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Pondering The Matter Of Prayer
By Malcolm B Heap, Midnight Ministries
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Do you feel like your prayers are inadequate? Or that your prayer life lacks vitality and lustre? Do you wish for a closer relationship with God, but find that your desire never seems to be fulfilled, no matter what you do to try and draw closer to God?
Well, I'm sure it's a feeling that many share. You may feel bad about it, but it's not all bad news. The Spirit of God may be 'calling' to your spirit for a closer union with Him. And the presence of God, and our union with Him is an unfolding relationship that spans a lifetime. It doesn't mature overnight.
Books by the ton have been written about prayer, but nothing can replace your own experience. You have to EXPERIENCE God. You have to pray, to learn how to pray successfully. Books can only help so much. God can do much more by His Spirit. Books can't replace your own vital firsthand experience of being with God. And that can only come one way – by your doing. You only find God by seeking Him.
Here are just a few things to consider in your quest for a fuller prayer life.
God Knows And Loves You Fully
God works with each of us individually. Notice:
The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men. From the place of His dwelling He looks on all the inhabitants of the earth; He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works (Ps 33:13-15).
The word 'considers' above is 'understands'. God understands you completely. He knows you deep down, from the inside out. He knows what you need, and that knowing is not merely intellectual. He loves you. It is a knowing that is inseparable from His desire to share the fulness of His love with you.
Realising and responding to His love is the foundation of successful prayer. It is based upon your relationship with Him.
The woman who wept over Jesus' feet was cut up about her failure in life. She was deeply touched, though, by something else. It was her acceptance by Jesus, when all others spurned or despised her. He didn't treat her with the contempt that she knew her sins deserved. He showed forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance, AND true love. It was nothing personal; nothing sexual. It was God's love, true and pure.
If you have found it hard to relate to God, just put yourself in that woman's place (Lk 7:38). Envision yourself at Jesus' feet, weeping at your own failures before God, but also weeping in joy for the undeserved love He has shown you by dying for your sins.
This is what is referred to by the metaphor of 'coming to the foot of the cross'. We have to lay down ourselves at Jesus' feet, like Mary did. (I believe it was Mary Magdalene.) We also have to lay down at Jesus' feet everything in our lives that is idolatrous and which steals His place in our lives. He should be number one. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22:37); to have no other gods before Him (Ex 20:3; Deut 6:5).
As we endeavour to commit to Him in this way, we are able to know that He accepts us. John said:
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God (1 Jn 3:21).
Just as Mary was beloved by Jesus, by God, so are you. You can have confidence in that. Knowing that God loves you so much, He is pleased in you. Do you realise that? Think about it. If you have ever loved someone really deeply, you know that there is nothing you wouldn't do for that person! The emotions within you are crying out for ways to please and to show your affection. That's what God is like toward you, when you show Him that you care for Him.
And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight (3:22).
But perhaps it doesn't seem that way to you. Perhaps you don't feel that you are pleasing to Him. But because you want Him, you are pleasing to Him.
Does God want you to believe that, or the devil? Who wants you to condemn yourself? Satan.
So, remember these words of Paul:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:1).
If you have been suffering from condemning thoughts, recognise their wrong source, and put them out of mind. Return – in your mind – to that place where Mary was, at Jesus' feet, appreciating how He has accepted you and loves you.
He doesn't reject you for failure. He turns to you when you turn to Him in remorse and repentance.
Replace Rituals With The Spirit
One main problem for many is ritualism. Their prayers have degenerated to mere rituals. They get on their knees (or whatever position they feel is best) and then go into the usual routine. But the longer they have done this over the years, the emptier it seems to have become.
Their routine may begin by thanking God, and then proceed by asking His forgiveness and going through a mental prayer list. Perhaps they just pray according to the outline of Jesus' model prayer (Matt 6), and add some other personal things as well.
There would be nothing wrong with this IF the Spirit is involved. But all too often, we have shut out the Spirit by OUR praying, if you know what I mean. If you pray with your intellect only, you miss a vital ingredient of fulfilling prayer: the Spirit.
Your faith won't be built up, and God will seem to go further and further away. Jude admonished:
But you, beloved [don't forget that is how God views you], building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit... (Jude 20).
Those with the gift of tongues can pray in the Spirit by yielding in that way. But my wife (who is an intercessor) and I don't have tongues as a prayer gift. You don't have to have the gift of tongues to pray in the Spirit.
