Wednesday, December 18, 2013

TTF Piece 6: The Importance of Prayer

(This TTF series starts with the post "Through the Furnace (TTF): Intro 1.")


            If we do not see the immense value of prayer, it could be because of misconceptions we have about what it is.  (Or it could be because we are preoccupied with self and being self-sufficient.)   

            So, I want to take a moment to review some misconceptions that many of us have about prayer.  (Many of these I looked at in the “Understanding God’s Will” series.)  I believe that, in general, we see prayer very differently from the way God sees it. 

            We want it to be a “magic button” that we can push to get what we want; whereas, God wants us to pray so that we can remain close to Him and accomplish what He wants.

            We want prayer to be there when we need it; God wants us to pray because we need Him. 

            We want to be comfortable and not have to spend too much time in prayer or get up too early; God wants prayer-warriors. 

            We want the easy road; God wants people who can boldly storm the gates of hell.

            We want to build the greatest entertainment center in the world; God wants us to build His kingdom. 

 

            In Judges 3:1-2, God reveals that He put His people in battle simply for the military training that it would provide and, according to verse 4, to test their obedience.  This was a generation that was “soft.”  They hadn’t learned the disciplines and skills that come with being in battle and with obeying wholeheartedly.  And so He puts them into one just for training.  He wants strong warriors. 

            I believe that it is the same with prayer.  Too many of us are “soft” in the discipline of prayer.  We don’t know how because we don’t practice it.  We don’t see the power in it because we don’t see the purpose of it.  And when the silence comes or we don’t get the answer we want, we think that God doesn’t care about us.  And so we give up on Him, or we question our faith and our worth. 

            But I think that the times of struggle are His “training ground.”  The more that we struggle with our questions about prayer, the more we grow in knowledge about it.  The more knowledge we gain, the more we believe in it.  The more we believe in it, the more we do it.  And the more we do it, the more we impact His kingdom and the spiritual world. 

            Once we realize the incredible power in prayer and the necessity of it to remain close to God and to get His Will done, we can’t be flippant about it anymore.  To do that means that we are choosing to be ineffective Christians with distance between our hearts and God.  I think if Satan can keep us convinced that there is no real need for or power in prayer, that our thoughts are good enough, and that God will do what He wants to do anyway, he can keep us ineffectual and weak.  And he loves it when there’s distance between us and God, because it makes us worry and try to do things ourselves instead of praying to God and trusting Him to handle our concerns. 

            But once we begin to take our responsibility to pray seriously, we will see God’s power move on this earth and in the spirit realm in a way we never have before.  Our goal should not be to make our nice, little life more comfortable.  It should be to fight for God’s kingdom and righteousness, to make a difference for all of eternity.  We should be living in such a way that when Satan sees us on our knees, he says, “Oh, no!  Not them again!”  So let’s see if we can find anything that prevents that from happening, anything that makes us soft, non-threatening prayer-worriers.  

 

            Misconception Number 1:  Prayer has to be “just right” or God won’t like it.  And that makes me freeze up because I don’t know what to say. 

            I have to say honestly that I used to believe this.  It wasn’t so much a spelled-out, conscious thought.  But it was there in the back of mind, and it caused me to edit my prayers or to word them in pleasing, faithful-sounding ways. 

            I felt like there were so many things that Christians were supposed to be - faithful, joyful, trusting, not envious, not complaining, not doubtful, etc. - that I couldn’t just be honest about what I was feeling and thinking.  I didn’t realize that I could admit to confusion and doubts and fears.  That wouldn’t sound very Christianly.  So as I would start to pray, if I was going to say something that sounded displeasing or doubtful or angry, I would alter the words and try to make it sound so proper and righteous and polished.  I wanted to be pleasing to God. 

            And there is nothing wrong with being pleasing . . . when it comes from a relationship with Him that is based on His love.  Because when we have reached the point where we have let His love completely into our hearts and lives - when we have torn down any walls that keep Him distant from us - then we will be so consumed by and accepting of His love for us that we will want nothing more than for our lives to be a pleasing sacrifice for Him and His glory.  And that is great! 

            But for many of us, we haven’t gotten to that point yet.  We know of His love, but we haven’t yet let it fill us and heal us.  We haven’t yet let ourselves accept it because of past hurts and fears and doubts.  And when we are living in this state, we are living not out of God’s love but out of our fears.  We fear not being worthy, not being good enough, being a burden to Him, and being abandoned by Him because of our shortcomings.  And so we live our lives trying to earn His love and trying to earn our place with Him.  And we can’t possibly believe that God wants us to be completely honest and transparent with Him, even in our prayers, when there is so much “ugliness” inside.  And so we work really hard to polish ourselves up, while hiding our real selves. 

            Well, after living this way for decades, I have come to the opposite conclusion.  God doesn’t want us to be pleasing if it means that we are being less than honest.  Anything less than all-out, ugly honesty is deception.  And deception breeds distance between Him and us.  And if there’s one thing that Jesus died for, it’s closeness.  The chance to draw near to God again.  And honesty brings closeness.  Besides, we are not impressing God anyway with our attempts to be righteous and pleasing when it means that we are hiding what’s really inside of us and walling off a part of our hearts from Him.

            And so I learned that I needed to pray differently.  Instead of hiding my fears and doubts, I confessed them.  If I was angry or hurt because of God’s silence, I admitted it to Him.  If I felt like I didn’t have any strength or hope to keep me going anymore, I poured that out to Him.  If I was afraid of the future and all the ways that I could make a mistake and if I was discouraged with current circumstances, I confessed it all to Him.

            And the walls started to come down.  Because the truth sets you free. 

            I wasn’t concerned anymore with keeping up a strong front, I just wanted to be close to Him.  I wanted to be able to be honest with Him and to know that He would still accept me and comfort me and help me through.  And I could tell that by doing this, I was opening up parts of my heart that I had kept hidden and protected for so long. 

            Can you doubt and be angry and still be a Christian?  Absolutely.  Just talk to God about it.  The way I see it, having doubts or being angry is not sin.  The Word tells us that when we are angry, we are not to sin in our anger.  It doesn’t tell us “don’t be angry.”  Anger is a feeling, and sometimes it’s very justifiable and righteous.  But it’s what we do with it or because of it that makes it sin or not.

            And I think it’s this way with doubt also.  We will all have doubts from time to time.  Sometimes they will be stronger and sometimes they will be more hidden.  But there will always be doubt.  Not necessarily doubt about God’s existence (although that may pop up from time to time), but doubts or concerns about the way He moves and works, doubts about if He is listening or if He cares, doubts about our understanding of the Bible, prayer, faith, and ourselves.

            And while there may be those who will disagree with me, I don’t think that it is a sin to have doubts.  Doubts are just things we are confused about.  They are unanswered questions.  They are concerns.  We find them behind our pain and fears and in the holes in our hearts.  But it’s not about having doubts; it’s about what we do with them.  Do we let them drive us to the Lord or away from Him?  This is what determines if doubts are destructive or constructive. 

            And doubts can be very constructive if we let them push us closer to God.  They can be great builders of our faith if we let them drive us to prayer and the Word and answers, instead of wallowing in them or giving up on God or taking a step backward. 

            As Jesus told “Doubting Thomas” in John 20:27, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Jesus used Thomas’s doubts to draw him closer to Himself, basically saying, “You’ve doubted and sought answers.  And now that I have given them to you, believe!”  Do not hide doubts from God in shame.  Let them build up your relationship with Him, through greater honesty and a passionate pursuit of Him. 

            Complaining to others is griping, but “complaining” to God is prayer. 

            I put complaining in quotes because I don’t mean whining and blaming and accusing; I mean pouring out our hearts and crying out to Him.  Prayer needs to be honest, not “pleasing.”  Prayer doesn’t need to be polished or follow some formula; it needs to be about presenting to God whatever is in your heart and mind.  Doubts, fears, praise, confessions, and all.  This will bring God closer than any “righteous-sounding, self-sacrificial, martyr-like” prayer ever could.  When we cry out to Him, He hears us.

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

 

            Misconception Number 2:  God already knows all that we are going to say, so what is the point of saying it? 

            I think that a lot of us tend to look at prayer as just a mental exercise that we are supposed to go through because . . . well . . . because that’s what Christians do.  So we do it!  But somewhere deep down, it feels like a waste of time.  It feels like an unnecessary task because God already knows what we are thinking. 

            Deep down, we think things like, “Well, God knows what we need or He knows I’m sorry, so why do I have to say it?”  Or “He knows the choice that I have to make and so He’ll open the door when it’s time.  I don’t really have to pray about it.”  Or we tell someone that we’ll pray for them and then when we forget, we say, “Well, God knew what I was going to pray.”  And we comfort ourselves with that, feeling like it will all work out fine because God knows our thoughts.  And our thoughts are just as good as our prayers. 

            Or are they? 

            I challenge you to find one verse that says that God responded to “their thoughts.”  While God does hear them, our thoughts do not call Him into action.  It is our prayers that do.  And this is because we have a right to pray or not, to ask God’s help or not.  

            If we convince ourselves that God will hear and respond to our thoughts, we don’t take the time to really pray.  We go through the motions at mealtimes, “Lord, thank you for this, thank you for that, help us with this, provide us with that, thanks for this food.  Amen!”  And we feel good, like we’ve done our job for the day. 

            But we don’t really pray.  We don’t really get on our knees and humble ourselves before God.  We don’t run to Him first when something comes up.  He’s our back-up plan.  Just like our casual approach to Bible reading, we have a casual approach to prayer. 

            We offer half-hearted attempts before meals or while we are falling asleep, and we feel like we have honored God.  But we should not think that since God knows that we are thankful, we don’t have to express it in prayer.  And we cannot just sit back and think “God knows my needs” and think that He’ll meet them without being asked.  That is presumption.  It’s not prayer.

            Philippians 4:6:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”    

 

            Misconception Number 3:  God will just do what He’s going to do, right?  Prayer doesn’t really have an effect if God is all-powerful and does what’s best in every situation.  So then our prayers must just be formalities, for our own benefit, or just for showing our dependence on Him, right?   

            Yes, prayer is a way to acknowledge our dependence on God and to draw close to Him.  But it is so much more powerful and critical than that.  It gets God’s Will done on earth.  And God’s Will doesn’t get done without it.  This is just the way that He has ordered the earth to work.

            Here’s an eye-opening, humbling passage to consider:  In Ezekiel 22, the Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel and tells him all about the disgraceful, ungodly things that Jerusalem is guilty of doing.  And then in verses 30-31, we read this:

            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

            The people’s sin earned them serious consequences and punishment.  But God wanted to relent.  He wanted to be talked out of destroying them.  And He would have . . . if only.  If only He could have found at least one godly person who would “stand in the gap” for the people.  One godly person who lived rightly before Him and who sought to intercede by prayer for the people of the land.  

