A Remedy for Routine Prayer
Is anyone besides me tired of the standard prayers typically prayed by Christians? Perhaps you can relate to what I am talking about: “Dear God, please bless so-and-so with (health, a job, salvation, a renewed spiritual interest, an easier life, etc).” Not that there is anything particularly wrong with these things. They may indeed be legitimate matters for prayer. It does strike me, though, that we Christians often settle for so little when we make requests of God.
Maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand what is permissible to ask God for. Maybe we just get caught up in responding to the urgent felt-needs of those around us. Maybe we have become creatures of habit, falling into the set patterns of our particular circle of friends and church associates. Whatever the reason, I sometimes find typical evangelical prayer sessions to be insipid and all-too predictable: the same categories of prayer; the same focus on immediate physical and material needs; the same salvation requests.
Prayer sessions can easily be dominated by two or three people who don’t mind being either the center of attention or the perpetually needy ones. Maybe you can relate to feeling like this at a prayer gathering, “Here we go again. Brother Sam has been feeling upset again this week. He is requesting that God will remove the source of his frustration. Beside him, brother Ned needs a job for the third time in the past six months. Sister Sue is asking for her son’s salvation just as she has since we have first known her. Another sister has urgent health issues and can hardly function in her daily routines. (But, if so, how is she well enough to come to this prayer-gathering?) Across the circle, sister Mary is sharing another compelling story she came across on the internet this week. She wants prayer for an individual a continent away who has been “on her heart” for days but whom none of us has ever met. So we bow our heads and ask God to intervene.
Let me be clear: I am not condemning such prayers or the people who pray them. In my experience, the motives of those who make these kinds of requests are usually good. They care about people and they want God to bless them. Yet I have become increasingly discontent with prayer requests which go no further than this. It is entirely possible that, as a pastor, I am simply jaded by attending many dozens of these prayer sessions. Maybe I am also frustrated by the lack of discernible growth in these dear folks whose prayers seem to be on the same level year after year. It could be argued that these types of prayers simply reflect poor biblical teaching on the part of their leaders, including me. What I do know is that we ought to be asking God for much more than this.
So, I have put together a collection of prayer requests, which I believe are more in line with those modeled in scripture. I am urging that, along with praying for jobs and protection and the solving of various problems (all of which may be valid) that my fellow believers should consider praying “outside the routine box”. But what does a biblical, yet edgy prayer request look like? Let me give some examples. Try praying that people:
- Develop a deep love for God
- Have thoughts, words and actions controlled by the Holy Spirit
- Become willing to accept a life-changing direction from God
- Experience a sacrificial attitude in marriages, families and other relationships
- Come to genuine repentance
- Be a voice for Christ’s Kingdom when one is needed
- Develop the mental commitment and toughness to resist temptation
- Become competent in applying the truths of scripture to their own lives
- Desire personal excellence as a visible result of honoring God in all they do
- Be known as models of tolerance in situations in which tolerance pleases God
- Model godly family living
- Face their own blind spots
- Decide to be content with what cannot be changed
- Develop consistency and skill in their work
- Respond to conflict with truth, righteousness and mercy
- Acquire the ability to persevere through hardship and failure
- Learn true forgiveness
- Grow in their ability to speak about their faith in ways which ring true with the unchurched and unbelieving people around them
- Discover joy in giving to others
- Commit themselves to basic spiritual disciplines
- Develop healthy eating and exercise routines
- Stop judging others’ motives
- Learn the difference between explicit biblical teachings and their own inferences based on certain verses of scripture
- Become amazed at God’s care and provision in their lives
- Find God to be the beauty and acceptance they have been looking for
- Find God to be tougher and smarter than themselves
- Desire to become more than they have dreamed possible for God’s glory
- Find deep enjoyment in the life God has blessed them with
- At all times show themselves as models of the grace of God
I could add many more requests, which seem biblically true and yet relevant to the society we are currently living in. It could be that if we consistently prayed for ourselves and others like this, we might indeed turn the world upside down!
As a pastor, I frequently meet people who once had some connection with Jesus and his Church, but who for some reason have been out of touch for some time. In some circles these people are called backsliders. Other groups refer to people in this situation as “out of fellowship” or “lapsed”. In my experience there are a surprising number of such folks.
I suppose that people drop out of Christian faith, or at least the practice of it, for a variety of reasons. It is common these days for many people to have to work during the times when churches normally hold their services. When there are few opportunities for Christian fellowship, it is easy to see how people become sidelined. Other reasons for a cooling off of Christian practice could include personal difficulty, hurt feelings caused by other believers, a change of priorities, or just plain disillusionment and apathy.
Folks who find themselves adrift from their faith often experience guilt, embarrassment and despair. Some have been away from Christ for so long that they have given up hope of ever returning. Is there hope for such people? Certainly. Here are some ways to get back in step with Christ:
First, admit where you are. Face the fact that you have dropped out and need to return to the source of your true life. In Bible terminology this is called repentance. It doesn’t mean you have to promise never to stray again or to become a model Christian. Just tell God that you have been wrong and that you want to come back. But the first step is to face where you truly are without excuses.
