We are “formula” seekers instead of God-seekers much of the time, and we need to admit it.
In all of life we want “10 steps to this” and “5 simple methods for that.” We want things spelled out, nice and neat, guaranteed, and ready for us to plug in so we can watch, whiz-bang, as the benefits come gushing out for us to greedily consume.
I know – that’s a pretty pessimistic perspective on humanity. But isn’t that what sin has done to us? Even those of us who are taking part in God’s “extreme makeover: individual edition” through our faith in Christ? We want things of eternal value, but only if it’s easy. Reminds me of the “God in a paper sack” story from Tim Hansel…
In search of a prayer formula that really works
Our prayer life gets burdened down with this sort of mentality as well. We think that if we do certain things, in certain ways, with particular words, and certain emphasis, tacking “in Jesus’ name” on the end, then God will open wide the doors of heaven and out comes the blessing.
I’ve been working through the book of Matthew verse by verse, and this morning I hit this passage:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him. - Matthew 7:7-11
Sounds pretty simple, even formulaic, doesn’t it? Ask and receive. Seek and find. Knock and the door is opened. Do this… and this will happen. Could this be the formula our sinful hearts are longing for?
But it’s not that easy… at least not for me. This passage gives me problems exactly because it’s so simple. It’s got the sound of a “too good to be true” promise and I found myself being skeptical, even as I read it this morning in the quiet of my kitchen. I tend to wonder what the “catch” is, where to find the “small print” that I need to read and understand in order for it to REALLY be true for me.
What’s made me so cynical and suspicious about prayer? Maybe it’s that I have asked and have not received. Maybe it’s that I have sought and have not found. Maybe it’s that I have knocked, until my spiritual knuckles were bleeding, and never heard even a whisper of God stirring behind what seemed like a firmly bolted door. Maybe that’s it… and maybe I’m not the only one who’s had such experiences.
So my skeptical heart tries to figure it out. I wonder if I’m supposed to ask only for certain things. I wonder if I’m supposed to figure out God’s will first, so I can ask for the right things the first time. I wonder if….
I’m trying to calculate the formula again, only this time its fueled by my skepticism. Stupid skepticism.
I’m deeply bothered by the skepticism I discovered in my heart this morning. I don’t like feeling skeptical about scripture. I don’t believe it’s right or honoring to my LORD to be so. It’s not trusting Him to be good, as Jesus says He is. I am embarrassed and ashamed. But thankfully God is long-suffering and patient, and as I labored and prayed over the passage, I began to hear Jesus’ words in a new way. I began to see that there is more to the passage than “ask, seek, knock.” There’s an explanation and expansion that follows it to drive home the main point… and that’s where I found salvation from my own skepticism.
A word picture from my world…
To explain what He means, Jesus uses a word-picture that relates directly to me… an earthly parent and an earthly child. I’ve got 5 kids, so it hits me in a very tender place. When my son, Caleb asks me if he can have “computer time,” he’s asking for something specific, hoping for a certain outcome. He wants to play computer. If I tell him, “OK” – that would be equivalent to what we call “answered prayer” for Caleb. It wasn’t wrong for him to ask for something he wanted. In fact, it’s honoring to me because he is believing me to be a Dad who wants to do good things for him.
That’s Jesus’ main point. We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask.
But there are times when Caleb asks for something like computer time, and I tell him “No.” Is this our equivalent to “unanswered prayer?” Maybe so. Does it mean that I’m not a good Dad because I said, “No?” No, it may be proof that I am a good Dad. I’m responsible to discern from the moment, the circumstance, and the history surrounding his request (both past and future) whether or not a “yes” answer would indeed be good for him. If it is… I say “Yes.” If it is not… I say “No.”
That’s Jesus’ main point. We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask… and if He says “no,” it’s because what we asked for was not the “good thing” He wanted us to have.
If Caleb throws a fit like a spoiled brat anytime I say “No” to his request, he’s dishonoring me and disrespecting the responsibility I have from God to do what is best for him. If he says, “But I asked you nicely (or with great feeling, or with perfect verbiage, or with a ‘Daddy dearest‘ at the end, etc.) then he’s wrongly assuming that formulas “work” with parents, and our answers have nothing to do with what is truly best for our children.
But if he submits to my answer, even if he doesn’t understand or like it, he’s honoring me by trusting that I have said “No” for his good.
That’s Jesus’ main point. We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask… and trust that He is doing exactly that, even when our desired outcome is not what we receive.
Our focus should not be on the “ask, seek, knock” except to know that we should never be hesitant to ask, seek, or knock, because the God we are asking, seeking from, and whose door we are knocking upon, is a lavishly good Father to us.
That’s Jesus’ main point. We are to pray with the belief that our heavenly Father is good, and will give us good things when we ask.