Praying in the Spirit simply means that you yield to the Spirit, become sensitive to the Spirit. That may involve the emotions. Your spirit opens up to the love of the Spirit, and you make yourself a vessel through which God can move.
As Helena intercedes in the Spirit, she prays for others by yielding herself to God, to be a channel of His power, of His love, of His compassion, of His yearning, of His empathy, of His fury, or whatever the Spirit conveys to her spirit. Because she is sensitive in her spirit, the Holy Spirit finds a home. She becomes a vessel energised by the Spirit, MOVED by the Spirit. That's the salient word: moved!
Are you moved? Or do you merely pray intellectually? Do you pray with your mind only, or with your heart and feelings?
Praying ritualistically, you will end up empty inside, feeling unfulfilled. Then you will condemn yourself for the lack which you sense.
So, how can you change this habit?
You have to open up to the Spirit like Mary did, yielding yourself, giving yourself to Him in gratitude, and responding in some practical demonstrative way.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 Jn 4:11).
Mary showed her love in practical demonstra- tion of it. We cannot touch Jesus the way she did, but we can touch the ones whom He commanded us to love in His place (Matt 25:40).
Be more meditative. As you meditate about others who need love, you are transmitting the love of God in you to them. Of course, it's up to them how much they want to accept God's love. But, because you have linked up to the Spirit, yielded to the Spirit, you benefit from the Spirit by being a channel through which He can flow. Then you feel fulfilled, not empty.
It's service that shows love, not words. You can serve in prayer, and serve with your hands and feet. You should do both.
Meditation is not only for religious gurus. Prayer involves meditation. Meditation means using the mind to seek out the Spirit. You seek the HOLY Spirit, not some other spirit, because you seek to be obedient in all things to God.
It sounds mystical to some, and it is. Isn't God mystical? I think so. There is so much about Him we don't know. He is mystical, and wonderful, too.
So, when you pray in the Spirit, your spirit searches into the realm of the greater Spirit, the Spirit of love, who has real depth of feeling for people who are hurting and in need of His love and help. As you probe into that mystical realm of His Spirit, you yield yourself to Him so that you can be used to reach out to those people.
He will then speak to you. He will bring people to your mind as you pray. Then pray to Him for those people whom He has brought to mind. He may put in your mind practical things you can do to help them. Don't dismiss the positive thoughts. Take note of them, and when you get up from your knees, you can do the things He asks of you.
Be practical, too.
Don't be like the man who was with us some years ago, whom God asked to write letters to people. He wrote one letter to one person, and that was it. He'd had enough. That was enough for him. But it wasn't enough for God nor for the people who needed deliverance.
That man was selfish, and because he didn't do the practical aspect, his prayer life and his spiritual life dried up. If he had continued, instead of becoming weary, he could have encouraged many.
And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal 6:9,10).
You help people at their point of need. Often you don't help people the way you think you can. So, you have to 'listen' to the Spirit. As you yield to the Spirit, God will speak to you. The problem with most, however, is that they don't like what God says to do.
Paul made that statement (Eph 6:18). You don't have to be on your knees to fulfil it. Helena prays when she washes up, pots up plants, or does other mundane chores. She links up to the Spirit even when reading the newspaper or watching the TV news. She is praying for people even then.
When you see people in the news who are suffering, like the McCanns who lost their daughter, pray for them. That thought you direct to God is also directed to the hurting people. It can help them.
God is pleased that you care for others. We are to love God and love our fellow man. As you do, you engage His Spirit. His Spirit then lives in you, vitalises your prayers, motivates your actions, invigorates your heart and enlivens your emotions. You become energised by the Spirit because you are not merely praying selfishly; you are praying God's prayers.
Different Prayer Forms
Several years ago, one of the dreams God gave us was of three categories of Christians:
1) Those who listen to the Spirit,
2) Those who study the Bible, and
3) Those who live out their Christianity through acts of goodness towards others.
I don't believe things are that cut-and-dried in practical life, but the categorisation is an illustration. It illustrates three different tendencies in people. Some tend to pray more one way than the other.
You may not think of reading the Bible as prayer, but it is. Also you may not have considered that helping another person by doing good is prayer. But anything in which the Spirit is involved with our spirit is a prayer form, when your spirit yields to God.
