Archives For Prayer

This is a simple thought, but today it’s striking me as important.

Yesterday I went to the beach with my family after church. We packed up our beach gear, packed up our dinner, and headed out. We had an amazing afternoon with the girls—relaxing, playing in the waves, turning the girls into sand-mermaids, the usual.

When it came time to eat our packed dinner, we paused to pray. My wife prayed for us, and then Claire, my youngest (3), asked if she could pray. Without closing her eyes, she started talking to God. She started close at hand.

“Thank you for the sand. Thank you for my crocs. Thank you for my water bottle.”

Then she ventured out.

“Thank you for my towel. Thank you for our food. Thank you for my shovel.”

Pretty soon she was almost running around our encampment.

“Thank you for my sister. Thank you for the water.”

She said many other things, but we couldn’t hear. She was caught up in her on-the-go prayer. She kept her eyes open, she took in what was around her, and she thanked God for every bit of it.

Running for the Ocean

Obviously, it was super cute. But then the blogger in me began to see the spiritual lesson. What if we spent our days this way?

For starters, what if we kept our eyes open? We look at everything around us every day, but we don’t really see much of it. It’s amazing what you can see when you really begin to look around.

And what if our waking moments were prayers?

Thank you for my computer. Thank you for the ability to communicate. Thank you for my health at this moment.

What if prayer was less of a scheduled event and more of an ongoing frenzied thank-you card as we ran through our schedules?

Thank you for my family. Thank you for my car. Thank you for employment. Thank you for my church family.

Our lives are filled with God’s gifts. We’re so busy using these gifts, so busy ignoring them, so busy taking them for granted. What if we thanked him repeatedly? With eyes wide open. With a sense of ongoing wonder. With an ingrained sense of gratitude that sees the beauty of the Giver in every big and small gift with which he surrounds us at every moment.

Honestly, what if?

Generally speaking, we’re pretty horrible at praying for people. We’re quick to say, “I’ll be praying for you,” but we’re often terrible at the follow through.

I’m not inclined to say that people don’t pray just because they don’t care. Certainly there is some truth to that, and if you find that you don’t care enough about the people around you to pray for them, then that needs to change. There’s no excuse for not loving people. But speaking personally, I often forget to pray for people that I love. There is no good excuse for this, but I get busy, I get distracted, I get too many prayer requests, etc.

Having said all that, however, we all need to get better at praying. It’s essential. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and move on. There are many ways to approach this, many essential passages to read, and some great books to put this in perspective. But I want to introduce you to a simple tool that I’ve found extremely helpful.

Echo Prayer 3It’s an app that’s been developed by a couple of my friends (who also developed this amazing product) that reminds you to pray. The app is called Echo Prayer, and it’s free. The guys, Ben and Jim of Clover Sites, started Echo Prayer as a web based prayer management service in 2006, and now they’ve taken it to the next level with this app.

What Echo does for your prayer life is remove the excuses and overcome your forgetfulness. Simply enter your prayer requests and tell Echo when and how often to remind you to pray. If you find it helpful, you can set yourself a timer so that you can stop and pray for 10 minutes. You can also mark prayers as answered, or have Echo choose from your prayer requests and give you random reminders at key times.

Ben and Jim have plans to continue developing the Echo app, adding extra features, such as the ability to share prayer requests with your church or small group.

I’ve found this app extremely helpful, and I’m sharing it because you might find it helpful as well. It’s at least worth a shot (it’s free, remember). Even when my prayer reminders have popped up at inconvenient times, I’ve still been able to stop for a few moments and pray briefly—a huge improvement over carrying on with my day with no thought for God or the needs around me.

So go ahead, give it a shot. See if this helps.

 

 

When Prayer Is an Abomination

Mark Beuving —  September 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Don't PrayThroughout the Bible, prayer is a good thing. Obviously. Biblical characters pray in tight situations, they pray for one another, and the Bible frequently commands us to pray. Prayer is powerful and effective, we are told. Prayer is one of those things that Christians know they ought to do regularly, and it’s one of the first religious activities that the non-religious take to when they start feeling religious.

