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Prayer as Duty and Delight
January 26, 2009
At Grace Fellowship Church we’ve been praying for something big and we’ve been praying it for quite some time. We want a meeting place of our own. It’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with the school we meet in now, but more that we can foresee how our own building would be beneficial to the church and to the community. Oh, and we want the building to be free. We’re quite a small church and the leadership (wisely, I think) is hesitant to rope the church into a long and expensive mortgage. Real estate prices being what they are in Toronto, it would realistically be a very long and undoubtedly very expensive mortgage. This would not be a good decision for our church. So we continue to pray for a building of our own, for free.
I am confident that we can pray for such a thing and am confident that God can answer our prayer in amazing and unexpected ways. And really, I’ve seen him answer such prayers in other churches and organizations. The Apostle had confidence that God was able to do things far beyond our ability to even imagine, closing his prayer for the Ephesians by praying in the name of “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” What seems so big to us is so small to God. Is the Creator of all the universe bound by the limitations that seem so clear to us?
It’s strange to me, then, that I can pray in such confidence that God is able to do great things and yet still pray with such a diminished sense of my prayers actually mattering to God. I am coming to realize that this is one of my great struggles in prayer. I believe in God’s sovereignty; I believe what he says in the Word is true and that he is not only able, but willing to grant what I ask in prayer. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” God wants to hear the prayer of his saints and as a father delights in giving good things to his son, God delights in giving good things to his children.
And yet so often I pray like it doesn’t really matter. I make it a habit to try to pray for every person in our church every week. Far too often I pray these prayers like I am praying to someone who is not eager to hear the prayers and is not eager to answer them. I pray like I am asking difficult things of a reluctant ruler. I pray like I need to beg God that he will bless these saints, like he is uninterested in hearing my requests that these people will apply to their lives the Word they heard on Sunday or that they will come to church eager to enjoy communion with him. I pray like prayer is a duty, not a delight.
But lately God has been showing me that prayer can be so much more than duty. When prayer is mere duty I see myself falling into the trap of the Gentiles that Jesus talked about in his Sermon: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” My prayers can be so empty, so meaningless, little more than empty phrases heaped one upon the other. But God has been showing me that they are so much more. They are so much more to him.
So this has been my prayer in recent days—my prayer with which I begin to pray. “God, help me to have confidence that my prayers matter.” I’ve found that such a sense can transform a prayer. With such a prayer I am reminding myself of God’s truth—that He is eager to hear and answer my prayers—and I am asking him to give me a renewed and enlarged sense of this great truth. As I pray this I am reminding myself that God is no petty tyrant disinterested in what I may desire to ask him, but that he is a gracious Father who desires good things for all of his children. And I remind myself that prayer is a means, and often the means, by which he gives us those things that will bless us and bring glory to his name.
Prayer matters—my prayers matter. I fight to keep this in my mind and I fight to keep it in my heart.