This week's thought comes to you from Bryan Chapell's book on prayer: "Praying Backwards - Transform Your Prayer Life By Beginning in Jesus' Name."
The book has many helpful insights, is informed by a good contextual understanding of Scripture passages often misused, and thus corrects many assertions regarding prayer that are a bit off-base. Today's selection confronts one of them! Enjoy.
"The Bible teaches us to believe in prayer without abandoning our beliefs about God and ourselves. Faithful prayer hinges on how we understand the terms belief and doubt. Well-meaning persons sometimes try to explain believing prayer with examples of persons who prayed that something would happen, expressed unwavering confidence that it would happen, and then watched it happen. It may be difficult to consider any alternative teaching, but when we weigh the consequences of making an infinitely wise God subject to our finite wisdom and human wants, then we must seek other descriptions of faithful prayer.Pastor Ken Smith tells of a meeting with the head of a security company that shared space with survivors of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center... The survivors remained both grateful and troubled for the circumstances that separated them from the tragic deaths of their co-workers:
The head of the company got into work late that day because he wanted to be with a child starting kindergarten.
Another man is alive because it was his turn to bring donuts.
A woman survived because her alarm clock didn't go off in time.
Another was delayed because of an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike.
One missed his bus.
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take time to change.
One person's car wouldn't start.
One went back to answer the telephone.
A mother had a child who dawdled and didn't get ready as soon as he should have.
A man with a new pair of shoes developed a blister. He stopped at a drugstore to buy a band-aid. That is why he is alive today.
If any of these persons were regularly praying Christians, they might have prayed for God to spare them the inconvenience of that morning. But that inconvenience spared their lives. Before we adopt a prayer philosophy that requires God to provide all our wants, we must adjust our thinking to consider the limitations of our understanding. In our finite wisdom, we may least want what an infinitely wise God will most bless!
The basic problem with all definitions of believing prayer that make God the servant of our will is that the object of belief is misplaced. Proper belief is not unwavering confidence that something we want will happen, nor is it doubtless trust that we know what is best. Our trust is not in the thing we want or our sufficient faith. The success of our prayer does not lie in exceptional confidence that WE have pumped enough of our own faith into our prayer (and extracted enough doubt) so that now God must respond. Our belief must be in God. He, not our desire, is the object of our faith.
We pray believing that God is all-powerful, all-wise, and infinitely loving -- and that we are not. We tell God our desires for matters large and small, but always our greatest desire is that his will be done. We yield to God's will because we believe that the Good Shepherd will provide only the absolute best. Thus when Jesus teaches us to ask and we will receive (Luke 11:9-10), he does so only after telling us that those who believe in him ask for the will and purpose of God above all things (vv. 2-4). Praying in Jesus' name requires seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness with the absolute trust that God will then add all that is best for us (Matt. 6:31-33). This is the way that Jesus prayed and the way he taught us to pray."
As one who has seen many people disillusioned because they were taught God had to answer their prayer exactly as they stated it if they only had enough faith, and removed all doubt (which, by the way, makes one's faith sovereign, rather than God), his balance and biblical words of wisdom help.
Verses taken out of their context are often the cause of much pain to those who them misunderstand and misapply them. This means that although it is important to pray believing, our believing is centered in a Father in heaven who is not like Aladdin's Lamp which we magically "rub" by our conjured up faith, and thus get whatever we wish for. Our faith is in an all-wise and loving God who will not give us what we ask for if what we ask for if it would be harmful to others, hurt our character, feed sin, or weaken our commitment to Him.
We must thank God that He was, and is, so loving that He will refuse to answer unwise, selfish, or harm bringing prayers -- even if we had complete confidence and no doubts in our asking (James 4:2-3). We are to want what He wants above all else, and He often lets us know precisely what that is or is not by how He answers our prayers.
To Him who is worthy of all our complete confidence and trust, Pastor Jeff