But believe it or not, the Bible has some negative things to say about prayer. In fact, prayer is even described as an abomination in Proverbs:

“If anyone turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)

That’s a crazy verse. An abomination is something that God hates. Detests. So if God so clearly wants us to pray, then how could our prayers be an abomination to the Lord?

The proverb is clear: if you stop listening to God’s law, then your prayers make him sick. I know. It’s pretty crazy. But put it in perspective.

Here you are, day after day, decision after decision, disregarding everything God tells you to do. He tells you to do these things not because he’s cruel and taxing, but because he knows how we function best in this world. He’s a loving father. So he tells you not to hate one another. And what do you do? You hate. He tells you to care for the disadvantaged. So you accumulate wealth. He tells you to seek righteousness, so you pursue pleasure.

And then the day comes that life gets too big for you to handle. Everything’s falling apart. So you ask God to bless you in your godless pursuits.

What does God say to this person? Even his prayer is an abomination. He doesn’t listen to God’s law, should God be giddy with excitement when he suddenly asks God to give him a bigger house?

Of course, the takeaway should not be that we stop praying, but rather that we start listening to God’s commands.

On top of that, we need to resist the urge to take this as an affirmation that we need to clean up our act before we can come to God. Because we can’t clean up our act. Coming to God is the only way to get cleaned up. As powerful as this proverbial warning against living a godless life while simultaneously invoking God’s blessing is, we can’t forget the truth of 1 John 1:9:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Proverbs warns us against habitual godlessness. This person is not a struggling saint trying desperately to obey but falling short. This person “turns away his ear from hearing the law.” He doesn’t care. He wants nothing to do with what the law says.

So if you find yourself identifying with this person—if you’re able to list a handful of commands that you’ve never made any effort to heed—then be careful about your prayers. At times like that, there are many prayers you could pray that God would absolutely abhor. But the prayer of 1 John 1:9 is always there, and that is a prayer that God always loves to hear.

 

Dzhokhar TsarnaevLast week we followed the horrifying news of a terrorist-style bombing, the murder of a police officer, a manhunt, intense shootouts, and finally the death of one suspect and capture of the other. As all of this unfolded, probably the last thing most of us thought to do was pray for these suspects.

Yet that’s exactly what we should have been doing, and with one suspect still alive, that is what we should be doing still. Here are three reasons we should pray for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

 

#1 – Jesus Commands Us To Love & Pray for Our Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43–48)

Maybe you read that and think, “Okay, fine. I will love and pray for my enemies. But this guy is a terrorist. He committed one of the worst crimes of our time. Surely Jesus didn’t mean him.” But Tsarnaev is exactly the kind of person Jesus had in mind. Jesus says that everyone loves their own friends, but he calls us to love people who would ordinarily be hated. Enemies.

So Tsarnaev’s unbelievable deeds only serve to cement his status as the kind of person Jesus was talking about: a hated enemy. This kind of person, Jesus says, we are to love and pray for.

 

#2 – God Loves Wicked People

The reason Jesus gives for loving and praying for our neighbors is startling. We should do this “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” God, he says, sends his sunshine upon everyone, and dispenses his rain to all of his creatures. So why should we respond in love to such a heartless killer? Because that’s how you reflect your Father. After all, he is the one who sacrificed his own life to show his love for hardened sinners like us (Rom. 5:8).

“As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezekiel 33:11)

 

#3 – We Shouldn’t Underestimate the Wrath of God

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil…never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17, 19–21)

Paul’s words here echo those of Jesus in Matthew 5. When evil rears its head—and last week it did to a disturbing degree—we don’t overcome it through violence, vengeance, or any other form of inflicting harm. We overcome it with good.

