PRAYER

PART 1: PRAYER, MYSTERIES AND ATTITUDES

PRAYERS AND MYSTERIES

And so a riddle is told: a man is walking in the pouring rain. He has neither hat, nor umbrella or hood to his coat, yet not a hair of his head gets wet. How can this be?

The answer is that the man is totally bald! It’s obvious when you know but a mystery until you do.

Life is rather like this. It is full of mysteries – full of things that I just don’t understand. I like to think I am educated, wise and insightful. In fact I am as “in the dark” about so many things as you.

Oh. I can try and give clever, intellectual and philosophical answers. But, the truth is that there is so much that is a mystery to me. Why doesn’t God deal now with all the evil in this world? Why do people get sick and die even though I have prayed for them? Why, when I pray to Him and tell Him all my needs is my experience so often that it is like I am talking to a brick wall? Why, when I ask Him and beg Him to do something that I know I need does He not provide – even though His Word tells me that He will give me whatever I ask? Why! Why! Why!

I can give answers to these questions, but, if I am honest, they will never be very good answers for I am just a man and only God understands all these things.

So, in this first-part of our brief study of Prayer I am asking the difficult questions – so that we can hopefully get past them and so enjoy the wonder and the beauty that is PRAYER.

PRAYERS AND PROMISES

So, here are two of the most difficult passages about prayer that were promises made by Jesus to us all:

13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14: 13-14)

7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Is it just me? I don’t think so. Is it just me who says that I do not seem to experience the realities of these promises in my life? How many times have I asked – and not received!

Is it that I lack “faith”? Is it that I am “not good enough”? Is it that I am not using the right “formula” when it comes to prayer? Is it that God just doesn’t exist and this is all a myth (God forbid – let me declare right now that I do not believe this!)?

Maybe, just maybe, it begins with this…

PRAYERS AND FATHER CHRISTMAS

Let me show you “God”!!! Or at least what many people would like to think that God looks like.

No, your eyes do not deceive you – this is a picture of Father Christmas.

Let me tell you about this man: He is the one who asks you if you have “been good this year”. And if you have then he will give you whatever you ask for – because you deserve it…and HE DOESN’T EXIST!

Well, I’m afraid that this is what many people – even many Christians – want to believe that God is like. A Father Christmas who will – or should – give us whatever we ask for, whatever we want, whatever we believe we need – and all we have to do is be “good” (be this morally “good” or faithfully “good”). Isn’t this what He promised???

Then when our god/Father Christmas does NOT “come up with the goods” our faith is, at the very least, shaken. And the evidence is that for some their faith in God is completely shattered. I have heard it said that the phenomenal collapse in belief in God in the 20th C was the direct consequence of two world wars where people prayed for peace and there was none; who prayed to God to stop the horrors of murder and genocide and He did not.

Well…God is NOT Father Christmas!

This is a deception of our enemy, the devil, who wants to turn as many away from God as possible.

PRAYERS AND FATHER GOD

Our LORD is NOT Father Christmas, He is Father God and the simplicity of what this means can be seen in the analogy of a good HUMAN father towards the child that they love.

A good father (or mother – the terms here are totally interchangeable) does not love their child by giving them whatever they want or whatever they demand. A good father shows “tough love” – a love that is willing to say “no – because I love you”.

A simple, silly, but successful example of this is with my youngest daughter, Stephanie. When a little child with big, blue, eyes she would love a MacDonalds “Happy Meal” and my love for her would bring me to (occasionally) buy her one. After eating it voraciously and playing with the accompanying toy should would gaze up into my eyes and ask “Daddy do you REALLY love me?”. “Yes”, I would reply. “Then will you buy me ANOTHER one?” And I would reply “No darling, not another one”, to which she would cry out “daddy! You DON’T love me!” Tough love would mean saying to her “Of course I love you darling – you mean the world to me – I love you so much that another meal would not be good for you and I won’t give you anything that I know is not good for you”.

Now…she was NOT convinced – but I did the RIGHT thing.

