Monday, November 23, 2009

Why our prayers fail?

So I've been contemplating why Christians' prayers sometimes seem to fall short. While praying this morning it occurred to me that we tend to pray too little, too small, and too weak.

We pray too little:
We simply don’t pray enough. William P. Wilson, M.D., 
Professor Emeritus at Duke Medical Center and Director of the Institute of Christian Growth found that “the average churchgoer in the US prays one minute a day. The average pastor prays three minutes a day.” That’s really bad, and really telling. Perhaps that’s why sermons are so weak and so few people respond. Perhaps that’s why so many pastors succumb to temptation and become a public scandal, shaming the name of Christ. Perhaps that’s a reason our churches are so empty and powerless. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to tell the difference between Christians and their unbelieving neighbors. When we don’t pray intentionally and consistently we are, in effect, displaying one or more of the following attitudes: I don’t need God, God doesn’t listen, or God can’t change things. All of these are lies! When I take time to pray, I spend time with the One who loves me and happens to run the entire universe. He has asked me to pray. I need him. By praying, if nothing else, I acknowledge my dependence on him and prove my belief that he hears me. If that were all my prayers accomplished, it would be enough. But of course, that is not all. My prayers move God to action.

We pray too small:
We tend to pray for less significant things. “Let me have a good day.” “Keep my kids safe.” “Let me get a raise.” “Let me have a new car.” “Help me to feel better.” “Let the food we are about to eat go to the nourishment of our bodies.” “Give me a good night’s sleep.” Come on folks! It’s not that these things are not important, but can’t we do better than that?
I have been around many Christians, some of them were people I would call exceptionally godly (of course, these are people who would never call themselves that!). These people tend to pray for BIG things. They ask for God to awaken thousands to the truth of the Gospel and for God to change our culture. They pray for God to use their time, bodies, resources, intellect, etc. for the sake of his glory in this world. They ask for God to raise up godly men and women with passion for his church and his word. They pray for God to change the hearts of people in government. They pray that their kids will love Christ with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength, and bring their friends to Christ; and for their schools to be impacted for Christ’s sake. They pray for God to bless them financially so that they can give generously to their church and people in need. They pray for God to stop the advancement of Islam and other false religions through the power of Christ, and set ablaze the church against whom "the gates of hell cannot prevail." They pray that God will let them suffer any negative thing (sickness, sorrow, persecution, poverty) as one joyfully sharing in the sufferings of Christ for their own growth and the sake of his glory. That’s praying BIG. God is big. He likes for us to pray for big things.

We pray too weak:
Our prayers sometimes lack assurance and passion. We can come across like this: “Lord, thank you for this day. If it is according to your will, please be with John Doe while he is feeling bad and please help our church do what you’ve called us to do. And I pray that I will not face difficulties today.” When we pray weakly, not with conviction expecting results, we waste our time and a great opportunity! We are told to “boldly approach the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) and to pray expectantly. Jesus made this crystal clear in Luke 11:5-8

And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

It is the rude urgency of the friend wanting the loaves that moves the groggy sleeper to action. Christ (who is not a groggy sleeper, by the way) is telling the story so that we will show urgency in our prayers! He follows his parable with this (Luke 11:9-13):

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

We have a Father who wants us to have...not just good gifts...but the Holy Spirit when we ask! Therefore, a strong prayer will be bold, and will “remind” God (or, more accurately, remind the one praying) of the promises he has made in his Word. It will be passionate and specific; pleading and intense.

I want to pray often. I want to pray big. I want to pray strong.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When you DON'T feel like it...

The pastor of my home church, Dr. Richard Emmert, was a man of prayer. He went on a trip to South Korea and saw how God was transforming that nation. He witnessed first hand how the Korean Christians prayed and knew that was the key. It changed him. He came back challenging and leading our church to pray. Our church experienced an awakening—and it is still doing well today. He said much about prayer. Among many other great quotes that I still remember, this one came to my mind today:

“Pray when you feel like it...pray when you don’t feel like it...pray UNTIL you feel like it.”

This morning this was fulfilled in my prayer time.

I had some dental work done yesterday afternoon. After the local anesthesia wore off my whole jaw was throbbing with pain and I had a huge headache. I didn’t sleep well. My alarm went off at 5 am and I did not want to get up. I took 2 ibuprofen and dragged myself to the church to pray. Honestly, I struggled. I didn’t feel like praying. I asked God to help me. I remembered in Matthew 26 when Jesus told Peter and the disciples to pray with him in the garden the night he was betrayed. He soon found them asleep. “Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray...” He prayed again and saw that they had fallen asleep—again! I bet they would have been wide-awake had they known what was about to happen!

