You’re getting ready to pray. There’s a lot of very important things on your heart…
Ah, the power of prayer. It’s funny how we often attempt to misuse this wonderful gift. We make it a “wish list.” God is the “genie in a bottle” who can satisfy the ever increasing demands of our want. I am as guilty as anyone of sitting down with God in an attempt to sway His blessings toward my situation(s). If anyone will understand my predicament, I know God will. He loves me, and He wants the best for me…and currently the best is on sale for three days only! We have to hurry…give it to me, God!
Over the years, my prayer life has changed considerably. That’s a good thing, because it used to mimic a laundry list of very detailed requests that I needed handled. My prayers were offered up from the standpoint of greed and personal agenda. I took my requests very seriously, but I belittled the God to whom those requests were made…because I never sought His will. It was all about me, my wants, my desires, and my happiness. Today, through quite a bit of unpleasant discipline from a loving and very patient God, I find a newness in prayer life. My focus has been altered, and my agenda is normally (although not always) placed to the side.
Let’s talk briefly about prayer…
I have heard many Christians discussing prayer. Without fail, there’s always those who speak of God’s goodness in answered prayer, but there are also those who admit that, in their mind, God doesn’t answer their prayers. One gentleman in particular recently quoted this verse to me from memory…
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” – James 1:6 (NIV)
From his standpoint, this verse of Scripture was the catch-all for God’s goodness. There’s other similar verses (for example, John 14:12-14), but He mentioned this one specifically. He believed that if you wanted something, you just had to believe that it would happen, and because of that belief, God would honor your request. Many late-night “preachers” promote this very same theologically unsound theory, while they try to sell you “miracle spring water” and “prayer cloths,” filling you with hope that God will enact a “divine wealth transfer” into your fiscally unsound situation…because money, not God, is the cure-all to every problem. It makes me nauseous.
As I read the instructions given in James 1:6, I can understand how some people might misconstrue the message; however, let me give you a different, more theologically sound, take on this wonderful passage…
First, there’s nothing wrong with praying for what you want. God knows our hearts, and certainly, at times, our greedy nature. We might as well voice them. Maybe, if we pray for them enough, we’ll begin to pick up on the one-sided nature of our requests. We'll see the manifestation of greed that has somehow infiltrated our communication with Almighty God. Consequently, our desire “for more” often flies in the face of God’s desire for us, and I don’t believe that He is quick to answer requests made from the foolish and greedy nature of our flesh. So, if your prayers for the candy apple red Porsche 911 haven’t been answered yet…just keep waiting…but while you’re waiting, you may want to refocus your prayer life on something of much greater substance.
Second, pray is not primarily about requests for intervention from God. That’s what we seem to make it, but we’re confusing prayer with a Christmas list. Prayer is all about communication and relationship with our Creator. I would say it’s about communication first and listening second. “Requests” distinctively fall somewhere below those two categories. Do we ever take the time in our prayer life to actually listen and allow God to speak? I’ve found in my own prayer life that God is very considerate. He seems to not interrupt me when I’m focused on myself and my wants. He just allows me to ramble on… Too many times, those prayers have ended without me personally and deliberately affording God the opportunity of communication with me. Sad.
Third, prayer is about finding the will of Almighty of God. Prayer is powerful. However, prayer, when coupled with the reading God’s Word, is immensely powerful. We find the outline of God’s character in His Word. It’s there that we can begin to discern His will, and prayer will confirm the manifestation of that will in our life. When we pray, our first request should be to find the will of God. When we pray specifically for certain things, we should pray for God to allow them into our life only if they fit into His perfect will. We should pray that God would sift through the poor character traits that we all possess and strip us of the greed, envy, and self-centeredness that comes so easily…replacing it with a heart for service, sacrifice, and passion for the life and spiritual well-being of others.
I say all of that to say this…
Look at James 1:6 again…
”But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
What this verse is really saying...
When we ask, when we pray, when we petition God…we should always do it from the standpoint of seeking His will. Anything we pray for should be placed under the sovereignty and protection found only in God’s will. And then, following that, we should “believe” that God will answer that prayer based off of His perfect will. When we fail to see God directly address something that we have prayed for, we should understand that, even though we don’t see it, God has, in fact, directly addressed it.
We can have faith that God hears our prayers, and His answers are directly tied to His plans for us. If we fail to understand this, then we are tossed about through the storms of life in constant frustration and paralyzing uncertainty. Praying for certain things and not receiving them may, in fact, may be an immense blessing from our Heavenly Father. God, in His love for us, shields His children from our sinful nature by not allowing everything into our life that we think will make us happy. He doesn’t always answer prayers to heal the sick on this earth, because His plans for them, and for us, are greater than the sickness. We often continue to struggle through trials, not because God is dismissive of our burdens, but because He wants us to allow Him to help carry that heavy load. And often, God will teach us patience through making us wait.
There’s power in the prayers of the righteous of God (James 5:16b), and those who really love the Lord want His will to play out in their life. Direct communication with God, paid for at great cost by the blood of an innocent Christ, was not established to satisfy the superficial amusements of our greed and want. Prayer was established to give us the foundation of personal communication and intimate relationship with the God who authored our very existence. He’s not Santa Claus. He’s not a genie…He’s God Almighty. When our prayers begin to reflect our pursuit of the sovereignty of God’s will, we will begin to see a power in that communication that defies everything we have previously known about prayer itself.
Take some time to pray for communication and interaction. Stop talking and listen. Refrain from asking for anything other than God to reveal Himself and His will to you…and see what happens. I dare you.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!