Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mix all ingredients and WAIT on the Lord.

I heard a sermon on prayer the other day. I have to admit to being a little afraid and a little excited all at the same time upon hearing the sermon topic. Afraid because I seldom hear someone preach well on the topic of prayer, and excited because {true confession} .... I wrestle with prayer. A lot. Not wrestle in the sense that I don't pray. No, in fact, the opposite - "pray without ceasing" is one of the few verses on prayer in the Bible that truly resonate with me. It's all the other verses on prayer that I wrestle with. You know... like the ones about whatever I ask in prayer, I will receive (Mat. 21:22). Or the one about asking, seeking and knocking so it will be opened; and my heavenly Father longing to give good gifts (Luke 11:9-12 & Mathew 7:7-11). Then my favorite one about the Lord giving me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). The list goes on. If you've been around the church for a day, you know what I'm talking about. Honestly, it's easy to see how people can buy into the whole "Prosperity Theology" thing. I mean really, doesn't the Bible promise that if I pray in faith, I'll get what I want? Now where'd I put my Genie?

Back to the sermon I heard. The speaker really did do a good job of talking about God's sovereignty and how we don't always just get what we want. He did well with not making these verses into some big promise of an all powerful Genie who is there to grant our every wish. But he also did well in leaving me hanging (as most other preachers do) with this feeling that I don't have enough faith, and if I could just conjure up the right words, or an ounce more (a mustard seed if you will) of faith - then my prayers would be answered. It's a fine line, I know. And maybe I'm the only one who felt uneasy in the room. It was when the words, "Recipe for successful prayer" were uttered with 3 points to follow that my heart sank. I continued to hold on to hope that maybe this "recipe" is in fact what I've been missing. Because in all honesty - I don't feel like most of the big prayers I have prayed over the years have had a YES attached. So what was the recipe? 1) I belong to God because of Jesus. Agreed and Amen! 2) I have to pray in faith (even as small as a mustard seed). Agreed and Amen! Then the third point is where he lost me. I have to pray for the right things, not selfish things. Huh? The right things? Selfish, I get. I mean really...does anyone ask God to pay off their mortgage? I guess I can see the slippery slope of many prayers (asking for a raise) that could end in - "Oh, and while we're at it, could you just let me win the lottery". But that isn't usually the norm of what most Christians (myself included) that I know truly wrestle with. But the RIGHT things?

The right things: God's will to be done, Salvation of those around us, greater love, greater faith, to not murder. (Kidding, most days...) Of course those are all right things. And that's why my heart sunk. I don't need to be convinced to pray (as I stated already). But if I follow a personal God who wants to hear my heart and answer my prayers, then I will admit - my prayers reach beyond such generalized sentiments. And outside of such generalized statements it gets a little tricky to know what the "right thing" is. And when my heart and prayers go out to a God who I believe hears about things more specific than salvation, his will, love and faith - and come back with a NO...it's hard.

I went up to the Speaker after the message and shared some of these thoughts with him. I voiced that one of my biggest hang-ups with his recipe was this need to pray the right things. Because see, the Bible also tells us that we don't know how to pray as we ought, so thankfully, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for our words (Romans 8:26). Agreed and Amen!

So then the problem here is that I believe that God is sovereign. I believe that he will do his will regardless of what I pray. Some may say - why pray then? But I believe that we are to pray. For many reasons...most of which have nothing to do with our actual current prayer being answered. I pray to enlarge my faith, to grow closer to the Lord, to allow him to work in my heart to guide my prayers toward things of his heart and will...the list goes on. But then I'm still left with this sinking feeling that the actual prayer itself - you know, the BIG ticket item that really matters most to ME - is sorta left hanging. A lot. And it isn't usually a selfish prayer.

There's the husband who is sick and in need of healing. God says no to healing on earth, and brings the husband and father home in what appears to be too soon of a time.

There's the mom who longs for children, but her womb keeps saying no. God says no, too.

There's the un-believing spouse (or wavering) who has a family desperately in need of said spouse to come to Jesus and lead the family well. God says wait, I know you are suffering, but wait.

There's the child on the other side of the world waiting for a family, who has to wait longer because of man and meaningless forms. God says not yet, I know he is suffering, but not yet.

There's the family torn apart by years of lies, hurt, and unforgiveness. If only a softness and a wave of grace could come over each member of the family - perhaps reconciliation could be. God says wait.

There's the child who has wandered from the family and from the faith. She just needs to come home. God says no. Not today. They will suffer for a while, but not today.

To personalize it - I recently applied for a job. A job opportunity that in all honesty sorta fell in my lap. It was one of those moments where you pause and wonder what God is up to, and proceed cautiously. Only I threw caution to the wind at some point (go figure), and my prayers were growing stronger and stronger for this job to come through. It SEEMED to be the answer to a lot of unknowns in our life right now. It seemed almost too ideal. I really thought I had it. I prayed as if I had it. You could say I prayed in faith. Until today. I got the email that no applicant wants to see. I did not get the job. I'll admit - it was one of those moments that I felt a bit like a horse with a carrot strung in front of my face - and God was the one holding the carrot. I was left confused, sad, and hearing these words ringing in my ears of a "recipe for successful prayer" wondered where I went wrong. Did I not have enough faith? Was I praying selfishly? Why was that opportunity even there for me to desire if God already knew the answer was no. The answer was no.

I can speculate all day long as to why any of the above mentioned prayers are, "No" or "Wait". But the truth is - I am not God, and I have no clue as to why. But what I do know is that he still worked through my prayers, and the prayers of many. I know that he is moving in all of it, that he hears all of it ...and mostly...thank God...his Spirit is interceding in all of it because I apparently don't know how to pray as I ought. So for now, I will continue to pray as I have been. Faithfully, persistently, and knowing full well that the answer could be no. But there is a reason my heart is stirred to pray as it does. And the reasons are ever changing as God orchestrates my life. That's a pretty cool thing, I think. Hard, but cool.

So for those of you who are like me and wrestle with this prayer thing, to those who feel like you know you ARE to pray (and want to even), but wonder if anyone is listening or are scared to hear no or have heard no - I tell you this: He hears! He is moving. He is shaping your heart and the hearts around you through your prayers. He is enlarging your faith and drawing you to his will and heart through your prayers. I agree, it is tiring. But he IS working all things together for good, and your prayers are a part of that good. To you and me, I offer this:

Psalm 27:14

Wait on the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!