Monday, October 5, 2009

Effective Prayer

Last Wednesday, I went to CCC's monthly prayer group. We started meeting in January of this year, I believe. There are usually about five of us who meet, the core four and then a rotation of several. I have enjoyed the intimacy of the group. We are definitely open to more coming, but we haven't made a church announcement because we want it to be composed of people who truly want to pray for our church and one another and not those who think that it may be something "cool" to do, or whatever.

Neal has been leading the meetings since the beginning, but last meeting he invited us to each lead a meeting as well. I volunteered to be the first to lead and had that privilege on Wednesday. Thankfully, I know the group is quite accepting and understanding so I wasn't too worried about what to say. However, I did still want to share something meaningful and relevant to all of us.

While planning, I thought it would be good to talk about my interest in prayer (sort of what has been my desire for seeking opportunities to pray like our prayer group). I have two major desires in prayer. One is to develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with God and the other is to be effective in my prayer life. I reasoned that most people would like to know that their prayers are being heard and answered, so I focused on the second desire.

My first action was to do a Google search on what makes prayer effective. It was interesting to look at the search results, because most of what came back were hindrances to prayer. Obviously, eliminating hindrances would increase effectiveness, but it was interesting that it was more about removing obstacles than building blocks toward effectiveness.

I then thought about James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." I then thought, Okay, so then perhaps I should figure out what it means to be righteous. I thought that perhaps I was missing out on some key ingredient to effective prayer and that if I could just research every word connected to it, perhaps I could find the answer. This was when it hit me: I'm trying to find the ultimate prayer formula to unlocking God's power. That is obviously not going to happen because it's a relationships, not a math problem.

Relationships develop through sharing, honesty, and vulnerability. Perhaps my focus should be not on saying or doing the right thing, but on opening myself up more to God.

Now, I do want to stop and say that I don't think it's bad or wrong to learn about and try different ways of praying. It can certainly be a great way to improve your prayer life and get out of any rut you may be in. I'm just saying you can't rely on one particular method to be the magic key to unlock powerful prayer.

I have been reading Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller and there was a quote in his book that related to my search for effective prayer:

I know it's tempting to believe if we will walk through ten steps or listen to only a certain kind of music or pray in a certain way and for a certain number of days then we will find favor with God, but we won't. The formulas, I understand, were created by their authors to help us, but they do more hindering than helping. If we trust in a formula, if we trust in steps, we are not trusting in God. Formulas, while helping us organize our faith, also tempt us to trust in them rather than in God. p.206

After reading and thinking about all of this, I was satisfied that I'm probably not missing out on the be-all end-all prayer style. So then, was that really my true concern? I think my question of ineffectivity is actually about seeing God's answers to my prayers. I can tell the difference between daily prayer/quiet times and the lack of them so there obviously is some personal benefit/aid in it. But what about all of those requests that I make for myself and others regarding circumstances and hopes and dreams? I feel like I really struggle with looking for/seeking God's response. Part of it is that I, like many others, tend to believe that if I don't see an affirmative response right away then that means my prayer had no power. But that's not true, and I was reminded of this while seeking wisdom about effective prayer.

I was reminded that there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. God hears and responds to each request. However, sometimes his answer is "no" and we tend to interpret that as God not answering our prayers. Just because you don't get what you ask for doesn't mean it wasn't heard. Your parents said "no" to requests from you. I guess it's harder because we don't necessarily "hear" a "no" from God. We see no action and so God must not have heard us. But "yes" and "no" aren't the only answers. Sometimes there's "not yet" which may be just as discouraging as "no" because it tends to "sound" the same. But for me, the reminder that "not yet" is an option really encouraged me. There are multiple prayers that I know God could answer immediately, but doesn't. It's not because he can't or won't, it's just because I don't know his timing. I was reading somewhere that said that sometimes God waits for the moment in which he will receive the most glory.

I hear many stories of people praying for years for a wayward child, spouse, or parent without much result. And then one day, it happens. The reminder that God can do anything, and that he wants no one to perish but all to come to him encourages me to continue to pray for situations such as these because it is God's desire as well. I know he can't force people to choose him, but he can place people in their path and reveal himself to them in unique ways. Knowing that God hears, gives me determination to be like the widow that continues to go to the judge until he finally issues her justice because he is weary of being hounded by her. And I know that God delights to hear from me. So this, along with the realization that I may have been misinterpreting God's responses, helps me with my struggle.

It was really good to talk about all this among the group to hear other perspectives on seeing answers to prayer and feeling close to God in and through prayer. At one point, I managed to see how my two initial desires connect. If I am drawing nearer to God and deepening my relationship with him, then I will desire his will. If I am desiring his will, then I will seek his heart. Seeking his heart should lead me to pray for his will to be done. If I am praying within his will, then my prayers will most certainly be effective and I ought to see God's action within those prayers. Sort of like a six degrees of separation thing, huh?

So, to sum all of this up, my true goal is and should be to increase my intimacy with God and deepen my relationship with him. I haven't really been sure how to do this because I realize that, generally, between my morning prayer time and the small window before I'm asleep at night I don't really think about God a whole lot. There will be instances here and there where I do, but it's more an exception than the rule.

However, our church is beginning a new series called Soul Revolution which includes a book as well as small group discussion and running partners (even smaller groups which allow for greater honesty and openness). This book has an experiment that everyone is invited to participate in. It's called the 60-60 experiment where, for sixty days, you are to set a watch, timer, or alarm to beep every sixty minutes. At each beep that you hear, you are supposed to reflect on what's going on, remember that God loves you and has great things for you, and recommit yourself to seeking God's will for that, and each subsequent moment. It sounds very challenging, but I think it will really help me to work towards establishing the branch/vine relationship mentioned in Luke 15 that invites us to abide in Jesus. The experiment starts this coming Sunday, October 11th. I am quite excited. I hope to blog some about it as we move through it. I invite you to try the experiment as well if you'd like. Join me as we see what happens when we try to seek God's will in every moment of our lives.

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