Sunday, November 25, 2012

UGW 4-6: Our Duties, Prayer Matters, But God Reads Minds

            4.  Is there danger in believing that God will always work His plan in our lives, regardless of what we do or any responsibility we have? 
            Definitely.  Because then we don’t think so much about what we do and about our responsibilities.  We won’t take seeking righteousness, wisdom, His kingdom, prayer, and obedience, etc., as seriously because we don’t see the effect it has over our lives.  If He’s just going to do whatever He’s going to do anyway, then it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do. 

            Also, if we think that He’ll do whatever He wants and that all things happen because He wants them to happen, we might not be so discerning about the “open doors” that come our way.  Well, this is the first job or house or relationship or offer that came my way, so it must be from God.  Or This is just what fell in my lap when I waited on God, so it must be His Will.  Many times, these “open doors” can take us down paths God never wanted us to go, because we didn’t use wisdom or pray for guidance and discernment to find out if it really was from God.  And we will miss out on His best for us.    
            Sometimes, God’s Will does fall in our laps, like when the path that He desires us to take comes to us very obviously.  And when the time is right, the doors do open.  (But we still have the choice to walk through them or not.)  But there are open doors that are not from God.  And we need to use wisdom to be discerning. 
            And we need to be careful that we don’t use “It happened, so it must be God’s Will” to do something selfish.  I think that some open doors are tests, particularly when it leads to something we really want anyway, like an abundance of money, the chance to get ahead, a relationship with someone who’s not our spouse, or a job that we really want.  They could be tests to see if we will seek what God wants or if we will follow our own desires, excusing ourselves from the necessary effort, prayer, and pursuit of holiness that Romans 12:1-2 calls us to. 
            Always remember that God will never guide us to do anything that violates a Biblical principle that He has already revealed in His Word, no matter how much it looks like “God’s Will” to us.  So it will never be God’s Will for you to divorce your spouse to marry someone who “makes you happier.”  It’s never God’s Will for you to hoard tithe money because things are tight.  He’s already said that we are to tithe and then He’ll take care of us.  It’s never God’s Will for you to experiment with sexual partners before you get married to see if you are compatible.  He very clearly says that He created sex to be between a husband and wife.  It will never be His Will for you to take a job that is un-glorifying to Him, because we are to do everything to the best of our ability, for His glory!      
            God, through His Word and the Holy Spirit, will only guide us in paths that glorify Him and uplift His holy name, and not paths that smudge His good name or that are for selfish gain.
            Psalm 23: 3:  “. . . He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  (Emphasis is mine.)  
            2 Corinthians 3:18:  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
            James 4:3:  “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” 
            These are things to keep in mind when you are trying to discern if God is leading you down a certain path or not.  We need to be cautious about letting our desires mislead us.  And we need to be immersed in prayer and in the Word (and be obedient as God leads) if we want to be sure to stay on the path that God desires we take.   

