The Difficult Part of Prayer

February 20, 2012 at 6:38 AM

The difficult part of prayer is in the not knowing.  Anyone will tell you that.  We know that we need to have faith.  We know that we need to see through the darkness of not knowing, to faith believing that God will answer according to His will.  We also know there is so much that we are unable to discern about prayer.

The Bible tells us much and if not studied thoroughly, we could end up with the wrong impression about prayer.  By taking verses out of context, it is easy to arrive to a conclusion that says God will heal sickness every time.  We can erroneously believe that God wants to bless me materially in this life.  There are many conclusions we can draw about prayer that are far from its reality.

Questions arise concerning prayer that are difficult to answer.  We look at the book of Job for instance, and we see a man – Job – who was righteous.  Yet in spite of that, God allowed Job to be tested and tested severely by the enemy of our souls.

We learn from Job’s experience that Satan has tremendous power and that power is kept in check by God alone.  In essence then, Satan can use whatever means is necessary to overcome a believer even temporarily, if allowed to do so by God.

We learn from Daniel that persistence in prayer pays off.  We know that he prayed for 21 days for an answer to prayer (cf. Daniel 9), yet on the first day he prayed, the angel Gabriel was sent to provide an answer to Daniel.  Unfortunately, Gabriel was delayed in coming.  Why the delay? We learn that a prince of Persia – likely a powerful demonic entity – kept this godly messenger at bay for three weeks. There are spiritual beings more powerful than some of God’s own angels.

All the while Daniel knew nothing of this supernatural battle that was taking place in the heavenly realms.  He was unaware of how real it was and the need for Michael the Archangel to come and help the messenger so that he could carry the answer to Daniel.  Had Gabriel not explained the reason for the delay, not only Daniel, but we would still be in the dark.

So why did God allow Gabriel to be so accosted and kept at bay for three weeks, only finding his freedom to continue onto Daniel after Michael fought for his release?  If we look at the truth of Daniel 9, we see the importance of that particular passage.  In fact, it is the only passage in all of Scripture that deals with the 70 weeks and the details noted therein by Gabriel.

The 70 weeks are directly connected to the nation of Israel and are extremely important.  It tells of the times of the Gentiles and how Jerusalem and the Holy Mount (Temple Mount) will be trodden under the feet of Gentile nations until the end of human-led history.

Moreover, this period of time details the rise of the Antichrist and the final seven years of human history known as the Tribulation.  It was because of Daniel’s righteous prayers that he was heard and a reason given.

With this knowledge, is it any wonder that the prince of Persia did not want Gabriel to arrive to Daniel with the answer to his prayers?  Of course he would do his best to keep that answer from arriving even if it meant keeping Gabriel at bay for as long as possible.  Once Michael arrived, the prince of Persia was overcome, allowing Gabriel to go on his way.

I also think it is telling that Gabriel knew that upon his return to the throne, he would again be hammered by another prince (demonic entity) who would attempt to keep him from getting back to the throne.

What this tells me is that not all angels are alike.  Some are certainly far more powerful than others.  Is this why Jesus tells us to be persistent in prayer (cf. Luke 18:1-8)?  This seems to be the case.  There is something about persistent, consistent prayer that rises to the throne.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the angels who carry our prayers to God’s throne are often accosted along the way.

But this brings us to another question.  Can God not hear our prayers until the angel relays the message?  Of course He can without doubt.  However, there is a procedure that God has obviously put into place that captures our prayers and guides them to the throne of grace.

So if it takes time for our prayers to get there “physically,” what is the purpose of that.  There can only be one answer.  Faith.  It is to build up our faith in God and His ability to hear and respond to our prayers.

It is tempting to think that Satan has more power than He does.  It is tempting to think that our prayers are answered based on our ability to pray persistently.  I don’t believe this to be the case at all.  God uses time to build up our faith just as He did with Daniel.  There was no chance that Daniel’s prayer had not been answered.  It was merely a matter of time until the answer reached Daniel.

In today’s day and age, we do not have angels appearing to us with an answer from God’s throne.  We have the indwelling Holy Spirit who is always before God’s throne since He is God as the Father is God and as the Son is God.  If the Holy Spirit dwells within us, He not only knows the prayers of our heart, but helps us when we don’t even know how to pray (cf. Romans 8:26; John 14:26; see also Galatians 4:6).

There are situations in our lives that require concerted prayer if for no other reason than to continue to remind us of areas in our life that God needs to have control of and of which we need to let go.  There are times when we need to spend time in prayer simply praising Him for His answer to prayer, whether we know what that answer is or not.

Praising God in all things (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:18) is probably the very best way that I know of to let God have control of circumstances.  I’ve given a few examples of this throughout this book, but there are others.

Recently, I’ve been praying that God would open doors that seem closed, yet it also seems as though He wants open.  I’m not sure what those doors are, but I feel certain that He wants them open.  Is it a case of me simply being involved in wishful thinking that God wants something that He does not? Is it a case of spiritual entities fighting against God’s will to keep His will from happening?

