Be Careful What You Ask For

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Corrie ten Boom asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Make it the former; use prayer to let the Holy Spirit steer you to where God desires to take you. Believe me, it will be far better, infinitely so, than any place you could dream up in your own mind.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 8:19-20

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Here’s a scary thought: God may actually give us what we demand.

I don’t know about you, but as I review the things I have asked the Lord to give me over my life, there are plenty of things in hindsight that I am totally grateful he withheld. There are times that God didn’t answer prayer—at least not in the way I demanded. There were times when he said “no”, there were times when he said, “not now”, there were times when he said, “maybe”, and there were times when he was silent, but in his silence I got the picture: he was clearly saying, “just trust me.”

God is flawless in his wisdom, unassailable in his kindness, and often beyond understanding in his timing. And over the years, I have learned to trust him with the things I am praying for. I am also learning to ask him for what he wants more than what I want. I have learned to be suspicious of the desires of my heart, realizing that on my best day, my heart is still the most deceitful part of me, and yes, desperately wicked. Though I think I do, I really don’t know how bad it is. Jeremiah lamented similarly,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

For that reason alone, we should be quite circumspect in our asking. Israel wasn’t. They wanted a king—desperately. They wanted to be like other nations, wanting a physical representation of leadership rather than an unseen God. And even though they were warned what a king would demand of them, they were unswayable. This broke Samuel’s heart, but God reminded him that it wasn’t an indictment of the failure of his leadership, it was an indictment of the Israelites’ incomplete trust in God.

At the end of the day, God said to the childish demands of Israel, “Okay, have it your way.” And while the first hundred years of the monarchy was by and large a pleasant thing for Israel, the next several hundred years were not so great. Like the psalmist said of the Israelites in the wilderness,

They soon forgot what God had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold. In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wilderness they put God to the test. So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease among them. (Psalm 105: 13-15)

Other translations say that God sent leanness to their souls. How sad that God would give into what we persistently and foolishly demand, but in getting what we ask for, we lose what God wants for us. Now this is not to say that we should not feel free to ask of God for the things we need and even the things we want. It is the clear promise of scripture that our Father longs to provide both:

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37: 4)

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. (Matthew 6:33)

If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

What we should be very careful of, however, is not submitting our desires to him first; not allowing him to sanctify our wishes. In the verses above, the operative idea is that we put the business of God first in our lives, then subordinate our wants and dreams to that. When we do that, we will get what God wants, which is always infinitely better that what we can imagine.

So go ahead and ask, but ask for what God wants above all else—may your kingdom come, may your will be done—and you will get a little heaven on earth.

Going Deeper With God: Today would be a good day to pray the Lord’s Prayer. If you need to, look it up and pray it directly from the pages of scripture—Matthew 6:9-13.

Pray Bigly!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Why not pray audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day that than my neighbors’ approval.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 10:33-36

The Israelites marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!”

Should we pray each day for protection and victory? Do we need to daily ask God to watch over our children, our work, our homes? Should we be bothering him to give us success in what is out in front of us as we leave the house? Doesn’t God already know what we need; doesn’t he already have us covered?

My response to that is, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Besides, Jesus taught us to pray, “keep us from the evil one.” It seems that the Lord’s Prayer Jesus urged us to pray had a sense of dailyness to it: “Give us today our daily bread.”

These kinds of prayers for protection and victory aren’t so much to remind a God who may have forgotten about us. He never forgets. How could he? We are his own special people. Isaiah captured the Lord’s tender watchfulness over our lives when he said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne. Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” (Isaiah 49:15) No, these kinds of prayer are not to shake God out of his lapse of memory, it is to remind us that he has us continually covered. They are to bring us back to a daily acknowledgement of our utter but joyful dependence on him for provision, protection and victory.

So I say why not pray these audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day than my neighbors’ approval. And at day’s end, why not offer a prayer before your family wraps up and heads to sleep, “Return, O Lord, to the people in this house!”

Some think these kinds of prayers are pointless, even showing a lack of trust in a God who already knows. Others say when we pray prayers like this, we are using prayer like a magic charm to gain the favor of the gods. I disagree. Scripture would lean less toward those opinions than the one expressed by author and pastor Mark Batterson. Let me offer some insights from his book, The Circle Maker,

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations. In fact, our prayers bear fruit forever.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers we don’t pray.

Why do we mistakenly think that God is offended by our prayers for the impossible? The truth is that God is offended by anything less! God is offended when we ask Him to do things we can do ourselves. It’s the impossible prayers that honor God because they reveal our faith and allow God to reveal His glory.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers you don’t pray. If that is true, I say why not ask, and ask bigly! Ask him daily, and nightly, for protection and victory and anything else you have in mind. God can handle even the prayers that are kind of ridiculous. He doesn’t get offended by your praying. In fact, my guess is, since he is your Father, that he likes it when you as his child believe enough in his generosity that you are willing to ask early and often for anything that is on your heart.

Going Deeper With God: Pray about everything—big, small, medium. Take it to God. Be audacious in praying. It both honors God and pleases his heart because it reveals your trust in his goodness and generosity.

