“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Luke 18:1
My last post discussed the prayer “open your eyes, Lord; open your ears, Lord”. A friend commented on that post with a question that really made me think:
“Question…how can you tell when God is working on something in your character and wants you to wait and when does he want you to push through and ask him for something. I guess better said, when can you tell if he wants us to hold on and when to let go?”
Excellent question. It helps me process this question to think about prayer not as a stand-alone, but rather as an aspect of relationship with God in the life of a believer. Once again I turn to 2nd Chronicles 6 and 7. In this passage the temple is completed and Solomon prayers a beautiful prayer of dedication over it. The whole prayer is about prayer – pleading with God to hear the prayers of His people that are prayed in or toward this place, a building specifically meant to be the dwelling place of God on earth. Key to Solomon’s petition is the knowledge that God’s people will sin and they will need restoration. In 2nd Chronicles 7 God answers Solomon’s prayer appearing to him at night and essentially saying ‘yes I will hear these prayers.” The key passage is 2nd Chronicles 7:13-16:
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.”
2 Chronicles 7:13-16
Reading through these passages has given me insight into the importance of the temple to the people of Israel – even today. God made some impressive promises about that place, but the heart of those promises seem to be more about people and relationship than about place. God is seeking a people who love and obey him, a people devoted to him and not to following after their own sinful impulses and desires. Jeremiah and Isaiah both shed light on this thought. In both of these books we see a people who are still centering their religious lives on the temple. They go there and offer sacrifices and prayer, but the actions lack the obedience to the law which was a foundational part of their covenant relationship with God. They are following their own sinful paths – even sacrificing their sons and daughters to idols on the sacred high places – but still they seek God’s blessing in the temple. God is devastated by this unfaithfulness. In Jeremiah he even tells the prophet NOT to pray for this people (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11.) There is also a passage in 1st John that seems to address this idea.
“If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.“ 1 John 5:16-17
The passages in Jeremiah and 1 John are the only passages I found that say ‘don’t pray.’ In the book of Jeremiah God was set to bring judgment on his people. He planned to send them into exile but with the knowledge that the hardship to come would turn their hearts back to him and he would have them back, heart and soul, in relationship. I find myself wondering if the command not to pray says that prayer was useless, or if God didn’t want his plans turned by prayer because he knew what was needed to get his people back?
One more thought on the relational aspect of prayer comes from Jesus’ teaching on prayer. There are so many times in scripture that Jesus indicates that if we pray and believe we will have what we ask for in prayer (Mt. 7:7; 18:19; 21:22; Mk. 11:24; Lk. 11:9; Jn. 14:13,14; 16:23-26). But I see these promises as very tied to our living out the loving and obedient life that shows our devotion to God. Faith isn’t demonstrated by praying fervently or being in church regularly, but rather by daily living life with God. As we better know him and understand his heart, obeying and loving him, he gives us all we ask for because what we ask is from his own heart. Jesus demonstrates what a loving, obedient, connected-to-God life looks like. His prayers are always answered and his life is always obedient. For me John 14 is a key chapter to understanding through Jesus how the connection between love and obedience and powerful faith works.
So what about us? How long do we pray about something? Perhaps the main thing is how we pray for something. I love the humility demonstrated in my friend’s question – the understanding that sometimes God IS working on something in us. As I come to God in prayer for anything, I want to come with a clean heart and pure motives – motives that say to him; I love you, I desire to obey you in all things to demonstrate that love. Search my heart O God and test my thoughts. Cleanse me from sin that I might bring a pure heart to the prayers I lift to you. When my prayers are offered from a clean heart with love for the Lord, I feel free to pray persistently until/unless the Lord clearly tells me otherwise like he clearly told Jeremiah – don’t pray. Persistence seems to bless the heart of God and there are times when decades of persistence in prayer don’t get the answer for which we long, but still we pray. And I feel free to pray boldly, asking God for what is on my heart and trusting him to answer from his greater knowledge and love no matter the situation I am praying into.
Prayer is an amazing gift, but the most amazing gift is that the God of the universe actually wants to be in relationship with us!
Lord, you astound me with your desire for me. Over the days of my life I can see you following after me and seeking me even before I knew to seek you. And when I look beyond my few days and see the way you have pursued relationship with men and women from the beginning of time I am in awe. You love us with an everlasting love. You seek us with a wanting that borders on obsession. Thank you, praise you, for opening the way for us to know you and love you! Teach me to pray without fear, but always with humility and a right heart that I might speak my love for you!