Most people think of prayer as asking God for something. That's supplication. However, there are other forms of prayer, too.
Reading the Bible.
So, when you read the Bible, don't just read it with your head. Read it with your heart. Then you will see more of God and hear more from Him.
Think about what He is saying. Meditate on it. Don't be like the lady we once knew who read so fast that she missed what God was saying to her. She was shallow spiritually. Faith didn't have time to be birthed in her. As a result, her faith withered. When she needed to trust God for healing, it wasn't there, because God wasn't there.
God is knocking on your spiritual door when you read His Word. The Bible is a living Book, one in which God can 'lift' the words out of the page and sink them in your inner being. He can enliven specific parts as you read, and make them apply individually to you, even though they may have been first written 2,500 or 3,000 years ago!
How can He do that? Because, it's HIS Word. It carries Him. It is anointed by His Spirit. It is His sacred property, and as you come before Him with the page open, He speaks to you from that page.
Too many overlook that. They tend to read for knowledge's sake – THEIR knowledge's sake. That's a selfish, intellectual, dead, dry approach. It kills the Spirit.
Or, they read merely out of habit or duty. No, you've got to read because you hunger and thirst for righteousness, not just for knowledge.
...Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies (1 Cor 8:1).
God's Word is to edify you. He is sharing His mind and His love with you. He awaits reciprocation.
As God speaks to you from the page, what is your response? Is it to notch up one more credit for yourself on your personal list of vanity? Or is it to bring Him glory; to glorify Him? That's the time for your moment of prayer, to rejoice and exult in Him. And, then to exalt Him in your personal life by living out what you have learned.
Don't be selfish.
There are believers who live for themselves. Their prayers are hollow. They may fellowship with others week after week, and pray in tongues, but they walk away and continue down the same well trodden path of personal problems and compromise. Such people will never come to know God and have intimacy with Him in prayer while their lives centre on themselves.
Your focus must be on God, on His specialness, on His holiness, on His desires, not merely yours.
Jesus mentioned the people who are blessed. Selfish hypocrites are not. He said:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6). Blessed are those who mourn (Matt 5:4).
Have you thought about that? It is more blessed to go the house of mourning than to the house of feasting (Eccl 7:2). Sorrow and grief are better than mirth and merrymaking, for through them "the heart is made better" ["well" or "pleasing"] (Eccl 7:3).
If you are seeking to please yourself, going out on drinking parties, instead of labouring in prayers, don't be surprised if you drown the Spirit.
Prayer is yielding to God, not yielding to self.
I have mentioned that requests are supplication. It is natural to have needs and desires, and to ask God to fulfil those for us. But make them a minimal part of your prayers. Put others' needs higher on your list of priorities in prayer.
I have often heard Kassahun in Ethiopia tell me that the Spirit moves him to pray for us and others. I sometimes wonder why he would pray for us. I tend to get on with things, knowing that God will make a way. But what I don't see is the way God moves others by His Spirit. There's always someone, somewhere, praying for others in need. God moves them to pray.
Don't ask me to fully explain it. I can't. But He involves others in intercession, to enact what He is doing on earth. It's good to supplicate for others.
We are instructed:
Take... the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:17,18).
You can't see the spiritual needs, but the Spirit does, and so God moves you to watch by His Spirit.
Meditation and Imagination.
I return to meditation again, this time to explain more, after what we have been told above.
When Richard Wurmbrand was incarcerated in solitary confinement in Communist prisons, he had no one to talk to. Fed on one slice of bread a week, the starvation ration was meant to destroy him spiritually as well as physically.
He rose up above the torment by communing with the Spirit. He would imagine "in his mind's eye" Jesus. He would imagine His love; what it will be like in heaven when we meet Him and embrace; and how wonderful His qualities that we will share in fulness. I'm sure this imagining was helped by the Spirit, because you can't imagine such thoughts for long. We don't have much to go on, humanly.
Richard would "conjure up" Jesus in His mind's eye, like this, and this communion with God helped him to endure all those horrendous years in prison.
While we certainly need a practical Christianity, we also need such mysticism (contemplation and self- surrender to God) to feed the spirit. It is a prayer form.
When Jesus appears to people in visions of heavenly glory, or in visions of ordinariness (as I have had one such experience), He is evoking a response. That is prayer, amongst other things.
