THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 27
Walking blind – the use of prayer day-by-day
If prayer is what Christ said it is, then it is the most potent force in the world, next to love, of which it is an expression. We read the gospels hesitantly, yet here is the key to walking through the world with head held high. Should we not strive to be the very best we can be? If we can receive great benefit ourselves from a way of thinking and living, should we not receive that benefit?
If you saw a child struggling – say trying to save itself in a river – and you could help, would you not do it? Of course you would. Any of us would reach out a helping hand to someone in front of us who needs our help. Yet we don’t pray as we might for the everyday situations that surround us.
Many of us have colleagues and friends around us who are clearly driven by all sorts of consuming emotions and drives. Ambition, greed, fears in varying degrees affect many of those we work with. Sometimes these people may be almost blind to the existence of other people, so focussed are they on their own plans and purposes. Sometimes you may clash with that person – sometimes you may just feel smouldering resentment. However, for the sake of working relationships, you both keep any conflict to the minimum. What can you do about this situation?
Listen first to what Jesus is reported as saying:
Matthew 21.22 “. . .and in all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Mark 11.24 “Therefore I say unto you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them and they shall be granted you.”
Matthew 7.7 “Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it will be opened unto you.”
John 14.13 “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
John 14.14 & 15 “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, keep my commandments.”
John 16.23 “Truly, truly I say unto you, if you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name.”
John 16.24 “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
John 15.7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.”
Matthew 17.20 “If you have faith as a mustard seed you shall say to this mountain ‘Move from here to there’ and it shall move, and nothing shall be impossible to you.”
Luke 11.9 “And again I say unto you: ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.”
Mark 11.23 “Have faith in God. Truly I say unto you, whoever says to this mountain ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes, that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him.”
And there are many more similar verses.
Do you think that those writers of the gospels would have used all the sentences quoted if such sentiments were not constantly on the lips of Jesus? Without doubt those who remembered Jesus remembered these things he said about prayer. And what he said was totally unlike anything ever said previously. He broke fresh ground. He was not merely on another plane – he was on another planet than those he was talking to, when it comes to prayer!
We are still, two thousand years later, only on the very edge of what Christ meant and taught about prayer. Two thousand years – and we are still trying to come to terms with what he was driving at. That is extraordinary!
So here you are with this very awkward person working in your environment. You cannot avoid them but they raise your temperature whenever they come near. There is this sense of antipathy – even perhaps a feeling of alienation? So what are you to do?
Well, Christ says that we can and should pray for anybody, anything, anytime. So prayer is not just for Sundays! So what about praying for this colleague? You may feel he is persecuting you in some way – well, get your own back – start to pray for him! Ask the Holy Spirit to drench him in God’s love. Ask the Holy Spirit to besiege him and surround him with love. Ask for a complete change in his approach and attitude. Put it to the Lord.
Ah, I hear you say, but how do I know that that is what God wants? Is it God’s will?
There is a very good and sure answer to this: before you pray ask God to show you how to pray. Then wait for a few minutes for a thought or idea to come. If nothing comes, then proceed as first envisaged, in line with the gospels.
Sometimes, after waiting for a short time, I have been prompted with a new thought about how I should pray for the person. Maybe some angle that I had not thought of. Perhaps the Lord has shone the spotlight of his Spirit on me instead of the other person, and I have finished up asking for the Lord to help me change in some way.
Suppose you have a job interview coming up – how should you pray? That you will get the job? Or that God’s will be done? If the former then are you not trying to manipulate God – to use him for your own purposes? If, instead, you pray the latter prayer you are more likely to find a peace pervading you – the matter is no longer in your hands – you have entrusted it to the Lord.
Or suppose you see a relationship gradually slipping into chaos – you were going well, but now other things are creeping in and you feel unsure of the future. Whether it is your fault or theirs, or the fault of both of you – the fact is the relationship is deteriorating. You half want to get back but you are also already gearing up for a new start – looking around. A classic case for prayer – but how do you pray? An opportunity to ask God how to pray. We often don’t know what to pray for. We feel the urge to pray but just don’t know what to pray for. Sometimes we cover this uncertainty with ‘but your will be done’ at the end of our prayer.
God has provided not only the impetus to pray – which comes from the Holy Spirit in us – but also the mechanism for praying aright. All we have to do is ask him how we should pray.
So asking God how we should pray is the first step. If we then pray exactly as he shows us, we know that we are as much in the centre of his will as it is possible to be. If you are praying in God’s will like this how can the prayer fail?
Well there are various ways in which it can fail – or seem to fail.
The first is in respect of timing. We may be right in the centre of God’s will to ask for something – but then expect it to happen in the next twenty-four or thirty-six hours. But God is working his purposes out according to his timetable. This might mean that the answer comes in five or ten years time! This is especially true when we are praying for someone to come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our time scale is not his.
A second way in which our prayer can seem to fail is when God does not answer our prayer in the way we expect. This often happens. We have a trying day and pray for patience and the Lord then sends us someone who truly demands our patience! In a church situation we might ask for new people to come but those who arrive are not at all what we expected! We have to open our eyes to see beyond our narrow expectations.
A third way in which our prayers do not seem to be answered is when the answer is negative. For some reason – which may be beyond us – the Lord says ‘no’ to our prayer. We do not understand – if we asked God first, why did we not get the prayer answered? The reason of course is that, being human, we all get it wrong sometimes. We get what we want confused with what God wants. There may be a hundred reasons why we get it wrong.
But getting it wrong is not a catastrophe – and the reason why it is not a disaster is that we know that God loves us and forgives us and understands us. And the world is still in his hands. What he wants for us is for our ultimate good – however difficult things may seem at present. We can rest assured that God wants our good – and therefore when he overrides our prayers it is for our own good. The fact that he has overridden what we asked for indicates that he has a purpose and a plan, and that that plan is so important that we can trust him not to let our prayers interfere with what is afoot.
So, ultimately we entrust our prayers to God and let go of the results. This is actually a God-inspired way to live. It means that we cease worrying about anything but, at the same time, in all things we make our requests known to God. Where have I read that recently? Oh yes – Phillipians chapter four, verse six.