The number one reason why I don't pray as often as I wish is unbelief. It's so subtle. And unbelief is empowered by rationality. I rationalize so quickly, so immediately, within nanoseconds, that I should get on with the work. Accompanied by that are presumptions like, "God will bless what you're doing," or "You already know what the right thing to do is." And off I go...sometimes (perhaps more than I'm willing to admit) as lost and turned around as a duck in a tornado.
The reason I don't pray as much as I wish is because in an instant, almost second nature, I don't believe that seeking to hear from God on something is the wisest course of action. At the root of this rationalization is the belief that He probably doesn't care about it, won't answer me, or will take too long to tell me what I already know I want to hear. It's so frustrating! I can sit here and think through the issue pretty clearly right now, analyzing...resolving...figuring...fixing. And preaching! But why won't that work as well when the need to pray about something suddenly siezes my mind and heart!
There's a slow, steady, necessary process of reversal on this matter. It doesn't happen overnight. It happens by continuing what I know I am already doing: eating and drinking the gospel. The gospel, you see, is all about promises. It is the Good News that God has promised to do something specatular for me in my deepest, darkest need. Oh sure, that need is to be made right with Him. But that need simply gives birth to a magnificent promise, which is like a fruit that produces a thousand other seeds inside for the same fruit.
The Gospel tells me that God has promised to make me an heir with His Son Jesus Christ, if I repent from my sins and believe that His righteousness, and not my self-righteousness, is the only way to enjoy that. But that one promise is a fruit filled with a thousand other seeds of promise that...
- My God will supply all my needs through His riches in glory by Christ Jesus
- If God didn't spare His own Son, but gave Him up for me, then how much more will God give me everything else I need in Christ Jesus.
- If I lack wisdom, I can ask God who promises to give it to me liberally, abundantly, and without finding any fault in me.
- I can draw near to God and He promises to draw near to Me.
- Jesus will come back and take me to Himself so that where He is right now, I will be also.
- Jesus is praying for me that I will not ultimately fail in my walk with Him...and He always gets what He prayed for.
- If I abide in Him, and His words abide in me, I can ask whatever I want to and He'll give it to me.
- I will bear much fruit.
- I can say to a mountain, "be removed and throw yourself into the ocean!" and it will obey me.
- Together with God's people, I can do greater things than Jesus did.
- I have the Holy Spirit as a comforter, counselor, and convictor.
- I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.
Fill in the rest of the blanks with your own. I trust you get the point by now. And when applied to prayer, James teaches me that the prayers of a righteous man get a lot accomplished. I am righteous in Jesus Christ. I am that righteous man. My prayers will get a lot accomplished. BUT I'VE GOT TO PRAY!!!
James uses the example of Elijah who prayed for rain after three years of not getting any (as a sign of God's displeasure with Ahab, Jezebel, and Israel in general). So Elijah prayed, and rain returned. Why? Because Elijah knew the secret of the gospel. The God who made Elijah right with Himself, would also give Elijah whatever he needed to sustain the needs of God's people and to make God's name famous.
At the root of Elijah's prayer life was belief. Did he ever not believe? You bet! Remember when he was under the tree wanting to die, asking God to kill him? That seems very much to me to be unbelief. But what did God do? He kept His promise, fed Elijah by means of a few birds, and sustained him in the process. Why? Because God loved Elijah.
And He loves me too. And He loves you too. He wants to act in you and through you. He wants to answer your prayers. He wants to make Himself famous and you satisfied in the process. Will I believe this when a torrent of to-do's suddenly siezes my schedule? Will you believe it when the tyranny of the urgent grabs you by the collar, and lifts you off the ground, putting your back the wall, yelling at you?
Or will we, like Jesus who departed to a quiet place to pray, do the same? Will we, like Elijah, have faith that God will answer our prayers, hear what we ask for in His name, for His glory, and take as much time as the need requires to pray.
Toward this end, I've been reading Terry Virgo's book, God Knows You're Human: Good News for People Who Slip and Fall - Lessons on Weakness and Strength. I bought it at the recent New Frontiers Midwest Celebration conference. In God's providence, John Lamferman was sick, so Terry Virgo took to the pulpit reminding us of God's greatness through Elijah. I was privileged to hear two sermons from the series in the book, based on 1 Kings 18. (These are a fresh presentation of these older sermons.)
Toward the end of last weekend, my friend Scott Anderson at Desiring God forwarded me what John Piper's assistant forwarded him, originally Tweeted by Piper last week. I believe the quote from my email was, "I have just watched a sermon on prayer by Terry Virgo that will alter my year. I recommend it. http://ow.ly/hB55" That's a powerful statement from a man like Piper about a sermon by a man like Virgo. The link came from a post by my friend Adrian Warnock, whose blog I don't read often enough. In Adrian's post is a link to the sermons by Virgo that I didn't know existed. Here they are, including several video sermons available for download also.
The Full Series On Elijah By Terry Virgo