Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Where Prayer Focuses....

What are you trusting God for in the next six months which only He can do?

Listening to an old recording by Dr. Howard Hendricks, I was recently riveted by this question. The answer to this question- not much, is a pulse check on my prayer life. Honestly, I have been too safe in my prayers by usually having a plan b figured out if God didn’t answer and not praying often for areas I don’t have much control over. Likewise, I couldn’t look back at the last six months and answer Hendricks’ question any differently. This reflection has led me to consider the theology and purpose of prayer.

In his classic volume Systematic Theology, Dr. Wayne Grudem identifies several purposes for prayer:

  • God wants us to pray because prayer expresses our trust in God and is a means where by our trust in Him can increase.
  • Prayer brings us into deeper fellowship with God, and He loves us and delights in our fellowship with Him.
  • In prayer, God allows us as creatures to be involved in actions that are eternally important. When we pray, the work of the Kingdom is advanced. In this way, prayer gives us opportunity to be involved in a significant way in the work of the Kingdom and this gives expression to our greatness as creatures made in God’s image.

Prayer changes the way God acts. When we as finite beings stop to consider this statement, it is mind blowing. The all-powerful sovereign God of the universe works in response to our prayers. Consider a couple examples from Scripture:

  • …You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2c)
  • If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Hopefully these truths will motivate us to pray more fervently. A few thoughts pertaining to prayer from Grudem:

  •  The regular reading and memorization of Scripture, along with years of a Christian’s life, will increase the depth, power, and wisdom of our prayers.
  • Prayer is not only talking to God, but also waiting on Him after bringing our requests. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15, also see Psalm 130:5-6)
  • Prayer is never wishful thinking, for it springs from trust in a personal God who wants us to take Him at His word.
  • We are to pray earnestly but the intensity and depth of emotional involvement in prayer should never be faked- we cannot fool God.
  • Anything in our lives that displeases Him in the form of ongoing and unrepentant sin will be a hindrance to God answering our prayers. Prayer and holy living go together. If I had cherished  iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.(Psalm 66:18; also see Proverbs 15:29, 1 Peter 3:7, and 1 John 3:21-22)

Moving the hand of God through prayer is not reserved for the “chosen elite” but for all Christ-followers. I love James' words: The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:16b-17). Elijah, the one who called fire down on Mt. Carmel and controlled the rain through prayer was a person like us! He prayed, God listened. The early church filled with ordinary Christians prayed fervently for Peter’s release from prison. When he showed up to their prayer meeting, they didn’t even believe it was him (Acts 12:12-17).

Dr. Hendricks also frequently said “where prayer focuses, power falls." I didn’t quite grasp the depth of those words until recently spending time studying and thinking about prayer. This study was only the tip of the iceberg- there is so much more to learn about the theology of prayer. In the coming days, I want to start trusting God through prayer in areas that only He can accomplish. Recently, a guys’ group I lead have compiled a list of unsaved individuals that are so far from Christ. We are committing to pray for them daily and will watch how God responds. 

Prayer is a great adventure. How will we shape eternity through our prayers?

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