A Downright Nasty Little Prayer

When It’s Completely Appropriate to Pray Angry

If you are going to unleash an imprecatory prayer on someone—a downright nasty little diatribe to God—just remember that Divine justice is blind; it cuts both ways. So make sure your own evil has been covered by the blood of Christ, which comes by grace through faith through the acknowledgement and repentance of sin.

Read: Psalm 137 // Focus: Psalm 137:8

“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us.”

If you are going to enjoy the psalms, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with a psalm like this. Psalm 137 is a downright nasty little song/prayer that calls for the violent destruction of the Babylonian people—akin to the call for a Jewish Jihad! This is what we called an imprecatory psalm—the calling down of a divine curse; a prayer for violent vengeance.

So the question is, what place does such an angry psalm have in the song book of a loving God?

First, this isn’t simply a religious rant. Psalm 137 should not be isolated from the others psalms—or from the rest of Scripture, for that matter. It makes sense only in context of both the theological and historical setting. The writer wasn’t just calling down vengeance because he didn’t like someone. The Babylonians had perpetrated great violence against God’s people, so the psalmist was only calling on God to do what God had promised to do. (see Jeremiah 52:4-11)

Second, this is not a call to take vengeance into human hands. The psalmist sees God as judge, jury and executioner, and upon that basis makes his plea for the proper execution of Divine justice. (James 4:12)

Third, though it isn’t acknowledged within this psalm, other Scripture shows that before the Jews had called down judgment on their captors, they had first thoroughly repented before God for the very things that had brought them under the iron-fist of Babylon to begin with. (Daniel 9:1-19) They had, as Jesus later called us to do, taken the beam out of their own eye before they bothered with judgment for their tormentors. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Finally, this prayer, and others like it, is aligned with God’s prophetic indictment of Israel’s enemies. The writer is praying what the Scripture has already declared, calling into fulfillment God’s judgment against some extremely evil people. (Psalm 103:6)

For the most part, our prayers should be along the lines that Jesus taught: “love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT) But when evil goes beyond the pale, it is certainly appropriate to pray for what is at the core of God’s being: Justice.

However, I think I need to offer one caveat: If you are going to unleash an imprecatory prayer, just remember that Divine justice is blind; it cuts both ways. So make sure your own evil has been covered by the blood of Christ, which comes by grace through faith through the acknowledgement and repentance of sin.

Making Life Work: Are you angry about someone or something? First, make sure you are good and angry. (see Psalm 4:4 and Ephesians 4:26) Next, confess your own sins before God and thank him for his undeserved mercy and grace in your life, Now you are ready to pray for what or for whom you angry. So go for it!

Loving The City God Loves

Pray For Her Peace and Prosperity

God cares for all cities, but he has a special love for the city of Jerusalem. It is special because God chose it as the physical place that would house his uncontainable presence. And since Jerusalem was once the physical address of the Great House of God, as it will again one day be the home of his holy temple, we ought to do everything we can now to contribute to its prosperity.

Read: Psalm 122 // Focus: Psalm 122:6-7

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”

Why should we pray for the peace and prosperity of a city that is not even in out country? My goodness, don’t we have enough to worry about in my our own community much less one that’s clear across the ocean! And why should Jerusalem get singled out for special attention? What about London or Moscow or Pretoria or Sao Paolo, or for heaven’s sake, Washington, DC? Aren’t those cities important to God?

Courtesy of Debbie Martin

Photo Credit: Debbie Martin

Well yes, those cities are important to God—all cities are! But Jerusalem is special. It’s special because God chose it as the physical place that would house his uncontainable presence. He selected the land of Canaan as the place where his people would live, Jerusalem to be the city where his temple would be constructed, and the sanctuary of that temple would serve as the central location for his people to worship him.

And even though there is no longer a temple, it is very clear from Scripture that Jerusalem will feature prominently in God’s grand plan for the eternal ages, where once again, Zion will be the central place in the entire universe, in all creation, where redeemed beings will gather to worship Almighty God.

That should be reason enough to love Jerusalem. That is plenty of motivation to pray for the city above all others. Since Jerusalem factors significantly with the people and purpose of God, we should go out of our way to be protective of it. (Psalm 122:8) And since it was once the physical address of the Great House of God, and one day will be again, we ought to do everything we can to contribute to its prosperity. (Psalm 122:9)

praying-for-jerusalem-near-holy-of-holies

Prayer for Jerusalem at the excavated site near what is believed to be the Holy of Holies. Photo Credit: Sheryl Landis

Perhaps you have never been to Jerusalem, and maybe you don’t give the city much thought. I want to challenge you to rethink that—on both levels. Do what you can to go there—make plans to go there at least once in your life. And in the meantime, consciously pay more attention to its goings on, keep your eye out for news about it, attend functions in support of it, and most of all, pray for it!

Do all that, and sooner or later, you will fall in love, like I have, with a city. There’s no place like it!

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing,Hosanna, in the highest, hosanna to the king. By the way, when you take care of the things God cares about, and he very definitely cares for Jerusalem, then you will find this major blessings coming back upon your life: God will care for the things you care about!

Making Life Work: Make it a practice, today and every day, to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city of the Great King.