            God is saying, “I looked for a godly man who would appeal to My mercy - a man who would pray that I would spare the people, who would be an example to the people of how they should be living and lead them down a godly path.  I would have relented for one godly man, because I didn’t want to give them what they deserved.  But I found no one!  So I had to.  I had to destroy them because there was no one righteous enough to lead them down the right path, no one that called out to Me on behalf of the people, no one that called on My desire to be merciful and to relent.  And so I dealt with them in justness, instead of mercy.”

            That is so sobering to me.  God doesn’t just do whatever He wants.  He relies on us and our prayers to get His Will done.  He needs righteous people to stand in the gap for others.  This is why a sensitive heart is so important, why reading the Bible and spending quality time with Him is critical.  It’s how we find out what God expects from us, how He operates (as much as we can possible understand that), what His Will is, and how we can best live and pray to get that accomplished. 

            After I realized that God doesn’t just do whatever He wants to but that He waits for our prayers, I felt a much greater responsibility to do my part to seek the Lord, to remain connected through prayer and the Word, to learn to listen and obey, and to try to live righteously.  Because as the Bible says in James 5:16, the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  And I want my prayers to have impact for God’s glory, for His will, and for eternity.

 

            Misconception Number 4:  Prayer is sort of a name-it-and-claim-it thing, right?  Ask for what we want and get it? 

            I’ll admit, the “name it and claim it” mentality is very attractive.  And it sounds pretty Scriptural if you focus only on the verses that say, “Ask what you want and you’ll get it.”  But you have to take Scripture as a whole.  And when you do this, it becomes a much deeper, more complicated issue than just “ask and you get it.”  And it also becomes less about getting what we want - and more about getting what God wants. 

            I’ve noticed that a popular teaching out there is that because we are the children of the King, we should be living in royal abundance.  Yes, this is an attractive idea to us because we all want things: more things, better things, impressive things.  We don’t like to do without, to be in need, or to settle for less. 

            But this kind of teaching is off-base biblically, waaaayyyy off-base.  Because when you look at Scripture, you see that the purpose for everything is God’s glory, not our comfort or pleasure.  Even the Son’s purpose is to bring glory to the Father.       

            John 14:13:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”

            People who perpetuate this “abundance” notion say that we need to be living out of abundance, not poverty, because our Father’s resources are unlimited.  We should be clothed in fine clothes and have nice things because our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  And we should live like “children of the King” instead of paupers.

            Yet it’s funny that when Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, He told them, “Wear fancy, expensive clothes and jewelry and drive the most expensive camel you can find so that people will know that I am God and that I shower My children with many material blessings.”

            Wait … let me check that verse again … oops, sorry … it really says, “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.”  (Luke 9:3)   

            Yes, I do believe that God enjoys it when we enjoy His blessings.  And He likes to give good things to His children.  And, yes, I think it is a good thing to make sure that what we put in our homes are beautiful, quality things that we enjoy.  But when we are pursuing “things” so that we can impress others, feel secure, or “live it up” in this lifetime - instead of using what He gives us to bless others and glorify Him - we are on the wrong track.  We are living for ourselves. 

            I do believe that we should be living out of abundance - but not in the way that they teach.  I believe that we should be living out of abundance when it comes to living generously, to looking out for others, to tithing faithfully, and to obediently taking risks as God calls us to.  However, I do not think that it means that we should be seeking to satisfy our selfish desires for temporary things or that we should be focused on our own abundance.

            Focusing on our own enjoyment, appearance, abundance, and “stuff” is far different from living as a servant and focusing on God, His kingdom, and others.  And to go above our means (or use God’s blessings) for our own selfish benefit and then to expect God to pick up the tab is like being a spoiled, rich kid who goes out and gets whatever they desire because Daddy will pay for it. 

            And Daddy just wants me to be happy, right? 

            But this is not the same thing as living generously for the benefit of others and God’s kingdom, and then trusting that God will meet our needs.               

            And, sorry, but you can’t use the argument that being clothed in fine garments makes God look better when He clearly talks about how our beauty should not come from “outward adornment . . . the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.”  (1 Peter 3:3) 

            Yes, this verse is mainly speaking about a woman’s beauty, but I think it relates to how we should be reflecting God’s glory.  Not with outward adornments or with an abundance of fine things, but with a beautiful, godly inner spirit.  It’s one thing to take care of ourselves and to do our best to look presentable and respectable.  But it’s another to make our appearance and comfort one of our highest concerns.  It’s one thing to enjoy having quality things.  But it’s another to want quality things to impress other people or fill some hole in our hearts or lives.   

            We should be more concerned with the condition of our souls than we are with our outer appearance.  And we should be more concerned with other people’s souls than we are with our “stuff.”  How polished, fancy, and rich we look isn’t going to matter if people don’t see God’s glory reflected by how we live the fruit of the Spirit. 

            Our prayers are more in line with God’s Will when they are more about His glory, His kingdom, His righteousness, and the eternal benefit of other people than when they are about getting what we want or think we need to make us comfortable, pretty, fulfilled, and enviable in this lifetime. 

            Once again, it does please Him to see us happy and to give us things to enjoy.  He wants us to delight in Him, His creation, and His blessings.  We should find happiness in the things we do, such as playing games with our kids, gardening, decorating our houses, taking walks, etc.  But it is another thing to pursue happiness as an end in itself, to be so overly concerned with our own happiness that we fail to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness, generosity, contentment, and joy in the life that we have, trials and all. 

            In our society, we have perpetuated the notion that “God just wants us to be happy.”  But I don’t think this is biblical.  And good luck finding a verse that teaches that. 

            Yes, as I said, God likes to bless us, to see us enjoying His blessings and gifts.  After all, He tells His people many times in the Old Testament how He will bless them if they obey.  He wants to bless His children. 

            But the problem is that when we seek happiness over joy, we end up running after the things that we think will make us happy instead of finding joy in the things that God has given us or wants for us.  We end up focusing on ourselves instead of on God and others.  And we end up settling for temporary pleasures instead of storing up eternal treasures. 

            God wants us to be joyful, not pursue happiness.  And we can learn to be happy, as well as joyful, with whatever He gives us.  Happiness is a feeling based on our current circumstances, but joy is a state of mind that comes from living life firmly rooted in God no matter what our current circumstances are. 

            Happiness is like having calm waters and lots of food.  But joy is the ability to have a deep sense of stability and thankfulness and faith in God despite the stormy waves and famine. 

            God does not necessarily call us to either abundance or poverty.  He calls us to be joyful and faithful and generous in whatever circumstances we are in.  It’s not about what we have or don’t have; it’s about our attitudes.  It’s about how we use what God has given us. 

            Are we using it for ourselves or for God’s glory and the good of others?  Are we using it for the temporary happiness it gives us or are we using it to build eternity and His Kingdom?

            By all means, pray for blessings and financial stability - abundance, even – but remember that it’s about glorifying God in the here and now, with whatever you have.  If you have a lot, praise God and use it to be a blessing to others.  If you have a little, praise God and be faithful with it, blessing others with your attitude and your faithful handling of it.  

            We need to be less concerned about getting the things that make us “happy,” and more concerned with finding our identity in Christ.  Then no matter our circumstances, we can be joyful because we know Who we belong to and Who holds us up.      

            Prayer is not so much about getting things from God.  It’s about getting God.  It’s about getting a deeper, more authentic relationship with Him through our honesty and transparency, and it’s about focusing on what will bring Him glory and accomplish His eternal purposes.  

            When Jesus talks about wanting to give us a full, abundant life, He’s not necessarily talking about having an abundant life on the outside or in this world, which is temporary.  I think He’s talking more about having an abundant life on the inside and, consequently, in eternity. 

            And getting this abundant, inside, eternal life oftentimes means going through pain, unanswered prayer, silence, confusion, and a poverty of the spirit first.  Because this is what leads to pruning, conviction, adjustments, and the growth that produces humility and righteousness and a more pure faith which leads to that abundant life. 

            And this is quite different from what the “name it and claim it” teachers teach.  They don’t teach about the hardships that bring the deep, eternal lasting changes that lead to inner abundance.  They don’t teach about learning to be joyful and content with what you have or about praising God and being faithful in the pain and unanswered prayer.  They don’t teach about the eternal lessons and blessings that come from the painful trials and the “lack of…”.

            No, instead they teach that God wants to bless you with lots of possessions in this lifetime and that if you do the things He wants you to do then He will give them to you.  You can earn more possessions by how you act and pray and wait patiently. 

            But what about when God says ‘No”?  What about when the answers don’t come and the money doesn’t come and the healing doesn’t come?  What then?  What about when you lose your desperately-needed job or your home burns to the ground or the tornado sweeps away all your belongings or the illness drains your life and your life savings?  What do these trials say about your faith and how God views you and what kind of Christian you are?  Do they mean He is not happy with you because He hasn’t blessed you like you expected Him to, like the “prosperity” teachers taught?  God can’t possibly expect us to settle for less, can He?  Surely we must be doing something wrong as Christians if He has allowed trials into our lives, right?  Because good and faithful Christians always get what they want from Him, don’t they?

            No one wants to hear the message that God allows trials into our lives and that He expects us to learn to do without “necessary things” sometimes and that we are to learn to trust Him and praise Him and cling to Him even when we are in pain and when life doesn’t work out the way we thought it would.  No one wants to hear that the best blessings are invisible and eternal and they will be waiting for us in heaven when we die.

            No, we want to hear that God will give us all the good things now so that we can have an easy, happy, carefree life.  This is why the “prosperity gospel” is so popular and attractive.  It tells us what we want to hear, with “pastors” who are all shiny and polished, with slicked-back hair, expensive cars, fancy clothes, and large pinky rings.

            But I’d rather hear the gospel being preached from a ragged, disheveled, battle-scarred soul who has been through too many spiritual battles where they have had to wrestle deeply with their faith and with God and with discouragement, doubt, and fear … and consequently, they have been deeply wounded in their spirit and lost all sense of self-confidence and self-sufficiency and have found themselves lying on the ground at the feet of God in helplessness where they have learned humility and how to be fully dependent on the Lord and to live daily in His grace … and even though life has beaten them up so badly that they now walk with a limp in the spiritual lives, their faith has grown stronger for it because they have learned that nothing else will sustain them as Jesus does and nothing else holds more joy for them than the Lord and building His Kingdom and working for His glory. 

            I would trust a message about faith and faithfulness from someone like that much, much more than I would from a slick, shiny, fancy snake. 

            They can have their expensive, polished, impressive lifestyle.  I’ll take the trials and battle scars that come with building real faith in real life, the pain that helps you learn how helpless you really are and how much you really need the Lord, the struggles that help you learn to build up God’s Kingdom instead of your own and that teach you to work for eternal treasures instead of earthly ones that will all burn up in the end.

