I’ve been reading a great deal about prayer lately trying to jumpstart my prayer life. Of all the Christian disciplines this one is the hardest for me to grasp and hold onto. It is not because I don’t want to talk to God or don’t feel worthy or anything like that, it is just because somehow it is so easy to push aside. Another reason is I often feel like I’ve said all I have to say to God on a certain subject and I can’t think of new and creative ways to engage God in meaningful prayer.
Now some of you are thinking just pray and stop making such a big deal out of it, but it is a big deal and I want my prayer life to be relational not just a series of wants. In his book Praying, J.I. Packer has some solid advice concerning the theology of prayer and it has been a great help as I try to sort out my own prayer life. Packer, as does Timothy Keller, believes that the start of a solid prayer life begins with concentrated Bible Study. He recommends that we take a passage of Scripture and read it until we have a feel for what it is trying to say to us.
After we have read and studied the text he believes we should brood upon the text. What he means by that is simply we should meditate upon what God is trying to say to us through the verses we have studied. We are to ask ourselves questions like, “what is God saying to the people who would have read this in the First Century?”
Then we could ask ourselves what the verses mean to us in our culture, how do they relate to me personally, and what could I do to enact the wisdom of the verse into my life. We may well see answers in our meditation to problems within our extended family or taking place in the life of friends.
According to Packer we now have the ammunition to begin a serious heartfelt talk to God. He believes that because of our study and brooding upon the text we have our hearts opened to the many possibilities of God’s reaching out to us through the indwelling of the Spirit. The outflow of this is we are filled with joy and wonder at the discoveries we have made through our time studying and meditating upon the Bible. Our prayers will commence with praise and worship because we simply can’t help ourselves.
Our praise and worship is not a formula but an outpouring of the heart that leads us into conversation with God. This leads us into a time of repentance and confession as we honestly pour out the stumbling blocks in our life and ask God to draw closer. As we continue in prayer we find the texts that we have studied bring up questions and possibilities that we can talk to God about as we seek wisdom and direction on how to proceed in every aspect of our life.
Packer believes that God answers every heartfelt prayer by saying yes. The problem we face is that God’s yes is not always the yes that we want to hear. We pray from our immediate needs such as someone having cancer and we want healing, but we seldom look at the long road and what God’s plan is for the person we are praying for to recover from cancer. When we don’t receive immediate answers of healing we somehow feel God has cheated us or skipped over us in His ability to heal.
It is difficult for us to understand that God’s plans are not necessarily our plans. He sees the big picture and knows what is best and that if we allow Him to be our God everything will be as it should be, even if it isn’t what we had in mind. To come to this place in our prayer life is the power of the Spirit working within us.
When we pray it is not “our will be done,” but “your will be done, God” that leads and invigorates our prayer life. We know that we are praying for God’s wisdom and direction to be in control of our requests and therefore “His will” will be done. Like I said, it is hard for us to wrap our head around the idea that we may not receive the answer to our prayers the way we wish. It is, however, wonderfully comforting to know that God is working to answer our prayers in a way that is a true blessing to all concerned.
You might be saying, right about now, how is it God’s will that I didn’t get the job I was applying for, or that Aunt Lilly died after I prayed my heart out about these things? The answers to these questions are not easy to digest or even understand in light of the fact that we do not know the mind of God nor can we see into the future. All we can do is accept that God knows best and trust Him.
It is through these times of storms when we don’t receive the answers we long to receive that we often grow the closest to God and learn to put our trust in Him. And the simple truth is that through these disappointments our lives may become more in tune with God than we ever could have imagined.
Joseph, I am sure, cried out to God to deliver him from the pit that his brothers threw him into. His prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears when he was pulled out of the pit and sold as a slave and sent to Egypt. I am sure his prayers must have seemed like they bounced off the Egyptian night sky as he prayed for deliverance only to be cast into prison. When his cellmate said he would remember him to Pharaoh and then forgot his promise upon his release Joseph must have felt abandoned once again. Yet, through all these trials God was leading and had a plan for Joseph that would eventually be revealed and bring redemption and life to his family and save the lives of countless Egyptians.
God has a plan for our lives as well and we don’t always see the end game from where we are sitting but in God’s hands our prayers are answered in our best interest not necessarily according to our wants. I know I want God to direct my life and lead me through my prayers. I know from past experience He is much better at it than I am.
* What does it mean to be in Christ? It’s when you are so in love with Him that you are willing to give your life for Him. Many people around the globe are currently experiencing persecution for their faith in God, and many even unto death, this is being in Christ. They need our support and prayers. Please take the time to read some of their stories at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…