I so appreciate knowing that certain people pray for me on a regular basis regarding the work I do in study and preaching. It’s much
rstand what they are praying for, or how they can pray more specifically and deeply? I thought his points were so good, I wanted to list them here, so that you can consider a greater diligence in praying for YOUR Pastor’s preaching. He writes…
So here are some ideas on how to pray for your pastor through the week as he prepares for Sunday. And in typical preacher fashion, they’re even alliterated.
- Clarity. Your pastor is going to tell you what God says. The stakes are simply too high for him to get this wrong. Please pray for him, that he would be able to clearly discern what God’s word said to its original audience so that he can clearly communicatethat same message to you. If you want to understand the text, pray for your pastor to have clarity.
- Conviction. Even if your pastor understands the word with clarity, there is no way that it will affect his heart apart from a work of the Spirit. Any conviction he feels apart from the Spirit’s work will be self-righteous and harsh; any lack of conviction because the Spirit does not work will result in a boring, lifeless sermon. If you want to feel the text, pray for your pastor to have conviction.
- Compassion. Jesus taught the crowds because he had compassion and people became part of his flock. Pastors are called to be undershepherds like the Chief Shepherd. If we don’t have the Spirit of Christ giving us the heart of Christ for the people of Christ, we will be too harsh or too soft. If we don’t have compassion we will either hide the truth or hit people with it. If you want to know the heart of Jesus in the text, pray for your pastor to have compassion.
- Creativity. Jesus taught in open fields with gripping parables. Paul engaged the philosophers with eloquent reason. Your pastor is a man who is called to explain the majestic wisdom of God to people every single week. It is hard to be creative week in and week out. He needs grace to communicate truth in a way that helps people engage. If you want to be gripped by the text, pray for your pastor to have creativity.
- Do YOU pray for your Pastor?
- What do you pray about when you do?
- What points do you see above that will help you to do a more diligent job in doing so?
Start the conversation by answering these questions below…
Books from the PF Journal..
Prayer is a funny thing. I don’t mean it makes me laugh when I pray, I mean that the way we humans think about it can be funny, even ridiculous.
- Some click into King James English when they pray… as if that’s the way God talks and it’s honoring to Him to speak His language (You know, “Thee, Thou, thus, beseech, verily” and the like).
- Some repeat His name (or some title or version of it) every 4th word throughout their prayer… as if God has Alzheimer’s and needs us to remind Him that we are talking to Him.
- Some suddenly become infused with great energy and zeal when they begin to pray, as if God listens better when we speak more loudly or with more zest.
- Some of us recruit others to pray (not a bad thing), but we do so with some kind of idea that the more people we have praying, the more likely it is that God will answer the prayer like we are hoping. It’s like we can see the thing we want behind the glass of the God-machine, and every prayer is a coin.
Prayer is a funny thing… even in how we go about communicating our prayer concerns to others. In THIS post, Nancy Guthrie makes a powerful point… Prayer is not a manipulative tool to get God to do what we want – it’s a way for us to express our desires to Him, while at the same time submitting our hearts to what HE wants. And she knows what she’s talking about, having struggled through the physical pain of a child born with a fatal genetic disorder. Here’s a quote from the article:
When I was able to sputter out a prayer, it was shaped most profoundly by something a friend said to me on the phone a couple of days after Hope was born. She said that I could be confident that God would accomplish the purpose he had for Hope’s life in the number of days that he gave to her. So in my prayers I began to welcome him to accomplish that purpose. I prayed that my own sin and selfishness and small agendas would not hinder his purpose. I prayed that that his purpose for Hope’s life would be enough for me, even a joy to me.
Read the post. It will give you a lot to think about… regarding how you pray, and how you think of your God.
Books from the PF Journal..
When I was working on my Bachelor’s degree at Colorado Christian University, the school held annual student retreats… times when we would get away from our studies for a few days (yes, I did too study!) to attend a mini-conference in the mountains. Each year’s topic, speakers, and approach was different, I think intentionally so. I loved those times. They were timely breaks in a busy schedule.
One year (I think it was the 89-90 school year), our speaker was Dr. Russ Rogers, who was then part of the faculty of Asuza Pacific University, and is now serving as part of the faculty of DePaul University. His topic was, “Dreaming Dreams and Making Them Happen.” I found it to be very helpful as a college student with a head full of dreams. In fact, I somehow got my hands on a set of cassette tapes on the topic which I listened to many times over the next 8 or 10 years.
Keep in mind, this was in the late 80s, early 90s. The “New Age Movement” and the fear of it was all the rage in the Evangelical world at the time (why do we Christians DO that?). As a result, much of what Dr. Rogers had to say hit the ears of some of my classmates as dancing dangerously close to the edge of the New Age minefield. I think some of them thought Dr. Rogers had run headlong into it, dancing joyously as he went! As a result, during the Q&A session at the end of each talk, Dr. Rogers was relentlessly peppered with questions and accusations, which in my mind were completely unwarranted. Those attacking him didn’t seem to have listened closely to what he was saying, or to have heard his heart in it. He was far from being a New Age heretic (in my humble opinion).
