Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

A Little Help?

Posted: July 30, 2012 by clairer in Contentment, Prayer

When I was six or seven years old, my Sunday School teacher used to tell us to pray with our hands open and outstretched so that we could “accept God’s blessings.” The problem was, when we finished praying, my hands were always still empty. So much for receiving God’s blessings. One week, I had had enough, so I came up with a brilliant plan. While we prayed with eyes closed, I held out my one hand — open and outstretched — but then used the other to slide my quarter for my tithe offering into my open hand. Then, when I opened my eyes – voila! There was a quarter there! I was so smug and proud of myself. There you go, God, I thought to myself, I helped you out…this time.

Obviously, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that my Sunday School teacher didn’t expect money to magically appear in my hands and that the blessings I was praying to receive weren’t necessarily coming in the form of quarters or any other type of money. Now that I’m older, I obviously don’t think I need to help God out answering my prayers…or do I?

Over the past twelve or thirteen years, it’s true, I no longer put quarters into my hands during church to substitute for God’s blessings. But I think little kids often reflect the same things that we do as adults…we just hide it better now.

The Bible is full of stories about people who felt that they needed to “help God out” in fulfilling the promises that He made to them. Sarah, for example, told her husband Abraham that the heir that God promised to him would have to come through her slave, Hagar, since she herself was too old. Saul, when preparing to go into battle against the Philistines, offered sacrifices to God himself after giving up on waiting for Samuel to come to perform the sacrifices on his behalf. Aaron and the Israelites chose to make a golden calf “god” after waiting for a long time for Moses to return from meeting with God on Mount Sinai.

In all of these instances, things didn’t turn out so well for those who lost patience, and on this side of our Bibles, it often looks foolish for these people to have taken matters into their own hands. God had just promised Abraham many descendents in Genesis 15! How could Sarah lose faith by Genesis 16? It was only one chapter!

But, all of these individuals were tested by waiting – whether it was seven days or ten years – and all of them ultimately failed to wait patiently. They decided that God needed some help…just like me with my quarter.

I think we all still do that today, even as “fully modern” adults. We pray for something – maybe direction or provision – and when we seemingly get no answer, we lose patience and take matters into our own hands. This is the basic idea behind the old saying that “God helps those who help themselves.”

And while it’s true that, to an extent, we shouldn’t sit back and expect God to plop plans and provisions into our laps while we lounge on the couch and watch TV, I think we often lose patience with waiting on God far too easily.

As Christians, we need to cling to the truth that God never misses our prayers like we tend to miss calls or emails. He hears each and every one of our prayers and he answers them all. Sometimes He gives us an immediate yes or no. Other times (and more often than not), though, it’s simply “wait.”

God isn’t making a mistake when He tells us to wait. It’s not like He is caught off-guard by our requests and has to make up His mind while we wait. God’s timing is perfect and He will move in His timing, not ours. In the meantime, God uses that waiting time. That waiting teaches us to trust His plan. It builds our faith in Him as we put aside our plans and our timing in favor of His.

Is it fun to wait? No…not usually. But it’s worth it. God’s plan and timing is always better than our cheap substitutes. God answers our prayers in ways that we can’t even imagine. He doesn’t need our help. We just often need to be content to leave our outstretched hands empty until He chooses to fill them His way.

24/7: 6am — Wait in Expectation

Posted: January 12, 2012 by clairer in 24/7, Prayer

Maybe it’s just me, but the world seems so much bleaker at 6am. It’s usually dark outside — sometimes cold and rainy — and I’m often sleepy and drowsy with a day of work and classes ahead of me. Every once in awhile — like on my birthday or Christmas — I wake up with an excited sense of anticipation for the events of the day ahead; but more frequently, I only anticipate the daily routine of homework and classes. Nothing particularly exciting…nothing particularly special…

When I get up in the morning and start to pray, my prayers can fall into a usual routine too. “Heavenly Father, give me strength to make it through today, bless my friends and my family, and help me to grow to be more like You.” Of course, my prayers vary from time to time. If I have a test that day, I might pray that God will help me to do well; or, if one of my friends is sick, I might ask for healing. However, the point is, often times praying — and my prayers themselves — can become a part of my dry, everyday, non-exciting routine. But…does this really glorify God?

In some ways, we could say that yes, it does. Simply by virtue of praying, I am glorifying God by humbly expressing my dependence on Him and my belief that He can both hear me and provide for me. By both expressing my helplessness and by acknowledging who God is, I am already glorifying Him.

However, I think I too often stop short of glorifying God to the extent that I can through my prayers. By allowing my prayer time and my prayers to become dry and routine, I fundamentally reduce God’s glory in my own eyes and deny myself the oportunity to see God’s power at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

See, routine prayers say a lot about what I believe. As Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” First, routine prayers often tend to be very general. It’s as though I believe God is either uninterested in the specifics of my life or He isn’t able to handle anything more than the basics of my life. It is almost as if these prayers need to help God out. As long as I pray broadly, God will be able to answer that prayer in some way or form. It’s almost a safety net to keep me from being disappointed by an distant or weak God. But we don’t serve a weak God, and to pray in such a way makes God small in our eyes.

Instead, we should let the specificity of our prayers be a testament to the awesome power and ability of our God to do anything and everything. Instead of praying simply for spiritual growth, pray for specific manifestations of grace — increased patience, service, and sensitivity. Instead of just praying for strength for the day, pray for specific parts of the day — wisdom and grace for certain conversations, perseverance and productivity for papers, safety for travels. By doing this, we glorify God by acknowledging His greatness.

