Archive for July, 2012

Prayer God Answers

Posted: July 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress. Jeremiah 11:14

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. John 16:23

What are the benchmarks to prayer? Will God listen to any and every sort of prayer? What if someone you loved was so far gone that God said He will no longer listen to the prayer? What if you were that person? Will God really give you anything that you ask in Jesus’ name?

The Necessity of Prayer by E.M. Bounds is, by far, the best book on prayer I’ve read. It is saturated with Scripture references, it’s easy to read, yet so very deep to contemplate. I do not doubt that Bounds was indeed guided by the Holy Spirit as he wrote this book, and he is spot on in his theology of prayer.

I’ve heard of many approaches to prayer, from the very simple (prayer is just having a conversation with God) to the very complex (one must learn to pray through years of study, discipline, and diligence). A middle ground between the two extremes would be much more accurate. To consider prayer as just a conversation with God is to lose its reverence, power, and discipline. To think one needs to be a monk or have a seminary degree to adequately pray negates the simplicity, the relationship of praying to our Heavenly Father.

God hears all prayers, but does He listen? Not to compare a Holy and perfect God to humans, but often we hear God, but do we listen? We know what the Word says on a variety of things, yet oftentimes we overlook the passages that will convict us, those that contradict the way we are doing life. We can sometimes turn a deaf ear and not listen to God, rather than heeding correction. Or, we may lack an intimate relationship with God, one of complete surrender and constant union. God hears and answers the prayers of His disciples, the ones anointed by the Holy Spirit and living within His will. But, does he answer those who are guided by self-will?

In Jeremiah, God did not stop listening to the Israelites forever, but for a time, their adultery, immorality, idolatry, and pride disgusted God to the point that he would no longer listen to Jeremiah’s prayers for them. The Israelites had been given enough chances to obey and honor God, but they refused. So, God “decreed disaster” on them because they had “done evil and provoked God to anger.” God’s anger was the anger of a jealous husband who had reached the end of his rope with his adulterous wife. In His love for her, He had to do something to wake her, to shake her from her adulterous ways so she would turn back to Him. Exile was God invoking discipline in justice and love so that Israel would turn back to her beloved Yahweh.

In John 16, Jesus is talking to His disciples about what it means to abide in Him, to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. He’s talking to men who have fully surrendered to God. The difference between Spirit-led prayers and pre-exilic Israelite requests is faith, trust, desire/fervency, importunity, obedience, character/conduct, and the Word of God. These attributes that constitute effective Spirit-filled prayer is the prayer God hears, listens to, answers, and rewards. Such prayer is not for the cultural Christian who tosses out requests here and there. Spirit-led prayer is for the fervent follow of Jesus Christ who is committed to the will of God for one’s own life, for their family, friends, culture, and the Church.

I highly recommend reading The Necessity of Prayer for a more thorough explanation of the following characteristics:

  • Faith. Faith is the foundation of prayer. Without faith, prayer is useless. One must undoubtedly believe that the prayer being prayed will be answered accordingly. When God answers prayer in the Bible, He does so according to the desire voiced in prayer and the faith of the one praying. “Perfect faith has always in its keeping what perfect prayer asks for.”
  • Trust.  “Trust sees God doing things here and now.” Trust believes God can do anything—but such assurance rests first and foremost on who God is, and on the relationship between the one praying and God—one of intimacy and being mutually known. This is not an intellectual exercise nor is it based on head knowledge; rather, such trust comes from the heart—from a strong feeling that God does bless. Trust counts on God’s willingness and ability to answer what is being prayed for—and there is no backup plan in the mind of the trust-filled prayer.
  • Desire/Fervency. Desire and fervency in prayer is not a mere wish, “it is a deep seated craving; an intense longing, for attainment.” I’ve searched the Bible for one example of answered passionless prayer … I could not find one. When people prayed, they prayed with intensity. “A lack of [zeal] in prayer, is a sure sign of a lack of depth and of intensity of desire; and the absence of desire is sure sign of God’s absence from the heart! … Two things are intolerable to [God]—insincerity and lukewarmness [See Revelation 3:14-22].” The issue Jesus had with the Laodiceans is that they did not need God, they lacked passion and zeal for God, their comfort made them complacent. I wonder, are we more like Paul and the Apostles, or more like the Laodiceans? How desperately do you long for God in your prayers?

In my next post, I will complete the characteristics on prayer and provide an example of such prayer.

Challenge: Apply faith, trust, and desire to your prayer life. If you are lacking in any of the three, ask God to fill you—He provides abundantly to all who ask and to those whose lives are devoted to Him.

