Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Hardest Words to Pray

Let’s face it. Prayer is a bit of a mystery. We pray to Someone we can’t see, sometimes matter-of-factly, sometimes with great passion, and sometimes in desperation. Rarely do we receive immediate responses, although we pray trusting God hears, knows what we need, and will answer us in His own time and His own way.

Sometimes He answers us by speaking through the Scriptures. I’ve experienced that multiple times. Many times He responds through a trusted friend, perhaps a timely sermon, or even a song. There are times when circumstances align and in retrospect we can’t help but believe, “That was God’s doing.”

One thing we know for certain: We’re commanded to pray. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we’re told, “Pray without ceasing.” That doesn’t mean dropping to our knees at all times, or always needing to close our eyes. Both are unwise to do if we pray while driving. But we’re to maintain an attitude of pray, somewhat like calling someone and never hanging up – the connection is always active.

In Luke 18, Jesus told His followers that they should always pray and not lose heart, telling them a parable about a widow who persisted in pleading to a judge for justice. To make her stop bothering him, the judge finally relented and did as she requested. 

Then Jesus said, And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (Luke 18:7). James 5:16 also  affirms, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

So without question, we know God wants us to pray – to speak with Him sincerely and frequently. Because we’re His children and, like an earthly father, He delights in hearing from us, whether it’s to praise Him, express our needs, share our sorrows, or even honestly admit our times of anger, confusion and uncertainty.

There are four words, however, that I would submit are the hardest of all to pray. In the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which most theologians agree was intended as a model prayer for Jesus’ disciples who had asked Him, “Teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), He presented a simple outline they could follow, one that’s also part of His message to the multitudes recounted in Matthew 6. 

You probably know how it starts: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come….” But then come the four hard words – “Your will be done” – followed by “on earth as it is in heaven.” Because if we’re honest, when we present our requests and petitions to the Lord, as Philippians 4:6 instructs, much of the time we have in mind exactly what we’d like Him to do. And sometimes, how we’d like it done. “My will be done” might be a more accurate way to phrase some of our prayers.

I recall a moment many years ago, during my “churchian” years – when I attended church but had no true relationship with Christ. A crisis was going on in my life, and I felt the need to pray, but had no clue how I should do it. The only prayer I knew at the time was what I’d been taught was the Lord’s Prayer. So that’s what I prayed. 

Except every time I got to the “Thy will be done” part, I stopped and couldn’t continue. Because I wanted my will to be accomplished, and I wasn’t sure that was what God had in mind. In fact, deep down I felt certain my will and His will were not at all in alignment.

So for some time, I’m not sure how long, I found myself at a prayer impasse. If I couldn’t pray “Your will be done,” there seemed no point in proceeding. Finally, with tears in my eyes and reluctant resignation – but also new resolve – I succeeded in praying, “Okay, God, Your will be done,” and finished the prayer.

I didn’t receive a specific answer right then, but something else happened. It seemed like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Perhaps it was the burden of seeking to override God’s will with my own, I don’t know. But once I released that desire and sincerely and earnestly prayed, willing to accept whatever His will might be, I felt free.

Admittedly, this isn’t easy. We want our will: for a loved one to be healed of a serious, even terminal disease; career direction when it seems so muddled; resolution for a dire family dilemma; rescue from overwhelming financial struggle. Whatever it is, we want God to fix it – and right now.

However, whenever I ponder the nature of God’s will, I’m reminded of the title of the old TV show, “Father Knows Best.” Because, as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “’I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

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