            [Of course, we don’t ask for the trials and the pain.  But having gone through enough of them myself and having had nearly all my expectations of life shattered, I have learned that we do need to expect the trials and pain and “no” answers and long waits.  We need to learn how to navigate through it all with the Lord’s help, to let it grow our faith instead of destroy it, and to let it teach us humility and proper dependence on Him.  And this is something that the prosperity teachers can’t teach us because they are too focused on teaching us how to get what you want from God now.  We spend our lives running from the painful trials, whereas the painful trials are how God tries to teach us to be what He wants us to be.]

            Prayer isn’t about getting the things that you think will make you happier or more impressive to others.  Prayer is about getting God’s Will done, about bringing Him glory and building His Kingdom, and about growing your relationship with Him.

            Even if we don’t get the things we asked for this side of eternity, prayer is a success if it draws us closer to God and creates a more proper, authentic relationship with Him.  If it humbles us before Him.  And if it helps us have a part in building His eternal kingdom and accomplishing His Will here on earth.  And any rewards that we didn’t get here mean they are in heaven waiting for us to enjoy for eternity.  Don’t trade your heavenly treasures for earthly pleasures.

            The closer we walk with Him, the less self-centered and temporal our prayers will be.  As we humble ourselves before God, we will be more concerned with His glory and His kingdom.  And we will be consumed with the truth that He is God and we are not.  And therefore, we will be able to trust His answers to our prayers.  Sometimes He may say “No,” and we will learn to draw near to Him in the pain and to glorify Him anyway.  (And we may come to see His wisdom for answering the way He did.  Or we may not - until eternity.)  Sometimes He will change our requests and desires, and we will be okay with that.  And sometimes He will say “Yes,” and we will learn to use it for Him and to give Him all the glory.  Because it’s all about Him, by Him, and for Him, regardless of what clothes we are wearing, house we live in, or car we drive.   

            I think that Jesus in Gethsemane is the ultimate picture of brokenness.  We pour out our true feelings in prayer and make our requests, but then in the end, we say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”  This is what a “child of the King” really looks like.

 

            Misconception Number 5:  Isn’t prayer just talking to God, as we were taught when we were young? 

            No.  Another important part of prayer is listening.  This, I believe, is a severely neglected skill - learning to hear the voice of God and the nudges of the Holy Spirit.  And this depends on our desire to hear, on whether or not we obey the nudges that we do get, and if we remain in Him and let His words remain in us.  This leads to powerful prayers. 

            And prayer is also about opening up our full lives and hearts to Him and to the Holy Spirit.  And this can only happen by honesty and transparency with ourselves and God.  If we close off any part of our hearts or lives from Him, we limit the influence and effect and healing that He can have in our lives.  We limit also our effectiveness.  Humility demands transparency.  Anything less is trying to pull the wool over God’s eyes.  And I think that if we are living this way, He may be forced to withdraw His presence from us until we see and admit the true conditions of our hearts and lives.  And prayer also, as I said, is about getting God’s Will done.

            So how do we “hear” God?  How does He speak to us?  There are a few ways that I know of, and there may be more.  But let me list some of the ways that I have experienced God’s messages:

            1.  First and foremost and most clearly, He speaks to us through His Word.  This is the measuring stick that we measure all other messages by.  And the more we read it and absorb it and take it to heart, the better equipped we are to discern falsehood from truth and our own thoughts from His.  And we will have a solid basis to evaluate any other messages by.  He will never instruct us to do anything that violates His revealed, written Truth.  (And I wonder at times if when we want to “hear” from God in dramatic, supernatural ways while neglecting His Word, He says instead, “Learn what I have already revealed in My Word, and then I’ll speak more to you.”)

            2.  Sometimes when we need a specific direction, He speaks through our circumstances or other people or through our conscience.  (Although, your “conscience” can be numbed by disobedience or a refusal to listen.  And we can easily convince ourselves that He is telling us whatever we want to hear.  So be careful and run all things past Scripture.) 

            3.  He definitely speaks through His creation and the natural world.  If we get out there more often, we will find a lot to reflect on, to praise Him for, to learn about, and to learn from. 

            4.  Sometimes, He speaks through other people, either through their wisdom or by giving a message to them for us.  And we need to be willing to listen to what others, especially godly people, say to us.  We should graciously listen and sift out the nuggets of truth and wisdom.  Especially if it’s coming from someone who cares about us and has our best interest at heart.

            5.  God also speaks through His slowness (as we call it).  It is during the times of waiting on Him that we struggle with what’s really inside of us, with how we see ourselves and how we see Him.  Usually, we are able to keep these things hidden as long as we are moving at a good speed through life.  But His slowness frustrates and confuses us.  It makes us feel out of control.  And we find ourselves face to face with things that we didn’t know we had to deal with.  Let the Holy Spirit use these times of waiting to speak to you.  (More on this later.)

            6.  I think that one way to know that God is speaking to us and leading us in a certain direction is by a sense of peace.  We just have a certain deep assurance about what He wants us to do, and any other option just isn’t right.  But it takes patience to wait for the conviction and the assurance.  And it is wise to check it against the Bible, in prayer, and possibly with godly counsel.  We should ask God to confirm if we are on the right track but to stop us if we are not.

            7.  God also occasionally speaks through dreams, times when we wake up and go, “Okay, now I think that dream really meant something.  It was so vivid and powerful.”  And it might be that it was a message from God to us.  Look at the Bible and see how many times God’s messages came to people in dreams.  If we have a powerful dream, we should spend some time reflecting on it and ask the Holy Spirit’s help for insight. 

            8.  I think that God does speak to our spiritual ears, too.  Not necessarily our physical ones as though someone was sitting next to us, but to our spiritual ones where it felt like someone said something to us in our heads.  For me, this has happened so rarely.  But when it has, I knew it was from Him.  And it’s usually been a quick, to-the-point sentence.  
            I was once contemplating the quality of my relationship with the Lord and any areas I may have been slack in, and I heard, “You don’t listen enough.”  And I knew that He meant that I spent lots of time telling Him all that I was concerned about and all that I wanted Him to do, but I wasn’t really putting a priority on listening to what He wanted to tell me.  This is a message I heard with my “spiritual ears.” 
            And to be honest, it didn’t sound like a deep, masculine voice or anything.  It really just sounded like my own thoughts.  But like thoughts that didn’t originate from me.  They simply popped out of nowhere.  And I was struck by the wording of them.  I was referred to as “you.”  I was being “talked to,” as opposed to just thinking about myself.  And I believed this was a time that God was speaking to my mind.
            [However, I think that it’s very easy to confuse “God’s voice” with our own thoughts.  And so we need to be careful to evaluate whatever we “hear” according to the Bible’s Truth.  And it would be wise to say, “I believe God told me . . .”, instead of “God said . . .”  It’s just a more cautious, correct way to speak about what we think God is telling us.  Because whenever we say, “God said . . .”, we are claiming that what we say or do is directly from God’s mouth or Will.  And we are basically putting ourselves above correction and questioning.  If anyone was to argue with us or doubt us, we’ve made it clear that they would essentially be coming up against God Himself. 
            I think that, yes, we ourselves can be sure of something that God told us.  But it is all-too-easy to use God’s Will and voice to justify something that we want to do or say on our own.  And history attests to this!  So it would be wise to word it as “I believe that God said . . .” when talking to other people.  That way, we remain humble, teachable, and approachable, in case another godly person believes that they need to question or challenge what we are claiming.  Just something to keep in mind.]  
            To be clear, I don’t really think that this is His main mode of communicating with us.  But when it does happen, you just know in the very depths of your spirit that it was God, and not your own thoughts.

            9.  I think that God sometimes speak to us not by actual words, but by a deep gut-feeling.  We don’t so much hear the words, but we understand the message by how we are feeling.  Along with hearing “It’s not too late” (the message that I knew the Spirit wanted me to tell the woman considering a divorce) was a “burning” in my being.  It was a deep, burning sensation that this was the Holy Spirit moving me (well, trying to move me) to say something.  I can totally understand what Jeremiah meant when he said, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”  (Jeremiah 20:9) 
            There was another time like this when I was at a church meeting, and I felt a burning need to stand up and say something very important about an issue that was dividing the church.  I felt driven by a force stronger than myself to stand up and be the only voice that would speak against what was going on.  It was like sitting in a parked car with the ignition on and the pedal to the ground - wheels spinning and burning up, just waiting for you to put it into drive. 
            In this instance, though, I sat there and did nothing.  At the time, I didn’t really understand that this was most likely the Holy Spirit pushing me to speak.  I thought that maybe it was my own thoughts and my own view of the situation.  But looking back now, I really believe that it was the Spirit and that I needed to say what I should have said.  Who knows how things may have turned out differently if I had stood up and spoke?  (I did, at the very least, send a letter to the Pastor with my thoughts.  It would’ve eaten me alive to share them with no one.)  These times, even though I failed to do what I should have done, helped me to pay more attention to how the Spirit speaks to me and nudges me.  I’m learning through my failures.   
            I’ve also felt compelled sometimes by an irresistible urge to say something out loud or to do something that seemed so insignificant or small at the time.  But after I said it, I could see the much-needed effect that it had on others.  And I think sometimes the Holy Spirit compels us to say or do something “small” because it really means something to someone else.  
            One such time, I was standing in line at Trader Joe’s when my young son began to sing the Veggie Tales theme song, barely audibly.  I can honestly say that he has never sung that song in the middle of any of our shopping trips, unless we were all singing it together because we were in the veggie aisle or something. 
            Well, I felt compelled to comment out loud about the song he was singing.  It was almost as if I had to point out that he was singing that particular song.  And as I did, I heard my voice getting louder as I spoke, like someone was meant to hear what I was saying.  (Though it made no sense to me.) 
            And I asked him, “Oh, is that the Veggie Tales song you’re singing?”  And I sang a line or two with him.  And then I smiled at the lady in front of me, an “aren’t kids cute” kind of smile.  And … no joke … the lady in front of me who looked so tired and worn down perked up and said, “I used to work for Veggie Tales.”  (Obviously meaning that she helped work on the production of the shows, not that she worked for a computer-generated cucumber and tomato.)  We exchanged a couple pleasantries, and then she left with a smile. 
            And I have to believe that I was driven to say what I did for her sake, that God would use that in her life and heart for some reason, if only just to send her some encouragement. 
            And I’ve had several times that something like this happened, where I felt myself saying something that just seemed to have some mysterious purpose or significance.  Only to find out that it’s just what someone else needed to hear or that it opened a door to a meaningful conversation or led to some help that I needed. 
            And so I think that God sometimes literally speaks to others through us, and we may not even be aware that He is compelling us to say certain things.  But I am hoping that I am learning to recognize that “burning or compelling” feeling, so that I might not fail to say what He wants me to say or do what He wants me to do.                

