Category: Prayer

Does God Do Amazing Things Today?

 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Joshua and the battle of Jericho is a famous Bible story, where finally Jericho’s “walls came tumblin’ down”. Today’s verse is just before that battle. It raises two questions: What does it mean to consecrate ourselves? And what amazing things should we expect from God today?

The word “consecrate” means to be set apart, dedicated to God. Joshua’s fighters were not to charge into battle spiritually unprepared. Before they entered battle, they were told to consecrate themselves to God as per their Law.

We are called to be consecrated too.  Since we do not live under the Old Testament regulations, we need to ask ourselves: What does consecration mean in the 21st century? Does it mean that we should totally separate ourselves from our society–perhaps by going to live in an underground Christian bunker in Montana or a Christian commune in the wilderness of Vermont?

No, consecration for us means something else.   It does mean to be set apart, but, surprisingly, the setting apart can somehow occur even living in the middle of our crazed 21st century culture. Somehow, we are living in this 21st century world but we’re not of it.

Once we determine to be set apart for God where we are living, just what are the amazing things God will do among us?  In the case of Joshua and Jericho, God acted in a spectacular and miraculous way — but let me suggest that amazing things happen when God works in us in an ordinary way. It’s everyday daily living — going to work, running errands, studying, playing — but filled with a special empowerment from our King Jesus to live for his purposes and to grow to be more like him.

Now, what happens when this kind of consecrated living starts to spread throughout the church? As we each grow in consecration— we become part of a wider move of God — which leads to revival. Here is J.I. Packer’s definition of revival:

“God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives.”

And Matthew Henry tells us,
“When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is to set them a praying.”

As we hunger to see God’s grace expand and spread, let’s join in with Henry’s suggestion and pray “Lord have mercy, grant us revival.”

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Today’s post is a review and recommendation for Tim Keller’s book on prayer.  

  • Keller is excellent at using the examples of what praying people have said over the centuries about prayer instead of looking for the latest and greatest fads. He gives special attention to Augustine, Calvin and Luther.

  • Keller begins by quoting Peter to show something amazing that we can ALL experience in prayer.

In 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

Peter assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal for all of us, not just for “spiritual giants”.

  • Some of you may “specialize” in Bible knowledge. Others may “specialize” in “experiencing Jesus”. But look at what Keller says:

We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.

  • Keller describes changes in his personal prayer life that happened after a bout with thyroid cancer. Here and elsewhere in the book Keller describes how important endurance is: it always leads to delightful prayer even if not as quickly as we would like!

  • The importance of the Bible in prayer:

“If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. This does not mean, of course, that we must literally read the Bible before each individual prayer.”

  • Varied Prayer as Response to God’s Glory

“We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want. We pray in response to God himself. God’s Word to us contains this range of discourse—and only if we respond to his Word will our own prayer life be as rich and varied.”

  • Do we only pray to get stuff?

“We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he has not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.”

What can marvelously change: Learning to enjoy spending sustained time adoring and praising God.

  • What Christ has done — and how it changes our heart

John Calvin argues that you may know a lot about God, but you don’t truly know God until the knowledge of what he has done for you in Jesus Christ has changed the fundamental structure of your heart. “You don’t have true saving knowledge of God until you long to know and serve him.”

  • Here’s what I need—but you know best

“Only through prayer can we leave all our needs and desires in God’s hands. That transaction brings a comfort and rest that nothing else can bring. We can pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.”

  • What is true repentance?

“In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us. We will also take as little blame as possible, reciting all the mitigating circumstances to ourselves and others. When we do try to repent in this legalistic frame of mind—since we can never be sure if we have been abject enough to merit God’s favor—we can never experience the release and relief of resting in Jesus’ forgiveness.”

  • Strenuous Petition

One way petitionary prayer can actually do us harm is if we see it as a means to say to God, “My will be done.” We are prone to indulge our appetites, telling God in no uncertain terms how he should run the universe. Such prayer neither pleases God nor helps us grow in grace.

When we petition God, “we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing.”

“Rather than simply running down a quick list of things we want, we should reflect on what we want in light of all we know from the Scripture about the things that delight and grieve God, in light of what we know about how his salvation works and what he wants for the world.”

  • God’s Timing

“It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament.”

 Two Related Resources

“Especially for beginners, it can be very helpful to use this older volume by Matthew Henry. He digs out of the Scripture hundreds of actual prayers and then organizes and classifies them under subheadings of the larger headings of praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and conclusion. If you feel your own times of free-form prayer have stalled, Henry’s book affords an almost endless amount of grist for the mill.”

