Do I Pray My Priorities?


Photo by Garon Piceli from Pexels

More often than not, when a speaker addressing Christians addresses the topic of priorities, an established order of what’s important surfaces: God first, others second, self third. Generally “others” is broken down into family over friends or neighbors or business associates or church contacts.

I suspect most Christians, when asked, would also say they value missions highly, care about their pastor, and are interested in evangelism, missions, or some other ministry. I’m confident many would add a concern for our schools, public or private, and what’s happening in national government, maybe in state government, and some even in local government.

These things and others that we care about according to our priority lists, should be occupying more of our time and money and energy and thoughts than what we so often do think—and pray—about: things that will make me, my family, and my friends happy or more comfortable.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t “live my list” like I wish I did. But even if I fail to welcome the new neighbors on the corner, can’t I pray for them? Even if I don’t have offering money beyond what I give to my local church, can’t I pray for missionaries or other ministries? Even though I don’t write a note of encouragement to my pastor, can’t I pray for him?

Living out our priorities is hard, hard work. Prayer? I know some people talk about laboring in prayer, but it seems to me conversations with God about the things I care most about ought to be conversations I rush to have, ones I look forward to, and have to be pulled away from with reluctance.

And if that’s not the case, then maybe the problem is my understanding of prayer, or my list. I know what my priorities should be … what I say they are. But are my priorities like my New Year’s Resolutions—a list I make knowing full well it’s more wishful thinking than a guide for what I intend to do?

I understand wishful thinking. I’ve wished I was a good housekeeper, a good correspondent, a conscientious exerciser. But do I wish those things to the point of change? The first clue to the answer to that question, I think, is whether or not I begin to pray for the thing I say I care about.

If I believe God hears and answers prayer, and I do, then why, why, why wouldn’t I pray about the things I say are top most on my list of priorities?

From the book of James:

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (vv 16b-18)

Elijah’s nature was just like ours. James was clearly implying that we have the same kind of power in prayer as Elijah had. But his prayer had to do with God getting the attention of a wayward king, a disobedient people. In other words, his prayer had to do with the spiritual welfare of those to whom he was sent as a prophet of God.

Would that my prayers will become more centered on spiritual needs than on physical ones!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2009.

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Published in: on March 1, 2019 at 4:51 pm  Comments (7)  
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Best Intentions


Best intentions really aren’t enough. Addicts often have the best intentions but can’t break the vise of their vice. Children frequently have the best intentions, only to forget a few minutes later what it is their parents have told them to do. I don’t doubt that Presidents and senators and representatives, governors, assemblymen, all have the best intentions to rule well and keep their campaign promises. Sadly, we know how that works out more times than not.

Clearly, intending to do well isn’t the same as doing well.

The people of Israel were a perfect example of this basic fact. They declared their intentions as they prepared to follow Joshua into the Promised Land:

They answered Joshua, saying, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (Joshua 1:16)

How quickly “all you have commanded” turned into Achan taking a bit of gold, some silver, and a fancy piece of cloth—things Joshua, at God’s direction, had said Israel was not to take.

In the end, best intentions are only as good as the act of following through. It’s not enough to intend to serve others if we turn around and serve ourselves instead. It’s not sufficient to intend to obey God if we go our own way when we don’t like what He says. It’s not OK to intend to keep our promises if we break them when it’s more expedient to do so.

Are intentions worthless? No. They reveal our hearts at a moment in time. But our hearts are fickle, weak, wicked, and deceptive. The person who says, “Mine isn’t” proves how deceived he is by his heart.

The point is, intentions need to be propped up by commitment which turns into action. God didn’t just intend to send a Redeemer, He actually committed Himself to that role, and then took on the form of Man and went to the cross to implement what He intended.

If we are to go beyond intentions—intending to obey God, to live righteously, to love our neighbors as ourselves—we will know we mean it when we commit, when we start, and when we stay with it.

The people of Israel intended to possess the Promised Land. They couldn’t stand on the bank of the Jordan and simply intend to conquer Jericho. The priests needed to step into the water, and the people needed to walk to the other side with a wall of water billowing up beside them. They needed to march around the city for days, and they needed to charge ahead once the walls were down.

Best intentions? They aren’t worthless. But they aren’t really even a start. They are hopes, plans, and for the Christian, the perfect thing to take to God in prayer.

This post is a revised reprint of one that appeared here originally in October 2012.

