28 Mar

How to Pray for Revival, Pt 2

Today, we continue with the final six prayer points leading to revival.  See the first six here.

7.  Recognize God’s uniqueness
Isaiah declared to God, For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him, (Isaiah 64:4).  There is no one like our God!  You should spend time adoring God for His manifold glory—His all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present attributes; His perfect love, perfect wisdom, perfect justice; and so much more.  He stands above all other gods!  Indeed, He is the only true God.  All others are figments of depraved imagination.  Recognize God’s uniqueness for the joy of your soul!

8.  Acknowledge God’s love for righteousness
Did you know that God hates some things?  He certainly does.  You see, in order to love something, you must hate the opposite.  God loves righteousness.  Therefore, He hates unrighteousness, sin.  Given this truth, God rewards those that love what He loves.  As Isaiah points it out in his prayer, You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways, (Isaiah 64:5).  As you pray for revival, acknowledge God’s love for righteousness, and ask Him to help you do the same.

9.  Confess your utter depravity
You are corrupt, and so am I.  Sin has tainted every aspect of our being, especially our moral being, leaving us devastated and destitute.  Do you see yourself in this way?  If revival is coming, you must!  Isaiah confessed to God:

  • Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved?  For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities, (Isaiah 64:5-7).

Even our righteous deeds are corrupted because we do then with a depraved heart.  Would you bring yourself low so that Christ could lift you up?  Would see yourself as bankrupt and then throw yourself onto the mercy of God?  Confess to God your utter depravity, and watch God begin to pour out a blessing!

10.  Pledge submission to God
Isaiah declared, But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand, (Isaiah 64:8).  What awesome imagery!  He’s depicting submission here.  Clay is tender and malleable in the potter’s hands, letting the potter shape however he sees fit.  That’s how we are to always be with God, but especially as we seek His face for revival.  Yield to Him!  “God, make me and use me as You see fit.”  Pledge submission to Him.

11.  Petition for forgiveness
Isaiah does something here that is absolutely necessary.  He says, Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD, Nor remember iniquity forever, (Isaiah 64:9).  In other words, “Father, forgive me of my sins.”  We can’t earn God’s favor.  Our debt is too large.  Therefore, the only option is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is the act by God of releasing you, a sinner, from the condemnation, bitterness, and anger your sin deserves.  What a sweet thought!  Ask Him for it!

12.  Appeal to God’s great love for His glory and for us
Isaiah closes out his prayer by appealing to God’s great love.  He says:

  • Behold, look now, all of us are Your people. Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned by fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin. Will You restrain Yourself at these things, O LORD? Will You keep silent and afflict us beyond measure? (Isaiah 64:9-12).

He’s trying to stir God up.  We are Your people!  This is Your country!  This is Your house!  He’s calling out God in His love to move in their midst and restore them.

Don’t be afraid to appeal to God’s great love for His glory.  Friend, the most loving thing toward us that God could do is love His glory.  So, stir God up to move in your midst for the glory of His name.

But, don’t forget to appeal to His great love for you as well.  If you are in Christ, you are His people, and because of the great love with which He loved you, He sacrificed His only-begotten Son for you and made you alive with Christ (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-5).  For God’s glory and in light of His love for us, God will pour out revival.  Pray for it!

27 Mar

How to Pray for Revival, Pt 1

As you look at your own heart, are you in need of a revival?  Your local congregation?  The larger church universal?  Is there a great need for revival in our midst?

Here’s what I mean by revival.  Stephen Olford says, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.”  Vance Havner once said that, “Revival is the church falling in love with Jesus all over again.”  I say that revival is hearts being set aflame with love for Christ.

So again, is there a great need for revival in our midst?  I would say that that’s indeed the case.  We need a fresh zeal for God, which only comes through a fresh anointing of God, so that we’ll delight exceedingly in God.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that revival is the work of God, but there’s also no doubt whatsoever that God sends revival to a people who are hungry for it.  As you get desperate for revival, you cry out to God as a beggar, and then He mightily supplies.

If you are hungry for revival, I want to help you cry out to God in your desperation.  I want to help you pray for revival, and I want to help you pray for revival biblically.

One of the key passages exemplifying for us how to pray for revival is Isaiah 63:15-64:12.  The nation of Israel was in dire need of revival as it had come under the strong discipline of God for spiritual apathy, apostasy, and adultery.  The prophet’s prayer is very instructive for us.

