Friday, December 16, 2011

Persistent Prayers

Prayer- it changes things. How many of you have heard that? I am sure we have all heard that at some point in time, and also found it to be so very true. But what about those prayers that we pray that just don’t seem to ever get answered? What about that one prayer that you pray every day? You know that if the Lord would just answer this one prayer than everything will be right in your world. I am going through this right now. For months now, I have been praying and asking the Lord for help with something. Every day, coming before His throne and asking Him to please answer this prayer.  There are days where I just want to give up, days where I start to lose hope and lose heart. I ask the Lord, “Are you going to answer this prayer, or do I just need to give it up?” This morning, the Lord brought a passage of scripture to my remembrance, and I want to share it with you, with those of us who are praying consistently and not getting an answer. I want to give you the same words the Lord Jesus Christ gave me this morning, “that man always ought to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)
 I was reminded of the parable that Jesus told the people about the Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow in Luke 18. The hope of this woman being heard was slim to none. She was first of all a woman, which back in the day was pretty low on the totem pole of getting any justice. Secondly, she was a widow, meaning she had no husband to go with her to make her presence known to the judge. Lastly, being a widow she would have been very poor and not able to pay for any help, which sometimes was the practice (as is today- pay off the judicial system to get what you want). So it seemed that this woman’s attempts to get any help were all for nothing.  But because she did not give up, because she kept on asking and seeking and knocking, she was granted her request.
Commentaries tell us that this is more of a parallel story than a parable. There is a contrast here between the unjust judge and our Just God. Because of her insistence and constant bugging of this judge, the judge did what she asked. But God (I love saying that) He is not irritated by our constant prayers, in fact it is the opposite. He wants us to be persistent; He wants us to keep on asking. He does not want us to lose heart or give up. So, why does He not answer us then? If He wants us to pray, if He desires to hear us calling out to Him, why does He not answer? A favorite saying of mine answers this question- the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. He wants us to come to the point where we totally abandon the answer we want to hear, and let Him give us the answer we need most.
In Matthew 7:7-12 Jesus teaches us about being persistent in our prayers, and why we should keep praying. “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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to you?” He wants us to keep praying so that we can come to know and understand the motives behind our prayers. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is “no” sometimes they are “yes, but wait” sometimes they are, “soon, but I need you to draw closer to me.” He answers our prayers in many different ways, but they are always the right and perfect answers. Never will He allow our prayers to be answered for our own selfish gain, or so that we may devour it upon our own lusts.
It’s not that He doesn’t answer us, for He always answers our prayers. He first wants our hearts to be positioned right with Him, and to see and understand the motives behind our asking. This was a hard reality for me to face this morning. God is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12) He knows what you are asking for, and He knows why you are asking. The question is, “do you know why you are asking?” Pastor Chuck Smith wrote this in his commentary about the unjust judge and persistent widow, “God always has a purpose to His delays in answering, and He will always respond right on time. Remember the story of Hannah? She desired a son and was praying so intensely about it that when Eli (the priest) saw her, he thought she was drunk. But as she prayed, she eventually pledged to God that, if He would give her a son, her son would be dedicated completely to His service (1 Samuel 1:11) That was exactly what God was waiting for…But God waited to answer her prayer until she was desperate enough to dedicate her future son to the Lord. God wants to work in us through our prayers, and they usually are more about changing us than anything else. This is why it is so important that “men always pray and not lose heart.”
You see, God is willing and ready to answer our prayers, but sometimes, sometimes He needs to change us from the inside out before He can answer that prayer we keep praying. Just as Jesus said, our Father in heaven desires to give us good and nothing evil. When we ask anything in prayer, God our Father is going to answer- but it will always be for His glory, and for our good. He will never allow us to win the lottery if our motives are to consume that money upon our own greed. He will never allow us to have a bigger home if it will put us into debt. He will never allow us to have the things we ask for and seek if they will take us farther from Him. He desires to have a personal, intimate relationship with us, daily. Money, cars, possessions, all these things can take us away from Him- He already knows why we are asking- He wants us to know why we are asking.  
Jon Courson wrote this in his commentary on Luke 18, “People stop praying whenever they go to the Lord with a problem or a need and He doesn’t answer them speedily. ‘I’ve come to You, Lord for weeks and months about this problem, and there seems to be no solution. I’ve come for years, but there seems to be no provision.’ They stop praying altogether…” Jon goes on to say that, “God knows that what we are truly craving can only be fulfilled in the realm of the spirit.”
“Father”, we say, “my finances are low. I need bread.” And although He is a Father who will indeed provide our daily bread, He also knows bread will not satisfy us ultimately. So He sent His Son to be Bread for us. (John 6:35)
“I need peace,” we cry. “You’ll find peace in Me,” Jesus answers (John 16:33)
“What we think we need is rarely that for which we pray. What we need is the Lord Himself. Prayer is not to get the goods; it is to enjoy the One who is good. Prayer is not to get the gifts; it is to have fellowship with the Giver of all gifts. Prayer is not to claim the promises; it is to embrace the Person.”
Everything we need, everything we crave, everything we desire is found in Jesus Christ, we will see that and know that to be true if we do not lose heart and continue to pray. You may be waiting for an answer like I am, or you may be getting an answer you didn’t want, or perhaps you are not sure what to pray for. Whatever it is ladies, don’t give up. Keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. You will be changed from the inside out and I promise you, the answer you receive from your Father in Heaven will be exactly what you need at the exact moment you need it. You will never be disappointed by your Father in heaven, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Whatever happens, whatever you do, “always pray and don’t lose heart!”