Published in: on February 19, 2019 at 5:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Our Amazing God


Blogger friend InsanityBytes recently posted an article entitled “Moving Mountains” in which she discusses the difference between wishful thinking and prayer. My immediate thought was—God. The difference is dreaming of something and asking God for something.

That thought started me thinking about answered prayer. I’ve had atheists before challenge me to name an answered prayer. I don’t generally write my prayers down. I’d be writing all day. And a lot of times I don’t know how God has answered prayer. But once in a while, He is gracious and gives me a peek into what he’s doing with my requests. Mine and others, no doubt.

Note, these answers to prayer are not because of me. They are because of God, who laid the need on my heart (and likely on other believers’ hearts) and prompted us to pray, because He delights in including us in His work, then answered those prayers in a powerful way.

For instance? Some time ago, because of a prompt in a prayer journal I was using, I started praying for believers who live in places that persecute them. As part of my prayer, I started asking for the pastors of those churches to receive training in the word of God so they don’t get sucked into false teaching.

So not long after I started praying for this, a particular pastor here in the US said he was leaving his ministry because he felt the need to go abroad and help train pastors in places where they don’t have great study tools or easy access to schools that will train them.

Today I learned that a whole ministry has begun with one pastor here making his study tools available for use—by anyone but especially by pastors around the world. The UK arm of his ministry is heading this up and undoubtedly these “how to study the Bible” tools will equip hundreds and hundreds of pastors from China to Iran and beyond. What an incredible answer to prayer.

Another prayer was from years ago. In 1990 missionary Luis Bush with Partners International referred to the 10-40 window, by which he meant people living between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. Generally the countries in this window have limited access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ironic, since it includes the Middle East where Jesus lived.

According to Wikipedia,

Roughly two-thirds of the world population lived in the 10/40 Window, and it is predominantly Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, animist, Jewish, or atheist. Many governments in the 10/40 Window are officially or unofficially opposed to Christian work of any kind within their borders.

Back those 30 or so years ago, the idea was to pray because we could not go.

Well, a great deal has happened in that region since 1990. How many of those technological changes and regime changes and wars and revolts have allowed the gospel message to penetrate this closed window? More than we may be aware of.

But I want to highlight one specific, from God only, answer to this prayer. Many Muslims have reported having dreams that have brought them to the Bible or to someone who had a Bible and could explain it. These personal reports are especially powerful because as Nabeel Qureshi explained in the expanded edition of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Muslims place a great deal of emphasis on the meaning of dreams. Nabeel himself reported having several confirming dreams that convinced him God was the God of Christianity, not Islam.

He was careful to add that dreams are not replacements for Scripture. But God uses them to draw people to Himself.

And why shouldn’t He? In Biblical times, God spoke to Joseph, Mary’s future husband, in a dream, more than once. He spoke to King Nebuchadnezzar through more than one dream, and to Joseph. He spoke to Daniel through dreams, and the magi when they were about to return home.

My point is, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why shouldn’t He communicate with people today through miraculous means? I know this is controversial for some Christians who believe the “ecstatic gifts”—the miraculous things the Holy Spirit does—ceased to take place once we had the Bible.

But evidence seems to be on the side of increasing dreams that open people up to the truth of the Bible. And these people just happen to live in the 10-40 window. Is that not an answer to prayer of God’s people?

Why would we relegate this amazing phenomena to the the trash heap of coincidence? Why should we suspect that these people turning to Christ are lying about their dreams and about the reason they are turning to find the truth about Jesus?

Someone who does not believe that God hears and answers prayer can pooh-pooh a dramatic change in the fortunes of the people in the 10-40 window that allows people who once had no contact with Christianity to now have access to the internet, to have missionaries in their country, to travel to countries that allow Bibles and preaching. But believers should know better.

Would these things have happened without prayer for the 10-40 window? We can’t know. But we do know God hears and answers prayer. He prompts us to pray in the first place because He wants to do a work that includes us.

Think about it. We can pray for God to move a mountain, then when He does, are we going to say, Well, it’s probably a natural phenomenon that caused it to move and it would have done so even if we hadn’t prayed.

If we believe God answers prayer, why would we question the answers we can see? Sure, God does use all kinds of means to answer prayer, but that fact should not mask His involvement. He is as amazing today as He was when Jesus turned water into wine, when He multiplied the loaves and fish so they fed more than 5000 people, when He calmed the wind and waves. That’s the God who lives in the heart of every believer. Pretty amazing, isn’t He!