            5.  So prayer really does matter when it comes to making sure that God’s Will happens?
            Yes!  If we believe that God always does what He wants, then we won’t realize that prayer matters in discerning God’s plans for us and in getting His Will done.  Our prayer life will be weak.  And there are examples in the Old Testament that support the necessity of prayer and the fact that it affects whether His Will gets done or not. 
            In Exodus 23: 32, God tells Israel to make no covenant with the people in the land of Canaan after they take possession of it.  But in Joshua 9, we read about the Gibeonite deception and how they did make a treaty with these people, believing that they were from a distant land.  Joshua 9: 14 says that in this instance, Israel “did not inquire of the Lord.” 
            God’s Will and plan was that they didn’t make a treaty with these people.  And I believe that God would have uncovered this deception for Israel and would have warned them not to make a treaty with them . . . if they had prayed about it.  But they didn’t pray about it, so God’s Will didn’t happen in this case. 
            And likewise, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14 says this “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord.  So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” 
            Was it God’s Will that all this happened in Saul’s life?  Or did Saul have some responsibility in all this, and did lack of prayer and obedience have an effect on what happened to him?  “Saul died because . . . he did not keep the word of the Lord . . . and did not inquire of the Lord.”    
            For years, I have lived with the idea that God will always do whatever He wanted, so I really never understood the purpose and power of prayer.  I used to see prayer the way that I have heard numerous people describe it:  “Prayer is important just because it is an act of showing that we are dependent on God, and it draws us closer to Him because we are spending time with Him.”  That’s all.  It has no more effect than just showing our dependence and building our relationship.  Because after all, He does whatever He wants to do anyway.  So, really, our prayers are just formalities and for our benefit, right?   
            And I think that this is one of Satan’s most effective tools.  Because if he can convince people that their prayers aren’t really necessary because God is so in control that He’ll just do whatever He wants to do anyway, then the church will be ineffectual, lacking the kind of prayers that are necessary to battle the forces of evil and to get God’s Will done. 
            But if our prayers are just formalities, why would we be told in James 5:16 that “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective”?  If they were just formalities, we would be told something more like this, “Prayer is good for a righteous man because it draws him near to God.”  But it doesn’t say that.  It says that prayer is “powerful and effective.”  Powerful and effective for what?  I believe that it’s powerful against the kingdom of darkness and that it’s effective for getting God’s Will done.   
            An example illustrating the necessity of prayer to get things done is in Job 42.  In this chapter, we read that God is angry with Job’s friends for not speaking of Him what is right.  And He says, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.”  (Verse 8)  Now, if God intended to forgive them anyway - if it was His Will and what He planned to do - why didn’t He just do it?  Why require and wait for Job to pray?  Because prayer is what gets God’s Will done on earth.
            1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him.” 
            I think this verse shows us that His Will (what He desires to have happen) doesn’t just happen because He is all-powerful and can make it happen.  We have to pray for it, to seek it.  And to obey!  God leaves the responsibility with mankind to put His Will (what He desires to have happen) into motion with our prayers.
            We are not just commanded to pray because it’s good for us or shows our dependence on God.  Prayer actually gets God’s Will done.  God wills things in Heaven, but it’s man’s job to bring that Will to fruition on earth by our prayers, obedience, and righteous living.  And it’s when we ask for something that He wants for us that we get it.  (But this doesn’t mean that we always get what we ask for.  It has to be in line with what God wants for us.)
            But I think that the flip-side is true, also.  If we don’t ask for what He wants for us, we won’t get it.  He doesn’t just lead us down His best path when we refuse to “inquire of the Lord.”  And as James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.”  If we ask for something He doesn’t want, it won’t happen.  But also if we don’t pray for and seek out what He does want, it won’t happen.  Our prayers and obedience have an effect on getting God’s Will done or not.  (Of course, there are times that God does whatever He wants, apart from us.  And yes, He still does take care of us and provide for us without our having to pray for every little thing.  I am not going to the extreme of saying that God does nothing and provides nothing unless we pray for it.  I am saying that, in general and in many ways, I think that He has chosen to work with and through man's prayers and cooperation in order to accomplish His plans on earth.  And there are many Biblical examples of this.)   
            I think that, yes, prayer is crucial in acknowledging our dependence on God and building our relationship with Him (through honesty and transparency).  But it goes so much further than just being a show of dependence and drawing us closer.  It gets His Will done! 