Paul’s statement in verse 19 is intriguing: “leave it to the wrath of God,” or “leave room for the wrath of God.” In situations like this, we want blood. We want to see Tsaraev punished for his crimes. And this cry for justice is right. We need to be careful not to minimize the pain of the victims, nor to simply brush aside the atrocities under a banner of cheaply-defined forgiveness. But when we think that a humanly- inflicted punishment will satisfy justice, we are actually trivializing the evil deeds and—even more seriously—we are underestimating God’s wrath. Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

So Paul tells us to do good to those who do evil to us. To bless those who persecute us. God promises to repay the evildoers; our job is to show them love. God has indeed placed human authorities on earth to handle such matters (see Romans 13). And our government will respond as it sees fit. But as for the church, our call is to be on our knees. After all, God is in the business of loving and even saving sinners—even the worst of them:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15

“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).

“If we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:15).

If you pray for something, you’ll get it. Isn’t that what these verses are telling us? Well, we all know that it doesn’t work like this in real life. We have all prayed for things and then not received what we were asking for. So either these verses are wrong, or we are wrong to interpret them as blank checks from God to be filled however we desire.

God makes clear that there are some types of prayer that won’t be answered. On the one hand, James tells us: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (4:2). So there are some things that we don’t have simply because we have to ask for them first. But in the next verse he goes on to say: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (v. 3). So it is possible for us to ask for the wrong things or with the wrong motives, and in those situations God will not grant what we ask for.

Even 1 John 5:15 does not appear to be a blank check when we take it in context. The preceding verse says: “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” So it’s not the asking itself that guarantees a favorable response, it’s asking according to God’s will. We should also keep in mind that sin in our lives can hinder our prayers (see 1 Peter 3:7).

All that this means is that God is not a genie. And prayer is not a formulaic transaction. It’s a relationship.

But what about those times when we ask for something good and it goes unanswered? What about the times when we pray that our cancer-ridden Christian friend who spends her life witnessing to Jesus will be healed so she can keep ministering? What about the prayers we make on her behalf that go unanswered? What do we do when that godly woman dies and our godly prayers go unanswered?

The theological answer is that God’s will is still being done. He has a good purpose even for evil events. Joseph knew his brothers betrayed and sold him with evil intent, but he acknowledged that God meant those circumstances for good (Gen. 50:20). Peter knew that the most evil event in history—the corrupt conspiracy against and murder of the only innocent Person ever—was carried out with evil intent by evil people but still fell under the plan and purpose of God (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). So we have to acknowledge that sometimes God’s will includes evil things, and we need to be okay with God choosing to forego our good requests for the greater good that only he can see.

But the theological answer is not always easy to swallow, particularly when we or the people we love are going through intense suffering and God appears to be turning a deaf ear. In those cases, people don’t necessarily need to be convinced of a theological truth. They need to feel loved. They need us to mourn with them (Rom. 12:15). They need to know that evil deeply grieves God as well, and that he is at work in our world to heal that which is broken, to destroy that which is evil. They need to be reminded that the day is swiftly approaching in which sin will be no more, when every tear will be wiped away and justice will be perfectly fulfilled (see Rev. 21–22).

Unanswered prayer will only be a roadblock to faith if we assume that prayer is a blank check designed to make us happy in every moment. Prayer is powerful and effective, and God is constantly accomplishing mighty things through the prayers of his people. We will not always see the direct effect of those prayers, nor will we always receive the things we ask for. But if we trust that our God is good and that our God is powerful, then we can enjoy the fellowship of prayer. We can delight in the reality that God calls us to know him and to be involved in his workings in our world through prayer. And we can lean on him when things aren’t going the way we think they should.

I will end with the same passage that I closed with last week. It is so essential to know we are not always going to know what to pray for and to be okay with that. The Spirit himself is praying for us, and he knows what to pray for. God is on your side, and if all you can muster is a prayer of uncertainty and a request to God to guide you as he sees best, then you’re on the right track:

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:26-28)