Published in: on February 4, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Effective Prayer Of A Righteous Man


At the end of the book of James, there are a few verses that deal with prayer. The context is specifically prayer for someone who is sick, which seems like a lot of prayer from Christians in 21 century America. I used to take prayer requests from my students, sometimes publicly, so we could pray together, and some times privately, for my eyes only. And for God’s. The vast majority of the requests were for health issues.

But that’s beside the point, because, though that was James’s starting point, it’s not where he ended up. Instead he went to a general statement, then to a specific example. First the statement: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

What kind of “much” can prayer accomplish, James?

He answers this question with his example:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. (5:17-18)

I love the explanation of who Elijah was—a guy just like the rest of us. No super saint. He didn’t have angelic blood. He wasn’t special in any way. But he did have two things going for him. 1) His prayer was earnest. 2) He was righteous.

Whenever I read these verses, I think, I should be praying more. I mean—rain! We could use rain in Southern California.

But the point is not to pray for stuff just because I want to see stuff happen. Like the Dodgers winning the World Series or even something more practical like safety for a friend who is on a trip.

The key, I think, is in the “righteous” part. It reminds me of a verse in Psalm 37, one people love to quote: “Delight yourself in the LORD / And He will give you the desires of your heart.” (v 4)

Health-and-wealthers use that verse as a limitless credit card that God has to honor. Atheists use that verse as evidence that prayer “doesn’t work.”

But both groups are ignoring the first phrase: “delight yourself in the LORD.” That’s like being righteous. It’s essentially saying, enjoy God so much you would not want to be doing anything He doesn’t want you to do. So why would we ever pray for something we aren’t absolutely sure God wants?

In Elijah’s case, he prayed for no rain, then three plus years later, for rain, because God told him what to ask for. So he was sure. He knew what God wanted.

But why does God even bother? I mean, He can send the rain whether we ask or not, and usually does.

Again in Elijah’s situation, God accomplished several things. Elijah didn’t ask for these things in secret. People, particularly the king of Israel, knew why there was no rain. God was showing His power, His sovereignty to a disobedient and godless man. At the same time, Elijah’s prayer was serving as an example down through the ages to all who knew his story but who later read James’s commentary on it. And finally, God delights in involving His people in His work.

That’s believers today, just as much as it was believers in the first century.

My tendency, when I do get an idea of what God’s heart might be, is to pray too generally. When I was a kid it was, “Bless Grandpa and Grandma and all the aunts and uncles and cousins.” Today is more apt to be, “Work in the hearts of this people group or that one.”

So general. How would I ever know if that prayer is accomplishing much?

I’ve said before that the secret to prayer isn’t that it “works” at all, yet this verse in James and the one in the Psalms makes me think I’m only partly right there. I do think the biggest part of prayer is sharing God’s heart, pouring out my concerns to Him, and recommitting myself to trust Him in those circumstances. But praying for a judgment on a disobedient land? I would most certainly have to be convinced that’s what God wanted, just as Elijah was.

But that’s the point. Prayer moves me closer to God so that I actually do know what He wants. I know, for example, I am to love my neighbors. Any time I am not loving my neighbor, I can know for sure that I am not delighting in God, I am not praying as a righteous person who can expect to accomplish much.

In short, I don’t really need to worry whether or not my prayers are too general or too selfish or whatever. I simply need to pray so that I draw closer to God, so that I can be used by Him when He shows me what He wants me to pray for.

Published in: on October 5, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Treasonous Prayer


“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How many people have memorized that line from Matthew 6, along with the rest of Jesus’s prayer, and recited it routinely without grasping the traitorous implications? I’m one.

I listened to part of a radio message some years back from Pastor Philip De Courcy in which he made the point that this line from Jesus’s prayer is a radical, traitorous plea.

In His day, Rome’s kingdom ruled and Caesar’s will was to be done. For a good reason, the Jewish council stood before Pilate accusing Jesus of opposing Caesar (John 19:12).

Paul says in Philippians 3 that the believer’s citizenship is in Heaven. Meaning, if we think about it, that we are little more than guest workers here in the US or wherever else we might live.