This book is readily available for free on the internet

Matthew Henry, A Method for Prayer, with Scripture Expressions, Proper to Be Used Under Each Head 

Below is a free book on Amazon. It includes some printed prayers from centuries ago that are surprisingly relevant today. For example, there is a prayer for the King which is helpful in praying for the President today!

http://www.amazon.com/Book-Common-Prayer-Scottish-Liturgy-ebook/dp/B004TQGJQA

A praying life: connecting with God in a distracting world / Paul E. Miller

This book has had the biggest influence on me of any book on prayer I have ever read. It’s actually an easier read than Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God but by no means is it simple-minded! One of the key ideas in the book is that prayer is not something we do as a separate “compartment” of our life but rather it happens as we seek God and his Story.

 In this book Miller uses much that happened in his family, including the difficulties of raising an autistic child, to explain what God showed him about prayer. The highlights here are much too short to get into the details of how God worked in his family, and that is one of the many reasons why it’s worthwhile to read  the whole book.

Following are some great quotes from the book. Anything in italics is my own clarifcation or annotation.

  • Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. In prayer, focusing on the conversation is like trying to drive while looking at the windshield instead of through it. It freezes us, making us unsure of where to go. Conversation is only the vehicle through which we experience one another. Consequently, prayer is not the center of this book. Getting to know a person, God, is the center.
  • So don’t hunt for a feeling in prayer. Deep in our psyches we want an experience with God or an experience in prayer. Once we make that our quest, we lose God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.
  • A praying life isn’t something you accomplish in a year. It is a journey of a lifetime. The same is true of learning how to love your spouse or a good friend. You never stop learning this side of heaven. There is far too much depth in people to be able to capture love easily. Likewise, there is far too much depth in God to capture prayer easily.
  • If God is sovereign, then he is in control of all the details of my life. If he is loving, then he is going to be shaping the details of my life for my good. If he is all-wise, then he’s not going to do everything I want because I don’t know what I need. If he is patient, then he is going to take time to do all this. When we put all these things together — God’s sovereignty, love, wisdom, and patience — we have a divine story.
  • People often talk about prayer as if it is disconnected from what God is doing in their lives. But we are actors in his drama, listening for our lines, quieting our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Playwright.
  • Many Christians haven’t stopped believing in God; we have just become functional deists, living with God at a distance. We view the world as a box with clearly defined edges. But as we learn to pray well, we’ll discover that this is my Father’s world. Because my Father controls everything, I can ask, and he will listen and act. Since I am his child, change is possible — and hope is born.
  • Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. Because we are less hectic on the inside, we have a greater capacity to love.
  • As you develop your relationship with your heavenly Father, you’ll change. You’ll discover nests of cynicism, pride, and self-will in your heart. You will be unmasked. None of us likes being exposed. We have an allergic reaction to dependency, but this is the state of the heart most necessary for a praying life. A needy heart is a praying heart. Dependency is the heartbeat of prayer.
  • Ironically, many attempts to teach people to pray encourage the creation of a split personality. You’re taught to “do it right.” Instead of the real, messy you meeting God, you try to re-create yourself by becoming spiritual.
  • The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer are Our Father. You are the center of your heavenly Father’s affection. That is where you find rest for your soul. If you remove prayer from the welcoming heart of God (as much teaching on the Lord’s Prayer does), prayer becomes a legalistic chore. We do the duty but miss touching the heart of God. By coming to God “weary and heavy-laden,” we discover his heart; heaven touches earth and his will is done.
  • When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Paul certainly wasn’t! Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.
  • If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time to pray.
  • I am starting to see there is a difference between “saying prayers” and honest praying. Both can sound the same on the outside, but the former is too often motivated by a sense of obligation and guilt; whereas the latter is motivated by a conviction that I am completely helpless to “do life” on my own. Or in the case of praying for others, that I am completely helpless to help others without the grace and power of God.
  • Surprisingly, mature Christians feel less mature on the inside. When they hear Jesus say, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), they nod in agreement. They reflect on all the things they’ve done without Jesus, which have become nothing. Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kids’ hearts. That’s why strong Christians pray more.
  • A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus.
  • Instead of naïve optimism, Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. So the feel of a praying life is cautious optimism — caution because of the Fall, optimism because of redemption.
  • Jesus brings hope before he heals. He is not a healing machine — he touches people’s hearts, healing their souls before he heals their bodies.Hope begins with the heart of God. As you grasp what the Father’s heart is like, how he loves to give, then prayer will begin to feel completely natural to you.
  • All sin involves a splitting of the personality — what James calls being “double-minded” (4:8). If we become proud, we have an inflated sense of self that has lost touch with who we really are. If a husband watches porn online and then warmly greets his wife, he has created two people — one public and one hidden. If you talk about friends disparagingly behind their backs, you’ve created two personalities — the loving friend and the gossiping friend. You try to keep the personalities separate by telling those to whom you gossip, “Please keep this in confidence.”
  • Repentance brings the split personality together and thus restores integrity to the life. The real self is made public. When the proud person is humbled, the elevated self is united with the true self.
  • The only way to know how prayer works is to have complete knowledge and control of the past, present, and future. In other words, you can figure out how prayer works if you are God.
  • All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in the Gospels can be summarized with one word: ask. His greatest concern is that our failure or reluctance to ask keeps us distant from God. But that is not the only reason he tells us to ask anything. God wants to give us good gifts. He loves to give.
  • I find that the closer my prayers are to the heart of God, the more powerfully and quickly they are answered.
  • Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” These are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.
  • When someone’s prayers aren’t answered, I want to know the backstory. How long did that individual pray? What did God do in that person’s heart when he or she prayed? What was God doing in the situation? Most of us isolate prayer from the rest of what God is doing in our lives, but God doesn’t work that way. Prayer doesn’t exist in some rarified spiritual world; it is part of the warp and woof of our lives. Praying itself becomes a story.
  • We forget that God is not a genie but a person who wants to shape us in the image of his Son as much as he wants to answer our prayers.
  • The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me — “he leads me beside still waters” (verse 2); at the end he is behind me — “goodness and love will pursue me” (verse 6, NIV)1; but in the middle, as I go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” he is next to me — “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey.
  • When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story — to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God. In fact, that is how intimacy grows in all close relationships.
  • Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.
  • When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself.

