This week's Bible Study - September 27, 2015
God's Promise of Answered Prayer
Quotes of the Week:
If life gets too hard to stand, Kneel
Gordon B Hinckley
Prayers and answered prayers. This has been a big discussion lately around our house and with several of our friends. Berkley has been taking a class in the power of prayer and the topic resonates with many others right now. If you've been reading these lessons, you know that I, Don, was diagnosed with ALS in the Spring of 2015. We have been overwhelmed by the people who have been supporting and praying for us. We certainly know that we have several friends who have been dealing with many diverse issues recently and perhaps you are dealing with difficulties in life as well. When things work out in the way that we had hoped, people often say that they are so happy that God answered prayers. When things don't work as we had hoped, you seldom hear the same words. Did God not answer?
In the past year or two, our church did a series on bold prayer. Prayer is honestly something that many believers struggle with, as far as what they should pray for and how fervent they should be. Are we praying for the right things? Are we praying often enough? Do we need a set time each day? Is there something that we are missing? We know that prayer helps to align our will with God's, but when it comes to asking for specific things, I believe that most stick with 'safe' prayers, so that they are not disappointed. But, when we think of bold prayer and God's promise of answered prayer, should we not pray with boldness? I have a good friend that has had many problems in his 'job-life' with getting and keeping good jobs. He was out of work for many months and he was getting desperate. At one point he reached the point of desperation. He said that he was prone on the floor, crying out to God for help. Within a couple of days, job leads opened up. He had prayed a bold prayer and seemingly God answered. However, I can be certain that others have been to a similar point of desperation and yet, when they have prayed specifically, it would seem that their prayers were ineffective and not answered. There are many aspects to prayer, and it is not simply a recipe for 'getting what we want', however valid what we want may be. We certainly need to have the right attitude about prayer and realize that our timing may be different than God's.
There are several acronyms that can help with prayers. One is ACTS - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. When we can model our prayers in that manner, it helps us to be focused, so that our prayers do not simply turn into the 'list' that we want to give to God. When we can adore God, we help to put things into perspective and realize that life is all about Him, and less about us. When we confess our sins, we acknowledge that we have strayed from Him and we ask for His forgiveness. When we are thankful, we thank God for the many provisions that He has given us personally and for the many ways we have been blessed. In our supplication, we bring our needs before Him and ask for His divine intervention. By using a model such as this, we will find that our prayers from day to day can be different, as we acknowledge different aspects each day.
In Luke 11:1-4, Jesus gave His disciples a model prayer, in which He started by honoring God and asking for His kingdom to come. Do our prayers hallow God's name and do we show Him respect, or do we simply begin by listing our needs? Are we seeking to align our lives with His kingdom and His plans for ourselves and others? Jesus continued by asking for daily bread, which symbolizes our needs on an ongoing basis. If we were honest, we'd probably prefer to stockpile, so that we would think that we are covered when we need something. However, God desires that we rely upon Him, on a daily basis. Are you relying on God today, or are you simply banking on your bank account? In Deuteronomy 8:17-18, after God had brought the Israelites through the wilderness and provided for their daily needs, they were cautioned to not say to themselves "My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me". They were to be reminded that the Lord had given them the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant with them. Isn't it easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have done it all on our own, for our own purposes? Some look to their own relative skills and talents and they may begin to think that they are indeed special, simply because of those skills and talents. Where do we believe that those skills and talents originated? Jesus continued in His prayer to ask for forgiveness of our sin and for the ability to forgive others. Half of that is easy - asking for forgiveness, but it is another story altogether to forgive those that have clearly wronged us, isn't it? Jesus closed by asking that the Lord would not bring us into temptation. Are we playing to avoid temptation, or are finding ourselves more often trying to identify how close we can get without giving in? Often, we are our own worst enemy with seeking temptation.
Jesus continued by telling His disciples a story. The Jewish people were in large part known for their charity and hospitality, especially during the time of Christ. In the story, Jesus said that some unexpected company showed up at your house very late, and you didn't have any food to lend them. Usually, when we know company is coming, we would probably stock up, but in this case, there was a legitimate need that you couldn't handle. What would you do? If this were modern day America, perhaps we'd run to the 24 hour Wal-Mart or the local convenience store and get what we needed in a pinch. However, they didn't have that luxury.
In the story, you turn to a friend and go to his house, although it is very late. We all likely have some friends that would welcome us at any hour and other friends, who would help us at times but would not be very appreciative of us knocking on their door late at night. It takes a special friendship to impose on someone else in this manner. In fact, this wasn't a life or death situation, but, as one pastor has said, a case of the 'munchies at night'. In essence, in this story, the person knocking at the door makes their problem to become someone else's problem as well. The response wasn't what was hoped for, as the answer from inside was "don't bother me. The door is already locked and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything."
If you were the one knocking, what would you do? This may be where some of our personalities come into play. By nature, in this scenario, I would be likely to give up, where others by nature, would continue until they got what they needed. The point of this story, though, is that the friend would not get up and meet the need not so much because of their friendship, but because of the shameless audacity to keep on knocking. Eventually, he would get up and give you whatever you need. In some ways, this almost appears to the point of nearly begging to get what you need.