1.  Ask God to take notice of your situation
Isaiah prayed, Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation (Isaiah 63:15).  God is an all-knowing, all-seeing God, but you should invite Him to focus in on you, to fix His gaze on you.  Surely the glories of His heavenly abode are more pleasing, but if you’ll only invite Him to take notice of what’s happening with you, perhaps He’ll be moved to compassion.

2.  Beg God to not restrain Himself from you, His covenant people
Isaiah continued, Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me. For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us. You, O LORD, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name, (Isaiah 63:15-16).  Clearly, the nation of Israel is God’s covenant people, but did you know that if you are in Jesus Christ, you are part of God’s covenant people as well?  Indeed, you are.  He has set His covenantal affection on you.  Remind the Lord of that truth, and ask Him to withhold nothing good, especially Himself.  Trust me:  if the Lord freely gives of Himself, you will lack in nothing good!

3.  Admit that you have strayed from God’s desire for your life
The prophet admitted to God, For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us, (Isaiah 63:16).  Israel had strayed so far God that their forefather Abraham wouldn’t recognize them.  Is that true of you?  You have been called to be conformed to the spiritual image of Jesus Christ, but do you look anything like Him spiritually?  You should, but if you don’t, admit that to God.  Don’t try to hide stuff from God.  Rather, be transparent before the One before whom you are actually already spiritually naked.

4.  Plead that God would grant repentance instead of giving you over to a reprobate mind
Isaiah utters some hard words here.  He says:

  • Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways And harden our heart from fearing You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes of Your heritage.Your holy people possessed Your sanctuary for a little while, our adversaries have trodden it down.We have become like those over whom You have never ruled, like those who were not called by Your name, (Isaiah 63:17-19).

God hardened the hearts of Israel in their sin.  It’s a scary thought, but you’d better believe that God can do that.  You see, repentance (the ability to turn from sin) is itself is a gift of God.  Therefore, He doesn’t have to give it.  Paul clearly explains as much in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

  • The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

Instead of granting repentance, God could very well give you over to a reprobate mind.  We see Paul explaining how this works in Romans 1:24-32:

  • Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Friend, the thought of being turned over to a reprobate mind should scare you and me to death.  Sin is serious, and we should dare not touch it, lest we never turn from it.  Therefore, in light of your sin, plead that God would grant to you repentance and not turn you over to a reprobate mind.

5.  Call on God to manifest His presence so you’ll be affected
I love the imagery here in Isaiah 64:1-2, Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, That the mountains might quake at Your presence— as fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil— to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence!  Isaiah is calling on God to make a difference in the life of his people, to affect them in some glorious way.  Set us ablaze and cause us to boil, God.  If God would manifest His presence, you’d better believe that you would never be the same thereafter.  Glory to God for making Himself known in our lives!

6.  Invite God to blow your mind
Isaiah comments, When You did awesome things which we did not expect, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence, (Isaiah 64:3).  Friend, God is totally able to go above and way beyond your expectations.  He’s able to totally blow your mind in all.  Would ask Him to?  Would you ask Him to something that seems impossible?  Heal that disease?  Save that hard lost person?  Give you just a glimpse of Himself?  Invite God to blow your mind, and then ready yourself to be amazed!

Tomorrow, I’ll post the final six prayer points for revival.  Get on your knees in prayer to God!

16 Feb

What Hinders Your Prayer?

Without a doubt, prayer is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.  I mean, can you believe that the God of the universe takes requests from us?  That He invites us into conversation?  That He wants us to express our hearts to Him?  That’s amazing!

Inherent to the act of prayer is the reality that the one praying expects a “yes” to the prayer from God.  I mean, why ask if you know it’s going to be a “no”?  So, when we go to God in prayer, we are seeking a “yes.”  Even if we’re just generally asking for guidance as to which way to go, we at least expect a “Yes, I’ll guide you” from God.

Of course, God doesn’t have to say “yes.”  Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, in His wisdom He says “no” or “not now.”  So, the main question that is driving me is:  what are we to do when we do not get a “yes” from God?  Are we supposed to just say, “It just isn’t the will of God”?  I think not.

