Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer, a wonderful and sacred time-honored American tradition. The effort is headed by the NDP Task Force, led by our friend and Focus emeritus board member Shirley Dobson. I’ll be recognizing the day in California with some colleagues and other ministry partners, but our team will be gathering on campus to spend some concentrated time in prayer.
On this eve of this very special day, I would like to pose a few questions.
Why should believers take a day to focus on prayer? Why pray for our fellow citizens, our leaders and the needs and challenges facing America?
Simply put, I believe God invites us to do so and promises a blessing when we do. In the book of 2 Chronicles, God says, "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (7:14).
I’ve heard people suggest that God answers every prayer from His children – but sometimes the answer is “no.” I think that’s a true statement, but if we only look at prayer as a transaction we’re likely to miss the richness of prayer itself.
Are you familiar with the acronym (adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication)? I find that to be a helpful guide for how we should approach our Heavenly Father. In addition to that, I believe God's looking for four things from us when we pray:
1. He wants humility: That's a tough one. We can be so proud of our accomplishments, our inventions, our lifestyles - you name it. I'm afraid humility isn't one of our strengths as a nation or individually.
2. He wants to talk with us: God wants to engage in the dialogue of prayer. About the only prayer I knew growing up was one of those stock prayers recited over meals. Now that I'm older, I know what God longs for is an ongoing conversation with us. He cares about the details of our lives. He invites us to bring to Him our fears, pain, sadness, confession, joy, hopes, dreams - you name it, He's waiting for us to talk with Him about it.
3. He wants us to seek His face: I've read that the word "seek" carries with it the sense of pursuing God with a "burning desire." With passion. With gusto. At some points in life that is not as easy, is it? Ever wonder why not? Maybe a good place to start is to ask Him that question: Why am I not passionate about seeking Your face at this time in my life?
4. God wants us to experience the freedom and joy that comes through confession and turning from our sin: It's one thing to say, "I'm sorry God for my sinful choices" and another thing to do something about it, namely, turning from our sin and embracing what's right.
Prayer is a critical practice for any Christian, but it's also something that, since we do so often, we run the risk of taking too lightly. How often have we ended a conversation with a friend or loved one by assuring them, "I'll pray for you" but the failing to do so? Or how frequently have we been the one asking for prayer ourselves, but not thinking too deeply about the significance of the request?
Habits and routines can be good—but they can also cause us to get into an easy rut and maybe forget just how awesome a privilege it is to be in communion and conversation with the Creator of the universe.
The Lord has answered many prayers in my life – from trying to decide whether I should play football in college, to finding the love of my life, to permitting me the privilege of being a father. He’s also said “no” to my prayers, too. Like all of you, I’ve had to shoulder the burdens of managing difficult people and wondering why loved ones die all too soon.
Indeed, God answers prayer just as sure as the sun rose this morning and will set tonight. I would love to hear your story, and learn of how the Lord has responded to you. Scripture tells us to publicly acknowledge and give praise for His good works and kindness to us including answered prayer. Psalm 105:1 says “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people!”
So, how about it? How has God answered your prayer?
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