Of course, we quickly explain, we actually have dual citizenship because God’s kingdom is spiritual. Jesus Himself said as much when He was answering Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

But how does dual citizenship work? In our spirits we obey God, but in our bodies we obey the government? We might draw that conclusion from Jesus’s answer to the question about paying taxes: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

Yet there’s that prayer—“Thy kingdom come.” It’s a plea for God to put an end to the machinations of Man and for Him to take His rightful place as Sovereign.

It’s also a statement of loyalty—I want You to prevail, Your kingdom to be triumphant, even over the kingdom in which I presently live.

I guess the biggest question is whether or not I mean the words I say when I’m quoting Jesus’s prayer. Is it His will I want? Am I passionate about His kingdom coming or would I prefer a cleaned up version of the one we have right here and now?

Honestly, it’s sobering to think what those words from the Lord’s prayer mean. I even thought about whether or not it was wise to title a post “Treasonous Prayer.” After all, the way the world is starting to look at Christians, we could well be accused of working against the “good of mankind,” and do I really want a written record about praying something treasonous?

Yes, actually I do because the real revolution that I am praying for must occur first in my heart, where I step off the throne and allow God to rule, to have His will prevail. How could I pray for His kingdom to come and then resist His takeover in me?

This article first appeared here in September, 2011.

Published in: on September 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Treasonous Prayer  
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God Is Able


I wrote this piece six years ago for my church, but I don’t remember the occasion. Thing is, I feel more strongly about this subject now than when I wrote it.

I’ve seen God answer prayer in ways that surprise me. Even when I believe. Even when I know He is able.

When He shows Himself faithful, it’s just pure delight. Kind of like knowing the roller coaster ride is going to be a thrill, but then actually going on the ride and being thrilled!

Anyway, this article fits with my desire to grow in my prayer life. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. There are too many things to pray for. Sometimes I feel bored. There are too many things I’ve already prayed for. Sometimes I lack compassion and sometimes I get so emotional it’s draining. Sometimes I’m praying for people I will not ever know, this side of heaven, and have no way of learning how God has answered prayer.

But all this simply shows me how weak I am when it comes to prayer. So I’m posting this article as a reminder to me.

Ephesians 2:20 makes a bold statement about God—He is able: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think . . .”

I can’t help but notice that this description of God comes without limits. It doesn’t say, God is able when the economy is sound or God is able when you’re young and healthy or God is able when the right people are in government.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually God is able, when difficult times bare their poison-filled fangs, we may be tempted to depend on our own strategies rather than on God. Too often the philosophy that appeals in the midst of tough circumstances is, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Actually, like most false teaching, there is a fragment of truth embedded in that maxim. We are to be responsible and obedient. We are to do the job or ministry God has called us to do. But a self-help worldview obliterates the lines between our responsibility and our dependence on God.

In contrast, Abraham illustrates an uncomplicated trust in God. Genesis 12:1-9 records that God told Abraham to leave home and go to a new land. His response? I’m on my way. He did not wrest control from God and say, “Okay, God, I’ll move when my family situation is stable, when I’ve sent ahead to find a good plot of land we can buy, when I can afford this move or have figured out the safest route.” No. Scripture says, “He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8b).

That kind of obedience was possible because Abraham believed God was able. He could lead him, protect him, give him a miracle son, raise that boy from the dead if necessary, and make Abraham the Father of nations.

God is able, beyond what we ask or think. Of course, if we never ask . . .

Published in: on September 10, 2018 at 4:43 pm  Comments Off on God Is Able  
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Royal Family Kids


Not so long ago all the buzz was about the new royal born into the British ruling family. But there’s a different Royal Family, and there are some needy kids being ministered to in a special way this week.

I’m referring to a Christian ministry that’s been in existence since 1985 called Royal Family Kids. This non-profit aims to provide camping, clubs, and mentoring for foster kids aged 7 to 12, while at the same time raising the awareness of the “faith community,” really the Royal Family, God’s family better know as the Church, to the needs of abused children.

The founders, Wayne and Diane Tesch, emphasize working with local churches. Their hope is for people to

* Encourage their church to launch a Royal Family KIDS Camp
* Volunteer at their local camp
* Become a faithful supporter
* Pray for the work and the volunteers of Royal Family KIDS Camp

My church has been a supporter of Royal Family Kids for over a decade, and we are currently holding our camp. The congregation was invited to take the name of a camper and pray faithfully for that child. It’s a great way for all of us to be involved, and I believe the most important way we can support the ministry.