            10.  And sometimes, God speaks to us by a message that simply forms in our minds, thoughts that pull together and give us some important message or insight.  And you just get a sense that your thoughts are leading you somewhere important or have a valuable meaning.  We need to deliberately follow these bunny trails that the Holy Spirit takes us on.
            Because as we contemplate and let these thoughts develop, we get a message from God: messages about what He expects from us, convictions about sins, how we need to clean up our lives, how much He loves us, etc.  It’s not words or feelings, so much as God-directed thoughts.  I believe that God does speak to us this way, but we will only learn from them if we accept them, listen to them, and encourage them.  
            Sometimes, something will pop into my mind, something about myself that bothers me - a concern or doubt or question that I have or whatever.  And I will wonder if there is anything behind it, any importance to it or anything to be learned from it. 
            And so I will “follow the trail of thoughts,” asking the Holy Spirit to help direct my thoughts.  I’ll start with a concern or a question and I will follow it up with another question or thought, and see where it takes me.  It’s kinda like playing the role of my own counselor.  And it’s been very revealing. 
            As an example, here’s a conversation between myself and the Lord about the fears that I was wrestling with when waiting for God’s guidance about my son’s Baby Bottle Tooth Decay and about our fruitless house-hunting time.  I had asked the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts and give me answers as I explored my fears.  And here is where my thoughts led me:   
 

A.  Lord, I don’t know what to do.  And it’s frustrating and depressing and I feel like I’m failing.

B:  Why do you feel like you have to do anything?

A:  Because I’m the mom.  I should know what to do.  But I don’t.  I’m failing.

B:  Failing at what?

A:  Well, I can’t find the right house although we’ve tried for years, and I can’t fix Ryder’s teeth no matter how hard I try.

B:  So no matter what you do, none of your best efforts are good enough?

A:   Exactly.

B:  Exactly! 

A:  What . . . Huh?!?

B:  Exactly!  None of your best efforts are good enough.  You’ve been relying on yourself, but you can’t do it in your own power.

A:  But I don’t know what else to do.

B:  Just rest!

A:  What?  How do I rest when there is so much to do, and “resting” will look irresponsible to others when we are trying to find a house, and I need to find the right dentist because Ryder’s teeth are rotting away.  They’ll be stubs before we know it, and then we’ll have to get them pulled, and then he’ll have no teeth till his adult ones grow in.  And then when they do, they’ll probably rot, too, because I don’t know what’s causing it.

B:  Just rest.

A:  But there’s so much that I don’t know.

B:  But there’s so much that I do.

A:  Oh!  Then why won’t You tell me what to do?  I’ve been waiting for an answer for so long and I’m freaking out.

B:  I won’t tell you because you’re freaking out.  You still don’t trust Me.  You are always trying to do it in your own power.  And I’m trying to teach you to rest in Mine.  Why are you trying so hard to control everything?

A:  Because I get hurt if I don’t.  If I rely on anyone else, I get let down.

B:  Even by Me?

A:  Um. . . I never really thought about it, but I guess I do act like I think You’ll let me down, too.  So I try to control everything.

B:  Even things you have no business trying to control?

A:  Yeah, I guess so.

B:  Do you think you can do better than Me?

A:  No.  I really don’t.  But I guess I do act like I can do better.  Forgive me, Lord.  Help me learn to trust in You with the things that I have no clue about.  Help me.  And, please, give me Your peace.  I have none of my own and I’m freaking out.  So please, I need Your peace in this.  Sustain me until I know what to do, and give me the wisdom to know what to do and when to do it. 
 

            I have learned a lot through these kinds of conversations with myself and the Lord.  But I had to be deliberate about communicating with Him.  This is not the same thing as mulling over some problem in my head and turning it over and looking at it from every angle and trying to figure out what to do.  That’s trying to handle it on my own.  And God will let us worry ourselves into a frenzy, if that’s what we want to do.  But conversing with the Lord about what’s going on inside, well, that’s prayer. 
            (But do not run off with a message based solely on feelings or thoughts or gut-instincts.  Run every message past these criteria:  Is it Scriptural?  Is it glorifying to God?  Is it loving?  Is it just?  Is it truth?  Is it for building up and not tearing down?  And check other Scriptures for more tests.  The more you know Scripture, the more you can discern God’s messages from the world’s or your own.) 


            These may not be the only ways that God speaks, but they are how I have experienced Him and the leading of the Holy Spirit.   

 

            Misconception Number 6:  But if God wants to get a message through to me, He’ll do it.  I don’t really have to put so much effort into praying and listening, do I? 

            While we may not hear His voice with our physical ears or see His presence go by as they did in the Bible times, God is still active in this world.  He is always speaking.  But . . . we only hear Him if we listen.  Matthew 11:15:  “He who has ears, let him hear.”

            Actually, I should say, more accurately, we only listen if we want to.  I think that many of us do hear Him, but we ignore it.  I do not think that He forces us to listen to His voice, but His message only gets through to those who tune their ears to listen.  (God waited for Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah to show their willingness to listen before He spoke to them.  He caught their attention, they tuned in to Him, and then He spoke.)  I want to look a little deeper into a passage that taught me about learning to listen for God’s voice and the process that we oftentimes have to go through to get there.  I wrote this when a friend was going through a hard time, to encourage her through the trial.  So there may be some parts that sound a little out-of-place.  But just go with it. 
 

            1 Kings 19:11-13:
            The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.


            Learning to hear the voice of God has been one of my goals for a long time. And so I am keenly interested in any verses that teach us how to do that.  As I was considering these verses, a few thoughts hit me, some lessons I learned from it.
            This passage happens just after Elijah fears for his life because Jezebel has threatened him with death.  So he runs.  He runs and runs and prays to die because he can’t do it anymore.  He feels no better than those who came before him.  Then after some sleep and some food baked by angels, he runs some more.  Forty days and forty nights of running, before he finally makes it to Horeb, the mountain of God.  The rest goes like this, starting at verse 9:


            There he went into a cave and spent the night.  And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!”  The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
            Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
            Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!’  The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came. . .’
 

            And he was told to go back to anoint three people.
            Okay, now.  There are a few things that stand out to me as I read this. 

            1.  First of all, if the Lord had a command to give Elijah, why not just do it somewhere along the way?  If He was going to have Elijah “go back” and anoint people, why let him run for over a month away from where he needed to be and feed him along the way so that he could run even farther?  God could have stopped him and said, “Hey, I have a message for you that will save you a lot of running and wasted energy.”  But He didn’t. 
            Why?
            I don’t really know for sure, but I have a few ideas.  (Remember that I am no Bible scholar, though.)  Horeb (Sinai) was a sacred place to meet God.  It’s where Moses met with God.  Elijah was running to a place where God’s presence was known to be.  Holy ground.  While I’m sure God could have given His message anywhere along the way, I think that God knew what He was doing by letting Elijah despair and run in fear and exhaust himself.

            Sometimes, that’s the only way we will be desperate enough to seek Him and be willing to do whatever He asks.  Sometimes, we need to be at the point where we are so exhausted and overwhelmed that we have lost all sense of self-sufficiency, self-confidence and self-importance.  We have to get to the point of despairing and fearing that we’ll die in our situation before we become truly desperate for God, desperate enough to run for miles and miles after Him.  And so sometimes He lets us run for miles and miles, so that we can be in a place to experience His presence and hear His whisper.
            I think He wants us to want Him that much, and He knows it’s best for us . . .  to realize that He is the only thing we want, that He is the only thing we can truly rely on, and that we want nothing more than to be close to Him, to remain in Him, and to do what He asks us to do. 

            Just as Elijah ran to a place where God manifested Himself, we need to consider it of great importance to get ourselves into a position - mentally and physically - to be receptive to Him.  This comes with the daily disciplines of immersing ourselves in the Word, praying often, meditating on the Lord, and cleaning up our lives as the Spirit leads. 


            2.  I find it interesting that after Elijah got to the mountain, things got . . . scarier.
            First, a wind tore the mountains apart.  Yikes!  Why did You call me out into this wind?  It’s breaking rocks!  I came to seek comfort in You, but what are You trying to do here? 
            And then an earthquake.  Okay, Lord, surely that was You passing by?  You can stop all the theatrics now!  I hear You! 
            And then a fire.  Why can’t You just talk to me like everyone else does?  I would have listened.  What did I do to deserve this?
            But the Lord wasn’t in any of that.  Sure, He caused them to happen, but He wasn’t talking through them.  His presence wasn’t in those events.  But after all that wild stuff, His presence passed by … in a whisper. 

            And through all this, Elijah was able to learn by comparison what is and isn’t the presence of the Lord. 
            I think sometimes that’s how it is for us in life.  We want God to step in quickly with thunder and lightning and rumbling, and dramatically give us our answers.  We want big, clear signs in the heavens that suggest His presence. 
            But through the trials we learn that He whispers. 
            I know that, for me, I had an inflated sense of self that made me self-sufficient, cocky, and smug.  As though I was doing God favors or earning my keep by being the “good Christian” that I was.  And so God allowed trials in my life. 
            I had to go through the mountain-breaking winds that broke through walls of fear and self-sufficiency and pride.  I had to go through the earthquakes that shook my confidence in everything that I relied on outside of God: my confidence in myself and in my wisdom and abilities.  And I had to go through fires, the refining fires that burn off all the dross, so that He could purify the silver and make it into a shiny surface to better reflect Him.
            And only then could I learn to hear His quiet voice, His quiet leading.  Only then could I train myself to listen for it and did I learn to hunger for it.  And only then did I feel the need to cover my face before Him in humility.  I wasn’t as great as I thought I was.  Compared to His glory, I was nothing. Compared to His greatness, I was weak and helpless and insignificant. 
            But . . . (and this is crucial) He loves me anyway.  I don’t have to earn His love or favor by being “good enough.”  He loves me in my weakness and His strength shines through me only when I embrace my weakness.  It’s through humility that we learn to really “see” Him. 


            3.  But in order to hear His whisper, to feel His presence, we have to slow down and get into a receptive position.  We have to stop trying so hard to force things and to do things ourselves.  It’s in our weakness and self-insufficiency where we learn to need Him, to wait on Him, to hear Him, to listen instead of talk, to follow instead of lead, to embrace grace instead of trying to earn our way or make our way, and to lean on Him instead of standing on our own two feet while trying to keep all the balls up in the air. 
            Like Elijah, we need to stop and simply stand in His presence, quietly and expectantly waiting for His whisper.  We can’t rush God; we simply have to wait on Him and trust His timing. 
            But we don’t like to slow down in our society, to wait on God to speak.  It’s time-consuming.  It’s too much effort.  It encroaches on our busy lives.  It makes us feel out of control, waiting on someone else.  And we don’t want to hear whispers.  We want loud and bold and exciting. 
            In our day and age of “Entertain Me,” many of us would much prefer that God talk to us in earth-shaking, loud, exciting ways during some Christian retreat or conference instead of making us stand out on the mountain alone, waiting for Him to pass by, listening for a quiet whisper.
            Or would we? 
            For God’s whisper was enough to make Elijah cover his face.  The wind and earthquake and fire did not make him cover his face.  But God’s whisper did.  God’s whisper was enough to humble him.  For he knew he was in the presence of God Almighty. 
            To hear His whisper when you need Him most - to know that the God of the universe is speaking to you and reaching out to you when you are afraid and despairing and running after Him - is an incredibly humbling thing, so humbling that it changes us.  It lifts us up off the floor where we have fallen down exhausted and it emboldens us, giving us the strength to face the trials, to face whatever Jezebel comes our way. 
            And all because God whispered.