I believe it is the latter, rather than the former.  So if that is the case, then what can be better than praising Him for His will, even though it appears to be yet unfulfilled?

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed, He prayed for options.  He presented His request to the Father, with the proviso that His and only His will would be done.  Jesus had wants, but He never allowed those wants to supersede the Father’s will in the matter.  The fact that Jesus said “Not mine, but thy will be done” proves this beyond doubt.

In essence, Jesus was able to let go of his wants, for the exclusivity of the Father’s will.  How can human beings do this?  Through praise.  When we give thanks for something we are not particularly happy about, we are in the process of letting the situation go.  If we continue to hang onto our wants, it appears as though either God will not move, or He will move to perform His will and we will be unable to accept and receive it.

In the situation that I noted regarding God wanting to open doors for me to walk through, it is my responsibility to praise Him for His will.  It is in praising Him that I am able to let go and let God complete His will.

If God wants me to be in a holding pattern per se, then what is that to me?  If God is going to wait months or years before the things He has me praying about come to pass, what is that to me? It is clear then that the length of time before He moves is completely His to ordain. If I get frustrated in the meantime, continuing to think that because God has placed something on my heart, He must mean for it to happen very soon, then I am setting myself up for failure.  God does not often tell us ahead of time of His timing.  We may get a sense of His timing in general terms, but that may be all.  As the time approaches, we may get a sense of things being narrowed down.

Suppose God has me waiting for three years before He opens doors? In the meantime, I’m doing other things that He has me doing, so I believe I am still performing His will.  If He is preparing me to move in another direction, rarely if ever, does God give us a one-day notice.  More often than not, He gives us plenty of time to become acclimated to the perfection of His will.  He knows our frame and that we came from dust.  He knows our weaknesses and deficiencies.  He brings us along gently, slowly, and consistently.  Our job is to trust Him and once again, the best way to trust Him is through a continual attitude of praise and thanksgiving.

If I spend my time instead of praying that He will open the doors He plans to open, I spend time praising Him for the perfection of His will and the timing of that will, then I am in His will because I am proving to Him that I am trusting Him.

I learned years ago that the best way to prove to God that we are trusting Him is through praise.  We may not feel it when we start to praise Him, but this sacrifice of praise will soon turn into a reality that we did not know could exist (cf. Psalm 50:14).  It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving when we do not understand and even when we find it difficult to agree, but we praise Him anyway because we believe He knows best.

This is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He essentially thanked Him for the perfection of God the Father’s will and accepted it.  It was in the act of saying “Father, not my will but thine be done” that Jesus praised the Father for that will.  Jesus knew that the Father’s will was best, beyond reason.  Though He shrank from the coming trials, pain, and separation from the Father that would befall Him, Jesus ultimately fully submitted Himself to the Father.  There is no greater sacrifice.  A sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is something the Lord wants to see in all of His children.

We do not know the path intimately until we get there.  The problem though is that we often think we know better than God about the many situations in our lives.  He wants us to forget about our lives, take up our cross, and follow Him on a daily basis.  This tells me that He does not want me preoccupied with the things that concern my life, but to be occupied within the confines of His will.

Satan loves to get our minds on ourselves.  He wants us to spend time agonizing over this thing or that with respect to our lives.  The problem is that doing this keeps us from spending our lives fully involved in God’s will.

So I believe that God wants to open doors.  I can spend a good amount of time praying about it; that He would open those doors, or I can spend a good amount of time praising Him for the fact that He is going to open doors when He sees fit.  So every time I am tempted to think about, dwell on, and even become frustrated about those doors that appear to be closed, I have two choices: I can pray hard that He will open them, or I can offer praise to Him for His will and His timing.  By doing the former, I tend to hang onto it.  With the latter, I tend to let it go for His safe keeping.

I think what I am describing is what someone has called the “faith-rest” life of a Christian.  By offering praise in all things, I am letting go of my wants.  I am exercising faith in His ability to get His will accomplished.  I am also resting in the fact that doors will open when they are supposed to open.  Do you see that?  This is the mark of a mature Christian and I’m certainly not saying I’m there yet, or there consistently.  I’m saying that is the mark to which we strive to reach.

I believe this is the mark that Jesus aimed for and reached in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Had he continued to ask God to remove the “cup” from Him, without adding the proviso about the Father’s will being done, it would have amounted to sin.  Jesus would have been guilty of putting His will ahead of the Father’s will.  This is sinful.  It stems from our own ego, thinking that we know better than God does.

Of course, Jesus passed the test with flying colors.  Though He wanted to shrink from what was to come His way, He submitted Himself perfectly to the Father’s will and He knew exactly what that meant in His case.

As Christians, the best of our prayers can be found in praising Him for His will even when our wants to not coincide with that will.  I believe there will always be an element of the unknown when it comes to prayer in this life.  Paul said we see through a glass darkly (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).  This is how it is, which is why faith is so important.  The best evidence of our faith is in praising Him for those things that we cannot see.

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