Sometimes we don’t pray because we don’t feel in need. Other times we don’t pray because suffering has so worn us down that we have lost hope that God will actually act to change our situations. To be honest at different points in my life I have fallen into both traps.
All too often we see prayer as simply an opportunity for us to ask God for something. If we feel like we already have everything we need, then why pray? If we feel desperate and our repeated prayers for relief have gone apparently unanswered, then again why pray?
But prayer is more than just using God as a dispenser of things that we want from him. As my pastor Tope Koleoso once put it at a Jubilee Church prayer meeting,
“Prayer is evidence of dependence on God”
And we do all depend on God in reality even if we don’t realise it or act like it. It is nothing short of pride to behave as if we don’t.
Many of us live insulated lives where we never really experience the full extent of our human frailty. We con ourselves that everything will be continue to be just fine. Some of us seem to live a charmed life where everything works out for us, and we somehow we think that will always be the case.
We don’t think about the possibility that one day a sickness might suddenly strike us down, or some other catastrophe might strike us. This casual disregard for our own frailty and our need of God is denounced by James:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:14-16)
If we don’t believe bad things will ever happen to us, we might not pray. But if bad things have happened to us and we have prayed for a while but our circumstances haven’t changed, we might not pray either. No wonder Jesus told us to pray at all times.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:1–8).
Jesus here commands us by way of a parable to pray always, and to not be discouraged. And whilst this parable is set up to address those of us who are suffering so much that we fear God just isn’t listening and will never act on our behalf, praying always also clearly includes the times when we don’t feel our need so clearly.
Prayer turns our gaze to God, and places ourselves in a place that says to him “No matter how good or bad my circumstances are, it is YOU that I need more than anything else!”
Jesus was determined that his followers would be prayerful in every situation. John Piper elaborates:
Jesus intends to create a praying people. His demand is clear, and the issue is so important that he tells us why, how, for whom, and what we are to pray. And though we might think that the Son of God would be above the need to pray, he sets the example for us, as a perfect human being, by rising early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35) and seeking times alone to pray (Matt. 14:23) and sometimes spending the whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12) and, in the end, preparing for his suffering by prayer (Luke 22:41–42).
Why? For the Glory of God . . . Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Prayer is designed by God to display his fullness and our need. Prayer glorifies God because it puts us in the position of the thirsty and God in the position of the all-supplying fountain . . . Prayer is designed as a way of relating to God, so that it is clear we get the help and he gets the glory. . . The most wonderful thing about prayer, as Jesus demands it, is that it is perfectly suited to secure God’s glory and our joy.
Piper, J. (2006). What Jesus demands from the world (pp. 105–107). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books
Prayer is not designed to change God. It’s purpose isn’t to overcome indifference or hostility in him so that he has compassion on us to act. His love for us already knows no bounds! When we come to him in prayer we don’t come to a reluctant unjust judge.
We come to the one who has already given us everything. He gave his all for us that we might live. He loves us so much that he gave up his precious son to death on a cross for us. Why would we think he would withhold anything good from us?
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)
When we pray it is US that needs to change more than our circumstances. If things are going well for us we need reminding that our success was not ours, but that we depend on God for everything.
If things are going badly for us in prayer we remind ourselves of all that God has already done for us – not least dying in our place! No matter how sorry our situation is we can find something to thank Him for. And as we thank him we will find that our discouragement lifts:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
As we learn to find something to rejoice in and thank God for in every situation then faith will rise in our hearts. We will find ourselves trusting in Jesus and his good plans for our future.
Sometimes the blessing or healing we seek is delayed even at times by decades. Some of our prayers will only be answered when we see Jesus face to face. But just like impatient children we must learn to trust God in the waiting, and continue to hope.
And so Jesus commands us to persist in prayer. To keep going. To not give up or lose hope. Why? To teach us true faith in him:
The point is not to finally break God’s resistance but to discover, by patient prayer, God’s wisdom as to the way and time the prayer should be answered. He is not disinclined to help his children and glorify his name. He simply knows better than we do when and how the answer should come. Therefore, our persistence in prayer shows both our confidence that God is our only hope and that he will act in the best way and the best time in response to our persistent pleas.
What Jesus demands from the world (p. 108). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.John Piper.
Jesus leaves us under no illusions that bad things will happen to us. He always keeps his promises, including this one:
“In this world you will have trouble.” – Jesus (John 16:33, NIV)
Jesus goes on to encourage us that he has overcome the world. Thus, the Christian can expect to face troubles and yet also overcome them by the strength that Jesus gives.
Jesus urges us to pray, so that we can receive the grace to stand, and to have faith that he will time after time deliver us from the troubles we face.
No wonder Jesus urged his disciples:
But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
I can’t think of a better way to end this post thank with the words of an old hymn:
1. What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
2. Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
Coming soon: the rest of the series “Jesus Commands”
Jesus said that if you obey him your life will be established on a firm foundation when the storms come.
Adrian hopes God willing to be able to return to blogging more regularly soon.
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