 
           4.  And what did God end up saying to Elijah after he experienced God’s presence, after he heard His whisper?  I find this interesting. 
            God asked him the exact same question that He asked in the beginning.  And Elijah answered the same way.  Why is that?  Why is it any different after the whisper than it was before?  Why the redundancy?
            My best guess is that before the wind, earthquake, and fire - before hearing the whisper of God - Elijah had a much different attitude and frame of mind.  I’m guessing his first answer was full of fear and concern and despair, as if he was freaking out and rattled off all the things he was afraid of, the things that terrified him and made him want to die.
            “I’ve been zealous for You, Lord.  But nothing’s working out.  And now, they’re all after me.  Oooh, they’re after me and they want to kill me.  Where have You been in all this, when I’ve been so faithful to You?  I’ve been zealous for You, and You’ve bailed on me!  Oh, woe is me.  Just take me now!”
            But after the wind, earthquake, and fire - after sensing God’s presence and hearing His whisper, and being humbled enough to cover his face - Elijah had a chance to answer this same question again. 

            But this time, I wonder if it was not in despair and fear, but in humility and a firm faith.  He had run to his God.  He desperately sought the only One that he could rely on.  He fell down in weakness before the Lord. 
            And God whispered to him. 
            And Elijah’s faith was renewed.  He was strengthened in his spirit.  He was trusting instead of despairing.  He was leaning on the Lord’s strength instead of his own.  And now he could now pour out all the fears and doubts within him again.  Yet not in despair.  But in the faith that God was there and that God would give him direction and help.
            My guess is that the second time he answered, he answered with a firm faith in God and a deep trust that made him willing to hear the instructions that God would give him.

            “Lord, I know that all of this bad stuff has happened.  I’ve been zealous for You and everything went wrong. And now they want to kill me.  But now I know that You’re with me … and so what are we going to do about it?”
           And only now could he handle hearing “Go back the way you came.”  To hear that before - when he was despairing and exhausted - probably would have killed him.  And so God didn’t reveal His plans for Elijah before he was ready to hear them.  God had mercy on him and only revealed what He knew he could handle. 

            But now, Elijah had been in God’s presence.  He had heard God’s whisper.  And now he could go forth in God’s strength, doing what God asked him to do because he knew that God was always near, like the whisper of the wind in the trees.

 
            5.  Earth-shaking events don’t always happen and aren’t always the means that God speaks to us.  That’s not how God usually does His work and His leading.  But God is always whispering.  And if we don’t hear, it’s because we aren’t listening or we haven’t sought the Lord or we are looking for Him in the wrong places and wrong ways or we haven’t learned how insufficient and not-in-control we really are. 
            Do we quiet ourselves enough to hear from the Lord?  Do we seek Him in His Word and in prayer?  Do we live in ways that makes us receptive to His whisper and nudges, or do we act like He will just have to get through to us if He wants to?  Are we willing to hang in there through the wind, earthquake, and fire so that we can hear that gentle whisper?  Are we really? 
            God moves slower than we do.  And He speaks more quietly than the loud, attention-getting things that scream at us all day long in our world.  If you are desperate for His presence and are seeking Him with all your heart, He will eventually whisper.  But you will have to hang in there through the silence, the persecution, the miles of running, the wind, the earthquakes, the fires.  Keep running towards Him and hang in there until He rewards your diligent search for Him with His presence and His whisper.  And you’ll know that it is Him when the fear and despair are replaced by a humility and an awe that make you cover your face before Him and that make you bold and confident enough to face the trials and to obey Him.
            Hang in there!  His whisper is worth it!



            Misconception Number 7:  Prayer is just too hard.  I don’t know why, but it is! 

            I think that from time to time we all struggle with prayer.  Maybe we grew up with parents who didn’t listen to us or care about what we had to say.  Maybe we felt like burdens when we had to ask for anything.  Maybe we are afraid to say the wrong thing or ask for the wrong thing.   

            We know that the Bible says to ask and that we should pray about everything and that God will only grant the things that He wants to grant, but sometimes we have a hard time just getting the prayer requests out.  For some reason, we don’t feel like we can approach Him or ask for one more thing. 

            And I think that it may help sometimes to sit down and really sort out the reasons behind why we feel like we can’t come to Him or to ask for what we need.  Because, many times, it’s our own feelings and misconceptions that are blocking us from praying prayers that God is more than willing to answer.  (Maybe He won’t answer in the way that we would like Him to, but He always answers in the way that is best for us and His purposes.) 

            And at the very minimum, He simply wants to be let into all areas and concerns of our lives, even if He will not change anything.  He wants us to talk to Him as we would talk to a friend – because it’s the relationship that matters.  Yet, sometimes, we struggle with putting the words into prayers. 

            But this shouldn’t be the case.  We should be able to bring Him any thought or request, as long as we give Him the right to answer in His way.  (But I am not talking about prayer requests that are sinful, such as for an affair or ill-gotten gains or for vengeance.  I am talking about for perfectly legitimate prayers, such as for God’s care or help or wisdom, etc.) 

            The other day, I was struggling with a certain prayer.  I was presenting another health concern to God and asking Him to heal it.  But I began to notice that I would start to pray, and then stop.  I was struggling with putting this request before Him . . . again.  In my head, I know that we are supposed to pray about all things, yet something was blocking me from just putting my request into words before the Father. 

            And I began to wonder why it was so hard to just ask, when He says to ask.  Why is it such a chore sometimes?  I mean, all I had to do was say, “Lord, this is what I am praying for . . . but do as You will.”  That’s easy to do.  Yet, for some reason, I still didn’t feel like I had the right to ask.  And so I sat down to brainstorm, to contemplate what the obstacle was, to identify what was preventing me from asking.

            And for me, it simply came down to being afraid of looking like I was taking Him for granted.  I mean, there were all these other blessings and answers to prayer that I had already received.  Did I really have the right to come to Him and ask for more?  Even if they were legitimate prayers?  Even though I know God wants us to talk to Him about all things?   

            But I realized that there was a greater consequence of not asking than of asking.  Yes, I was afraid that asking for more was burdensome and looked like I was taking Him for granted.  But not asking meant not including Him in that area of my life.  It meant not placing that concern in the hands of the One who could do far more with it than I could do on my own.  It meant returning to that self-sufficient, I’ll-just-do-it-myself person that I was before.  And I didn’t want to be that person again. 

            Sure, He might not answer the prayer in the way that I wanted, but it was more important to me that I maintained a proper dependency on Him, that I went to my heavenly Father with all of my concerns.  And so I humbly put the request before Him, acknowledging that I didn’t deserve any of the grace that He pours out on me, but that I will gladly accept it because I am totally dependent on it and needy for it.  

            After thinking this episode through, I realized that we don’t pray lots of good, necessary prayers for various reasons.  And for me, it was a help to identify what was blocking me from approaching my heavenly Father in prayer. 

            I would like to take a moment to list some of the “various reasons we don’t ask” that I came up with when I was brainstorming.  I think that if we could identify the lies and falsehoods that prevent us from approaching God in prayer then we could ask more boldly and submissively, knowing that there was nothing wrong with asking, as long as we accept the answer God gives.

            Anyway, here is a list of various reasons for why we don’t pray certain prayers, the obstacles that prevent us from laying our requests before God.  And my challenge is this:  If you find yourself struggling with praying perfectly legitimate prayers – if you feel like you don’t deserve to ask for this or that – review this list (or brainstorm your own) and try to see which one explains why you struggle with bringing your need or want to our Loving, Heavenly Father. 

            (Now, when you do identify that something is blocking your prayers, first ask God in prayer if there is any legitimate reason for it.  Ask Him if there is a reason why you shouldn’t be praying this prayer – pride, bitterness, greed, laziness, etc.  Some prayers should not be prayed simply because they are wrong.  Be willing for the Holy Spirit to work on your heart and your mind as He changes you and your requests to reflect God better.)     

 

            Reasons Why We Don’t Pray:

            1.  I don’t think He’s really listening or really cares.
            For some of us, we doubt that He listens or cares because we don’t really know Him.  We think that He is like humans: unreliable, unloving, wishy-washy, harsh, etc.  If others people don’t really listen to you or care about the things that you think or say, you may feel that God won’t either. 
            But that is not true.  If God loved you so much to die for you so that He could spend eternity with you, you can bet that He wants to have a deep, meaningful relationship with you now.  Not only do we need this for our own benefit – because we need His guidance, care, wisdom, and peace, etc. – but because we were made to have a relationship with Him. 
            And we were made this way because this is how He wanted it to be.  He did not put this world in motion and then check out.  He is always calling and waiting for people to respond to Him and to draw near to Him because a relationship with us really does matter to Him.  It’s why we are here in the first place. 
            It is not an easy process to get past the wounds and scars from our past, the ones that affect how we see and relate to God today.  But in order to do this, we need to really get to know Him as He is.  We need to spend daily, quality time in the Word and in prayer and to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s inside of us so that we can face up to any misconceptions, sins, or other blocks or hindrances in our relationship with Him.  (And I get deeper into these things in a later section.)
            Now, all of us will, at some time, struggle with the fear that He is not listening or doesn’t care when we are facing a big trial or a long wait.  And, unfortunately, we just have to wait it out.  We cannot make God reveal Himself any faster than He will.  But that time can be used to draw nearer to Him, to immerse yourself in Him because you know that you really have no one else to go to but God.  And so you will just have to cling to Him until He “shows up.”  This is hard, I know.  But hang in there!  He does listen and He does care, but there are many good lessons to be learned in the painful wait.  Use that time wisely to draw near to Him.  And you will find Him.      



            2.  I am afraid to be a burden to Him. 
            This might be a legitimate feeling if you are simply using God as a vending machine, with no desire for reflecting Him or bringing Him glory or drawing nearer to Him.  But if you are sharing your thoughts honestly with Him or asking for things that are not selfish or unreasonable - and if you are willing to accept His answer - then there is no reason to fear talking to Him or asking Him for something.  We are all totally dependent on His grace and care anyway.  And so asking for His grace and care is how we should be living our lives.  And He wants us to share our thoughts and heart with Him.  He’s all about the closeness!



