I’ve been prompted to write this email to share my thoughts on prayer. It is something that I have been thinking about partly because of Alpha and the things we shared and discussed on after listening to Nicky. And I feel prompted to share my thoughts.
Perhaps there is one of you in the email list that might benefit from my own clumsy reflections, or perhaps I am the one who needs to write it all out so that I have a better understanding of my own thoughts. Or perhaps there is a misunderstanding in my thoughts that God thought you could help to reveal. Either way, bear with me. And if I am mistaken on anything, do help to clarify so that my own muddled thoughts do not lead others astray.
I have three main points:
1) God answering our prayers may not always be a good thing
2) We pray by seeking God’s Will
3) Surrender is not the same as Sanctification
(1) God answering our prayers may not always be a good thing
Two weeks ago during IDMC and just this morning during service at BBTC, the story of Balaam (Numbers 22) was discussed in the context of how God allowed (v. 20) Balaam to do what Balaam wanted even though it was contrary to what God wanted. Today’s speaker also brought up other examples where God fulfilled the requests of people even though it was not part of His plan. The example that I remember was how Israel asked for a king (1 Samuel 8) even though the Lord (through Samuel) explicitly told the people that such a king would be bad for them.
Also, Psalm 106:15.
I think this is a very important lesson for us. When we pray and God gives us what we want, we sometimes assume that God giving us what we want means that he is pleased with what we prayed for. The examples above indicate that this may not be the case.
We may sometimes think that if something is not God’s will then surely He will not give it to us and so we pray for whatever we want, reasoning that it is up to God to make the decision whether to grant it to us (if it is good) or not (if it is not). Nicky himself mentioned (in the video) that having the wrong motives would keep our prayers from being effective. Again the examples show that God sometimes grants the request even though the motives are wrong, and therefore, we, too, have responsibility to bear when we decide what to ask of our Heavenly Father.
(2) We pray by seeking God’s Will
First, I thought I’d like to clarify that these examples should not keep us from bringing our heartfelt pleas before our Heavenly Father. He is our loving Father, and Psalms in particular lists the many times when the psalmist cried out to God. However, we should examine our motives, not because we are afraid that our prayers may not be fulfilled (as Nicky mentioned), but PRECISELY BECAUSE God may allow them to come true anyway, to our own grief. Let us be clear here. God is not sadistically allowing us to suffer. But His allowance for us to choose is clear from the very start and so we have to take responsibility for the choices we make, even the prayers that we choose to pray for.
In both cases, we note that God had already made His will clear to both Balaam (v. 12) and the people of Israel (v. 11-18). In their stubbornness, they have decided to ignore God. Balaam did so less explicitly, choosing to repeat his request to God even though God had already previously clearly made His will known to Balaam. This is something that speaks to me. I wonder how many of us, in our spiritual immaturity, may have asked God for a sign to aid us in our decisions, and when God provides one, either through the Word, or through a man/woman of God, we ask God for another one because we are reluctant to take the choice that God has shown to us. In essence, we deny God.
I think in prayer, as in all we do, we need to be careful to examine our motives and ensure that what we ask for is for God’s glory and not our own. That we pray as Jesus taught. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” Even when we are afraid of where that might take us, and what is to come on the road that God has pointed us to. “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The fear is that the idols in our time and in this world are sometimes very … subtle. Anger. Pride. Idleness. Money. Success. Power. Peace. Freedom. Independence. In of themselves, we sometimes find it difficult to see how some of these things can be … bad. But all things are idols if they become bigger than God in our lives.
And when we choose to chase those idols (sometimes in our prayers) instead of the path that God has lighted for us. Then I think we are resisting the Holy Spirit and we grieve the Holy Spirit.
How then should we pray? Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Spirit will intercede on our behalf. But we must also be aware that the context of the passage is for believers who are seeking God’s will. In fact, v. 27 makes this very clear, “in accordance with the Will of God.” If I paraphrase these two verses in my own understanding, when we seek God’s will, we may not always know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit, knowing our intent (to seek God’s Will), will intercede for us.
So the overwhelming lesson here is that even in prayer, not my will Lord, but yours. As the lyrics of the song remind us, it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus.
(3) Surrender is not the same as Sanctification
I have one final thought. In seeking God’s will, we sometimes find ourselves trapped in a corner. “I want things my way, but if I don’t do it this other way, others think poorly of me and I am not a good Christian. So even though I don’t really want to do it God’s way, I surrender. I give up.”
I don’t think that this is what God wants. When Jesus prays “Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done.” It is not a place of giving up since there is no way I can oppose God anyway. It is a place of worship and trust that God’s Will is best. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that “Father if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Yet not my will but yours be done.” It is not a place of giving up because God will make His plans come to fruition no matter our choices, but a conscious choice to PREFER God’s will in our lives. Even though He knew it would hurt. For us, even though we may not see why God preferred to do things a certain way. We prefer His will out of faith, out of trust that this Heavenly Father who loves us will work all things for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) Even though we may not clearly see at that point how that particular decision can be good.