Saturday, November 19, 2016

Prayer changes

This morning I read one of those well-meant phrases that Christians are known to say, and say often.  "Prayer changes things."  I know I said it for years - but my view of prayer and what happens during prayer has changed in recent years.  I used to think that when someone had a need or a physical problem, we were supposed to pray to God for them to have it resolved or healed ... but as I've learned more, I really don't think that's what prayer is for. Besides, I've really listened to some of the prayers that have been prayed for people who are sick with this or that disease, and I hardly think that they sound like "the prayer of faith" that James talked about when he said for the sick person to call on the elders of the church for the laying on of hands. Rather, those prayers sound like worries, and pleading, and doubting ... as if God must be placated. And the usual result of those prayers has been exactly the opposite of what the person believed himself or herself to be praying for.  I've seen it happen far too many times for it to seem like coincidence, so much so that I hesitate to ask for prayer except from a chosen few whom I know to NOT pray like that.

Off and on for the past few years, I've been examining the ministry of Jesus when He was physically here on the planet, and I've discovered something about prayer by doing so.  Jesus very rarely prayed publicly. Most of His praying was done in private, or when He was alone, while He was in public ministry. So I looked at the most famous time when Jesus prayed in public ... and what I saw rather shocked me.  

It's in one of my favourite stories in the New Testament - the raising of Lazarus from the dead (this is in John chapter 11). You'll recall that Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick and then stayed two more days where He was. He then told His disciples that they were going to go to see Lazarus - that Lazarus was dead and that He was glad He was not there when it happened ... so that they would believe.  (Keep that statement of purpose in your back pocket). 

When Jesus got there, all He seemed to find was unbelief -or belief to a certain point and then ... nothing (that is, they believed that He could have healed Lazarus when he was still alive, but now that he was dead, all bets were off). Eventually Jesus convinced the family and friends to roll the stone away from the tomb door. ("Didn't I say that if you believed, you would see...?")  And then He prayed.  But it wasn't the kind of prayer that we often hear in healing services, which sounds like ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease.... as if God has to be cajoled or convinced to do good to us. No, Jesus didn't pray like that.  Here's John 11:41-42 -

Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me. (NASB)

From this prayer, I can draw these conclusions: 
(1) Jesus knew that God had already heard Him; 
(2) Jesus knew that God ALWAYS heard Him; 
(3) Jesus never once asked God to raise Lazarus from the dead; and 
(4) He only prayed aloud in front of people in the first place because He wanted the people who were standing around Him to believe that God sent Him. 

What does all that tell me? 
(1) Jesus had complete trust in God's goodness, and didn't have to gather it up and strain and grunt and groan to produce it or to convince God that He had faith; 
(2) Jesus got that faith from the hours alone He had consistently spent with God in private (more about that in a bit); and 
(3) Jesus was demonstrating that you never ask God to do what He has delegated TO YOU the authority to do yourself

Then He turned toward the tomb and called - ONCE - to Lazarus ... to come out of the tomb. And Lazarus did. Lazarus was dead - he had no faith - he wasn't even there; he was in Abraham's bosom, beyond caring what happened to his body. His family and friends had the kind of faith that believed in platitudes, and they had no faith that Lazarus would be raised. JESUS believed. JESUS called to the dead man. And that, my friends, is how you heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons ... because remember folks, Jesus had laid aside His divinity.  He was fully human and relied on the living, eternal Holy Spirit to live out His life through Jesus ... to the world.  He modeled how we could rely on the Spirit too, just like He did.

The source of Jesus' faith was (is) in the relationship that He and the Father had (and still have!) Over and over again, we read in the gospels how He got up long before daybreak and went to be by Himself... to pray to the Father. What was He doing during that time? Some have said He was getting His "marching orders" for the day. Having lived in the Spirit - I really don't think that's it. Living in the Spirit is like getting the "marching orders" (so to speak) right at the time they're needed. It's a lot like flying by the seat of your pants ... so again, what was Jesus doing in prayer? 

I have a radical suggestion.  What if Jesus was simply maintaining closeness with His Dad? 

Image "Couple At Sunset" courtesy
of piyaphantawong at
Think about it.  What if prayer is simply developing and maintaining intimacy with God? and by virtue of that very intimacy, there develops a deep, inner knowing that God is with you, for you, in you, caring for you, loves you without reservation, and longs to connect with you - and with everyone - on that level?

So does that kind of prayer change things? Hmm, for me, that's up for debate.  I don't think that it's true in the sense that most people think about when they refer to "things" - that is, events and so forth.  Things may not change; other people may not change; circumstances may not change.  However, I'm more inclined to think that this kind of prayer changes the pray-erInside. I believe that prayer aimed at developing and maintaining intimacy  grows faith and confidence, and strengthens the person who prays (who draws close to God) so that the Spirit can do His work in and through that person. The purpose of this kind of relationship prayer is so that the person, in drawing close to God, accepts God's unconditional love and is able to recognize the leadings of the Spirit. With that kind of confidence in God, we won't need to ask Him for anything, or to do anything. We will know He is with us.  We will rely on the Spirit, and with His leading, we will speak to whatever problem presents itself in the way and at the moment that He chooses.

This is how Jesus lived His earthly life. As I have come to ponder this reality more and more, I have changed; my prayer life has changed.  I no longer pray like I used to pray. I just enter His presence and deliberately become aware of His love for me. I meditate on His love and His goodness. I start to grasp His good intentions toward me and toward all people. I remember that He has already given to me all things (including HIS faith!).  

I remind myself that He has given me the authority that Jesus had when He was here on the planet ... authority to speak to the mountain, to speak to the sickness, to speak to death, to speak to demons in the name of Jesus ... and expect these things to be dislodged and banished because He wills it. I don't have to drum this authority up (it's already given to me!), I don't have to dig down deep to access my own faith (Jesus already believes for me!) and I don't have to raise my voice.  I don't have to be theatrical about anything.  I just trust in His love.  Then my whole life becomes a prayer - a song of dedication - an act of worship.

In this way, the practice of prayer is not so much about me, but about Him, about His love, His goodness, His passion, His desire to bond.  That is what I am learning.  This realization is removing all that pressure that I used to feel that it was somehow up to me to pray harder and believe more, because it would be my fault if I didn't do it right and somehow someone got sicker or the dark side won.  It's not about that at all. It's about Him. If I enter the picture at all, it's in the area of realizing how greatly He loves me - how amazing He is - and in the area of growing in intimacy with Him.  Only then can I grasp onto the power that He has given to me and use that power to do His will: loving and speaking life into a dying world.

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