Anyway, I kept fighting—sometimes frustrated that I couldn’t stay focused. I asked God to help me pray. He did. All of a sudden it seemed the clouds cleared and I met with God! My heart revived and I know God heard me. He helped me know what to pray. And I heard him. I walked out refreshed and renewed! Thank you Father.

“Pray when you feel like it...pray when you don’t feel like it...pray UNTIL you feel like it.”

Now I get it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A little guidance for praying

I’ve been praying in the mornings. Not for the show, but because I want God to move. It has been incredible. Some others have come to the church to pray too. Some have said they want to come but can't for scheduling reasons (work, taking kids to school, etc.). A couple of people have asked if they could have a copy of the Morning Prayer guide to which I’ve referred. Instead of the popular ACTS method (Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication) which is good, I’ve found Jesus’ model prayer is more helpful for me to get things going. I've been using the following and the time flies!

October 19-November 26 Mondays-Thursdays
Nothing fancy. No music. No preaching. No requests. Just prayer.
Come any time between 6-8 AM. Pray however long you want.

5 Aspects of an Effective Prayer according to Jesus in Luke 11:2-4

1. Acknowledge your privileged position with Him: He is your Father.

"hallowed be your name,"
2. Affirm His “Awesomeness.”

"your kingdom come."
3. Align your priorities with His: The Kingdom is first.

"Give us each day our daily bread."
4. Ask Him to provide for your needs.

5. Address sin:
"Forgive us our sins," Confess your sins to God.

"for we also forgive everyone who sins against us." Forgive others’ sins.

"And lead us not into temptation." Ask God to guide you away from sin.

Some ideas for your prayers:
For God to have mercy on our nation:
•Spiritual awakening- that he would cause many thousands to be saved, changing our culture, turning back the moral decline.
 President Obama
 Congress in general
 Our Senators: Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker
 Our US House Representative: John Duncan, Jr.
 Supreme Court Justices
 State and local leaders
Pray God will give them wisdom to do what’s right & best for our nation. Pray they will not give in to corruption or dishonesty, or act out of self-interest. Pray they will seek to know God and his will. Pray they will not spend unnecessarily. Pray that God will remove those who lead wrongly.
•Military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan
For God to have mercy on people you know:
•For those who do not know Christ- that God will draw them to himself, that God will open doors for you to lead them to him.
•Christians you know who are in sin, not growing or struggling spiritually.
•For the spiritual well being of your family.
For God to have mercy on the church:
•For Providence specifically:
 That we are true to God’s word and sensitive to his will.
 That we are effective in reaching the lost AND growing believers.
 That our people find meaningful relationships with each other.
 That God will help us impact the world through our missions efforts and planting churches.
 That God will give the elders and staff wisdom to lead.
 That God will protect us from division, error, and scandal.
 That God will provide financially through the giving of his people.
 That God will raise up people to lead and volunteer.
•For the Church in general:
 That the drift toward moral relativism & radical tolerance is reversed.
 That God’s people would love and obey God’s word.
 That we would not be divided, but unite in spreading the gospel.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Motivations for Prayer

(Note: I just read over this and perceived that it comes off like I’m trying to sound “Mr. Spiritual.” Please don’t read that. Truthfully, I’ve been under conviction for many months about my prayer life. It has not been what it needs to be. I’ve been going through the motions, sometimes rushing through prayer after reading the Word in my daily devotional time. This discipline is good for me, and my hope is that somehow it will encourage you!)

The first week that I prayed at the church from 6-8 AM from Monday until Thursday really was great. I have absolutely NO regrets—in fact, it has made a difference in my life. You’ve got to understand that I’m not naturally a morning person. I start early because I need to, not because I want to. My brain typically starts hitting on all cylinders around 10 AM and I tend to get really productive toward the end of the day. All my adult life I’ve asked God to help me be a morning person—and I envy those who naturally are!

So I say all that to say this: Thursday of last week, I struggled during the morning prayer time. I “fought” for the first 15-30 minutes. I’m not sure why. My thoughts were unsettled and I chased rabbits everywhere in my mind. I worked through the Lord’s Prayer as a model outline to “cover the bases” (I’ll try to blog on that method later). I finally “broke through” and had some really good heart communication with God for the next hour before becoming a little groggy. Note to self: I was up late Wednesday night—don’t need to do that again! So I took a break and walked out to get a drink of water. Then I was good for the last 15 minutes.