Our Father God is the PERFECT Father. He knows exactly what is right and wrong, what we need and don’t need, what we want and don’t want. Our PERFECT Father knows exactly what is best for us and what is not best for us – even to our very life itself!

PRAYERS AND ATTITUDES

And so I believe that this must be my attitude towards PRAYER:

  • That I must always seek to remain in relationship with my Father God. And that prayer is all about my attitude of relationship with Him – that prayer is all about intimate relationship between me as “child” and Him as “Father” – that prayer is all about communicating with Him – as a child with the Father whom he loves – that prayer is about talking to Him, listening to Him, asking Him, accepting from Him, loving Him and being loved right back by Him.
  • That He, my PERFECT Father in Heaven, is a PERFECT, loving Father, who knows what is best for me, has my best interests at heart and who will always hear what I say to Him. My attitude must always be to remember what we have already learnt from the so-called “High Priestly Prayer” of Numbers 6: 24-26  – that He is down on His knees and stretching out His arms of love to embrace me at all times.
  • And, most importantly for me, here, right now, that my attitude in prayer must be one of:
  • Believing Him – that He DOES hear my every prayer – this demands constant faith
  • Trusting Him totally to give me the answers to my prayers that are right for me
  • Walking humbly before Him in our belief (faith) and trust

We will look at these in more detail as we go on.

PRAYERS AND PROMISES “REVEALED”

So, maybe now is the time to go back to our “difficult” passages and to look at them with new eyes.

13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14: 13-14)

OK, my PERFECT Father in Heaven will hear my requests in prayer and out of His great love for me will say “Yes…no…or later”. But, how does this “square” with the promise of Jesus as made above? For does this promise not mean that we can claim a “health, wealth and prosperity Gospel”? Does this promise not mean that I can say (and I give two extreme examples here) “Father, give me a Maserati motor car – in the Name of Jesus” or “Father, heal my child of their terminal illness – in the Name of Jesus”….and He will – nay! MUST! – give me what I ask?

Now, of course, the key part of this promise is “in my name”. And the disciples would have understood in the context of the day that this meant that they went out in, and with, the authority of Jesus and so could ask or claim anything (?) in His Name – just like the governor of the province carried out the letter of the law in the name of Caesar – as if Caesar was doing it/saying it/deciding it himself.

What this MUST teach us is the need to humbly ensure that we are truly praying for something in His Name. Let me give you this extreme (but apparently true) example of the Sheriff of Nottingham back in the reign of King Richard I and King John. As sheriff – or “Shire (county) Reeve (manager)” – his job was to (amongst other things) collect the royal taxes. He was invested with the full authority of the king to do this and so collected them in “the name of the king”. However…as we well know from the legend of Robin Hood, he was not altogether doing this…and more often than not he was “fleecing” the poor to “line his own pockets” while claiming to do so in the “name of the king”.

I am NOT saying that WE are doing this when we claim things in “the Name of Jesus”! But the analogy is that when we pray in His Name it is to claim His authority in the things that He has called us to do. So, for example, when Peter prayed for the cripple at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, he told him to rise up and walk “in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 3: 6). He said this to him alone – not to any other of the cripples that would have been thereabouts. Humbly I have to accept that for some reason – that I just don’t understand – God chose to heal this one at this time.

So, maybe I need to be more sure when I pray that I AM rightly asking for something in His Name – that this IS what He has given me authority to ask! And how can I be more sure? Simply, humbly and faithfully by just trusting in my relationship with Him more.

Does this mean that I should NOT ask for things “in the Name of Jesus” unless I am totally sure it is His WILL? No…I am not saying this. Because He IS my Father and because Jesus encouraged us to always pray to Father in faith and trust – then it is right for me to say that I am asking as Jesus encouraged me to ask – thus “in His Name”. But, my PERFECT Father in Heaven may say “yes…no…later”.

Let us now look at our second “difficult” passage:

7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Well…that seems pretty clear doesn’t it! If we ask we SHALL be given what we ask – for our PERFECT Father in Heaven would not give us a “stone” when we are asking for “bread” – would He? Yet my experience seems to be that this is often so…..IF I come from the angle that He is “Father Christmas”!