            3.  I am afraid to anger Him. 
            God gets angry about disobedience, rebellion, and putting other things before Him, but He will not get angry when you come to Him with another request or in confession about a sin.  Confessing sin is what opens the door of your heart to Him and restores your relationship with Him.  And it is crucial to always be sensitive to any sin blocking your relationship with Him and to confess it and turn from it. 
            And as far as making a request of Him, He may not grant your request or He may show you that it is an improper prayer or that there are sinful reasons behind it, but He will not be angry that you asked Him.  As long as you are willing to trust His judgment in how He answers.  It’s all about the softness of our hearts toward Him.   
            He will not get angry when His children approach Him in prayer with a sincere heart and a desire to draw near to Him.  He wants to be part of every area of our lives.  He wants us to know Him well enough to trust His judgment when it comes to how He answers.  And part of getting to know Him and learning to trust Him is to learn to be dependent on Him in prayer.  You do not need to be afraid of how He will react to your requests or confessions, but you should be afraid of closing off parts of your heart and life to Him.  And if there is sin driving your request, He will reveal that to you gently – if you are willing to be open and submissive to Him. 



            4.  I don’t want it to seem like I am using Him just to get what I want. 
            If you are using Him - without a desire to draw near to Him and to glorify Him - then you need to ask God to reveal this to you.  And then you need to get into the Word to find out who He really is and who you really are, so that you can understand what a proper relationship with Him is like.  But if you are simply afraid to ask because you don’t usually reveal your needs or ask others to meet them – if you don’t feel worthy of His time or love or care - then ask God to help you discover the wounds and scars around your heart.  And ask for His love and truth to heal them.  And remember, none of us deserve His love or care.  But He loves us because of who He is and who we are in His sight.  It has nothing to do with earning it, but everything to do with accepting it.      



            5.  I don’t want it to seem like I am taking Him and all of His previous goodness for granted.
            Asking for more doesn’t necessarily show that we don’t appreciate His past blessings or are taking Him for granted.  In fact, I think it shows that we are acknowledging His position as God and Father.  It shows our deep desire to remain close to Him, to present all areas of our lives to Him, to seek His Will, and to have all that He would want us to have.  It’s amazing to me how we are willing to go without – to live with the little that we have – because we don’t feel that we should ask for more. 
            Now, if you are taking Him for granted - if you are take, take, taking without any regard for bringing Him glory or for using His gifts to be a blessing to others - then it might be time to stop asking for more and to start focusing on being thankful for and properly handling what you do have.  Because whether it’s little or much, our focus needs to be on glorifying God with whatever we do have and with being a blessing to others.  And as long as your heart is sensitive to this, you don’t need to worry that you are asking for too much.  Just ask.  And then praise Him for however He answers and glorify Him with whatever you have.  



            6.  I don’t believe that He can do what I am asking.
            Well, this one gets down to a much deeper level of how you see God.  If you feel that anything is impossible for Him, then you need to get to know Him as He is – in His Word.  Spend daily time in the Word, focusing on the character and attributes of God.  But remember that just because the Word says that everything is possible for Him doesn’t mean that He will do whatever you ask.  Resist the urge to shrink Him because He hasn’t answered your prayer the way you wanted Him to or believed He should.  He sees the bigger picture and He has His mysterious ways of working. 
            Now, I am not saying that this is easy or simple.  Sometimes, as hard as it may be, we have to choose to accept and believe what the Bible says about Him, especially when everything around us is making us doubt and we are tempted to judge Him because He didn’t answer the way that we thought He should.
            We might not always see His wisdom up front – in fact, we might not see it this side of eternity - but if we know Him as He really is, then we can trust Him even when things are confusing to us.  And sometimes, when things are really messed up, we have to trust simply out of our wills, even though we do not feel it.  We have to choose to trust that He is a good, loving God that is listening and does care.  And we have to hang in there until He shows Himself.  This is not easy to do, but there are times when this is the only way to move forward.



            7.  I don’t believe that He will do what I am asking.
            Believing that He won’t do something is different than believing that He can’t do something.  The way I see it, if we don’t ask because we don’t think He will do it, then we have already bound His hands.  Because if we don’t present the request to Him, He is under no obligation to attend to that request because we have chosen to handle it ourselves or to bear with things the way they are.  But when we put a request before Him, we invite Him to do something about it.  He doesn’t force His way in. 
            Basically, He may not grant it if we ask, but if we don’t ask then we are living as though He has already said “no.”  Which one is the greater risk?
            But whatever would happen, we need to remember that our role is to ask.  His role is to answer in the best way possible.  And ultimately, at the end of any request should be this prayer, “Yet not as I will, but Your Will be done.” 
            And even if we don’t see anything happening, we need to trust that He is working on it or that He has His reasons for not granting us what we asked for.  And if He has chosen not to grant it, the only thing we can do is thank Him for listening and for doing what He knows is best and ask Him for the strength and grace to accept His “no”.  Once again, this is not an easy thing to do.  But we were never promised an easy life.  And a life apart from God is far more difficult to bear than a life spent with God even when He says “no”.     



            8.  I don’t know if it is God’s Will that I ask for this certain thing.
            It’s not often for us to know what His Will is up front.  We learn as we go, as we draw nearer to Him and remain in Him, as we walk.  Oftentimes, the doors open and things become clearer as we pray and obey and grow in Him.  Not when we are parked on the side of the road. 
            As we grow in Him, through prayer and the Word, we begin to understand a bit more about His mind and the kinds of requests that are in line with His Will.  And if we desire to be sensitive to Him and His leading, we don’t need to be worried if we are praying “His Will” because He will guide us along the way.  And He will not grant anything outside of His Will, so we don’t have to be afraid of messing up His plans with an out-of-line request.  We just have to pray and listen and adjust and obey as God leads us.    

 
 
            9.  I’m afraid of getting a “no” response.
            It may be worth it for this one to spend some time figuring out why a “no” scares you so much.  Is it because you don’t trust Him or want His Will, or because you’ve been let down so many times that you can’t face being let down by God too?  Or is it because you desperately want a “yes” and can’t face the possibility of not getting what you ask for? 
            I think that the first one gets to the heart of our view of God, and if that is the case then you need to spend time in prayer and the Word figuring out the difference between how you view Him and who He really is.         
            But the second, I think, is a very normal, natural response, even when we truly trust God and believe in His love for us.  None of us wants to get a “no.”  But we need to trust that God knows best.  And maybe we should consider if our request was simply to spare ourselves additional work, expense, pain, effort, or time.  Maybe a “no” is what we really needed to hear in order to help us sort out our priorities, grow in righteousness, and develop our character, patience, selflessness, and faith.    
            And for the things that really do hit us in the heart – such as asking for God to spare the life of someone or to allow us to keep our home or job, etc. – sometimes all we can do is ask for what we want (which is a part of honesty, transparency, and remaining connected to God) and then let the request go into the hands of the One who loves us immensely and who will do what is best for us, His glory, eternity, and His purposes.   
            We might not always understand why that “no” was the best response possible - not until eternity! - but we need to trust that God had His reasons.  And we need to go to God with our pain and confusion and hurting heart.  He understands those kinds of responses.  And when we hurt, just know that He hurts with us.  (Can you imagine the hurt He feels when He sees what we’ve done to His world and the consequences and pain that we brought on ourselves that He tried to help us avoid?)  Run to Him for the only kind of comfort that can truly lift us up.  He will comfort us even if He wouldn’t grant our request.  But the question is, do you know Him well enough to trust in His love even if He says “no”?     



            10.  I’m afraid to pray the wrong words or in the wrong attitude.
            I think that it is wise to check our attitudes or the spirit in which we pray.  Are we praying with a spirit of selfishness, pride, judgmentalism, vengeance, bitterness, etc.?  If our request is coming from a sinful place in our hearts, we need to be willing to let God change us.  But if it’s not coming from a sinful attitude, then there is no reason why we can’t simply ask.  And according to Romans 8:26, as we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and “cleans” up our prayers.  As we pray and seek Him, He will help us grow in our ability to pray.  But we need to be more concerned with simply praying than with how polished it is.  God cares more about our hearts and our desire to draw near to Him than He does with how proper our prayers are. 

 
 
            11.  I’m afraid to be that honest.
            It may take a lot of thought and introspection and prayer to figure out why being honest scares you.  Hopefully, you will come to learn that you do not need to be afraid to be honest with God about anything in your heart and life, even all the ugly things.  He already knows all of this.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He has just been waiting for us to be honest with ourselves and with Him, because it is honesty that draws Him closer and that opens up our hearts to His truth. 



            12.  I don’t like admitting that I need the help or can’t do things on my own.  I don’t like to be dependent on anyone else. 
            Hopefully, through other chapters in this guidebook, you have come to discover why you have a hard time depending on God.  Most of the time, these kinds of attitudes stem from our pasts and our relationship with our parents (or lack of relationship with them).  These go straight to the heart of how we feel about ourselves and God.  And they need to be worked through if you are ever to have the kind of relationship with God that you were made for. 
            It will be hard and painful, but do not be afraid to explore these feelings and where they come from.  Do it with prayer and the Word . . . and a trusted friend or counselor, if need be.  God has been waiting to heal those injured parts of your heart.  He’s been waiting until you were ready to let Him into those parts.  Don’t settle for self-sufficiency.  Run after Him and learn that He is a faithful, loving Father that cares for you and about you. 

 
 
            13.  I don’t know how to pray.
            When we are first getting to know God, it feels weird and forced to pray to Him.  We’re afraid that we don’t know “the protocol” - if we have to say things in the right way or in the right order.  And we feel like we are just speaking out into thin air.  Is Anyone really listening?  How can I keep talking when No One is talking back to keep the conversation going?
            Well, the best and most basic advice that I can give when you don’t know how or what to pray is this:  Just start talking.  Tell Him what is on your mind, what you are struggling with, how nervous you feel, what you want or need, etc.  He already knows it.  He knows what’s in the very depths of our hearts already.  He just wants us to share our lives and thoughts with Him, to invite Him into whatever is going on in our heads, our hearts, and our lives.  Keep it simple and keep it real.  Just start talking until it doesn’t feel so strange anymore.  And ask Him to help you learn to pray.  It does get easier as long as you are willing to be honest and to be yourself.  No false fronts.  No masks.  No special words or protocol.  Just start talking as you would to a friend that cares about you and about what you have to say.  



            14.  I can’t ask for anything because I have done something wrong and I think it’s pushed Him away. 
            Well, then . . . make it right.  And the only way to do that is to honestly confess whatever you have done to God, ask for His forgiveness, and then accept it.  If you continue to feel unforgiven, it may be that you are having a hard time forgiving yourself.  God is so much more willing to forgive us than we are to forgive ourselves.   



            15.  Fill in the blank:  “I’m afraid of …”
            Prayer shouldn’t be as hard or scary as we make it out to be.  Prayer is about coming to a loving God with our heart’s desires and requests, hurts and needs, confessions and praise.  And it’s about learning to rely on Him, to listen to Him, and to trust in His goodness and faithfulness, no matter how He answers.  Once again, our job is simply to ask and to know that He will answer in His time and in His way, out of love and wisdom!       