But you don't have to wait to receive such a vision from Him, you can 'conjure Him up' in your mind with what you know of Him from His Word. You can imagine; you can ponder; you can think. As you do, He can lead your thoughts. That is prayer, too.
Prayer is communication with the Spirit of God. You talk to Him; He talks to you.
Don't expect to literally see Him in your mental sights. He appears to your spirit, within. That still small voice of the Spirit, or that still small seeing / sensing in your spirit, is a sixth sense. Develop it by yielding.
Don't yield to the wrong spirit, the selfish spirit, the spirit that wants you to experience sensual things, or to indulge your selfish or fleshly desires. Yield to the pure Spirit, who wants your love and devotion above all else, so that He can make you a child of God.
Enduring In Prayer
Often you don't know what to pray for, but don't let that stop your spirit from entering into God.
...we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance (Rom 8:25). Likewise the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself [itself, literal translation] makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered (Rom 8:26).
After I have been praying for ten minutes or so, I frequently find a blank. But I continue just communing with the Spirit. You can do this silently, or with words. God knows your inadequacy to express things or to know what to pray for.
As you persevere, for whatever length of time you sense you need to pray, the Spirit comes and lifts you up. While you don't pray to get feelings – because faith is not a matter of feelings – there is an inner witness in the spirit that comes. An inner peace or assurance; a sensing in the spirit that is not of the five senses, gives you the knowing that you are now with God and His Spirit is in you, reassuring you (1 Jn 3:19).
That's what you receive after you have been 'out of touch' with God for a while.
Sometimes answers to prayer take a lot longer. Wait on Him. Don't expect a reply immediately. God always answers in His good time.
Some time ago, I felt moved to send some money to someone abroad. Not knowing how much to send (God hadn't put any figure in my mind), I wrote to him and asked him how much he would need. (You can only do this with those whom you know are truly converted – I mean, really converted!)
He asked God in prayer, but didn't receive an answer for several weeks. He waited on God to reply. After a long time, God spoke these words to his spirit: "The treasurer knows what is in his treasure. I leave it to him." The words kept coming the next day. At first he took the treasurer to mean God. But then, after he had shared on the subject of stewardship in a Sabbath meeting, a lady present told him that God had given her a dream the night before.
In the dream she saw a humble white man give him (the person to whom I had written) ten bananas. The white man counted them out very carefully. Our friend knew the dream referred to me as the treasurer because I am the only white man he knows who knows him. The dream also illustrated how we have to be very careful with the little finance we have. In the dream, after I gave him the bananas, I went my way, saying that I would be back next year.
In his letter, he said that he could not say how much, in answer to my question, but that God would show me. That is what God then did – through Helena on that occasion. He also said something that many would not have said: he said that if he were to have stated a figure it would have been so coloured by the desires of his flesh that it would not be right.
God answered his prayer by involving others. The lady, who was relatively new, was given firsthand experience of one way God communicates. It built up her faith, and the faith of all those involved.
It reminds us all – O we of little faith! – that God knows what we need before we ask Him. So, we don't ever have to nag God for what WE want.
We need to pray to God for what HE wants – to be filled with His Spirit; to be yielding to Him; to desire His righteousness and purity; and to be using His gifts.
Your prayer may simply be a humble "Help me to pray!" like it was for the disciples at first. But the desire of your heart invites the Spirit of God in, and as you make Him welcome, He will stay. So, wait on Him. Endure, persevere in prayer.
Praying with MM literature for healing.
Besides praying as you read the Bible, you can do the same as you read MM literature because it is also anointed by the Spirit.
A woman was reading MM's book Faith and Healing. She was in pain and needed healing – or an operation – one or the other. She chose God rather than man. (God is much more dependable!) As she read, her heart cry was directed to God. He heard her cry and healed her. The anointing of God can come in unexpected ways. What God has written is alive!
Another man was taken aback by what he read in Faith and Healing, so he carefully studied it again. He also had a serious condition that required medical surgery. But God wanted to prove Himself to this man, so He healed him. He also gave him a physical sign that was inexplicable, to confirm that He had done it.
Notice: what preceded the healing was grief.
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy (Ps 126:5).
The self-satisfied and complacent are not filled. Contentedness doesn't help you draw near to God. It has the opposite effect. But:
He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing... his sheaves with him (v 6).
Malcolm B Heap, Jan 2008
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