Frankly, the numbers about abused kids in the US are staggering. According to the RFK web site, “Annually, 3.6 million cases of child abuse, neglect or abandonment are reported in America.”

Ironically, one of the early justifications for abortion was to eliminate unwanted children, and by extension, abused, neglected, and abandoned children. How’s that strategy working out for us!

Instead, what we’ve ended up with is a devaluation of human life which leads to parents mistreating the very people they are responsible to protect and nurture.

Not that child abuse didn’t exist before abortion, but clearly terminating life is not connected in a positive way to terminating abuse.

The thing is, God can heal and help even when a child suffers at the hands of the adults in his life. For instance I wrote about apologist and author Josh McDowell who opened up some time ago in his book Undaunted about the abuse he experienced in his childhood.

More recently the movie I Can Only Imagine portrayed the real life abuse singer-songwriter Bart Millard experienced.

Seeing the way in which God has used Josh McDowell and Bart Millard, how He has turned the ashes of their crushed lives into flourishing, fruitful newness makes me realize that this same transformation is possible for all the Royal Family Kids we’re praying for.

So if you think of it, join with me this week in praying for my two guys, Bryan and Yan. May God do amazing things in the lives of children others have looked past or hurt or deserted.

For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up. (Psalm 27:10)

For more information about Royal Family Kids camp, check out the movie trailer created for the movie inspired by RFK camp which was made a few years ago.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here five years ago.

Published in: on July 25, 2018 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off on Royal Family Kids  
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The US National Day Of Prayer—A Reprise


This coming Thursday is the National Day Of Prayer here in the US. In a country with the freedom to worship when and how and who we please, it seems a little odd that we have a designated National Day of Prayer. I’m glad we do because it makes me think more about the subject, but part of my thinking is that, for most of us, the National Day of Prayer means very little.

For one thing, prayer, as an activity in and of itself, has no efficacious value. Isaiah illustrated that most clearly in the passage about idols that I included in Friday’s article. Here it is again, with a couple additional verses.

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!” (Isaiah 44:14-19; emphasis mine)

Praying to a block of wood, Isaiah is saying, has no value. Clearly, then, value is not in the act of praying.

Consequently, in a country with people of many faiths, telling us all to pray on a certain day, accomplishes nothing. The only prayer that matters is the one offered to a Person interested enough to listen and powerful enough to do something about what He hears.

But should we limit ourselves to pray to such a Person on one day out of the year? Surely, if we knew President Trump would take our phone call every morning and would do all within his power to fulfill our requests, we wouldn’t limit ourselves to a phone call one day a year. Why then would we make prayer a one-day event?

Clearly it should be a regular part of our relationship with God—the One who commands us to pray, who promises to hear us, and who delights in giving us what we ask. Anything, that is, which we ask in His name, according to His will.

No, that isn’t a formula for getting what we want. The specifics God laid down about prayer are relational doors. We are to ask “in Jesus’s name” not as a cool way to bring a prayer to an end or as a magic mantra to insure that God has to come through and deliver on His promises. We ask in Jesus’s name in the same way that we might go to an exclusive “by invitation only” dinner. We reach the door and give our name. Oh, but we’re not on the list. Rather, the guest of honor invited us to be in his party, so we give his name. Because of his name we are ushered into the banquet hall and seated at the head table. In the same way, we ask God for things, not because of who we are but because of who Jesus is.

Consequently, we can’t ask Him for things that would contradict who Jesus is. Well, we can ask, but God isn’t going to hear us if we ask for selfish things in His Son’s name. Jesus is not in the business of rubber stamping all the selfish requests people make of the Father.

Which brings us to praying according to God’s will. Jesus Himself before He went to the cross asked for something He didn’t get–to bypass the sacrifice set before Him. But God actually did answer Jesus’s prayer because He stipulated that He wanted God’s will more than He wanted what He wanted. It was Jesus’s way of prioritizing. He wanted A and if God wanted A for Him, then Yay! But if He wanted A and God wanted B, then Yay! Jesus would change His mind and want B also. Because God’s will mattered more to Jesus than His own will did.

In praying according to God’s will, essentially we are stepping back and agreeing that God knows more than we do, is good, loves us, and won’t make any mistakes. It’s as if we’re looking at our lives and our circumstances through a straw, but God sees the entire picture. From our straw perspective we ask God for what looks like the thing we need or want. God answers from his entire-picture perspective, however, which means we don’t always get what we thought we wanted.