 

Bible Work: 
            Take some time to reflect on these Biblical passages on prayer (and any others that you can find).  Pray over each verse and see if God challenges you about any of them.  And take adequate time to consider and pray about the questions after each one.  Journal them, if you want to. 

            2 Chronicles 7:14-15:  “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 will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  Look at the requirements:  Humble yourself, pray, seek God, turn from sins.  Are you doing these things?  Do you even care about these things? 

 

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Can you be still before God, in trust, instead of waiting in anxiousness, fearing that He doesn’t really hear or care?  If you fear that He isn’t really hearing or caring, where is this coming from?  Misconceptions or past hurts?  Do you pour out your petitions before God honestly?  Do you practice thanksgiving even when you don’t feel like it?  (Remember, it’s thankful in all things, not necessarily for all things.)   

 

             James 4:16:  “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  What areas of your life do you need to become more righteous in?  Things you watch, read, say, think, value, your priorities, your focus, your friendships, how you treat others, idols in your life, etc.?

 

            1 Peter 3:10-12:  “For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.  He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”  I think this gives us a good idea of what it means to be righteous: keep your tongue from evil and speak only truth (in love, of course).  Turn from your sins and do only good things.  Seek and promote peace with your brothers in Christ.  How are you doing with each of these things?  What can you do to improve in these areas?  Always start with prayer, confessing your sins and asking God’s help in this.  Because we cannot live at any level of righteousness unless we are intimately connected to Him. 

 

            Jeremiah 29:12-13:  “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Do you seek Him with all your heart?  What has to change for you to be able to do that? 

 

            Job 42:8:  “. . . My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer . . .”  Read this verse in the Bible and the ones surrounding it.  Notice in this passage that God planned to forgive Job’s friends.  It was His Will.  But He required that Job pray for it.  He waited for Job’s prayer before He accomplished His Will to forgive the friends.  This verse highlighted for me one of the main reasons for prayer – it gets God’s Will done.  And God waits for prayer (in general) to call Him into action.  He has chosen to work His Will and plans in this world with and through the cooperation of mankind.  We have not just the privilege of praying but the responsibility to pray to get God’s Will done.  Do you believe that prayer is necessary to getting God’s Will done?  What are some lingering fears or doubts that you have about prayer?  Ask God to help you find His responses to those in His Word.

 

            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  This then, of course, breaks down the wall that prevents Him from hearing your prayers.  Do you have anything that you need to forgive someone for?  Any bitterness or grievance?  Explore this in prayer with the Holy Spirit’s help.  And remember that we are all on even ground at the foot of the cross.  And we have no right to hold anything against anyone else because Jesus already paid for all sins on the cross – our sins and other people’s sins.  God is the judge and the only one with the right to hold anything against anyone. 

 

            Matthew 5:23-24:  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”  Have you been trying to approach God’s altar when there is something that you need to be forgiven for, some offense that you have made against another person that you need to seek forgiveness for or make right?  

 

            1 Peter 3:7:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”  How are you treating others - with respect and consideration?  Because this will affect the degree to which your prayers are hindered or unhindered, especially husbands.  What might you need to do differently?

 

            1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.”  Read the verse – He hears the prayers that are in line with His Will.  And when He hears them, He will grant them.  Are you seeking to know His Will and to pray for it, or are your prayers generally from your own will or your own ideas about what you want or think you need?  Can you leave the answer up to God, or are you determined to get your way?  Are you doing the things that you already know are His Will for you, as He has revealed to you in prayer or in His Word?  Do a study of these in the Bible and write them down, or write down what you know God has already told you to do.    

 

            James 4:2-3:  “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  Do you present God with your honest requests, or are you failing to ask?  Are you trying to accomplish things on your own instead of going to God?  Why?  What are some wrong motives that you pray with?  What should be your motives behind your prayer requests?

 

            John 14:13-14:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  God’s glory is His main concern.  And to ask in Jesus’ name means to ask for the things that He wants us to ask for, things that are in line with His Will, that will bring God glory.  What does this make you honestly and initially feel or think?  Why?  Where does this thought or feeling come from?  What is your highest priority or goal right now?  Why should God’s glory be the highest goal in life?  What needs to change in order to live this verse?   

 

            1 John 3:21-23:  “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”  Does your heart condemn you about anything?  Which commands are you not obeying?  What are you doing that doesn’t please Him?  What are you doing that could be considered unloving towards another person, or do you have an unloving attitude toward certain people or kinds of people?

 

            John 15:7-8:  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Are you remaining in Him, by spending time with Him, by prayer and through His Word?  Have you taken His Word to heart, letting it saturate your heart?  What are your motives for bearing fruit?  What needs to change so that you are bearing fruit for His glory? 

 

            Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Our focus shouldn’t be on asking or on our needs, it should be on His kingdom and righteousness.  Yes, we need to ask, we need to petition God and pour our honest concerns and needs to Him.  But they should not consume us.  We should be putting them in His hands, and then focusing on His kingdom and righteousness, allowing God to take care of us as He sees fit.  What are your priorities?  How are you seeking His kingdom and righteousness?  What is the Spirit telling about any changes you need to make? 

 

            Mark 12:40:  “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  Such men will be punished most severely.”  Are your prayers and “Christian acts” done to impress others or to impress God, while at the same time you are mistreating others and failing to do the good that you know you should do?    

 

            Matthew 14:22-23:  “Immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd.  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. . . .”  Do you put aside all other concerns and responsibilities for time alone with God to pray and pour out your heart to Him?  Is He what you turn to when you need to be refreshed or strengthened?  If not, what is in His place?   

 

            Luke 6:28:  “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  Do you?

 

            1 Thessalonians 5:17:  “pray continually;”  How can you do this?  I don’t think it means to remain on your knees in your prayer closet all day long.  It means to maintain your lines of communication with God all day long.  You can do this by opening your day in prayer and inviting Him in.  You also do it by not wasting precious time.  You can pray while you are doing dishes, standing in line, when a concern of someone else comes to your attention, when you encounter a dilemma or trial, etc.  And you can do this by remaining in a state of expectancy, being willing to hear whenever He speaks to you or interrupts your day.   

            There is a time for deep, deliberate prayers during your quiet-time devotions with God.  But then there are many, many times when quick, “popcorn prayers” are what’s needed.  “God, grant me wisdom here.”  “God, help me!” “Lord, please bring him the help he needs.”  “Lord, forgive me for that thought.”  “Thank you, Lord, for that beautiful flower.”  “Lord, I’m listening if there is anything You want to say.”  “Lord, what does this mean?”   

            Allow all of life to turn your attention back to God.  And train yourself to be receptive to the Holy Spirit whenever He pricks your conscience.  This is a critical part of prayer, the part that grows you to look more like Christ.  If you practice obeying the nudges He does give you and His already-revealed Will from the Bible, you will become more and more sensitive to His voice and will feel more and more nudges.  But you need to consciously allow your mind to think about heavenly things and to drift towards God and to hear His whispers. 

 

            Now, let’s say that you have prayed and prayed for something and nothing is happening. . .  What now?  I would suggest that if you aren’t getting any answers to prayer, examine what feelings it brings up and journal them.  Does it make you feel abandoned, rejected, unloved, out of control, etc.?  Explore why you may feel this way, where in your past this feeling started, and look for any misconceptions, walls, or fears that it has created or that has created it.  Work through these in prayer with God.  Don’t just get angry and give up on God or prayer.  See what’s behind it.  Dig deeper!  And always be honest with God. 

            And when God doesn’t make sense and you are tempted to give up all hope, the ultimate thing that you can fall back on is God’s promise to work it all out for good.  Cling to that when there is no other hope to hold onto. 

 

Challenge: 
            I think that if we don’t highly value prayer, it’s because we don’t really know prayer.  I went over a lot of misconceptions about prayer in the “Understanding God’s Will” series (at sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com and myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com) and in this section.  And I want to challenge you to go over those again.  See if any stand out to you or if you can figure out any other questions/doubts about prayer that prevent you from praying.  Journal it and talk with God about why you feel this way.  Bounce it off of other people or your spouse or furnace partner.  And write down any impressions that the Holy Spirit gives you.

            I think that it is crucial to examine these misconceptions and to get a clear, biblical understanding of what prayer is and what it isn’t.  We need to see the incredible significance of it and the solemn responsibility that it is, if we are going to take the discipline of prayer off the back burner and make it a priority in our daily lives. 

 

Questions for Reflection:

1.  Did anything in this chapter stand out to me?  Why?
 

2.  How do I define prayer?  What is the purpose of prayer, according to me?  How do I view it, in general?  Right ways?  Wrong ways (such as “it’s a formula for getting what you want,” “it’s like magic,” “it’s wishful thinking,” “it’s useless,” “it’s just for show or for drawing nearer to God but it has no real effect,” etc.)?
 

3.  What is the purpose of prayer according to God?  What is God teaching me about prayer, according to the Bible? 
 

4.  Does anything that I read in this section (or in the “Understanding God’s Will” series) resonate with me?  Why?  And what do I think God is trying to tell me about it?
 

5.  When and how and why do I pray?  How much do I value prayer and does my life reflect this?  Do I get away alone with God for serious prayer time?  Do I run to Him first when I have a concern or need, or is prayer a “last resort”?
 

6.  What kind of prayers do I pray?  What do my prayers center on?  What is my general attitude and state of mind when I pray?  Does this need to change in any way?
 

7.  What do I expect to happen when I pray?  Does this need to change in any way?
 

8.  Do I edit my prayers for any reason?  To sound holier?  To hide doubts?  To cover up for sin?  Why?  And what have I been hiding or running from? 
 

