May 19, 2010
The Faith for Big Prayers
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven" -- Daniel 10:12
One Sunday morning shortly after my husband proposed, I remember singing at church on a fairly unremarkable Sunday. I don't recall the sermon or anything else that day, but I do remember one of the praise songs - "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." The song personalizes Israel's trials in the wilderness and the abundant streams of the promise land for the believer's life today, directing her to sing praise no matter the circumstances:
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
‘Lord, blessed be Your name!'
Sitting in church that day, I momentarily stopped singing. After dating this guy for almost four years, I finally had a ring on my finger. I finally had a token that what I longed for so hopefully was coming. The slightest hint that the world could be otherwise - and I could still praise God - baffled me at that moment. My selfish heart did not have the faith to pray that prayer, not at that moment.
Recently, I encountered another prayer that I couldn't quite pray:
"God, I'm asking for two things before I die; don't refuse me - Banish lies from my lips and liars from my presence. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I'm too full, I might get independent, saying, ‘God? Who needs him?' If I'm poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs 7b-9, The Message)
Few of us have trouble asking God to keep us out of poverty. But asking God to keep us from being too comfortable? I'm too American to pray that without hesitation. By contrast, consider the boldness of these people:
Hannah, the formerly barren woman who gave birth to the prophet Samuel - "And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." (1 Samuel 1:11)
The psalmist who wanted nothing hidden from God - "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." (Psalm 139:23)
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego before being thrown into the fiery furnace - "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18)
Jesus Christ, who would later use this verse in the Garden of Gethsemane - "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10)
Do we have the kind of faith that can pray hard verses like these and mean them? It's easy to pray for blessings, wisdom, health, and the "joy of the Lord." Those prayers make our lives better, we think, and don't require a sacrifice or change of plans. When we come across difficult verses, however, we so easily shy away. Why?
Sometimes my response is too much like Ahaz's, who was offered a sign from the Lord as evidence of Isaiah's prophecy. Instead, Ahaz proudly said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." He deluded himself. He passed off his lack of faith for his unwillingness to "test" God. Instead of praising his decision, Isaiah announced that he - and God - were about out of patience.
Contrast this to the apostle James, who urged the church to ask with abandon so that they could see God at work. But he gave them this warning: "But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6).
Intersecting Faith & Life: Are you avoiding a difficult prayer? What's your reason? Disbelief that God will really answer? Refusal to acknowledge God's imminence? Fear that God will upset your apple cart? Ask yourself what's holding you back. Let's pray for humility and understanding, and the rest will follow.