Joni Eareckson Tada is a good example of this principle. When she broke her neck as a seventeen year old, she prayed to be healed. She was an active, athletic teenager who couldn’t imagine how God could possibly want her to spend her life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. Eventually, however, she bowed before His will, and today, fifty years later, she gives testimony of her willingness to do whatever He asks of her, no matter how hard it seems. That has included living with chronic pain and the onset of cancer.

So Joni is an example of answered prayer? She is, because she testifies of God’s love and goodness and mercy for her as she has gone through suffering. He has given her according to His will, and as a result, Joni has reached thousands upon thousands of hurting people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her impact for eternity is far beyond anything she could have imagined as a teen.

So, a day of prayer? Sure, it’s good to be public about our thoughts on prayer. But it’s much better to make prayer a key ingredient in our relationship with God. We wouldn’t think of limiting conversation with our spouse to one day a year. So, too, a strong relationship with God is built by talking to Him each and every day, not just once in a public forum because it’s the US National Day of Prayer.

This article is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013, then resurfaced in May 2015.

A Closer Look At Faith And Prayer


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Here’s another in the series of Evangelical Myths

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I’ve thought a lot about the Pharisees and the traditions that they allowed to take over their belief system—to the point that their religious practice served their greed and their lust for power. Can the same thing happen today? In evangelical churches? Why not? It happened in Christianity before there ever was a Protestant/Catholic divide.

So what are some of the evangelical myths that could potentially start professing Christians on the road away from God and toward religious traditions that serve our greed and lust for power?

This position, included in an article by another blogger, seems common: “if I have enough faith, God will do it.” I’d even suggest we’ve taken this idea a step farther: if I have enough faith, God will HAVE to do it.

Certainly this idea of faith has its seeds in Scripture. In fact Jesus Himself said this to His disciples when they could not cast out a demon from a boy brought to them for that purpose:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matt. 17:19-20)

Later Jesus said much the same to His disciples:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree [curse it so that it withered], but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matt. 21:21-22)

Certainly, from those passages, the issue seems to be the faith the disciples had. It was all up to them. If they believed, they could have sent the demon away or cursed the fig tree, but they didn’t have enough faith—not even the size of the smallest seed, or else they could move mountains.

The problem is, this passage is not the only one that addresses faith or asking things of God. So here’s an important principle: one way that myths become established is when believers take passages of Scripture in isolation and believe them “literally.” While I believe the Bible to be true—each word and in total—I do not believe each word alone communicates the intent of the whole.

My favorite example is the passage in Psalm 14: “There is no God.” Yes, that’s what verse one says . . . in part. The intro is, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” What a difference putting the line in context makes.

So too the teaching of Scripture about faith and prayer. What we need to do is look at the various passages on these subjects together—things like God promising to give good gifts to His children (necessitating an understanding of what He means by “good”); saying if we “abide in Him,” and His words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done (necessitating an understanding of this “abiding”); and promising if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (necessitating an understanding of “His will”).
Vending Machine 2

In other words, these passages can’t be taken in isolation from their context or from one another. Prayer is NOT a vending machine—put in the appropriate amount of faith and out comes the answer; too little faith and the prayer machine gets stuck with nothing shooting into the retrieval slot.

In fact, one of the greatest passages about asking God for something comes from the man whose son had the demon the disciples couldn’t cast out:

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes. “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mar 9:22b-24)

His great confession was that even belief comes from God—it’s not something he could generate on his own.

James adds a couple different pieces to the faith puzzle. First he said it was great for someone to say he believes in God, but the reality is, the demons also believe. So there’s obviously more to “belief” than a mental ascent.

Secondly, he addresses the issue of asking God for what we need: “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (see James 4:2b-3).

Certainly this look at faith and prayer is not exhaustive, but by reviewing the various promises, commands, and instruction in Scripture, I draw these conclusions:

  • there is no prayer formula;
  • God wishes to give His people good gifts, but we mistake what we think is good for what He thinks is good;
  • believing God for the things we know to be His will should be our default prayer position.

Here’s my own personal conclusion: I don’t ask God for enough stuff or for big enough stuff—the things consistent with His will. I get wrapped up in “small ball,” the stuff that would make my life easier or more pleasant. So often God graciously gives me what I ask for, but I wonder—if I asked for more, for bigger, wouldn’t He be pleased to give that, too?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in June 2013.

Published in: on February 1, 2018 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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