It very well might not be the ultimate will of God to say “yes,” but there is something else that could be at work.  Sometimes God says “no” or “not now” because He desires to get our attention and discipline us toward godliness.  In other words, sometimes God withholds a “yes” to cause us to look at ourselves and see where we need to change.  We need to see if there is anything in our life that would be hindering our prayer.

In this article, I want to point out 7 things that hinder prayer.

1)  Sin hinders our prayer.
Psalm 66:18 is straightforward, If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear. “Wickedness in my heart” must be referring to some sin that I am habituating and hardening my heart in.  It’s sin that I’m continually unrepentant over.  Notice that it says that the Lord will not hear you instead of cannot hear you.  Certainly God can hear you when you are habituating in sin, but He will not say “yes” to you.  Why?  It’s because He’s using your unaffirmed prayer to bring you to repentance.

Proverbs 28:9 goes even farther, He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination. You see, the person who is habitually disobedient and asking God for something in prayer is like a man who slaps his wife in the face and then asks her for a kiss.  It’s making a mockery of the wife and of God.  Therefore, prayer from a wicked, Bible-refusing heart is an abomination.  Your prayer will be hindered until there is true repentance.

2)  An unforgiving spirit hinders our prayer.
God loves to see us show grace and mercy to others as we have been shown grace and mercy.  Just read the parable of the unforgiving slave in Matthew 18:21-35.  It’s for this reason that Jesus tells us in Mark 11:25, Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. A common part of your prayer life ought to be asking the Father to forgive you of your sins against Him, but those prayers of forgiveness are hindered when we are unwilling to forgive those who have sinned against us.  Jesus says that if you want forgiveness, you must forgive also.  Otherwise, your unforgiving spirit will hinder your prayer.

3)  Unfruitfulness hinders our prayer.
Jesus tells us John 15:16, You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. In the context here, the fruit that Jesus is focusing on is the fruit of love, but all the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 is applicable here.  So, abundant spiritual fruit inclines God to say “yes” to your prayers, but if that’s true, then the opposite is true as well, namely lacking in spiritual fruit inclines God to say “no” or “not yet.”  Diminishing fruit hinders your prayer life.

4)  An ungodly relationship with our spouse hinders our prayer.
If there is one relationship on this planet that lays you spiritually bare, it would be your relationship with your spouse.  They know you the best, and given the proximity of living in the same house and sleeping in the same bed, you’d better bet that they are going to test your Christlikeness the most.  It’s for this reason Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 3:7, You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. That’s straightforward, isn’t it?  Your prayers are hindered when your marriage isn’t going as God intends for it to go.  You see, marriage isn’t just about the husband and wife.  It’s also about Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-33).  In other words, the marriage relationship is a physical testimony to the spiritual reality that exists between Christ and the church, and when the marriage goes bad, Christ looks bad.  Therefore, God hinders the prayers of spouses in an ungodly relationship to discipline them back to being faithful witnesses for Him.

5)  Doubt hinders our prayer.
Do you think that God is able to answer your prayers in the way you are hoping?  It seems that James says that thinking so is a prerequisite to receiving a “yes” from God in prayer.  James 1:5-8 says:

  • 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. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

When James speaks of doubting, I don’t think he means that we should not be up in the air as whether or not God will say “yes.”  We simply do not know the mind of God in that way.  To come to God saying that you know He will say “yes” is presumptuous.  Therefore, we almost always come to God doubting what the actual outcome will be, but we should never come to God doubting His ability.  I think that’s what James has in mind here.  We should never doubt whether or not God can do what’s being asked of Him if He so chooses.  The question is whether or not God is almighty in your mind.  Those who doubt that He is should expect their prayers to be hindered.

6)  Stinginess hinders our prayer.
God has His eye on your grip.  What I mean by that is that He is looking at how tightly you are holding on to the stuff with which He has blessed you.  A tight grip (aka, stinginess) leads to God’s discipline.  Jesus tells us in Luke 6:38, Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return. So, we see a basic Bible principle here:  giving generously leads to receiving generously, and giving stingily leads to receiving stingily.

Now, don’t jump off the deep end here.  I’m not saying the Prosperity Gospel is true.  I’m in no way advocating giving to get.  However, we can’t deny the basic Bible principle here.  Paul lays it out plainly  in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Friend, take God at His Word.  Stinginess will hinder your prayer.

