Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Prayer

An Elbow-Scratching Parable of Prayer

Strange Conversations

“Can you scratch my elbow?”

“Pardon me?”

“Scratch. Right here.”

“Scratch your elbow? Seriously? You can reach it yourself; why do you want me to do it?”

“It just feels better when you do it.”

“Um. Okay.”

Conversations like this one happen between me and my wife. Frequently.

Why? Because of a relational principle that Stacey gets, but I am slow to pick up on: Sometimes what you ask people for, what you feel free to really ask for, even though you don’t need it actually says something about your relationship and how each of you perceive it.

For example, just imagine how the conversation would have gone differently if I was sitting beside a stranger on the bus who asked me the same question. I’m not sure if I’d reply or move straight to pushing the bus’ panic button.
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Nagging the Judge

Try picturing yourself in a situation where you’re likely to nag. What situation is it for you?

Many wives nag their husbands about conversations they have to have, jobs that need to be done around the house, and decisions that need to be made. Many husbands nag their wives for more physical affection. Fathers are often quick to nag their children about all those ‘annoying habits’ they have.

What’s the thing that seems to make you nag, even when you’ve sworn you won’t? Why is it so hard to not nag in that situation?

Let me suggest a reason. I think it’s hard to not nag in that situation because of three things.

  1. You are experiencing some measure of discomfort in that given moment
  2. You see a way that your discomfort could be alleviated
  3. The power to alleviate your discomfort lies with another person

So the logic seemingly demands that we nag. We need to convince that other person to act so that our problems are resolved. But you know what’s fascinating about that? If we really believed God’s words the way we say we do we would be impulsively and compulsively nagging God in prayer.

And you know what? I think he’d like it.

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We Value What Costs Us

This week at GFC is our Winter Week of Prayer. My buddy Joshua taught us about why prayer matters last night to kick us off, and now we’ve got special prayer meetings planned for each day of the week. I love gathering with God’s people to pray!

One thing I’ve learned about prayer already this week is a lesson I learned about life around the time I got my first job: You value something more when it costs you something to obtain it

The summer I turned 17 I worked my first full-time job for $7.50 per hour (or something like that). I couldn’t afford much, but what I could afford I cherished; I knew how hard I had to work to get that money! For the first time, I really understood what it meant to have to work for something that I wanted.

This reality is true about prayer too. And, of course, no one puts it better than Spurgeon. Here he compares Jacob’s wrestling with God to the Christian’s prayer life.

Now, when the church begins to pray, it may be at first that the Lord will act as though He would go further (see Luke 24.28), and we may fear that no answer will be given. Hold on, dear friends. ‘Be steadfast, immovable’ (1 Cor 15.58), despite all. By and by, it may be, there will come discouragements where we looked for a flowing success. We will find friends hindering; some will be slumbering and others sinning. Backsliders and impenitent souls will abound. But let us not be turned aside. Let us be all the more eager.

 

And if it should happen that we ourselves become distressed and de-spirited, and we feel we never were so weak as we are now, never mind friends; still hold on. For when the sinew is shrunk, the victory is near. Grasp with a tighter grip than ever. Let this be our resolution: ‘I will not let you go, until you bless me.’ Remember, the longer the blessing is in coming, the richer it will be when it arrives. That which is gained speedily by a single prayer is sometimes only a second-rate blessing; but that which is gained after many a desperate tug, and many an awful struggle, is a full-weighted and precious blessing.

 

The children of persistence are always fair to look upon. The blessing that costs us the most prayer will be worth the most. Only let us be persevering in supplication, and we will gain a broad, far-reaching blessing for ourselves, the churches, and the world.

Here is grand encouragement for us to pray! We know the Father loves to give good gifts to his children who ask, seek, and knock (Matt 7.7-11), and we know that we will be changed and conformed to his image as we ask. Now we also know that in the struggle to attain the blessing we will grow in our appreciation for the blessing itself.

Our Lord is teaching us to value what is right and good by teaching us to fight for it… even when it costs us.

Why we don’t see answers to prayer

Tim Challies recently posted some reasons why God will not answer our prayers. About the same time I was wondering about unanswered prayer and got to thinking that perhaps much of what we call unanswered prayer is really prayer that we simply don’t see answered. The reasons for this could be legion, but here’s one that stuck out to me: Many times we don’t know what we’re praying for, or what the answer will look like.

Our church recently held a ‘week of prayer.’ In one of the meetings we focused on prayers of contrition as a theme, emphasizing our absolute dependence on God for all things. In our last meeting we prayed prayers of dedication to God, committing our future plans and ministry hopes to him to do with as he sees fit. In both of these cases many prayers were offered to God, begging him to keep us humble and to demolish pride in all its subtle forms in our hearts.

That got me to thinking.

Those are wonderful and biblical things to pray! But how do we know when those prayers have been answered? Sometimes I think we expect God to answer those prayers by simply changing our hearts overnight so that we never are tempted to pride again. But that’s not a biblical expectation.

What is a more likely answer to that prayer? It’s more likely that God will bring hardships or persecution. He may allow me to fall into some sort of sin, or else have some secret sin in my heart exposed before others. It is in these types of ways that God strips us of our self-reliance and our sinful, blind desire for and pride in autonomy. Pride is too deeply ingrained in our personalities, thought processes, and decision-making capacities for us to deal with it any other way.

How can we put pride to death when we don’t know where it is?

Looking back over my life I can see that many times God has answered my prayers in ways that I have not expected. More often than not when I sincerely pray for humility and for the Lord to destroy sin in my life, that prayer is answered with suffering or the exposure of sin in my heart. The trouble is that since I wasn’t expecting this as an answer to prayer, I don’t see it as one at the time, and then I get upset and cry out, ‘Why would you let this happen to me, God?’

But it’s all grace. He gives grace in the trial, he gives grace for increased faith, he gives grace as he humbles us so that we might increasingly depend on him in love.

This is just one example, but I think it illustrates the point well. From our end prayers often seem to go unanswered. I wonder if often we are just looking for the wrong type of answer.

Just for fun, here’s an awesome hymn by John Newton that illustrates the same point:

I asked the LORD that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

LORD, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the LORD replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in me.”

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