9.  Do I feel like I can be transparent?  If not, why, and what am I afraid of?
 

10.  What are some wonderful experiences with prayer that I have had?  How has that affected me? 
 

11.  What are some disappointing experiences with prayer that I have had?  How has that affected me?
 

12.  What feelings and thoughts come up when life doesn't go the way I planned, when God doesn’t answer the way I thought He would or wanted Him to?  When painful trials come?  When He is silent and makes me wait?  How does it make me feel about Him?  About myself?
            [Also consider this, when God is silent or when you face painful trials or when He says ‘No,” do you assume that it must be because He is mad at you or punishing you or because He is trying to teach you a lesson?  I think that many of us think this.  And we think that if we can do things just right or word our prayers right or make Him happy or learn our lesson, then He will act and answer our prayers and give us what we want.  And so we work hard to do these things but then when our circumstances don’t change, we get hurt, our faith gets crushed, and we grow bitter.  Because we “followed the formula” but it didn’t work. 
            (I think this tends to happen more to people who use God as a Vending Machine, who only run to Him when they want something or when times are really tough and they want to be free from the trials and pain.  They do not have a proper understanding of who He is, His love and justice and sovereignty and holiness, etc.  Instead, they keep Him in a little box and take Him out when they want something from Him.  But God is not a genie in a bottle.  And He does not fit into any box we make.) 
            Yes, sometimes there is a lesson to learn or He does want us to do something differently.  But we need to remember that trials and pain often happen because we live in a fallen world where people affect other people and where Satan wreaks havoc.  Sometimes, there is not some great Master Plan behind the trials or the pain that has happened to us.  God might not have “caused” it to teach us a lesson.  But He did allow it to happen to us, because He knows how it can be used for good (and because I think because He allows humans to make many choices and He has chosen to stay “uninvolved” to a certain degree, in deference to the free-will He has granted us).
            But we have a choice about how to respond to whatever happens.  We can choose to let it grow our character and relationship with God and faith and perseverance and to be obedient no matter what, or we can choose to get bitter and harden our heart and turn away from Him. 
            Every trial, every “unanswered prayer,” is an opportunity for growth and character/faith development, whether God has caused it for a reason or whether it’s something that just happened as a result of living in a fallen world with fallen people.
            And we need to trust Him when He says “No” to our prayers.  His “no” doesn’t necessarily mean that He’s punishing us or angry with us.  Usually, His “no” is because He knows it’s not best for us and because He knows how He can use it to grow our character and faith or to help other people or to accomplish His plans.
            Whether we have hard times or easy times, whether He says “Yes” or “No,” whether He has caused it or just allowed it, we always have the choice of how to respond to it, letting it grow us and draw us nearer to the Lord or letting it hurt our faith and pull us away from Him.]    

 
 
13.  Have I seen any positive outcomes from those disappointing prayer experiences or times of waiting?  Lessons that I’ve learned?  Blessings in disguise?  (List them and thank God for them.)
 

14.  How do I feel about my ability to pray?  Like a failure?  Like a great prayer giant?  Like I have some sort of influence with God to get Him to do what I ask?  (Talk this over with God and see how the Spirit challenges you.) 
 

15.  Do I take any of the glory when my prayers are answered, feeling overly smug and confident?        
 

16.  Do I feel that God is challenging me in any area concerning my prayer life?
 

17.  What is my part when it comes to prayer?  What is God’s?  Am I okay with that arrangement?  What thoughts, feelings, doubts, or fears does that provoke? 
 

18.  How do I view the God that I am praying to?  (Not the Bible’s view, but my deeply held and sometimes unconscious views.)  Where does this view come from?  How should I view Him, according to the Bible?  (Do some research on the character of God, if need be.)
 

19.  How do I usually handle the dark times and His silence?  Can I still praise Him during these?  Why or why not?  And what needs to change for me to be able to do that?
 

20.  Do I have any idols in my life?  Is there anything that has taken my focus off of God?  Anything that I pursue, either by chasing after it physically or in prayer, more than pursuing a relationship with Him?  How does this prevent me from accepting His answer and resting in Him? 
            (These could be prayers for good things like healing, a house, a job, etc., or prayers that are off-base, such as abundance for our own satisfaction, for a relationship that isn’t our spouse, etc.  But if we can’t see God anymore because we are too focused on our request, then it’s become an idol.)
 

21.  Are there any other doubts or fears or questions that I have that get in the way of my ability or desire to pray?  (Pray over these, asking God to bring them to mind and to help you see His Truth about them so that you can overcome them.)
 

22.  Is there anything that God is teaching me about prayer or that I need to consider more?
 

 
A Challenge (for when your unanswered prayers are making you despair):
            If your prayers have become despairing prayers where all you do is lament all that God is not doing for you, when you are tempted to bail on Him because you don’t think your prayers are being answered, I would recommend a temporary experiment…

            Stop asking for things.  Stop asking for things and start asking God what He’s trying to teach you through this time, about faith, about yourself, about Him.  And praise Him.  As much as you can.  And be willing to wait in silence on Him until He reveals whatever He wants to tell you.  We may or may not get the revelation while we are on our knees.  It may be later sometime when we are not expecting it.  But He will eventually reveal truth to you - if you want to know.  If you want to know enough to wait on Him and to remain in Him, in prayer and the Word.  Our job is not to demand answers from God, but to be in a position of expectant willingness to receive them, when it’s His timing. 

            Stop asking for things and start using prayer to get to know Him and to get to know you and to learn to become transparent.  Go to Him with your questions, your feelings, and your doubts.  And ask simply that God grows you through them, that He searches your heart and mind and pulls up anything that you need to face.   

            But be prepared for it to hurt or surprise you or challenge you or convict you, such as if you are continuing in a sin that you think you have hidden from yourself or God.  If you don’t face these things - these fears, misconceptions, hidden sins, etc. - you are choosing to keep up walls between you and God.  And you can’t expect Him to break them down for you.  He allows us the final choice in closing the gap.

            Also, spend some time in prayer asking God if you are using prayer to be lazy.  What I mean is, are you praying about something as a way of avoiding making a decision or actually having to do something?  Sometimes, we pray and pray and pray about something because we don’t want to actually have to do anything about it or to go out and put the work into solving the problem.  You know those kinds of prayers:

            “Dear God, please fix this . . . or bring that opportunity . . . or make this happen.”  As you pray, you seem holy and sensitive to God’s leading, but you are ignoring the obvious things that you could do to deal with your request. 

            “Dear God, fix my marriage or change my spouse.”  But you don’t ever stop to look at what you could be doing differently.

            “Dear God, give me health.”  And you pray this as you sip your can of soda and shove another doughnut in your mouth. 

            “Dear God, please help me resist this temptation” is prayed while you dabble with it or indulge in it just a little bit.

            “Dear God, please bring me an opportunity to serve you and glorify You.”  Yet, you ignore the daily jobs that He has given you that you could be doing better, for His glory. 

            I do not really think that God will answer prayers that are just helping us be lazy.  I think sometimes His silence is to force us to see ourselves more clearly and to notice the ways we are being lazy, careless, or resistant.  Sometimes, His silence may be to challenge us to see what we are neglecting to do ourselves.

            And remember also that as long as our hearts are sensitive to Him and we are in a receptive place to hear Him, God will whisper eventually.  But it is just a fact that we have to wait a long time and go through some pain before He does.  Hang in there!  He will remember you!!!    

            Now, what about when you are praying for or claiming a particular answer to prayer and you are waiting in faith for God to make it happen . . . and nothing is happening?  What then?  I have fallen into this many times - usually because I’m standing on a Bible verse that tells me to ask in faith and believe that I will receive it.  And I fear that if I waver in my faith about the answer, then it won’t happen.  But sometimes, no matter how much “faith” I have, it doesn’t happen.  What do I do then?  Or what would I tell someone who is still waiting in great faith for the particular thing that they prayed for?

            The best advice I can give if this is the case is to examine your heart.  Are you really willing to accept God’s Will, whatever it is?  Because when we park on a particular answer, oftentimes we become unwilling to consider that God may be saying “no” or that He may have other plans.  We basically tell Him that this is what we are waiting for, and we will accept nothing else.  But that’s not true faith.

            True faith would be saying, “Lord, this is what I pray for and hope for, but Your Will be done.”  True faith isn’t waiting for a particular answer before we really live and shine for Him.  It’s glorifying Him in the here-and-now and being faithfully obedient in the smallest things, knowing that His plan will unfold as we walk with Him and obey now.  It’s one thing to dig in our heels and say, “I’m waiting for You, Lord, to show up and light the way.”  It’s another to dig in our heels and say, “I’m waiting in front of this particular door, Lord, until it opens.  And I will accept nothing else.”

            Now, if He really has given you a particular answer in advance, don’t just sit around and do nothing while you wait for it.  Continue living your life and glorifying Him in every way, big and small, and meet with Him daily in prayer and His Word.  That is His Will for us, no matter what - in the good times and the bad, in the answered prayer and in the waiting.  And if we happen to have misunderstood His answer to us or if we unconsciously “made up” His answer in our hearts, then His true Will will become clear as we walk with Him and remain close to Him.  And if we remain close to Him, it will be easier to accept the change of plans. 

            So if you glorify Him while it is “today” and remain close to Him and obey Him no matter what, you really can’t lose.  It’s when you let your hope and faith rest on a particular answer to prayer that you are tempted to lose faith in Him if it doesn’t happen.  Don’t let your faith hinge on getting a particular answer; let it hinge on the God who loves you and who will work His plan out in your life if your heart is sensitive, if you are obedient, and if you remain vitally connected to Him.  That should be our focus everyday anyway.         

 

Example prayer about prayer:

            I guess the best one I could suggest would be this one:  “Lord, teach me to pray!”

 

[Can I share something honestly here?  I just really want you to understand something about me.  Despite the fact that I seem to have “answers” about prayer and despite the fact that my head knows what the Bible says about prayer, I still struggle greatly when my prayers go “unanswered.”  I particularly struggle when I pray for something that would be so simple for God to do, yet it does not seem to be happening, such as when I am up at night with a child screaming in pain from an ear infection, when I have a persistent sore throat that won’t go away, or when the Japanese Beetles destroy every last beautiful rose in my garden. 

            Despite what my head knows is true, I begin to think things like, “Why won’t God do this?  It’s such a simple (or important) thing.  Does He want me to lose faith in Him?  How could He not answer something this simple (or important), especially if He wants to be the one that we come to with our prayers in all areas of our life?  If He just leaves us dangling out here for too long, how can we be sure that He answered the prayer and that it didn’t just resolve itself over time, like a sore throat going away?.” 

            Many times, when I am facing a lingering request or a delayed answer, I begin to despair.  And then I think about these chapters that I wrote on prayer and I go, “What was I thinking?  I have no idea what I am talking about.  I am such a loser and failure when it comes to prayer and to hanging in there and trusting God!  I don’t know why I thought I could write about prayer . . . because I have no idea how God answers or why He answers the way He does.  And I lose faith too easily when I don’t get what I am asking for.  I really shouldn’t have written about it as though I understood it.  It’s just too mysterious to me.”

            I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that just because I wrote about it doesn’t mean that I really understand it all the time or that my faith is unshakable.  Yes, I totally believe in God and that He does listen and does care and that He will do what He knows is best, but so many times I just don’t understand why He won’t answer the way that I want Him to.  And this shakes up my understanding of Him and of prayer.  I struggle through it just like everyone else because prayer isn’t a “magic formula.”  And so many times, I just wish it was.  I want what I want when I want it.  But somewhere along the way, when I have exhausted myself in prayer, I get to the point where all I can do is lay down at His feet and say, “Okay, Lord.  I will trust You!”  And I guess that’s what it’s all about!]
 



 

 
 

 
 
 
 

 

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A place for you to share your thoughts and to encourage each other. But please understand that as a busy homeschooling mom who is seldomly on-line, I may not be able to reply to most comments. But I will be reading them as I can and praying for you. Thank you for your comments! Please keep them godly and uplifting, as I will delete any that are mean or ungodly. I intend for this to be a safe place where people feel encouraged and respected.