Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dilemma of Prevailing Prayer

To most Christians the issue of "prayer" can range from extremes - one extreme is an awesome blessing made possible by the Cross of Christ and the glory of the Gospel. The other extreme is possibly one that not many Christians will admit to and that is a massive source of legalistic guilt and shame because many feel they are not measuring up to "standards" (mainly extra-biblical standards set by other Christians).

I've had a few thoughts brewing for a while now and wanted to express them. I have prayed in varying degrees and measures as long as I can remember as a Christian. My earliest recollection of prayer was when I was about 12 (around 1990) and I was on a paper round praying for revival in Dunstable - my home town. I have my pastor Dr Stanley Jebb to thank for that - a passion for revival was inbred in us from an early age. As yet - that prayer hasn't been answered.

I've prayed for the conversion of one of my best friends - Scott. That's been answered gloriously at the "Together on a Mission Conference" in Brighton in 2005! He was definitely and wonderfully touched by God and then again in 2006 under Rob Rufus's amazing ministry during one of his seminars. So there's one of the most wonderful prayers answered - a soul saved!

But conversely again - I endured the most hideous experience of my life working at Acorns Children's Hospice in Birmingham where I felt bullied by the management and staff. It was quite upsetting to hear on a local radio station an advert for Acorns stating, "Acorns is a wonderful place to be". NOT my personal experience! Working there pushed me possibly the closest to suicide I have ever been. I was persuaded to take a grievance out against Acorns which was then promptly dismissed - half accepting that the management "could" have reacted to my concerns faster. My point being - I prayed constantly throughout the 13 months I was there for God to intervene and to turn the situation around. He didn't.

Then take the experience with Sovereign Grace Ministries here in the UK! Again an awful experience for a time and one that very nearly led to me cutting my family off and departing to begin a new life without them. I struggled so much with the fact that my family appeared to stand with the church leaders against me. The night before the meeting I had recently with the Sovereign Grace pastors Pete Day and I prayed together and we admitted before God we didn't have the faith to pray for a glorious miracle - a reconciliation. We went with no faith whatsoever. And yet God intervened - and wonderfully reconciled us all! And I am now welcome back in Bristol at my parent's church!

So my dilemma;

1. Revival - God hasn't answered - yet.
2. Scott's conversion - God answered!
3. My experience at Acorn's Children's Hospice - God didn't answer (or said "No").
4. My experience with SGM Bristol - I didn't pray and yet God answered wonderfully!

It doesn't seem logical does it? Calvinists (even though I am one-ish) tend to retire behind the "sovereignty of God" and put it all down to Him. If God answered - He wanted to. If He didn't - He didn't. Frankly that seems like a cop-out to me and actually seems contrary to the Word of God. Let's consider these verses on prayer;

1. Obviously prayer is instructed in the New Testament: Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17

2. But it cannot be denied that prayer is the God-given means to obtain what God has to freely give: Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 9:24-29; Luke 11:13.

3. The Bible allows for the fact that prayer is often motivated by need: James 5:13. And one of my favourite verses on prayer: Matthew 7:11: "Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him."

4. Above all and the Puritans would argue - most importantly - prayer is communion with God. This (I think) is the key to understanding prayer. Jesus spent hours in prayer - and how ridiculous to even imagine this was anything but pure joy to Him. He spent hours in prayer because He loved His Father above all. I must admit I found myself imagining what those hours in prayer between the Son of God and the Father were like. Was it even CLOSE to my prayer times - me talking and silence from heaven (it seems)? It can't be so! I imagine a loving conversation between Father and Son. One speaking - one listening - and vice versa.

There is no one I more enjoying turning to for advice than C H Spurgeon on prayer. I think Spurgeon describes the experience of many Christians so well;

"We spend the time allotted, but we rise from our knees unrefreshed, like a man who has lain upon his bed but has not slept so as to really recover his strength. When the time comes round again conscience drives us to our knees, but there is not sweet fellowship with God. There is no telling out of our wants to him in the firm conviction that he will supply them. After having gone again through a certain round of customary utterances, we rise from our knees perhaps more troubled in conscience and more distressed in mind than we were before. There are many Christians, I think, who have to complain of this".

Spurgeon suggests positively;

A. There should be a specific object of desire for prayer.

"My brethren, we often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing because in each we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object ... Did we ask an audience at Her Majesty's court, we should be expected to reply to the question, "What do you wish to see her for?" We should not be expected to go into the presence of Royalty, and then to think of some petition after we came there. Even so with the child of God. He should be able to answer the great question, "What is thy petition and what is thy request, and it shall be done unto thee?".

Rambling - oh how often have I heard rambling at prayer meetings! Some Christians seem to be blessed with the gift of praying long, laborious and often pointless prayers.

B. There must be perspective in our prayers.

Spurgeon urges us to "Look above";

"Once more look up and rejoice. Though you have sinned against him he loves you still. Ye have not prayed unto him nor sought his face, but behold he cries to you still—"Seek ye my face;" and he saith not "Seek ye me in vain." Ye may not have gone to the fountain, but it flows as freely as before. Ye have not drawn near to God, but he waiteth to be gracious still, and is ready to hear all your petitions".

I think that we have to admit a glorious mystery in prayer. I suspect (and I could be wrong) that God delighted to answer the un-spoken prayer of Pete and mine with the SGM situation because it brought glory to Him. I don't know why He didn't answer the Acorns situation or the revival cry from so many thousands. Maybe He yet will. All this speaks to remind me that He is God and cannot be tied down. But the key thing - communion. He invites us to pray to get to know Him because when we speak to Him - He speaks back. Conversation is two-way!

I share this - simply to say that I walk on in the challenge of prayer seeking to know Him better!


Jason said...

Hey Dan. I learnt this from my sons. When I come home after work they throw themselves on to me. Although they have many things to discuss and show me I do not mind that they are trivial or rambling. What impresses me the most is that they want to be with me. Maybe God also does not care so much if we ramble as long as our motives are to spend time with him out of love and not duty.

Chris Welch - 07000INTUNE said...

related to what Jason said is the qavah /waiting as entwining meaning of the Word.
It's an interesting post this because we can bury the seeming non answers. But all prayer is answered. Like the bunch of kids above, each interaction is doing something....and one of the biggest things is bringing forth the authority, and knowing, and Father's own life in us.Situations which begin by burying us,become easier and easier as His own authority becomes grounded in us.

Most other people have long given up by this time.

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