One of Miller’s great insights is to connect our prayer thoroughly with God’s story. I have found this way of thinking to be very helpful for intercessory prayer for people. Intercessory prayer requests are often for a circumstance to change but even more important is how that prayer connects to the story of what God is doing in their life.

To live in our Father’s story, remember these three things:

  1. Don’t demand that the story go your way. (In other words, surrender completely.)
  2. Look for the Storyteller. Look for his hand, and then pray in light of what you are seeing. (In other words, develop an eye for Jesus.)
  3. Stay in the story. Don’t shut down when it goes the wrong way.

Sometimes when we say “God is silent,” what’s really going on is that he hasn’t told the story the way we wanted it told. He will be silent when we want him to fill in the blanks of the story we are creating. But with his own stories, the ones we live in, he is seldom silent.

  • BE CAREFUL OF SYSTEMS

One prayer system many people have found helpful is ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). But systems can become rote, desensitizing us to God as a person. We can become wooden or mindless as we pray. When I come home, I don’t first adore Jill [Miller’s wife] for a couple of minutes, confess my failure to take out the trash, thank her for making dinner, and then give her my list. Jill is a Philadelphian. Philadelphians boo their own sports teams. I could probably have an ACTS-conversation entrance once, and then Jill would roll her eyes and ask me if I had a touch of autism. And rightly so. When you are autistic, you have trouble picking up social clues from the other person. You are so lost in your own world that you miss people. None of us wants to be treated like robots … including God. He is, after all, a person.

Miller describes at length how carefully written prayer cards can be helpful in praying for others.

Read the book to get details on how he does this!

PRAYER CARDS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS
A PRAYER CARD FOR PEOPLE IN SUFFERING

A PRAYER CARD FOR NON-CHRISTIANS

A PRAYER CARD FOR FRIENDS

BUILDING A SAMPLE DECK

  • USING A JOURNAL DURING A MORNING PRAYER TIME

The act of writing out your worries, joys, and prayers helps you focus and keeps your mind from wandering. But the best part is that over time you will begin to see patterns of what God is doing, to pick up the threads of a story. If we see our lives as a pilgrimage, then it becomes an integrated whole. It makes sense.

  • As I pray, I’m dealing not with surface stuff, but with the state of my heart and of the people for whom I am praying. My prayer time is anything but boring. I am thanking, repenting, protecting, and caring. My prayer time is alive with God.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that things are happening because I pray.
  • We don’t need a praying life because that is our duty. That would wear thin quickly. We need time to be with our Father every day because every day our hearts and the hearts of those around us are overgrown with weeds. We need to reflect on our lives and engage God with the condition of our souls and the souls he has entrusted to our care or put in our paths. In a fallen world, these things do not come automatically.