Praying specifically and earnestly glorifies God in another way too: by opening our eyes to answered prayers. The danger of routine praying is the same as waking up to the routine day I described earlier — you don’t expect anything new or exciting to happen. But this is fundamentally different from the way that David prayed in Psalm 5. In this Psalm, David says, “In the morning, I lay my request before God and wait in expectation.” David doesn’t lay his request before God and then move on with the rest of his day completely forgetting what he prayed about that morning. He waits in expectation — anticipating answer to prayer, looking for them throughout the day.

By praying specifically, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to see God at work. Sure, it’s neat when we pray every day that God would direct our steps in our life and then one day we get the opportunity to start a new job. But doesn’t it fill you with so much more  awe when you are specifically asking God about whether you should pursue an internship for the next semester and then that very day an email comes asking you to apply for an internship at an organization? It is so obviously a work of God and an answer to prayer. It causes us to praise and thank God because we specifically see God’s hand at work. It builds our faith for future prayers. All these things glorify God.

So, although prayer in and of itself glorifies God, it holds the potential to do so much more than we often let it. Our prayers can be so much greater, more exciting, more fulfilling, and more God glorifying if we simply take the time to pray genuinely  and specifically, and then wait in expectation.

24/7: Learning to Glorify God All Day, Every Day (Series Introduction)

Not Your Will, but Mine Be Done?

Posted: June 17, 2011 by clairer in Prayer, Trusting God

Have you ever wanted something really badly? Have you ever prayed hard for that thing, and then reluctantly added at the end of your prayer the phrase that Jesus first spoke, “Not my will, but Yours be done?” I certainly have.

At the beginning of my senior year, I knew which college I should attend. In my mind, it was the absolute perfect college…except for the price tag. However, I knew that it was the right college for me, so I prayed that God would provide. “Father, could you please help me to get the scholarship money I need to go to this college?” I prayed again and again. At the end of each of my prayers, I would tack on the “not my will” phrase, but always with a bit of foreboding. Did I really want to pray that God would do His will, not mine? What if God answered that prayer and what if His will and mine didn’t match up? Then I would be stuck at some college God wanted me at instead of the college I wanted to attend!

Now while this thought process seems ridiculous when written out like this, I think we tend to do this all the time. We’re hesitant to pray for God’s will to be done or to commit things to God because we are afraid that God will do things His way instead of our way. But when we examine why we entrust things to God in the first place, we see how faulty our fear really is.

So, why do we pray for God’s will to be done?

First, it is because we serve a God who is sovereign and who holds control over all the universe. Jeremiah 51:15 says, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom, and by His understanding stretched out the heavens. When He utters His voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens and He makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lighting for the rain, and He brings forth the wind from His storehouses.” This is a powerful God that we serve. We serve a God who controls the heavens and the earth.

In contrast, how much do we control? We struggle to change minds with our words, much less change the weather with the “utter of our voices.” The book of Job always aids me in putting my power in perspective. If you need a reminder of how little you actually know and control in comparison to God, I would encourage you to read and mediate on Job 38-41.

When we understand that God controls everything and we really don’t control anything, it makes it pretty easy to choose in whose hands we want our future. Therefore, we trust God because He is sovereign and powerful.

But, a sovereign and powerful God alone does not give us a reason to want His will to be done. It just shows us that it is futile to try to stay in control. The reason we desire God’s will to be accomplished is because we also serve a good God who loves us and wants the best for us. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” So not only is God sovereign and knowledgeable about His plans for us, but those plans are for our good! And, since God knows everything, doesn’t it make sense that He would know what is good for us even better than we do?

Now just because God promises good for our lives doesn’t mean that our lives will always be easy or fun, of course. “In this life, you will have trouble,” says John 16:33. However, we can have assurance that since we have a sovereign and good God, He will be working through the difficult circumstances in our lives to “work all things together for good” for those whom He has lovingly drawn to Himself. In many ways, it’s like the relationship between a father and his son. Sometimes, the father is forced to deny his son something that the child wants, not out of malice, but out of love. The father, knows better than the child what is good for the child and what will harm the child. The son may not understand…and may think that what the father is denying him is a good thing. But the father understands and knows more than the child ever could, and thus lovingly protects the child. In many ways, this is a reflection of how God knows our good better than we can ourselves. Therefore, we trust God because He is good and trustworthy.

Finally, we trust God because it changes our disposition towards our situation. When we pray that God’s will be done, we humble ourselves before God and we acknowledge God’s sovereign control over our lives. This act brings glory to God.

It also helps us to be watching for God’s hand in whatever happens. When we’ve consciously submitted something to God’s will, we know that everything that happens is done by the hand of God, so we can see His work more clearly.

Trusting God gives us peace that our life is in his capable hands and it builds our faith as we wait and watch for what He will do in our lives.

Finally, it helps us to be content in our circumstances. When we’ve prayed God’s will be done and we believe that God is good, then we can be assured that our circumstances are God’s best for us at the present time.

Therefore, we trust God because of how it changes the disposition of our heart.

There is every good reason to trust God with every area in our lives. Sometimes it’s hard “letting go” and putting our future in His hands…which is where it has been all along. We just need to let go of our delusion that we ever had control in the first place.