Prayer. Do you struggle with it? I do. I am coming to believe that people experience their relationship with the Lord in such different ways according to their dispositions, personalities and learning styles, among many things. I am a thinker, right brained, logical, black & white kind of person. Therefore I love to read, study, meditate and bask in the Truths of Scripture and often find my encouragement there. I do enjoy music, as well, and often find sweet times with the Lord at the piano. But to just sit down and pray? That is hard for me.
I have heard much teaching on the Spiritual discipline over the years, and there are many confusing verses and teachings on prayer in Scripture:
“You do not have because you do not ask.”
– James 4.2
Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
– John 14.13-14
“The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
– James 5.16
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”
– James 4.3
These teachings of Jesus and the Apostles as so strong and clear. Pursue God, pursue His will and His plan and ask according to His purposes and whatever we ask, with the right motives, will be granted unto us.
Well how do I know my motives? How do I know if I have found God’s will and plan? I wrote a few months ago about understanding the will of God. He has revealed certain aspects about his will: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4.3). And he tells us that the one who is not conformed to the world is able to discern the will of God, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.2).
OK. So we know that if we are walking in the ways of the Lord and praying according to His plan and will, that whatever we ask will be granted. In Christianese people often close out their prayer with a qualifying statement along these lines, “We ask all of these things, but your will be done” or “If it would please you, let these things be done”. I pray that a lot, because I rarely trust my heart and my motives. And probably too there is a level of disbelief and not wanting to put God on the spot. I have heard many people say that that ruins a prayer, it makes it impersonal, it takes the power out of prayer because we are not asking in faith. But this week I was reflecting on Jesus’ final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified:
“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.”
– Matt 26.39, 42-44
If there was ever a person on the face of the Earth who knew the will of the Father, it was Jesus Christ. And look at how He prayed. He poured out His heart, and then He surrendered His desires and said “Whatever you want”. This does not ruin a prayer. Jesus knew how to pray. He is our key example of prayer. Trusting in the sovereignty of God, in His perfect plan, in his established path for our lives does not ruin a prayer, it builds faith. Even the Lord’s prayer, when he was teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus said “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt 6.10).
I do not have some great, deep insight into prayer for you today. I did just read a great book on prayer by Paul Miller called “The Praying Life”, and I highly recommend it. I reflected a bit on prayer last month here as well.
I have just been reflecting today on the fact that God wants our trust and our submission. Trying to pray the perfect prayer, hone our intentionality so as to be so attuned to His will that our prayers never fail, or giving up on prayer because we are inadequate are all flawed approaches to our interaction with our Heavenly Father. Maintaining a relationship with Him through open and honest communication is important, while understanding that His will is perfect and at times is above our own – it was even above Jesus’ – so being able to say “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done” is a good place to be.