Intro: Here is why praying seems weirder than ever in our world. As we get older we get less patient. And we live in a world that is getting faster and faster – waiting is now out of fashion! We live in an instant world. Think broadband, sms, and emails: if we don’t get instant connection or instant replies we wonder what’s going on.
Why is this a problem? Because prayer doesn’t work like this – it’s not an instant supply line, it’s not a way to get to God and get what we want straight away. If we start here – that prayer is about getting stuff now – we will struggle to pray for life.
a. God works at his own pace
God seldom appears to be in a hurry – for instance in Genesis Abraham wonders around for years until he has a child, Jacob waits and works 14 years before he is free to leave with the wife of his choice, Joseph spends 20 years in jail waiting for God to be at work.
At an important level God’s work in our lives is a lifetime work – and it’s even longer term in terms of building his Kingdom. It’s a long-term gradual process.
One way our prayers are out of sync with the bible is when we think of prayers and answers we think instinctively of quick answers to our immediate answers, but God operates on a much grander scale.
b. God works according to his agenda and not ours
See the prayers of Paul in Eph 1:15ff, 3:14ff, Phil 1:3ff, Col 1:9ff,1 Thess 3:12ff, 2 Thess 1:11ff
Most of Paul’s prayers cannot have instant answer – his prayers are dominated by long-term concerns. These are prayers that need to be repeated, prayers for the long haul, prayers about people’s lives and God’s agenda. The focus of his prayers are not that his friends would have easy lives, and that every obstacle would be removed for their churches – but that they will be faithful, persevere and that Jesus would be honoured at the end of it all.
Think about the prayers in prayer groups – God is the God of all the details, so small details are good to pray for. But to stop there is to miss God’s agenda for the world. God invites us to pray for the impossible, and tells us he will work in us and through us by our prayers – and then we sell him short with our pithy requests.
We massively underestimate God’s power in prayer – he wants to change us through our prayers, he wants the Gospel to be grown, he wants his Son glorified…and we often can’t get past the small things in life.
How to pray right now in the light of that:
1. Recognise our greatest need(s):
On one level we think we can do our own things. But when I look at life in the light of the Gospel I realise I am so far out of my depth – there is nothing I can do to advance God’s agenda 1mm on my own. This is when I pray – because I’m shaped by the big picture.
Prayer is born out of learned desperation. – Paul Miller
If we get this, it will change the way we pray – the focus will be on God’s work in us and in the lives of others.
2. Expect to put in effort:
A common Christian myth: real spiritual people find prayer easy.
Yet Paul tells the Colossians about Epaphras and how he wrestles in prayer for them. Wrestling is hard work! Jesus prayer in the Garden was hard work!
Prayer is hard because we live in a fallen world – and it’s intractably linked to God’s work at transforming our lives.
Christian life is active battling throughout. Recognising the battle is the mark of spiritual maturity. – JI Packer
3. Learn to cope with spiritual allergies:
How do you live with allergies? You learn to cope.
We are all allergic to waiting. Apple users will know the pain of receiving an email from Apple about their latest new thing ‘coming’!
We need to be prepared to wait when we pray.
We are allergic to helplessness – we want action now – not God’s long term strategy, but to sort things out now so we take on the job, we take over and try to work things out for ourselves.
4. We need to wait for answers to big prayers:
At points God in his kindness will give us glimpses of his grand plan, but most often we need to wait for the answers to our prayers. Think of the big prayers from OT heroes – like Daniel and Nehemiah – they all about waiting for God’s big plans to come through.
5. Look for the small interim answers to big prayers:
We need to learn to see what is already there – the little answers on the way to the big answers (eg seeing the changes in your children’s godliness).
In our instant world we can do so much more and quicker than 20 years ago, but we need to remember the people of prayer know that prayer is a long term job.