Ask God for help. Prayer does make a difference. If it is a time issue, tell God about work schedule. Ask him to work on changing it or to provide opportunities for fellowship and growth in other ways. If broken relationships are behind the estrangement, appeal to God to smooth hurt feelings, forgive those who have wronged you, rearrange your priorities or give perspective. If you have found yourself in new and unfamiliar surroundings, ask him to direct you to a church or fellowship in which you can be nurtured and in which you can serve others effectively.
Make yourself accountable. Find another Christian who has personal integrity you can trust and who will have both courage and compassion to ask hard questions and expect straight answers. You may fool yourself with creative justifications of your attitudes and behavior, but it is more difficult to fool someone wise who knows you and cares about you.
Let bygones be gone! If dropping out resulted from someone’s wrongdoing, work through it and move on. Why should the past ruin your present joy? Why should someone’s sin hinder you from doing right? Do you think God is impressed with excuses which put blame on others for your own choice to abandon the God who has demonstrated his love for you by sending his Son to die on your behalf?
Serve. There is no better medicine for recovery and progress in spiritual growth than consistent Christian service in an area which you find fulfilling. Try some things until you find something that is regular, fits your talents and gifting and results in the kinds of goals you are energized by. Make sure that what you are doing benefits people and honors the Lord Christ, whom you serve.
Yes, there is indeed hope for those who have dropped out of active Christian faith. Reasons need not matter. Years don’t have to hold you back. Prodigals can come home. The point is, are you willing? An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take that first homeward step and before long, the prodigal will see the Father’s welcoming smile.
“Ladies and gentlemen! The President of the United States!” This is the introduction given by a person at the entrance to the Floor of the House of Representatives just before the President gives his State of the Union Address. This official’s job is to announce clearly that the person the assembled dignitaries have come to hear has arrived and is about to ascend to the podium.
It is possible, though highly improbable, that this person could make their announcement in a drunken state, or in tattered clothes, or that he or she could hog the limelight in such a way that the president might be overshadowed. But one thing is for certain, if that sort of thing happened, the announcer would not hold their job for very long. The announcer’s only function at that point is to introduce the President and let him speak.
From time to time, it seems that there are some “announcers” in Christian circles who have done this very thing. I am talking about men and women in Christian ministry who have grabbed attention for themselves, sought to represent the Kingdom of God and somehow have forgotten that the whole issue is not them at all. In so doing these folks have reflected badly on the one they should have been drawing people’s attention to.
As a preacher and Christian leader myself, I understand how tempting it might be to hog the limelight. Though I have never achieved celebrity status, I can imagine that when such a person finds himself (or herself) with power, popularity and access to wealth, it must be tempting to believe that they are somehow a cut above others and that the attention they are receiving is deserved. If they dwell on that sort of thing long enough, it is not difficult to see how they might begin to feel that they are above the standards that everyone else must keep. Perhaps some of these “announcers” may have begun with the best of intentions; others may never have had pure motives or even really understood the gospel from the beginning. God alone knows.
Be that as it may, I think we need to be reminded of something very important: no matter how shabby or disreputable the announcer may be, it is Jesus Christ that we need to hear. I am not excusing Christian people who bring shame on Christianity. To dishonor Christ’s name is very nearly inexcusable. But even if all those who proclaim Christ were dishonest, Christ would still be as good and true and powerful as ever because he is perfect.
So I am calling us all to remember that it is Jesus who died for sin; who offers forgiveness and new life through faith; who claims lordship of our lives. It is Jesus Christ who will judge the heart of each person. In other words, Christ is the all-important issue.
I for one am glad when a man or woman of God announces Christ clearly and reflects his image brightly. When they do not I mourn, not only because it reflects so poorly on the rest of us announcers, but mainly because it discourages people from seeing Jesus in all his truth and grace and glory.
So I urge us all to remember: announcers have their job to do. If they do it well, be glad; if they do it poorly you may have a right to be disgusted. But either way, don’t focus on them. It is Jesus who is the real attraction. Whatever you do—hear Him!
Please read no further if you don’t want a refreshing change in your life. Stop reading now if you want to escape the rearrangement that joy may bring to your world. If you prefer the status quo; if you would rather muddle through as you are; if you would like things to stay the same as always— this is not an article you will want to waste your time on. Please skip over this and continue with other pursuits, because a decision to trust wholly in Christ will inevitably bring a new and beneficial direction to your life.
So, if you want to avoid joy, a good way to do that is to avoid any commitment to Christ.
If you would rather not experience the peace that results from forgiveness of your sins and wrongdoings, don’t consider this any further.
If you would rather not rub shoulders with some of the most surprising and wonderful people anywhere, by all means don’t attend church.
If you take comfort in labeling all Christians as hypocrites and narrow-minded fools on the thin argument that because some do exist, therefore, all who follow Jesus must be the same, please keep your mind tightly closed to the facts.
If you want to miss the most fascinating and profound reading you will ever encounter, please—under no circumstances read the Bible.
If you desire no straight answers to questions about Christianity’s claims to truth don’t pick up a book or browse the internet seeking such things.
Let me say it again, don’t read this!
If you want no understanding ears to listen to your hurts or insightful suggestion to a practical problem, don’t contact a pastor or Christian friend.
And- especially- don’t ponder the point of this obvious reverse psychology if you would just as soon not be bothered with anything like fulfillment, purpose for living or challenge to become something higher and better.
But if, by chance, there are stirrings of some of these deep yearnings somewhere within you, remember:
I warned you not to read this!