Monday, November 26, 2012

The Circle Maker--Part 3: Pray On Through (Chapter 4 up to The First Circle)

Back to The Circle Maker.  Today we are not going to cover an entire chapter. mostly because I think what Batterson has to say about prayer in this first part of chapter four is so key that I worry I will have to write the longest blog post in the history of mankind in order to get it all out if I try to do the whole thing. So we are going to start at the beginning and go right up to the start of "The First Circle."

The title of this chapter is "Praying Through." And as I read chapter four, I realized that this is something I need help with. When it comes to prayer, my spiritual endurance is somewhat lacking. I can pray, but I struggle to maintain my prayers for a super extended period of time. If I am totally honest, prayer can be exhausting. I feel like I am just crying out to God over and over and over again. And when I (in all of my wisdom) decide that I have been praying long enough and clearly God just isn't going to do it, then I quit. I give up. I move on.

"Most of us don't get what we want because we quit circling. We give up to easily. We give up too soon. We quit praying right before the miracle happens." 

Have you ever done that? Just been too spiritually weary to continue? I am ashamed to say that I have. I have given up. Thankfully, our God is good, and He has does some incredible things in spite of me. But I shudder a bit to think about what I have missed out on as a result on my lack of commitment to prayer and belief. We are never promised that a life dedicated to following the Lord would be easy; we are, in fact, promised the opposite: that it will be difficult. But a life dedicated to the Lord is one full of purpose and blessing.

So we need to work on building up our spiritual muscle. How do we do that? We have to stay committed to prayer. There are times and situations where a cursory mentioning of a prayer request isn't enough. Batterson puts it well.

"There are (also) situations where you need grab hold of the horns of the altar and refuse to let go until God answers. Like Honi, you refuse to move from the circle until God moves. You intercede until God intervenes."

When we want to see God move in our lives in a powerful way, we need to pray like we mean it. We have to be committed to pray through, not just for, God's presence, provision and power in our lives. We need to be consistent in our prayers. Mentioning something once to God is not dedicated prayer. I am learning this. We have to come before the throne over and over and over again, refusing to let fear and doubt creep in. And we have to do that while fully believing and knowing that God is completely capable of doing the thing we ask.  We must pray from our faith and trust that the Lord will move.

"When was the last time you found yourself flat on your face before the Almighty? When was the last time you cut off your circulation kneeling before the Lord? When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter in prayer?" 

Yikes. When I read those sentences, my heart plummeted to my pinky toe. Why? Because my answers are not good. So what does that mean? Well, I have to examine my dedication to what I believe God has called me for. Think about what you do when you really want something, when it consumes you. If you are like me, then you think about it all the time, try to figure out ways to get it and get it faster. You center your days around it.

My mind goes right to Luke 11. Jesus is teaching His disciples about how to pray, and He tells them a brief parable. Here is the passage:

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:5-13

What sticks out to me in this story is that Jesus tells us that the man received bread from his friend, not because of their great friendship, but rather, because of the man's "shameless audacity" (other translations read "boldness") in asking for it at that time. Jesus then proceeds to tell us that we can ask. More than that, He seems to want us to ask. Those who ask receive. That is what needs to happen with our prayer lives. We have to make changes. We need to be bold in our prayers, not because we are being irreverent to God, but because we know that our all-powerful God can do the very thing we ask. In Psalm 138:3, David writes, "When I called on you, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me." The same way I would ask my earthly father for something, knowing that if it is the very best for me he will do it, in that very same way, we can boldly approach the throne of heaven.

"If you want God to do something new in your life, you can't do the same old thing. It will involve more sacrifice, but if you are willing to go there, you will realize that you didn't sacrifice anything at all. It will involve more risk, but if you are willing to go there, you will realize you didn't risk anything at all." 

So if I really want to see God move, I have to change the way I pray, the way I think about praying and the way I approach praying. I shared before that my "Jericho" is a May 2013 referral. That is the thing I want most in the world right now, and I feel like God has put it on my heart for a reason. That should impact the way I pray. You will have to bear with me as I try to explain, because I am figuring this out as I go, but I believe that sustained, intense, faith-filled prayer can move mountains. God performs miracles. I have seen Him do it. But we have to believe. So I am committing to intense, circle maker-like prayer for a May 2013 referral. And I know God can do it. What's more, I know that it is not difficult for him to do it. My miracle is a walk in the park for him.

But what if He doesn't do it?

Good question.

I am sure it has happened to you. You pray for something with all you have. And God doesn't do it. You are disappointed. Well, what then?

"We should praise God for disappointment because it drives us to our knees." 

True words. When God doesn't answer our prayers in the way we thought He would, the way we wanted Him to it can be easy to feel like He has failed us in some way. But really, God has something bigger in the works. And when we feel the disappointment of a prayer that did not get answered the way we thought it would, our first inclination should be to get right back down on our knees as ask the Lord to open our eyes to His will for our lives. I am fully aware that the Lord might not bring us a May 2013 referral. And if He doesn't, I know I will be disappointed, but I will have to realize that He has something greater in the works. And I think that is why the Lord is leading me to a deeper prayer life now. The more I pray, the better I will know the Lord. The better I know the Lord, the more my heart will be aligned with His and the better I will know Him and be able to discern His will for my life. And that is really the ultimate goal, knowing God more.

"Sometimes faith seems like a denial of reality, but that's because we're holding on to a reality that is more real than the reality we can perceive with our five senses." 

So here are our questions for today:

1. Are you praying for or through the desires God has laid on your heart?

2. What are some things you can do to change the way you pray so that you are praying with "shameless audacity" like the man in Jesus' parable?

3. What are some of the things we have to be cautious of when praying boldly?

4. What is the goal of your prayer life?

5. What might God be trying to teach you through your prayer life?

Feel free to respond to these questions or ask questions of your own in the comments section below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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