about Jesus. He prayed for God to “take this cup [of death] from me” (Luke 22: 42) and only when He knew that this was not going to be granted did He bow and say “your will be done” (paraphrased). Paul prayed to God:
to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9)
God said “no!” to Paul and Paul accepted the Will of God – because Paul trusted in God.
Prayer – sincere prayer – DOES “work”. Prayer – sincere prayer – ALWAYS “works”! And it “works” because of the following truths:
Prayer is not a recipe. Prayer is a relationship.
Prayer is not rote or rules. Prayer is a relationship.
And prayer is NOT an equal relationship – we are talking to the Deity.
· He is all-knowing – we are not.
· He is all-wise – we are not.
· So “Father knows best”. His mind can be changed – but it will not always be changed.
· So prayer is a trust in God – a total trust in God.
Why did God relent and not destroy the Israelites?
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5: 16)
Moses was a “righteous” man. And what made him “righteous”? He was in a right relationship with God – trusting Him and obeying Him.
Prayer “works” – prayer always “works”. But when we “trust and obey” we don’t always get the answer that we want. But, that’s OK – because we’ll always get the answer that is the right one for us.