Praying with Scripture – Part Nine – Amazing things can happen when we pray

On our own, few of us can do much that we would call “amazing”. But, bring God into the equation and suddenly anything is possible. When we pray, amazing things become more likely because we are asking an amazing God to act.

  • “And the Lord said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (1 Kings 9:3, NKJV)
  • “I, the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and in three days you will go to the Temple. I will let you live fifteen years longer. I will rescue you and this city Jerusalem from the emperor of Assyria. I will defend this city, for the sake of my own honor and because of the promise I made to my servant David.” (2 Kings 20:5-6, GNT)
  • “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:23, NIV)
  • “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8, NLT)
  • “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.” (John 14:13, NCV)
  • “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31, NIV)
  • “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5, ESV)
  • “pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5:16-18, TNIV)

In response to prayer, God has promised His presence, healed, granted wisdom and knowledge, sent angels and done miracles of all kinds. We are encouraged to pray expectantly, with faith, believing that our God still acts in amazing ways today.

Anyone who has ever prayed knows that for whatever reason these amazing responses to prayer don’t happen every single time. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that he be allowed to escape his impending crucifixion, but that didn’t happen. Sometimes we must accept God’s will as not being the answer we want. His will is what is best for us and although it may at times be His will to heal or grant a way out, for example, equally it might sometimes not be.

Yet, just because amazing things don’t happen every time doesn’t mean we should give up or simply turn our prayer times into nothing more than telling God about our day and fatalistically leaving it all up to Him. The examples of many biblical characters, including Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33) and Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30), suggest that we should wrestle with God, asking for things to happen rather than succumb to fatalism.

Every time we pray, something amazing does in fact happen – God listens. The Ruler of the universe cares about what we have to say, cares about how we feel and cares about what happens to us and this world. Even if we don’t see something miraculous or incredible happen very often, it is still amazing to know that God listens to us.

Let’s not give up believing that God still does amazing things when we pray. Do share any stories you have that might encourage others. Hold on to the hope that God can change things. Keep praying and one day you may experience something truly amazing.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Eight – Prayers old & new

Should we use set prayers, borrowing someone else’s words, or should we make up our own? Different streams of Christianity have classically emphasised one over the other. But, what might Scripture suggest?

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he responded with what we know as “the Lord’s prayer”. This was a new prayer, one which was presumably unknown to the disciples up to that point. So, in providing it, was Jesus giving them the one and only prayer to be spoken by his followers from that point on, or was he giving them a model to guide their own words, or was it both?

The Psalms were written over many years, yet each of them was new at some point in time. Somebody created these songs and prayers in response to particular situations. Then, people found them useful and helpful to take on as their own. Yes, they often exhort us to sing a new song to God, but they prove by their existence that the old ones are not obsolete.

Paul’s prayers in his letters respond to the specific needs, challenges and reasons to rejoice for each community he wrote to. There was clearly an element of improvisation to his prayers. Yet, he was not someone afraid to re-use “traditional material”. Although we may lack examples of prayers being re-used by Paul, he certainly takes “trustworthy sayings” and carefully composed passages and re-uses them (e.g. Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 1:15-20, 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 11:23-25).

So, prayer, according to examples given to us in the Bible, is a mixture of re-using set words and making up our own. Leaning on the words of others is not a weakness. We can learn much from them and we can use them when we are struggling to find our own. Similarly, making up our prayers doesn’t mean they are superficial or inappropriate. We can all communicate personally, expressing ourselves in our own ways in prayer to our God.

Perhaps you might like to try a form of prayer that isn’t your “usual”. If you find it easy to speak to God in your own words, why not try using someone else’s and see what you can learn? Perhaps draw from a classic prayer collection such as the Book of Common Prayer, for example. If you normally use set prayers, perhaps try missing them out and only expressing things in your own words today instead.

Does your use of set or spontaneous prayers follow a specific pattern or seasonal nature? Why might you use one more than the other? Do they find a settled balance in your prayer life?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Seven – Depend on the Provider

In many countries today, we no longer rely on what we grow on our own plots of land for our food. We have become, at least to some extent, distanced from the process of planting, growing, harvesting, preparing and even cooking (if we buy “ready meals” or takeaways). Does this make it harder to realise our dependence on God to provide for us and be thankful?

In a society where people would watch and tend their own food as it grew, there was a very real awareness that they depended on the right weather, the seed sprouting and growing to maturity if they were to have crops to eat. When others grow our food for us, it is easy to forget these things until suddenly disaster strikes and the nation’s crops are threatened by drought or flood.