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To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me?… This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ ~ Jeremiah 6:10, 16

I love the prophets! I suppose someone has to because it’s not as if they are always the bearers of good tidings. God makes His prophets aware of the spiritual and moral decay of their culture and of God’s people. A prophet’s passion and zeal can be irritating and wearisome to others, especially to those convicted by the prophet’s message. Jeremiah was one of those prophets whose message was dismissed and ignored by an adulterous, immoral, and rebellious people. Jeremiah’s unceasing rants about God’s ways contradicted the ways that they wanted to do life. Over the generations that have followed, many Jeremiahs have come and gone proclaiming a similar message. So, what’s our excuse for not listening?

Sports stars, political figures, Hollywood entertainers, musicians—anyone who has TV, radio, or Internet is undoubtedly well-versed in the lives of many such figures. I don’t think I’m way off in saying that the majority of these spotlight performers do not have an intimate walk with our Lord Jesus Christ, and yet Christians know them, and know them well. In fact, we make it a point to know about their lives over and above the godly voices of yesterday. Compare how well you know todays “stars” over the likes of the apostle Paul, or St. Augustine, or Teresa of Avila, or John Wesley, or E.M. Bounds, or A.W. Tozer. This should not be! What makes matters worse, we choose to allow our minds and lives to be consumed with our culturally popular influences—and our lifestyles mirror theirs.

The prophet Jeremiah tried to warn a morally declining culture of God’s displeasure with their adaptation to immoral, unholy cultural practices and lifestyles. The people would not listen. They believed they conformed the Almighty God to their pursuits, and it didn’t matter how they lived because God was on their side—they were chosen, after all. Repeatedly throughout the Bible God commands His people to remember the ways of those who have gone before them. How God was faithful. What He required of His people. To learn of His ways through the chosen saints who had gone before them. But the people would not forsake their adulterous ways and walk God’s path. And so, they were exiled.

Fellow disciples, we are coasting down the same path as the disobedient Israelites. Only, the punishment we incur based on the choices we make will be an exile in Hell for eternity. Why do we risk it? I’ve been reading and studying the spiritual saints of 50-plus years ago and I’m dispirited over how lax Christianity has become, and we deem this acceptable. How can we continue to justify and be satisfied with complacency and being “lukewarm?” (See Revelation 3:14-22) How much and how long are we willing to tolerate and even engage in sinful lifestyles while still claiming to follow Christ? Such a claim is a cultural one, not a spiritual one.

The Holy Spirit will not contradict Himself. If the Holy Spirit dwells inside of a believer, sin will bother him/her. It will bother them so much that, like Jeremiah and the other prophets, they will not be able to keep silent about it. Tolerance of sin will become unacceptable. That which bothers God will bother the true disciple of Jesus Christ!

A true disciple chooses the person they want to be like, and they study that person with wholehearted devotion and abandon. Notice how Joshua studied Moses—he was with him 24/7, learning his ways. Consider how the 12 apostles studied Jesus—they were with him 24/7, learning his ways. Timothy studied under Paul to become a biblical great. All throughout history, the spiritual greats in contemporary times have studied the saints of the previous generations—those whose lives were captured, surrendered, and wholeheartedly devoted to God. This discipleship process is desperately needed. We’ve become disciples of our own wants and desires, of ourselves. We believe we know a right way based on how it feels, how well it entertains us, or how much money it can earn us, or how happy it will make us, or how safe it’ll keep us. We mirror the culture that consumes us with its ever-present influences via media and lifestyles.

I’ve been studying the multiple works of A.W. Tozer (who was said to have written The Pursuit of God on his knees) and E.M. Bounds (The Necessity of Prayer). These men, and a variety of other saints like them, were men of prayer. It’s been said that they spent, not a few minutes throughout the day, but hours devoted to quiet time of prayer, biblical reflection, and communion with God. I’m curious as to how to much time the average Christian spends in such communion with God? We will always, always, make time for what is most important to us. If we are truly surrendered and abandoned to God, hours each day with God will be what we crave. Nothing will be more important than giving our Savior our undivided attention in holy communion with Him.

As I continue to study and be discipled by the Holy Spirit and by the saints of previous generations, I’m going to develop my writings around their ideas and insights, and how these could be implemented in contemporary times. God worked powerfully in their lives, and I’ve witnessed their life’s work account for little. I aim to do my part in continuing the Spirit-filled work of those who’ve gone before us. My next post will be on prayer—could there be a prayer that God refuses to hear?

Challenge: Pray and ask God to reveal a saint of over 50 years ago for you to study in depth. Read their writings, their biography, learn of their devotion to God and then, mirror their life so that you can be a similar example to the next generation.