Since Thursday, I’ve been reflecting on my motivation. I’m determined not to let this become an empty discipline or a legalism. I’m not waking up this early for NOTHING!!

So I’m asking myself the question: WHY SHOULD I BE MOTIVATED TO PRAY? I’ve thought of a few things that might actually motivate Christians, and I think they are both historically and biblically sound, too!

Motivation #1: FEAR.
People tend to pray when they are scared. Some fear for personal loss: afraid they will fail a test, lose their job, have to sell their home; or worse, afraid they will lose a child or spouse. Some see the news and become afraid for our nation. Closer to home, we SHOULD fear what we see happening to our kids when they are enticed by the world. When we read the Bible (particularly books like Amos), we should fear God’s judgment of the lost, the wayward church, or ourselves because of sin! I’m not sure fear is a bad thing-in fact, I’m pretty sure this is a very GOOD thing. Sometimes God uses fear to drive us to pray.

Motivation #2: OPPORTUNITY.
If God is really moved by our prayers and actually acts in response to them, we are CRAZY not to pray. Millions of people lay down billions of dollars to play the lottery hoping they get wealthy, when they know their chances of winning are next to impossible! We, however, as God’s children, have the ear of Almighty God, who is the all-powerful, Maker of the universe and beyond! There’s nothing he can’t do and nothing he doesn’t own. And we have been told that he hears and responds to our prayers!

Motivation #3: INTIMACY.
When I pray, I commune with God and spend time in his presence. In other words, I hang out with HIM and talk to HIM! One big concern I have of our technological/informational age is the way it crowds out the simple, quiet time with God. God said, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psal. 46:10). This is the opposite of our tendency today. We need our iPod blaring in our earbuds at all times we’re not engaged with people. We need to keep up with all 999 “friends” on facebook. We need to answer the constant stream of emails and watch youtube videos. We need to spend hours in front of our flat-screen HDTVs watching news, sports, comedy, and hundreds more channels that we pay hundreds each month to see! Sure, our enemy lures and tempts us with some of the content of the many different media to which we expose our minds. But more than the content, it is the time away from God that is just as hurtful. If the enemy can keep us distracted...occupied...busy, he’s got us. But when I put away the distractions and spend time alone communicating with God, I know him more and better. When I pray I “hear” from God’s heart. Not new extra-biblical revelation, but meditation concerning what I know about God—things I’ve learned about him in his Word—I understand him more. I sense his holiness. I feel his pleasure and his presence. When I know him more, my love for him grows.

Motivation #4: PLEASURE.
This one is linked to the previous. It does not take long in prayer before my priorities and tastes begin to change. When I am saturated in the world, I find myself longing for the things of the world. When I am in the presence of God I begin to see the world as it really is: shallow...stale...hollow...unsatisfying. Not so God’s presence. As Paul said, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
” (Rom. 11:33), and David:
“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).
When we pray, Not only do we begin to realize the vastness of God’s infinite attributes—we actually begin to take some of them on. We walk in his peace. We act in confidence. We show his meekness and gentleness. We start “dressing” like our Father. Again quoting Paul, “as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts... And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.... And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:12-17).
It is FRUSTRATING to be a Christian who continues to fail to become more like Christ, and EXHILERATING to be one who continues to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). The Christian who spends time with Christ has a distinct advantage of increasingly bearing Christ’s identity.

Motivation #5: POWERLESSNESS.
“Prayer is an unspoken confession of our utter dependence upon God. Prayerlessness is an unbroken testimony of our dependence upon the flesh” (R. Sprinkle). Truth is, I can do nothing on my own. I can’t even do what’s right when I try. I can’t insure my own safety, let alone that of my wife and kids! I am so feeble and helpless. So many things are out of my control. My health, the future, virtually everything! I certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t do anything about our country. It’s depressing when I think about it. The only thing I can do is to ask my Father to act. He CAN do ANYTHING. In fact, he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If I can’t do anything...and he can do everything...I am insane if I don’t pray.

Motivation #6: OBEDIENCE.
God has asked that we pray, and told us that he would act when we do. Here are just a few of the passages in the Bible that encourage us to pray:

Matthew 7:7-11
7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Ephesians 6:18
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

1 Timothy 2:1-8
1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
8I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling

Colossians 4:2
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray continually;

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

James 5
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
17Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

1 Peter 3:12
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer

1 Peter 4:7
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

I want you to know that the last few mornings’ prayer time have been incredible! The time has FLOWN by. I’ve actually been shocked when I looked at my watch and saw it was past 8:00! I hope this encourages you to pray.