Sometimes, especially in a crisis, we don’t know what to say or do. At other times, when we’ve tried all we know and things still aren’t going the way we expected, we’re at a loss to even know what to think! That’s when we need to learn to be quiet. To remember what we’ve been taught about God’s character, to reflect on Jesus’ example and teaching; to do what we know to do and then – for the moment – leave the rest totally up to God. Let his Spirit speak for and to you. There’s no need to panic and beg, to “babble” like an unbeliever. (Matthew 6:7) Just “Be still…and know God.” Psalm 46:10 Notice what this doesn’t entail though. It’s not sitting down in tears, feeling nothing but despair; rather it’s clearing our minds of fear and doubt while concentrating on God’s word and will.
Which brings us to a specific promise concerning prayer. “…I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19 That promise, however, comes with a few qualifiers. “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:13,14And, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:7 Which sounds almost too good to be true, so what’s the catch?
No partial reading of scripture will do. That will just disappoint and get us in trouble. To truly understand a principle you need to read all the scripture pertaining to it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,… But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord,…” James 1:5-8 Yet asking without doubt is hard. Especially when we’ve seen people pray for things that would appear to be for the common good or something they desperately wanted and genuinely needed and didn’t get. Why? Scripture explaining, “You want something but don’t get it… You do not have because you do not ask God. (And) When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (or ask selfishly) James 4:2,3
That may seem harsh to some but the truth is, most of our requests are based on our own perceived needs. To please, satisfy and gratify ourselves or those closest to us; at times even attempting to gain notoriety as a result of our public expressions of prayer. (Matthew 6:5,6) Our requests and thanksgiving should be balanced, our attempts at understanding and desire to please be at least as great as our demand for understanding and desire to be pleased. And we must always be ready and willing to submit ourselves to God’s will – even when we don’t understand it. John explaining that, “…we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:22 And, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14 (The hardest thing to understand – or accept – is that sometimes His will and ours don’t coincide.) But what if you’re not sure what God’s will is? Studying his word and following Jesus’ example is the place to start. Often it’s just a matter of taking a step of faith. Doing – right now – what we know to do and leaving the rest up to God. That’s not easy, but it is the way of the cross.
At times we get frustrated because of the way God answers. It would appear that he answers in three ways. Yes – No – and wait; two of which we always have problems with. Sometimes what we take for a no is really yes – in a little while. That takes a discerning faith that’s developed over time; so don’t become discouraged and quit. We must remember that prayer is an active discipline. We must ask – to be given; seek – to find; knock – before the door is opened. (Matthew 7:7,8) We must be persistent, which demonstrates serious intent and helps us focus on those people and things we believe need help or changed. (Making us more apt to respond as part of the change) Luke 18:1-8 citing as an example a stubborn, persistent woman seeking justice from a less than considerate judge. She repeatedly petitioned him, even in the face of several refusals to rule in her favor until in exasperation he granted her wish. I don’t believe an arbitrary, inconsiderate judge is analogous of God – but the persistence of the woman is where the lesson lies. Even as she waited in apparent defeat, she kept looking for justice; refocusing and presenting her case until her request was granted.
Sometimes we are quick to ask, with little forethought about who else will be impacted or even how completely we will be affected. Will – or should – God grant those requests? No. He loves us and intends for all things to work for our good (Romans 8:28), sometimes in spite of us. He wants the best for us even when we don’t know what that is. (Matthew 7:9-11)
Beyond that, He knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8), and searches our hearts to know why we ask it. (Romans 8:27) His response often depends on the demeanor we exhibit in the asking and in the way we react to petitions not immediately granted; while much of our happiness and success depends on the responses we make to life’s difficulties and challenges – a Christ-like perspective changing problems into opportunities.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evil doers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector…’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14
Let us go to God with confident humility. (Hebrews 4:16) As a child who knows his father can and often will grant his request but doesn’t have to. Let us go to him with thanksgiving, knowing he wants to continually bless us as we become a blessing to others. Let us go to him in obedience, awe-struck that he chooses to partner with us for our own good and for the betterment of those around us. Let us go interceding on behalf of others, knowing that is the essence of ministry. Let us go seeking his will, knowing if we place ourselves in it – everything else will be as it should.
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