After the retreat was over, I dug up Dr. Rogers’ address and wrote him a quick note. More than anything I wanted to let him know that not everyone at the event had the same opinions as the more vocal among us, and that his input and time were greatly appreciated.
Dr. Rogers took the time to hand-write a short note to me, and in it he said this…
The key to wisdom is the essential humility to reserve judgment until comprehension sets in. Clearly, each of us learns this in his own time.
Those two phrases etched themselves instantly in my memory banks. It was like a modern-day proverb, lodged there, immovable. They have informed my thinking on a variety of situations throughout the years, in powerful ways.
In a nutshell, my take-away from what Dr. Rogers was saying, is this…
- Take the time to find out what you are talking about before you start talking about it
- If you are not willing to do that, you aren’t very humble
- Which also means you aren’t very wise
His gracious reply was so instructive to me, and I’ve never forgotten it. On countless occasions it has reminded me to stop and truly listen to what others are saying before I pass judgment… to re-read the book of an author that I think I might be at odds with… to realize that I am not inerrant in my opinions or interpretations of the facts once I do have them. Sometimes true comprehension takes a long time. Other times it takes a very, very long time. As the truth of my own proneness to error soaks into my soul, his words drive me to prayer, seeking the Lord’s illumination of my darkened understanding.
Thank you Dr. Rogers. Your lesson to me regarding wisdom & humility was well taught… and I have not forgotten it.
I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting),
so this is a pre-scheduled post for your encouragement, education and enjoyment!
I came across a GREAT post about personal discipline – in particular personal HABITS that I thought was worth passing along. We all have the struggle to keep our good habits going and kill our old ones. This post was all about creating new ones and keeping them alive (particularly scripture reading and prayer). So… here’s the 13 tips it gave… and if you want to read the entire article – you can do that HERE.
- Motivate yourself by preaching to yourself the gospel of grace. Why do you want to develop the habit in the first place? Are you just gritting your teeth and “doing the right thing”? Are you trying to conform to the expectations of others? Are you trying to make yourself closer to God through your efforts? I hope you agree, these are all terrible motivations. Instead, preach the gospel to yourself: remind yourself that you want to develop the habit because the Spirit of God is at work in you; the Spirit who has brought you as close to God as you could possibly be through his son Jesus and who has changed the entire orientation of your life, making you want to serve him and grow in your knowledge and service of him. Keep coming back to God’s grace over and over again.
- The ultimate goal in developing a particular habit is coming to the point where you love to do it. You know you’ve truly got a good, lasting habit when it’s an essential part of your life, and it feels right. In fact, you feel bad not doing it. This is even true of uninspiring things like brushing your teeth. When you don’t brush your teeth, you feel yuck all day. How much more should this be true of daily prayer, the amazing privilege of speaking to the creator of the universe?
- Realise, though, that the goal I mentioned in the previous point (to love what you’re doing) will probably take a very long time to develop. In the case of daily prayer, it will probably take months or years to even get a small way towards that goal, and will continue to be a struggle until Jesus returns.
- Don’t be a hero—you’ll only set yourself up for failure. If you’re not reading the Bible at all, for example, don’t jump in with a plan like, “I will read the Bible for an hour every day”. Sure, it sounds like a noble goal. But then, when you read the Bible for 30 minutes one day, you’ve failed. Instead of rejoicing in God’s word to you, you’ll just give yourself needlessly negative vibes because you don’t measure up to your own arbitrary standard. You won’t love what you’re doing if you feel like you’re failing all the time. It’ll feel like you have to climb a mountain every day. And you’ll end up fearing and hating it. You might recognise this scenario as the ‘New Year’s Resolution’ syndrome. Don’t fall into the trap.
- The flipside of the previous point is to start small. In fact, make deliberately small plans at the start. Set yourself the goal of reading the Bible for 5 minutes each day, for example. And each day, leave yourself wanting more. Leave yourself with the feeling, “I liked that, I want more”. Then, the next day, you’ll be motivated to do it again.
- Start now. Just do it. This is linked to the previous points. If you have a gigantic heroic plan, you won’t be motivated to start until the conditions are perfect. But if you plan to start small, you can start straight away.
- Think creatively about ways to fit your habits into your life circumstances. Think in terms of people, time and space. What are your relationships? What are your commitments? What’s your daily routine? What times of the day do you enjoy the most? Where do you enjoy to be? If you can, try to practice your habits in the times and places that you love to be, rather than in the downtimes or the uncomfortable places. Spiritual warfare is hard enough without making it harder on yourself.
