Prayer and Praise, Part 2
In our first article in this series, we introduced the concept of prayer and said that we would eventually compare it with the concept of praise as well. We spoke briefly about the meme that is on many people’s lips today within Christendom. That meme is prayer is a powerful tool!
But is it a tool? Some certainly use it as though it was just that. If so, it seems that it might be relatively easy to divorce prayer from God Himself. After all, it’s just a tool, right? Is that the way people view prayer?
We broached the idea that prayer is really about conversing with God, not so much simply handing Him our want list that He should get going on it as soon as possible (or sooner). I also pointed out previously that Jesus should be our example and the Garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed provides us with a very good example of exactly how we are to pray. The prayer that has become known as the “Lord’s Prayer” is also an excellent example, which we’ll get into in this article if space allows.
We ended our last article by referencing James 4:3, which tells us quite pointedly the following truth:
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
In quoting another source, Dr. Thomas Constable notes this about the book of James:
The design of the Epistle is on the one hand to encourage those to whom it is addressed to bear their trials patiently, and on the other hand to warn them against certain errors of doctrine and practice. 
We tend to forget that there are certain forms of “encouragement” offered by the writers of both the Old and New Testaments. One type of encouragement helps Christians bear up under the stresses of life, including times of persecution. The other type of encouragement is designed to help Christians get on and stay on the correct theological or doctrinal path that is all too often, easy to move away from for too many.
It is this second form of encouragement that James is using in the above verse, where he tells his readers pointedly that they are asking “amiss” or from “wrong motives,” but blame God for not receiving an answer to their requests. When we ask amiss or from the wrong motivation, we are indulging self. God not only has no obligation to give us what we want when we ask in such a way, but He is actually doing us a tremendous favor by not responding to our selfish requests with a hearty “Yes!”
Think of this question that each of us should ask ourselves. Am I asking for this thing because it benefits and brings glory to God and His Kingdom or am I asking out of selfish desire and ambition?
Most Christians, when they are sick or are in general poor health, maybe even having a disease that is generally known to lead to death, will immediately ask God to remove the illness and heal. We all do this and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that at all. It is often our first impulse, but if we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that this is our first response because we do not want to suffer loss. That is the reality that we operate under. Why not go to the One who has the ability to heal? It would be ridiculous not to do that.
However, having said that, let’s go back to the Garden of Gethsemane to see how Jesus did it. He also requested something based on the horror that He faced and that’s all we need to know. He was so appalled by what He faced that He asked if that “cup” could be removed from Him. However, unlike most of us, He did not stop there, but added the caveat, “yet not my will, but thine be done.” These were not empty words, but ones that He not only knew He ought to add, but without adding them, He would have been dangerously close to sinning! To us, it smacks of defeat when we apply that to our own lives or that of a loved one.
We often storm ahead like a bull in a china shop, making our requests known to God without even taking the time to try to understand what God’s actual will is in the matter. Would you agree with me that we do this too often and carelessly at that? Could it be that when we receive answers to our requests in the positive, we might become filled with pride as though it was due to our “faith” and not necessarily God’s will?
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Several years ago, my sister – whom I loved very much – suffered a major heart attack that hospitalized her. She had been in poor health for a while and was also overweight, which added to her problems. Yet, she had continued enjoying life for the most part.
The day I received a phone call from her son-in-law stating that she’d had a heart attack and was in the hospital and I should make the trip back to see her because doctors did not feel she would recover, I was in a bit of disbelief. It did not hit me. I was in California and she lived in Georgia. She wasn’t an hour or so away by car.
I booked a flight and couldn’t leave until the next day. By the time I got to her in the hospital, she had been in a coma for several days. The doctors really held out no hope. But God was on my side, right?
I began praying, praying, praying, and more praying. I contacted everyone I could think of. I even found people in the hospital who believed in healing prayer and we prayed together. I did this for two or three days non-stop.
However, on the third or fourth day upon waking, I tried to pray and “believe” my sister’s healing was coming and I could not do it. I could form the words, but there was not a shred of believing to go with my words. It was the strangest thing in the world and something I have rarely experienced. It was as though God was saying, “No. Not today where your sister is concerned.” I did not hear any voice at all. It was simply an impression of what God might have said if He was saying anything. I had no ability to believe in my sister’s healing.