Prayers in the Bible encourage us to remember God as the provider and our dependence on Him:

  • “Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3, NIV)
  • Psalm 104 celebrates the fact that God provides water for the animals, makes the grass grow for cattle and plants for people to eat, provides homes for the animals, grants food even to the frightening creatures of the depths of the seas and gives breath and life itself.
  • In 1 Chronicles 29:14, David acknowledges that even the offerings the he and his people bring are in fact provided by God.

In fact, we could say that we have even more that we could be grateful for and even more reasons to praise God. Besides giving thanks for a successful harvest, we can thank God for those who are involved in all stages of bringing food and other goods into our homes – farmers, lorry drivers, shop assistants, to name but a few.

Prayer is a time to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, dependent on God the Provider. Without God, we would have nothing – we wouldn’t even exist! Saying grace at meal times is a simple reminder that God provides our food and is an opportunity to give thanks. Yet, there is so much more that we can thank God for providing at every point of the day.

Realising that we are dependent is a humbling experience. We discover that God is at the centre of things, not us. We look to God for life and breath, food and drink, work and shelter, forgiveness and blessing.

What has God provided for you today that you might give thanks for? Are there any areas of your life where you have forgotten your dependence and tried to become independent?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Six – What about our enemies?

What are we to do when people make our lives a misery? Can we ask God to “smite” them?

Christians are not immune from difficulties and we are certainly not immune from having enemies or people who take pleasure in seeing us fall. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:12 suggests that all of us who attempt to live a Christ-like life will suffer some form of persecution for our faith.

In the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, there are many instances of God’s people responding to being oppressed, attacked or persecuted (see also Part 3 – “Negative” Emotions). They sometimes didn’t just pray for help and rescue, but for the downfall of their enemies:

  • “Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise… may disaster hunt down men of violence.” (Psalm 140:9-11, NIV)
  • “May his days be few… May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars… May a creditor seize all he has… May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 109:8-15, NIV)
  • “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8-9, ESV)

These are strong words and rightly make us feel very uncomfortable. They are full of raw emotion and show the ugly side of our humanity; evil behaviour so often results in a spiral of evil thoughts and the desire for revenge that can then lead to other evil acts that perpetuate the cycle.

Some verses in the New Testament seem to take a different attitude:

  • “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44, NLT)
  • “Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, GNT)

So, can we still pray for our enemies to be punished? Jesus certainly seems to have wanted to soften the attitude of God’s people towards their enemies. Yet, Paul appears to suggest that the only thing that would be wrong would be actually carrying out revenge ourselves – praying for God to take revenge on our behalf looks (according to Romans 12:19) to be ok.

How might we reconcile these apparently divergent views? We might say that those who wrote the Old Testament were still on a learning curve – they hadn’t yet realised that God wanted them to be different to other nations by not demanding horrific revenge and reprisals. But, that doesn’t really account for Paul’s advice.

An alternative possibility might be to recognise that we do get wronged and are angered by it and the best way to deal with this is to vent before God, telling him what we would (in our anger) wish on others. This avoids taking revenge ourselves and puts the matter in God’s hands. Indeed, the New Testament still suggests that some will unfortunately be on the receiving end of some form of punishment from God – punishment for wrong is not simply an Old Testament idea.

Leaving matters with God involves us trusting him to do the right thing. It involves a long term commitment on our part to divine justice rather than a quick tit for tat. God can take our angry, twisted wishes for violence and translate them into true justice and in his timing – maybe soon, maybe a long time off, perhaps not until Christ returns.

Yet, although this “venting” may be more healthy than taking matters into our own hands, it still falls short of where we can aim to be – following the example of Jesus. Once we have dealt with our negative feelings, we can be transformed by God as we release them into his hands and allow ourselves to see our enemies in a new light.

God can transform our anger into a loving concern for those who have wronged us. Like Jesus, we can come to the point where we can pray for their forgiveness, because they do not know what they are really doing.

Our anger can serve a positive function by indicating that injustice has been done – we have indeed been wronged and God has been sinned against. Yet, it is not up to us to remedy things. We are right to notice sin and injustice and right to voice it to God. The right thing to do then is to leave it with him and pray for our enemies in love.

What do you think? Can you vent your anger before God or do you just hope it goes away? Can you find ways to pray for your enemies in love whilst also praying for justice?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012