Once we accept that He is PERFECT Father God then our child-like eyes should be open to understand this more simply…

I believe that our PERFECT Father God will ALWAYS answer our prayers – so “ask and it WILL be given to you”…but not necessarily what it is that I have asked for…I  might pray “LORD heal my father” and my PERFECT Father in Heaven might say “I hear your request and I will give you the answer – but it is time for your father to come home to me in Heaven”.

Has my PERFECT Father God given me a “stone” rather than the “bread” I was asking for? By no means! A “stone” and a “snake” are symbols of cruelty and hatred. Jesus is saying here that a human father will never mock or show cruelty or show hatred to a child they love and that we must totally trust that our Perfect Father in Heaven will not do so either. He will ALWAYS answer, He will ALWAYS give us what is best for us.

Do you believe this???

So, in conclusion we must return to looking at our attitudes when we pray…

PRAYERS AND ATTITUDES REVISITED

  1. Believing:

I WILL believe that He hears me every time I talk to Him and with Him in prayer. But, I think my attitude of “believing” when I pray does need to go deeper than this.

Jesus, cited in Mark 11: 22-24, says this to His disciples:

22 ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. 23 ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 

Another “difficult” passage!

Yet, another passage that is true and must be simply accepted even when it is hard to understand.

Our attitude, when we pray, must be one of believing that our PERFECT Father in Heaven IS going to answer. Therefore, I am now challenged to ONLY pray when I truly believe –have faith – that He IS going to hear and answer. Too many times, I confess, I “throw out a prayer” without considering whether I REALLY believe that what I am praying will be heard and answered by my PERFECT Father. Maybe I should consider more before I begin to pray. Maybe I need to “sort myself out” before I pray. Maybe there is “more in less” – more results for less prayer. Maybe…

  • Trusting:

I WILL trust that He will answer me every time I talk to Him and with Him in prayer. But, I think my attitude of “trusting” when I pray does need to go deeper than this.

I am reminded of Jesus’ trust in His Father when crying out to Him in the Garden of Gethsemane:

41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ (Luke 22: 41-42)

For some reason this seems to be becoming increasingly unpopular amongst many authors. “They” say that it is a lack of faith – a lack of trust – to say in our prayers “yet not my will, but yours be done”…but Jesus said it!

I think, rather, that Jesus’ statement here is an evidence of TOTAL trust in His Father. Jesus declares what He WANTS (which is not to have to suffer the agonies of death by crucifixion) but knows that Father God knows best and so is willing in this statement to put His total TRUST in God.

Are we willing to do the same when WE pray?

  • Humbling:

And finally, I come to this last – but definitely not least – attitude when we come to prayer.

Because I believe He hears my prayers… Because I trust in Him to do what is best…I will come before Him in prayer humbly.

I am deeply challenged by the increasing numbers who are being drawn to this attitude of humility at this time; and I am deeply challenged again by the words of the LORD to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14 –

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Our Father HEARS the humble in heart and He ANSWERS the humble in heart. But, the arrogant, the proud, the self-centred, the self-sufficient He does NOT hear – for they are not really talking to Him!

So, when I pray, let my attitude be that of the humble man: the one who knows that he is but mere man; one who needs the strength and power of God to intercede and guide and help in all things. I cannot do it on my own! I recognise my own deficiencies and failings. But I trust in Him – in His love and His power. And I believe in His love. And so I humble myself and come before Him – always in Hope.

THINKING ABOUT THIS MORE DEEPLY – ON YOUR OWN OR IN HOUSEGROUPS

Have a REALLY good look at these wonderful but “difficult” passages:

John 14: 13-14

Matthew 7: 7-11

Mark 11: 22-24

  • Think about YOUR experience of prayer over the years
  • Think about times when your prayers have been answered with a “yes”
  • What about those times when you feel God has not heard your prayer?
  • Does your experience of prayer match up with the promises of Jesus?
  • What do you think about the attitudes in prayer of “Belief, Trust (Faith) and Humility”?
  • How is YOUR prayer life going?
  • How can you make it better?