Sunday, July 26, 2015

When should you stop praying for something? [Spoiler: Almost never]

In his classic book on prayer, Ole Hallesby gives great advice on what and whether to keep praying about a desire of our heart. After all, if we've been praying for something for awhile and nothing seems to be happening, we might wonder, "Is what I'm asking for wrong? Has God already told me, 'No.'"? (And no can be an answer from God to our prayers.)

But if we love God and still desire the thing for which we've been praying, Hallesby suggests, we should keep praying, even if we've been praying about a particular subject for a long time. We should continue praying with a willingness to accept any answer God gives when it becomes clear to us and with one desire taking an even higher place than the thing for which we've been praying.

He says that we should tell God, in our own words and from the heart, "Grant this request only if it will bring You glory." Our one prevailing desire should be the glory of God.

One might pray: "This is what I'm seeking, God, for so-and-so or for myself. I could be wrong in asking for it. If I am, I trust You to show me. But for now, in case You're delaying a response in order to orchestrate events or to build my character or someone else's character, until we're ready to receive Your blessing, I keep offering this petition. Your will be done and, please, grant this petition if it will bring You glory."

And of course, such a petition, like all prayer petitions, needs to be offered in the name of Jesus, the only way to God's Father heart. Praying in Jesus' name is not a formula for "prayer success." Praying in Jesus' name is an authentic plea on the petitioner's part that what is prayed for will be consistent with the will and honor of God as revealed in Jesus.

I like Hallesby's advice. It's Biblical. Jesus commends persevering prayer. In Romans 8, Paul talks about how we don't really know how to pray as we ought, but we're called to trustingly commend our prayers to God, believing that the Holy Spirit can turn them into the God-honoring petitions that, in our spirits, we want to offer. And the Bible teaches that believers are to do all things to the glory of God, not their own.

Speaking personally, there are some prayer petitions I've experienced lifting up to God regularly for a decade or more, with no answer. In those petitioning years, sometimes I wondered if I should stop. Or, if my petitions were selfish. Or, if they were trite or deemed unnecessary by God. Or, if I was being immature in offering them. Or, if my petitions would somehow not bring God glory.

But believing that there was something God-honoring about them, I kept praying these petitions, all along submitting to God's will and asking God to grant them only if they brought Him glory.

When, after years of praying petitions like that--whether, as I say, for ourselves or for others doesn't matter--we finally experience God's positive answers, as I have, it's a humbling experience. You know you didn't accomplish the blessing that could come from God alone and you know that, in this granted petition, God is being glorified.

In other instances, I've gotten to the point where I was convinced that I needed to stop praying for some things, that God had said, "No" and I must accept that.

And in still other instances---inexplicable, tragic, and sad, people for whom I and others have fervently prayed, have died. The depths of sadness experienced by Christians who lose loved ones or friends after offering desperate prayers is a grief non-believers, with their resignation to the fates of this dying world, cannot understand. It represents one of the most haunting struggles of the Christian life, especially when someone we care about dies and our prayers didn't result in God bringing them healing in this world. We wonder why. Our faith can be shaken.

The only things that make such a tragedy bearable are (1) the promise of Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, to be with His people always in our time on earth, sustaining us, bringing other believers alongside us to bring Christ's love to us, AND (2) the promise of resurrection life in God's perfect kingdom for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as their God and Savior.

All of the sadness of this world, all our grief in this world, I believe, will one day be explained in the world to come when we live in the direct presence of God.

More than that, we have the promise that God will dry the tears of our earthly griefs; mourning, death, and loss will be gone forever. We will more fully understand the wise words of the apostle Paul, when he says, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:13).

But as we continue to live on this earth, I think Hallesby's suggestion stands.

You should keep praying that petition that's on your heart.

If you seek to be a faithful follower of Jesus and it hits you to pray for something, there's a good chance you should keep praying for it.

God may answer the prayer in ways you can't imagine. After all, when we pray, we don't command God as to how He answers our requests; we submit to His sovereignty, to His will.

That's why Hallesby tells us that when we're not sure about our petition, but feel compelled to offer it anyway, we should tell God with authentic submission: "Grant this request only if it will bring You glory."

I'm definitely in the keep-on-praying camp.


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