7)  Not asking hinders our prayer.
Before you go and label me “Captain Obvious” with this one, hear me out.  Have you ever heard somebody pray for something but not ask for anything?  Perhaps they were with someone sick in the hospital, and their prayer was basically “Lord, Your will be done.”  This approach comes across as very spiritual and pious, but it has always struck me as a somewhat strange.  I mean, do we really have to pray to God that His will would be done?  No way!  He’s the sovereign God of the universe who always does as He pleases (Psalm 135:6).  There’s one thing we can know with certainty:  God’s will will be done!  And while one purpose of prayer is to prepare our hearts to receive the will of God, to be bent to His will, a parallel and maybe even greater purpose is to make known to God what our heart desires.

You see, James tell us, You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).  What that means is God might have done differently if you had only asked.  God might have healed that person if you had only asked Him to, might have given you that job if you had only asked Him to, and so on.  As I said earlier, asking does not obligate God and guarantee a “yes,” but not asking certainly prohibits a “yes.”  You won’t get it because you didn’t ask.  So, ask so that you might receive.

Think about it in this way:  Jesus invites us to be as little children in our prayer.  Remember when Jesus said, Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:14).  Man, children are not afraid to ask for anything.  They’re full of requests.  Jesus says to become like children, even in our praying by being undeterred in our asking, and in so doing, your prayers will be unhindered.

May you throw off everything that is entangling and hindering you so that your prayers can get off the ground and reach the very throne of God.  May you hear “yes” to your prayers!

09 Feb

Resources for Growing in Prayer

On my drive up to Lafayette, IN on Sunday, I had the privilege of listening to half the audio from this year’s Desiring God Pastors Conference.  You can access the audio here and John Piper’s biography of Robert Murray McCheyne here.  The theme this year was “The Powerful Life of the Praying Pastor.”  Even if you’re not a pastor, it would be a great help to your prayer life.  The sessions and speakers are as follows:

  1. Cultivating Private Prayer as a Pastor (Joel Beeke)
  2. Helping Your People Discover the Praying Life (Paul Miller)
  3. Prayer as a Way of Walking in Love:  A Personal Journey (Francis Chan)
  4. Leading Family Worship (Joel Beeke)
  5. Unreached Peoples and the Power of Prayer (Jerry Rankin)
  6. Q&A with the conference speakers
  7. He Kissed the Rose and Felt the Thorn:  Living and Dying in the Morning of the Life of Robert Murray McCheyne (John Piper)

I hope you check it out.  I look forward to listening to the rest of the conference audio on my way home from Lafayette on Friday.  May we grow in our prayer life together!

18 Oct

Exercise Your Humility By Praying

Prayer is one of God’s precious graces to us.  It has many purposes for our life and growth, but have you ever thought about how prayer is meant to be an instrument of humility in our lives?

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus, by example, teaches us how to pray.  Of course, this passage is best known as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but it’s probably better named “The Model Prayer.”  As we look at the prayer, notice how every single phrase in an exercise in humility:

  • Our Father” says:  God, You are my authority.
  • “Who is in heaven” says:  God, You are above me.
  • Hallowed be Your name” says:  God, You are holy, and I am not.
  • Your kingdom come” says:  God, I desire for Your territory and influence to grow over my life and my land.
  • Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” says:  God, I want to see Your plans come to pass more than mine.
  • Give us this day our daily bread” says:  God, my sustenance and provision come from You alone.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” says:  God, I am a sinner, and You are my judge.  Please have mercy on me!
  • And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” says:  God, I need Your protection both physically and spiritually.
  • For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, Amen” says:  You, God, are the only One worthy of my praise.

May you be a strong person of prayer and, consequently, a person of serious humility!

25 Jul

I Asked Believing But Didn’t Receive

As I meditated on the life of Joseph this past week found in the book of Genesis, I began to wonder about Joseph’s prayer life.  I mean, Joseph was a man of God, right?  Didn’t Joseph ever pray in the midst of his calamities?  In the pit, surely Joseph earnestly prayed to God that he would be restored back to his father’s house.  How about as a slave to the Ismaelites as they caravanned to Egypt?  In Potiphar’s house as a slave?  As a inmate in Pharaoh’s prison?  No prayers are recorded, but surely he, if he was a man of God, must have prayed earnestly.  Yet in every occasion, Joseph got a “no” from God.

