Like many men, one of the biggest challenges I have is asking for help. If I am lost in a city, I will almost never ask for directions. If I am planning on building something, I try and figure it out on my own. Maybe I’m stubborn? But what about spiritual things. Let me share a little secret: the single most significant decision that has changed my prayer life more than any other, the one step that has brought about greater results than all others combined is this (drum roll, please)… Asking Jesus what I should pray.
It sounds so simple, and so revolutionizing! The disciples asked Jesus so why shouldn’t we? It is pretty obvious once we consider it, but it is something we rarely practice. That is probably one of the side effects of seeing prayer as the “asking God to do something” view. No doubt it is also more of the negative consequences of the orphan-and-slave mentality. But if prayer is, in fact, a partnership, then I want to be in alignment with God!
For here is His promise to us: 1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.”
This is both breathtaking and revolutionary, isn’t it? This one promise alone is so wonderful, so hopeful; it ought to make our hearts sing, courage and faith swelling within us like a rising volcano. If we pray in line with God’s will, we can stand firmly on the promise it will be done. Amen will finally become AMEN!
“But how do I know what the will of God is?” Now, that is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Let me assure you that you can; God does not torment us by hiding His will from us, though at times it does take a little effort to discern it. Both Elijah and Ananias were praying with confidence because they clearly heard from God. I believe that confidence can be ours.
In my experience with God, my understanding of prayer has changed, rather it has been transformed. As a young Christian, prayer was seen as primary asking God to do things for us with a little bit of thanksgiving and praise for who He is and what He has done for us in Christ. God has been gracious and kind as I’ve seen how He has answered whether in the healing of someone ill, the transformation of a life or provision through lean times. Even seemingly simple co-incidences like asking for good weather like Elijah, have been answered Over and over God has shown Himself faithful.
But despite all the stunning victories in our past, I never assume I know what the new prayer need before I require. If someone asks me, “Pray that my mother and my father reconcile,” I don’t simply start praying that. For one thing, I do not know with any sort of certainty that reconciliation is what God is doing at this moment. It may well be the will of God that her parents reconcile, but it may also be that first He wants to address something in their character. God doesn’t just put Band-Aids on things; it would be far more like Him to first deal with the sin that was poisoning the marriage, and then bring about reconciliation.
I want to live and pray like God’s intimate ally, so I turn my gaze toward God and ask, “What do You want me to pray for her mother and father?” I preface it with “Show me what to pray.” Those prayers are far more effective because they are aligned with His will. They are aligned with what He is doing in the situation at this particular moment.
And it is a hard thing to do because the needs that drive us to prayer so often pull at the heartstrings of our deep love and concern for others. As Oswald Chambers warned, we have to be careful we don’t simply start praying our sympathies for the person or his need: “Whenever we step back from our close identification with God’s interest and concern for others and step into having emotional sympathy with them, the vital connection with God is gone. We have then put our sympathy and concern for them in the way… It is impossible for us to have living and vital intercession unless we are perfectly and completely sure of God. And the greatest destroyer of that confident relationship to God, so necessary for intercession, is our own personal sympathy and preconceived bias. Identification with God is the key to intercession, and whenever we stop being identified with Him it is because of our sympathy with others, not because of sin.”
This is a difficult word for many of us to hear, but we are pressing into maturity both in our own character and in our partnership with God, and Chambers’ admonition must not be ignored. Be careful you do not let your sympathies get in the way! Once again, this is far too common. You’ve been in those prayer sessions, where someone just launches in and starts praying out of her emotional response to the situation; it is often beautiful and well-intentioned, but it is also typically ineffective.
Now yes, yes – of course, we pray moved by love and concern. Of course, we do. As pastor Bill Hybells wrote, “Prayer is the ministry.” It is the heartbeat of ministry. But the kind of prayer I am sharing about might be called the “Prayer of Intervention,” and the promise we are banking on is that if we are praying in alignment with what God is doing, we will see results. Like the first disciples, our posture needs to be, “Lord – teach us to pray.” It isn’t something we will find in a book or hear in a sermon, rather it is something we can do and learn right here, right now, in this very moment; Lord, teach me how to pray about this.
That is why I am careful how I bring my emotion, or my experience, to the need at hand. I don’t ignore them, but neither do I let them dictate what I am praying. Answered prayers are valuable, and they may come into play. But this is a very dynamic story we find ourselves in, and as we mature in prayer, let us be careful not to assume this situation is exactly the same as the one before. You will want to ask God what needs to be prayed.
Prayer is not making speeches to God; it is entering into conversational intimacy with Him. Father to son or daughter, friend to friend, partner to partner, essential prayer is conversational. It involves a give-and-take. Remember the playful exchange between Ananias and Jesus? “You want me to do what?” “Go to this specific house. Place your hands on him.” “Wait a second – really?” I understand that prayer speeches are what most of us have seen modeled, but there is a fabulous intimacy and effectiveness available to us as we pause and let God say something in return.