DayBreaks for 2/05/14 – Disappointment #5 – Struggling With Prayer
1 John 5:14-15: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.
Does that verse describe your own personal experience with prayer? Do you have faith? Have you received everything you prayed for? Of course not. I’m asking silly questions, aren’t I? Yet the experience of having prayed – and not received – is real and troubling when we wrestle with life. Eugene Peterson once noted: Most of the people we meet, inside and outside the church, think prayers are harmless but necessary starting pistols that shoot blanks and get things going.
Was John wrong? I don’t think so. John had a confidence from personal relationship with Jesus. It wasn’t so much a conviction about the power of God (though that is implied and a given), but a confidence rooted in knowing God is listening.
In Jesus’ teaching on faith and prayer, he said faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains, that the size of the faith didn’t need to match the size of the request before God would act. We often act as if we can only get more people to pray that God will have to pay attention, so we recruit “prayer warriors” to batter down the doorway to God’s throne room. We read, we meditate, we try so hard to increase our faith. But Jesus never said for us to increase our faith. The problem is that we don’t rely or act on even the smallest amount of faith. God doesn’t require great faith – a small one will do just fine, thank you! If we are like the disciples (people of “little faith”), chances are we have enough.
Faith isn’t the same as confidence. The disciples, if anything, were too confident – think they had been successful before, so surely they could be successful again – trusting in their own ability to cast out demons. That’s not biblical faith. Biblical faith isn’t confidence as much as it is a dependence – not blind, but justifiable dependence. Faith may be smaller than its object, but the effect of faith cannot be any greater than its object. Or, said differently, that mustard seed of faith is sufficient when I pray not because my faith is stronger than my need, but because God is more powerful than my faith.
As John Koessler said: Prayer’s greatest demand may be that it requires that we restrain our tendency toward activism and wait for God. But this gets to the crux of our disappointment with prayer: we address Him but get no answer, so we think He is unmoved. But have we forgotten that silence is also the mark of a good listener? Isaiah 65:24 says he listens so well that he knows what we’ll say before we speak.
Another possibility: we may be waiting for God to speak when we should be talking to ourselves. We may have focused so much on hearing from God that we have neglected to address ourselves in response. It is popular to think of prayer as a two-way conversation (and in my experience, sometimes it is), but if the Psalms are models of prayer then prayer isn’t a two-way conversation but a one-way conversation that moves in two directions – 1) we speak to God; 2) we speak to ourselves. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “..you have to take yourself in hand…to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself.“
Prayer can be frustrating and disappointing when we don’t receive what we prayed for or “hear” from Him. No, it’s not easy, but it is simple. Koessler: It is as simple as the infant’s cry or the beggar’s reach. The power of prayer does not lie in the rigor of its method or the beauty of its vocabulary. Its strength is not in the supplicant’s posture or the prayer’s length. The essence of prayer is in the asking. Prayer is fundamentally an expression of our need…We cannot impress Him with our language. We will not shock Him with our bluntness. (The Surprising Grace of Disappointment)
When you are next frustrated with prayer, ask yourself: 1) Is God perhaps just being a good listener, waiting for me to come to the point I pray in accordance with His will? 2) Am I preaching to myself (as David so often did) after addressing God? It was often in addressing God that David came to realize what was real and what was really his need…and then he preached to himself. For the most part, God has already given us the answers in His Word. We just don’t want to have to wrestle with how to apply it to our lives and we think prayer may be an easier way out. God doesn’t do things the easy way or He’d not have sent His Son. He won’t let us off easily, either, for struggle is the pathway to growth and maturity.
Don’t let disappointment with prayer/God dissuade you. Pour it out. Then, address yourself with what He has already told us. That is what worked for David, and I suspect it will work for us, too.
PRAYER: Father, forgive us for thinking You don’t hear and don’t care! Thank You for being the best listener and Father possible! Help us in our weakness to apply Your truth to every situation, to discern where the Word has already spoken answers and revealed truth about who You are and what You are like. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2014 by Galen C. Dalrymple.
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