Saturday, April 28, 2012

how to pray with boldness

we are in a series on growing in a life of prayer.  in the intro, i invited you to give feedback on what you want to grow in and learn about prayer.  one area i think we all could agree that we need to be encouraged in is how to have boldness and confidence when we pray.

did you know that you are supposed to have confidence when you talk to God?  it is true.  however so many times we don't come to Him boldly, but we come sheepishly and full of doubt and unbelief that He hears us or even cares.
this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. and if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 1 john 5:14-15
i know that personally this has been an area that i have realized over the past year to be a real weakness.  as much as i desire to trust that He not only hears me but will answer, so often i find myself questioning if my time in prayer is fruitful.  i find myself wondering not only if God hears me, but if He cares about my needs and desires.  i even have found the question popping up in my head if He really is real, or if maybe i need to make things happen for myself.

what a confession, right?  prayer is what we do.  but the more i do prayer, the more i find out where my heart really is at and how much i need to grow in faith.

these are just a few ways i have found that help me approach a life of prayer with confidence that i am talking to a God who cares and who answers my prayers. 

1. pray according to the will of God

the apostle john said that we can have confidence when we pray if we ask according to His will.  so the natural question that follows would be, "what is the will of God?  how can i know what His will is for me?"

andrew murray has a great perspective on knowing the will of God.  he said,
the great mistake here is that God's children do not really believe that it is possible to know God's will.  or, if they believe this, they do not take the time and trouble to find it out.  what we need is to see clearly how the Father leads His waiting, teachable child to know that his petition is according to His will.  through God's holy Word - taken up and kept in the heart, the life, and the will - and through God's Holy Spirit accepted in His dwelling and leading we will learn to know that our petitions are according to His will. (added emphasis is mine)
i don't know about you, but i have struggled with exactly this.  i have had the accusation that i cannot know for certain if what i am praying is the will of God.  this is a lie from the enemy meant to discourage me from approaching the Lord and opening my heart to Him.  He speaks to us through both His Word and His Holy Spirit and we can know what His will is for us.  God is not trying to be mysterious and keep us guessing.  His desire is, and always has been, to draw near to us and make Himself and His will known. 

the problem for me, and probably for many of you, has always been i have not been willing to take the time to wait on Him to find out.  sometimes i am just impatient.  other times i am afraid of the answer.  regardless of the reason i find to not take the time, the problem is not that God is unwilling to reveal His will, but rather that i am unwilling to come to Him and wait.

2. check with both the Word and the Holy Spirit

sometimes the will of God is plainly stated in the scriptures.  one example of this is where the apostles prayed specific things over the churches they oversaw.
for this reason i too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. i pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.  ephesians 1:15-19
we know that what paul prayed for the new testament believers is also for us.  but what about situations we are going through that aren't clearly addressed in the bible?

God gave us His Holy Spirit.  the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to remind us of the words of Jesus and to teach us about Him.  He will never contradict the spirit of the Word, so we can be confident to follow His leading and check it against the Word to find confirmation with the nature and revelation of God.  Jesus is the perfect revelation of the nature of the Father and the Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us about Jesus.  in using both the written Word and the Spirit of God, we can know if our prayers are in alignment with the will of God.

3. perseverance in prayer when the answer doesn't come quickly

there are times when the answer to our prayers comes quickly.  i remember one time when my husband and i prayed for provision and a few minutes later an unexpected check arrived in our mailbox.  the crazy thing was that the person who sent the check obviously mailed in a few days earlier, not knowing our need.  but the Lord allowed us to cry out to Him and be wowed by His quick provision showing up moments after our prayer!

these quick answers are always so encouraging to our hearts, but many times in our prayer lives the answers do not come quickly.  many times in prayer we have to learn to use the muscle of perseverance.  perseverance involves pain and i think many of us give up too quickly because we don't like the pain that our struggle with perseverance exposes in our hearts.  i think that as americans, especially, we are a "fast food" generation and we don't like to have to wait or endure to get the answer.  james, the brother of Jesus, encouraged believers:
consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. but if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. james 1:2-5
endurance.  perseverance.  such huge words that have so much meaning to our prayer lives.

did you know that God gives us permission to ask Him for the grace to persevere in prayer when we are weary?  He longs to strengthen us when we are weak.

in luke 11 the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray.  He told a story about man who gets what he wants from his neighbor because he was plain annoying in his perseverance.  He then spoke of His own Father's desire to give the Holy Spirit to us (not just because we are annoying Him).
then He said to them, "suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, 'friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and i have nothing to set before him'; and from inside he answers and says, 'do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and i are in bed; i cannot get up and give you anything.' i tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. 

so i say to you, 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. 

now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?  if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"  luke 11:5-13
i have heard that a better translation of the greek in this passage is to say: ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.  He wants us to not give up.  He desires for us to wait upon Him as long as it takes to get the answer.

4. give thanks for the ways He has answered in the past

it always encourages me to have confidence in prayer to remember the ways He has answered in the past.  it helps to write these answers to prayer down so that when we are discouraged in our prayer lives we can go back and recall all that He has done for us and that He really does hear and care. 

in the old testament the israelites had remembrance stones that they would set up to remind them of the battles the Lord won for them.  even the celebration of passover every year was meant to remind them of the Lord's care for them and mighty deliverance lest they forgot and started following after false gods.  they were commanded to regularly recall all the Lord had done for them and to tell their children all the Lord had done.  we really do need to do the exact same thing so we do not grow weary in our own faith.

what has He done for you in the past?  how has He answered your prayers in ways that surprised and excited you?  start talking about it and thinking about it and i assure you it will give you the courage to approach Him again and expect Him to answer.

in closing, i wanted to share with you a beautiful illustration of the purpose of the prayer of faith in the life of a believer:
our prayer is like pipes, through which water is carried from a large mountain stream to a town some distance away.  such water pipes don't make the water willing to flow down the hills, nor do they give it its power of blessing and refreshment.  this is its very nature.  all they do is to determine its direction.

in the same way, the very nature of God is to love and to bless.  His love longs to come down to us with its quickening and refreshing streams.  but He has left it to prayer to say where the blessing is channeled.  He has committed it to His believing people to bring the living water to the desert places.  the will of God to bless is dependent upon the will of man to say where the blessing goes. andrew murray
you can boldly approach God in prayer.  you can have confidence that He both hears you and cares for you.  you can have boldness to expect an answer and the grace to wait until the answer comes. 

friends, let us pray and not grow weary.  He really does want to answer our prayers and He is a good Father. 

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