            6.  But if God can read our minds, isn’t just thinking about what we want to pray good enough?  Isn’t saying, “I’ll pray for you” and intending to do it as good as doing it?  You know, “It’s the thought that counts,” right? 
            I used to think this.  I used to think that if prayers were just formalities and if He could read my thoughts, then He knew what I wanted to pray.  And that was just as good as praying.  Right? 
            Wrong!  Once again, it wasn’t until Job actually prayed for God to forgive his friends that God forgave them.  Even though God planned to forgive, He didn’t act on that until Job prayed.  And on top of that, it wasn’t until after Job obeyed and prayed that God blessed him again. 
            Job 42:9-10:  “. . . and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.  After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” 
            Here is a simple illustration that shows the difference between “thinking/intending” and praying.  Imagine that I have a gift in my hands, and I intend to give it to you.  Maybe you even know what’s in it.  Now, you know that I am thinking about giving it to you.  That is my intention.  I just don’t get around to doing it.  But isn’t it enough that you knew what my intentions were?  No!  It’s not the same as giving it.  As long as we are still holding it, it is “ours.”  It isn’t until we give it to the other person that it becomes “theirs.” 
            I think that God waits for us to hand the gift - the prayer - over to Him.  It’s not good enough to just think about prayer, to intend to get around to it.  There is no power in that.  He waits to move until we call Him into action with our prayers, until we move from intending to pray to actually praying.  And He does this because He is allowing us to make the choice to keep it or to give it over.  Once again, He’s honoring our free-will.  It isn’t until we actually put it into words in prayer that we have presented the prayer to God and invited Him to action with our concern or request or confession.       
            I don’t just base this belief on my own ideas.  Everything should be evaluated by Scripture.  First off, look up how many times God says things like, “And when the people pray or cry out to me, I will hear them and act.”  You never read, “And when the people think, I will hear and act.” 
            Praying makes the difference!  Crying out to God makes the difference!  Our thoughts are our own, but our prayers are for God.  We can pray in our minds or out loud, but we need to pray.  Just thinking about the things we should pray about or what we wish God would do isn’t the same as praying.   
            And as we already looked at, the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 explicitly tells us to pray “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Like I said, I used to think that it meant “May Your Will come to pass on earth,” like it comes to pass in Heaven.     
            Now, I see it as a twofold message.  One, as I already discussed, implies more responsibility on our parts than passive waiting: “May Your Will get done obediently by us on earth, as it gets done by Your angels in Heaven.”  And another way that I read it is as an actual command to pray that His Will gets done, because our prayers will be what gets it done.  He’s not saying, “Let’s hope it gets done.”  He’s saying, “You need to pray that it gets done.”  
            And look at all these verses that command us to pray:  Matthew 5:44, Luke 18:1, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, James 5:13, James 5:16, among many others.  I used to think that it was good advice, meant for our benefit because it was all about drawing closer to God.  Now, I think that the reason God takes prayer so seriously is because it makes a difference in whether or not His Will gets done!
            In fact, it’s such a powerful tool that we are told this in 1 Peter 4:7:  “The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can . . . “  So that you can what?  Eternity is bearing down on us, and we need to be clear-minded and self-controlled so that we can . . . witness and win as many souls as possible? . . . gain as many blessings as possible? . . . bring glory to God? . . . go out on a high note? 
            No, we are told that with eternity right around the corner, we need to be clear-minded and self-controlled so that we can . . . pray!  This verse is what fully convinced me of the necessity of prayer, the importance of prayer, and the power in it. 
            And in Matthew 21:12-13, we read about Jesus getting angry and overturning the money changers tables.  What made Him so angry?  He was angry because they had turned the Father’s house into a crooked business place, whereas it is supposed to be a house of . . . that’s right . . . Prayer!  It’s not called a house of worship or a house of sermons or a house of fellowship.  It’s called a house of prayer!  Do we value prayer as much as Jesus and God’s Word does?               
            I believe that God wills certain things: things that He desires for us and from us, and things that He has planned based on His wisdom and love.  He has willed these things from His throne-room in Heaven, but it’s our job to bring His Will down to earth; by our righteous living and obedience, by abiding in Him, and by our prayers.  (Like I said, I hate to be redundant.) 
            And without those prayers - the prayers of righteous and godly men and women - it won’t happen.  It won’t happen until God finds someone who is receptive enough to the Spirit to know how He wants them to live and pray.  And then who is obedient enough to do it.
            However, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that man has unlimited power and full control over what happens on earth.  God is still sovereign over all, He still holds all things in His hands, all things have to pass through Him, and evil is still limited.  And I am not saying that man gets to decide what happens by his prayers.  But man has to pray to accomplish what God has already decided.  And it is the prayers of righteous people that are powerful and effective.   

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