You and I have certainly had that happen as well.  We’ve prayed earnestly, believing that God would answer “yes.”  We’ve prayed:

  • Lord, please let my loved one live.
  • Lord, please let me marry that certain person.
  • Lord, please give me that job.
  • Lord, please heal my body.

Nevertheless, your loved one still died, that certain person married somebody else, that boss never hired you, and your body is still diseased.  Instead of a “yes” from God, you received a “no.”  To be honest, the “no” has thrown you for a loop because you’ve read Scripture that says that whatever you ask for will come to pass.  You’ve read passages like:

  • Mark 11:20-24, As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21 Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus *answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. 24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.
  • Matthew 21:20-22, Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
  • Matthew 7:7-11, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 “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 what is good to those who ask Him!

You asked.  You believed.  But it still wasn’t granted.  What’s up with that?!  It’s caused you trouble in your heart and your mind because you were standing on the promise of a “yes.”  My hope is to help you understand the “no.”

Basically, we have four options:

  1. Jesus was wrong.  Jesus meant well, but he really didn’t know what He was talking about.
  2. Jesus is just speaking to the 12 disciples/apostles.  The power of prayer and the privilege of a guaranteed favorable answer isn’t meant for us.  It died with the apostles.
  3. You didn’t have enough faith.  You must have doubted.  You should have tried harder.  Then God would have been moved by you.
  4. You didn’t understand Jesus’ promise in light of all the Scripture.  Other passages of Scripture qualify these seemingly absolute and all-inclusive promises.

As for a quick evaluation, first, Jesus is never wrong.  He is the infallible, inerrant God who always speaks truth.  Second, these passages were meant to encourage us to pray.  If the power and privilege died with the apostles, then these passages would be false encouragement.  Third, I think one of the meanest things that a person can say to another is, “You just didn’t have enough faith.  Your wife would have lived if you had just prayed more.”  That’s unloving and untrue.  We do not have faith in faith or faith in ourselves.  Our faith is in God who does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:6).  To “believe,” as referenced in the above passages on prayer, isn’t knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God will grant your request, but rather knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is able to grant your request if He so wills.  With all that said then, I’m going with the fourth option.

The Scripture texts on asking and receiving are not blank checks given to us by God with no restrictions.  There are certainly qualifications to the promises.  I want to look at three.  God answers “yes” only to prayers that are…

Asking for Good Things

The first qualification is found in the Matthew 7:7-11 passage quoted above.  Notice that the relationship talked about here between God and man is a father to a child.  God is certainly our heavenly Father, and we are certainly His children through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is saying in this passage that if an earthly father knows how to give good gifts to his children, then certainly our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts us, His children.  That’s certainly true.  God will always give us good gifts.  If we ask for a fish, He won’t give us a snake.  Nevertheless, we often ask for a snake unwittingly, and when we do, God will not give it to us.  Furthermore, sometimes we ask for a fish, but what we need is a loaf of bread.  Even though you didn’t want a loaf of bread, your heavenly Father knows what’s best.

My son Zachariah will be 5-years-old in October.  He would absolutely love, love, love for me to go out and get him a big ol’ ninja sword, but he can forget it.  He’s asked me many times, begging and pleading, but no matter how much he asks, I will not grant his request.  There’s nothing wrong with ninja swords.  It just wouldn’t be good for him to have one.  I would probably end up disemboweled, and his brother Elijah would probably end up dismembered.  There would definitely be a lot of blood!  Therefore, I will not give one to him.

It’s the same way with our heavenly Father.  He knows best.  Therefore, when we ask believing, we shouldn’t demand.  We should come in trust and surrender knowing that God loves us and will spare no good thing to us.  Furthermore, we should keep in mind that God’s ultimate good for us is to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ as Romans 8:28-29 tells us, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. Therefore, sometimes the “good” stuff that God gives is actually trials and tribulations meant to refine and edify us.

The Apostle Paul comes to mind here.  Paul tells in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Whatever this thorn in the flesh was, Paul prayed three times to God to take it away.  Now if anybody was going to pray believing, it would be the Apostle Paul.  Yet God said “no.”  We get the reason why and Paul’s reaction in 2 Corinthians 12:9, And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Paul realized that that the thorn in his flesh was actually a good gift from God because through it, he was being conformed to the image of Christ.