As I read this and consider what it is saying, I have a difficult time relating this to prayer as I know it, because something feels wrong if I feel that I am to the point of nagging God to answer my prayer. However, this is meant to voice our true concerns to God. He already knows what we desire, but we see that there is value in continuing to voice our concerns to God. God is not the friend who has locked up and gone to bed, but One who truly loves us. When we pray, we are to approach God with confidence. In Hebrews 4:16 it says, "Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time." We are to approach God with boldness and confidence. In the series on Bold Prayers, our pastor made the point that we often fall into 'just' prayers. His point was that when we approach God to 'just' ask for this or that, those prayers are weak and small. As I thought about that in my own prayers, I noticed how often I said 'just', and in doing so, I wasn't trying to limit God, but in a way, I could see how if God answered that prayer, I may have wished that I would have asked for more, knowing that He is indeed capable..
Jesus told His disciples that they were to ask and it would be given to them; seek and they would find; knock and the door will be opened to them. Verse 10 says "For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."
We are told that when we ask, it would be given. Do we voice our needs to God and do we approach Him as a beggar, continuing to ask. Of course, this is not applicable to all things. A few years ago, a book came out that tried to make this a 'name it - claim it' type of theology. Clearly, I might want to fly, but no matter how much I asked, I will not be able to fly (without using an airplane or some other flight worthy vehicle). The key is to ask in line with the parameters that Jesus gave in the first four verses of chapter 11. Are we asking in alignment with God's will and His kingdom? Are we asking for things that will ultimately give glory to Him? We would like to think that this would be the key and we could turn a lot of things around as to how they 'could' bring glory to God, but is it more about me or Him? Again, we find ourselves continually asking God for healing of my disease, as well as the healing of many others who are facing terrible diseases, and we see many ways that it could bring glory to Him. It is indeed difficult for us to truly understand God's purpose, but we are taught that we should continue to unashamedly ask, and we will continue to ask - and we ask for you to do the same on our behalf.
We are told that when we seek, we will find. This has the notion of continuing to seek. When you were a kid, you likely played hide and seek with family and friends. As you got older, the hiding places became more and more unusual and harder to find. The game was only fun if the person seeking continued to seek, even if they couldn't find you behind the curtains or under the bed. Are we continuing to seek God's will for our lives? We need to continue to persevere and keep looking. Often, we will find over time that the thing that we are seeking becomes more refined as we learn more about what God is doing. Are you seeking?
Then, we are told to knock and it will be opened. As we consider the story of the friend knocking on his friend's door at midnight, we saw what was called 'shameless audacity'. It wasn't just to knock for a couple of minutes and if the door isn't opened, go away. He continued to knock until he got an answer. We need to persevere and keep knocking. It may be that you come to a better understanding of God's will and how He is working. Remember that at least part of the kingdom of God is that none perish - are we praying for souls to be saved? And we know that God desires the fruits of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Are we praying for wisdom and gentleness and patience and so forth? Or, it may be that you continue to knock about a specific thing until you feel that God has answered 'yes' or no'. God will often confirm those answers through other people or circumstances in life. I have at times sought God on issues and then seemed to be inundated with sermons on that topic, or music that is centered on my requests and so forth. For some people, specifically those who are gifted with the spiritual gift of prayer, they will continue to pray as they have a burden for others.
Jesus asked his followers who were fathers what they would do if their son asks for a fish or an egg. Would they give their sons a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg? Obviously, unless the father was playing a game with their son, they wouldn't give them something that would be detrimental to them. Certainly, at times, perhaps fathers would not (and should not) grant every desire, as they know it would be harmful in the long run, but generally, we want to give good gifts to our kids. And, we also know at times it is best to not give kids what they want, as God knows what is best for us.
Jesus continued by saying that if humans, who are by nature evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, then certainly our Father in heaven will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. We have a relationship with our heavenly Father who desires to give us good things in life. We tend to focus on the things that we don't get and act as if our heavenly Father does not care for our good. Even when we endure difficult times, aren't we all guilty of discounting the many blessings which we have been given? As believers, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit and that provides more to our life than any other thing that we could ask for.
As stated, this can be a difficult lesson, as one can take a specific passage from the Bible and make it say something entirely different from what it is intended to say. Certainly, there are times when persistence will pay off, but that will not be the case for all situations. We cannot simply generalize something that can happen into saying that is what will happen at all times. However, it does put us into somewhat of a dilemma, knowing that there are requests that we want to take to God and at times, they will be fulfilled, while at other times, they will be denied. We just need to put our trust and faith in God that His purposes are far above what we can ever know. We also must acknowledge that if we were the decision maker for every circumstance in our lives, we would have made some very terrible choices and living with many consequences. As it turns out, we likely have done this on our own, but can you imagine what life would be like if you got everything you prayed for along the way?
We need to realize that we can take our requests to God. He will not get mad at you for bringing your concerns and requests. Certainly, if we were to continue to pester other individuals, the result would be very different. We also need to realize that God gives of Himself to us. We may ask for guidance, but in Him, we have the guide. We may ask for help, but God is our helper. When we ask for wisdom, in Him we have the author of truth. Let us pause and reflect on the magnificence of being able to know our God and have a relationship with Him through Christ. This doesn't mean that there will not be pain in life, and hurt in life and loss in life, but we have Him who will go through each of our circumstances with us, and will give us comfort, peace, strength and what we need to endure.