- Learn from the habits of others, but don’t follow them slavishly. I was once inspired by a godly Christian father I knew who often urged us younger dads to lead regular times of family prayer and Bible reading ‘at the breakfast table’. I thought that was a great idea, except for the word ‘breakfast’. The thought of trying to do anything constructive with that bleary-eyed half-conscious Weetbix-encrusted crew that is our family at the breakfast table was not a happy one. There was no point following his advice to the letter (and he wasn’t expecting us to anyway). We had a go at doing it at the dinner table, which works far better for our family.
- When it comes to habits, simple regularity is much better than sporadic brilliance. Don’t expect your Bible reading to be constantly wonderful and filled with awe-inspiring insights. If you have a spectacular, life-changing quiet time one day and then don’t pick up the Bible for a month, you’re not going to get very far. It’s much better to have simple expectations, and to rejoice each time you open God’s word, even if you learned something that seems small and insignificant at the time.
- Make your habit-developing plans simple (e.g. “I’ll read the Bible for 10 minutes a day”), not complex (e.g. “I have a Microsoft spreadsheet setting out my Bible reading plan every day for the next 10 years”). Simple plans are more flexible than complex plans; they’re easy to adapt to changing circumstances. Life is full of unexpected events: we make plans, but God has his own ideas about how life is going to turn out (Prov 16:9). We have to deal with sickness and emergencies (in fact, when I first sat down to write this article, my wife called to say the car had broken down on the way to school and my plans went out the window!). If you have a complex plan, and then an unexpected interruption comes which throws it all into disarray, you might be tempted to get frustrated or angry or just to give up. If you have a simple plan, you can adapt it.
- Develop the super-habit of regularly reviewing your habits! This is especially important because your circumstances will change over the course of your life. Since habits are integrated with your life circumstances, whenever there’s a change in your life circumstances, your habits will suffer. That’s normal. Sometimes you might have to go back to square one and completely reassess your habits. When we had very young children, we found that our daily ‘routine’ was changing every few weeks, as the kids’ sleeping and feeding patterns changed. When this happens, don’t (as I sometimes did) use it as an excuse to give up on your habits. Rather, adapt your expectations to your circumstances. Then start again. And when you do start again, start small, and don’t be a hero (see above).
- Use the relatively good or easy times in your life to work hard at developing your habits. When the hard times come, and/or when life changes, you’ll have spiritual resources to use.
- I said it at the start of the list, and I’ll say it again at the end: keep coming back to God’s grace.
I’m on sabbatical (translation: I’m resting).
This is a pre-scheduled post for your enjoyment!
This guy is FUNNY!
I find a lot of help from www.theresurgence.org – and today’s post is no exception. This post gives 4 ways you can pray the truth of the gospel over your life, your kids’ lives, your family’s lives, your church family’s lives – you get the idea?
1. “In Christ, there is nothing I could do that would make you love me more, and nothing I have done that makes you love me less.”
Pray about this “gift righteousness” of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:21) and go to war against the incipient works-righteousness hardwired into our hearts.
2. “Your presence and approval are all I need today for everlasting joy.”
Pray about this value of God’s presence in our lives. It’s one thing to know that Jesus is your possession; it’s another for that approval to have such weightiness in our hearts that our captivity to other idols is snapped.
3. “As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”
Pray about and consider the extravagant generosity of God toward us. His generosity toward us leads us to radical generosity toward others.
4. “As I pray, I’ll measure your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.”
Pray that God would help you view the world through the lens of the gospel. Seeing the compassion and power of God revealed in the gospel produces bold, audacious faith in our hearts.
Here’s links to the sermon audio to our sermon from 9/12/11 – “Union with Christ.”
…don’t ever think, Since God is the decisive keeper of my soul, and I am eternally secure (Which is true! Romans 8:30; John 10:29; Philippians 1:6), therefore I don’t need to be vigilant to pray for perseverance. That would be like saying, Since God is the decisive giver and sustainer of life, I don’t need to breathe. I can spend as much time underwater as above water and it won’t make any difference. Yes it will. God’s means of sustaining life is not only the gift of life, but the gift of breath to sustain it (Acts 17:25).
So don’t think, Since God is the decisive keeper of my soul, I can spend as much time in prayerless sinning as in prayerful serving, and it won’t make any difference. Yes it will. God’s means of keeping your soul is not only the gift of life, but also the gift of prayer to sustain it. If you don’t receive and use the gift of life-sustaining prayer, there is little reason to think that you receive and cherish the gift of life. If you don’t treasure the gift of breath, you don’t cherish the gift of life.
Lord, show me HOW to implement believing prayer, Holy Spirit-dependent prayer, into my daily life so that I will be sustained and kept for eternal life!