So, if it’s not good for us, God will not give it to us no matter how much we ask for it and no matter how much we believe we’ll receive it.

Asked with the Right Motive

The second qualification is found in James 4:2-3, You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.  This passage seems to have a selfish desire for money as its focus, but in general, it’s pointing to wanting something for the wrong reason.  Numerous reasons could be listed here.  You could be motivated by selfishness, pride, fear, greed, laziness, etc. James says that God says “no” to prayer requests made with the wrong motivations because if God were to give it to us, we wouldn’t use it to glorify Him.

We must constantly check our hearts to see what our motivation really is.  We can say one thing with our lips, but our hearts are naked before God.  He knows our exact motivation.  So, asked with the wrong motive, God will not give it to us no matter how much we ask for it and no matter how much we believe we’ll receive it.

In Accordance with God’s Will

The final qualification is found in 1 John 5:14-15, This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 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. God is all-wise, which means that He not only knows what is best but that He also knows the best way to accomplish the best.  God is also all-knowing, which means that He not only knows the past, present, and future but that He also knows what would happen if one variable changed.  We are the opposite.  In our finitude and weakness, we tend to be foolish instead of wise and ignorant instead of knowledgeable.  In the end, we simply don’t know what’s best, but God does.  Furthermore, as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He has the right to rule and reign it.  His will should be done and is being done.  This news is incredibly good!

Can you imagine if God always did our will?  The following illustration might be somewhat flippant and lightweight, but the movie Bruce Almighty comes to mind.  Life just isn’t going the way Bruce would like it to go, and so he throws a fit with God.  God then decides to teach him a lesson by letting Bruce be god for a while.  The one scene that stands out in my mind is the one where Bruce is hearing all of these prayer requests at once.  It’s driving him crazy so, in his almightiness, he converts the prayer requests into emails.  He then begins to respond speedily, one by one to the prayers but quickly grows tired.  Then in one bulk move, he hits the “reply to all” button and responds “yes.”  Every person got exactly what they asked for.  You can see the movie clip here.  Soon thereafter though, Bruce realizes that he’s made a tragic mistake.  The world is in utter chaos.  There’s rioting in the street.  Millions of people won the lottery, which meant that they each got pocket change.  I’m sure you get the point the movie is trying to make.  We ask from a single, little viewpoint, but God answers from the big picture.  It would simply be unwise for God to say “yes” every time.

But now let me give you a weighty, biblical example.  Jesus, on the night that He was betrayed by Judas, went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was deeply troubled knowing that His time of suffering was soon at hand.  He tells the inner three disciples in Matthew 26:38, My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me. Then He proceeds to pray saying in Matthew 26:39, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will. Just a few moments later He prays again in Matthew 26:42, My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done. Luke 22:44 tells us that Jesus was so troubled and prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. Surely this example is the greatest one of a person asking in full belief (Matthew 21:22).  Jesus prayed with perfect faith, sharing His desire that He’d rather not go through the crucifixion, the imputation of man’s sin, the wrath of God, and death, but nevertheless, Jesus got a “no” from the Father.  It was the Father’s will that Jesus endure these things.

The same is true when we pray.  If what we ask for is in accordance with God’s will, it will be granted to us.  Otherwise, we get a “no.”  No matter the answer, we trust in the wisdom of God and the goodness of His plan.  So, if it’s not in accordance with God’s will, God will not give it to us no matter how much we ask for it and no matter how much we believe we’ll receive it.

So, in summary, God answers “yes” only to prayers that are:

  1. asking for good things.
  2. asked with the right motive.
  3. in accordance with God’s will.

So How Should We Pray Then

We should pray and pray often.  We should pray believing, which is to know that God is able if He so wills.  We should pray, making our requests known but also seeking to be bent to God’s wisdom and good plan.  We should pray as Jesus prayed—fervently and wanting God’s will to be done.

In fact, Jesus gave us an example of how to pray in Matthew 6:7-13:

And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. 9 Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Notice that even here, Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done, which is a way of saying, “Father, I trust you to do exactly what’s best and to give me exactly what I need.”  May that be the spirit in which we go forth in lifting up prayers and receiving answers to prayers!