At that point, I realized that God had no intention of healing my sister the way I wanted her healed. In fact, I now came to realize that this was the appointed time of her death and there was nothing that would change that. Unlike Hezekiah, who cried and begged God to give him an extension of life (and he would have been FAR better off had he just obeyed God, prepared his will, and died when God first said he was going to die; cf.Isaiah 38; 2 Kings 20), I knew better and stopped asking. I conceded that God’s will was better than mine.
As I sat there, realizing that my sister’s time of death was fast approaching, my heart broke. Tears flooded down my face and I knew God understood. I simply poured out my heart to Him and during the process it seemed okay for me to ask for one thing.
Lord, I prayed, if it is time for my sister to go to be with you, which is far better than staying here, I wonder if you would be willing to allow her to open her eyes one last time so that we can connect and I can say a proper ‘good-bye’?
You see, my sister had not opened her eyes once since she went into her coma. I didn’t even know if she knew I was there.
I went to the hospital later that day and along with her husband and son, we stood around her bed and prayed. The nurse had just left and had “tested” my sister’s responses to light. There was nothing. In fact, the nurse pointed out that when she opened her eyelids, her eyes looked downward into the bottom portion of her eyes. Her pupils did not dilate when the nurse shined the flashlight in my sister’s eyes. Aside from minimal brain wave activity and breathing via the ventilator, there was no life.
The nurse left and we prayed. As we did, I reached up and gently opened one of my sister’s eyes. Her eye was actually looking straight at me, which I thought was a bit strange. I released her eyelid and continued praying. As I looked up at her again, I noticed that both of her eyes were now blinking as if trying to open. All at once, both of my sister’s eyes popped open and they looked absolutely normal. She locked right onto me, following me as I moved!
Though God had said “no” to my request to raise my sister to newness of life (here on earth), He did answer my request to be allowed to say “good-bye” to someone who was technically being kept alive by machinery.
I stared into my sister’s eyes and I knew that she had been allowed to return for the briefest of moments in answer to my prayer. It was a prayer that God honored only because of His love for me and the fact that it brought Him tremendous glory. It is something I will never forget and always give Him glory for doing.
My sister officially died later that night after all of us had returned to her home to wait. Today, now, she is with her Lord and though I miss her terribly, I rejoice in the fact that she no longer struggles with physical ailments and more than that, she has no ability to sin. She is free from the ravages of this life and glorifying God who bought her with the price of His sinless life. What greater blessing is there for any human being?
God wants us to be happy. He wants us to be filled with joy, even though we live in a world of sorrow, tainted and ruined by sin, sin that we – humanity – invited into this realm. However, it must be stated that God wants our happiness and joy to be on His terms, not ours.
We need to comprehend and understand that His will is all that matters. It’s not using prayer as though it was the greatest “tool” ever because apart from God, prayer is nothing. Prayer is our means of communicating with God, not giving Him our list of wants and demands.
Every week, I receive prayer requests from people at my church and they always have everything clearly spelled out for God, what He should do, how He should do it, and what answer He should provide. It’s as though God was simply an administrative assistant, here to organize our thoughts, respond positively to our needs, and essentially give us whatever we ask.
I rarely, if ever, see this attached to any of the prayer requests I read: “yet, not my will, but thine be done.” We have become so used to bossing God around that we simply fail to understand that God actually has a specific will and purpose for us in this life. We think we know better than God does so we get really specific about our requests.
Sometimes, someone is supposed to get sick and die, according to His will. Sometimes, someone is supposed to lose a job so that they can learn to trust Him. Sometimes, things don’t go our way, because God’s way is superior.
Prayer should be something we enter into in order for us to determine what God’s will is for us. Too often, it’s a one way street where we simply present our wants and leave before He has had a chance to direct our minds. Is there a better way, where we combine prayer with something else that helps us learn the mind of God with respect to what He actually wants for us?
I think there is and we’ll talk about that next time and the Lord’s prayer.
 Dr. Thomas Constable’s Notes on James (2015 edition), p. 3
Entry filed under: Religious - Christian - Prophecy.