Monday, October 31, 2016

PERSISTENT PRAYER

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
 So that we may receive mercy 
And find grace to help us in our time of need.
 (Hebrews 4:16)


What is persistent prayer? It is continued and prolonged entreaty (appeal) or a humbled request before God.

If you are like me, you have prayed once or even numerous times for something or someone and have yet to see an answer.  Sometimes unanswered prayer causes discouragement and affects our faith? Maybe you questioned why you should bother praying. Let me assure you that persistent prayers yield results. Remember, an unanswered prayer doesn't mean that it won't be answered. It simply means that we need to continue praying in faith and know that God answers in His time.

The dictionary defines prayer as "spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession." So why is it so important to be persistent and consistent in our prayer life?

The process of prayer builds a meaningful relationship with God by involving Him in our everyday life. Prayer changes us. Prayer changes things. Prayer is a form of worship. Perseverance in prayer develops resilience and character. Prayer replaces fear and worry with peace and joy. Through prayer, we receive direction, guidance, and discernment. Prayer opens doors of opportunity and helps us overcome temptation that would misdirect us. Prayer is essential in the Christian's life, because it is spiritual warfare that accomplishes God's work and His will. For those reasons and more, persistence in prayer is vital to our very existence!

Jesus discussed with His disciples the benefits of persistence in prayer when He said, “Which of you will have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him.' He will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you?' I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. [Therefore] keep asking, seeking, and knocking. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-12).

We are directed to Ask, Seek, and Knock, because prayer always moves the hand of God.  I love this, because the acronym is ASK, which reminds me to keep asking, seeking, and knocking in prayer until I receive an answer.

Every story and every parable that Jesus taught was a spiritual lesson regarding His Kingdom. In the above story, the man went to his "friend's" house. When we are in need, we go to Jesus, our "Friend." Jesus said, "I have called you friend, because everything I have learned from My Father, I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

The "door" represents communication with God through His Son, Jesus. For Jesus said, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved..." (John 10:9) “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).

"Midnight" biblically represents a turning point from one season of life to another. We move from the darkest night or the most difficult time in our life to the morning - the beginning of breakthrough. Genesis tells us that the evening and morning (midnight) were the first day of a new beginning. No matter what we are experiencing, it's never too late when we seek God for new beginnings and new hope.

The "man" who went to the door on behalf of his friend represents those who communicate with God and intercede on behalf of family, friends, those in government, the world in general, strangers encountered, and self.

The "three loaves" represent faith, hope, and love with love being the greatest (I Corinthians 13:13). Desperate to help his friend in need, this man went in faith at midnight to appeal to another friend for help. When his friend didn't respond, the man did not lose hope. Because of his love for his friend in need, he persisted in his entreaty. As a result, his "friend" responded. 

Jesus, our Friend who intercedes on our behalf, always responds, no matter the time of day or night. Therefore, we pray to God "in Jesus' name" and God answers. Remember, Jacob wrestled with God all night until the break of day when he finally received His answer and God blessed him (Genesis 32:22-32). We are also to wrestle in persistent prayer until God answers.

When I first became a Christian 45 years ago, I was erroneously taught that praying more than once showed a lack of faith, so when I prayed once and no answer came, I thought that God had chosen not to answer my prayer. I have since learned that we don't pray just one time for a particular need. Nor is prayer something we engage in only when we are experiencing an emergency. On the contrary, we are called to pray day and night without ceasing  (2 Timothy 1:3). We are exhorted to rejoice always as we pray without ceasing, and in everything we are to give thanks, because that is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us (I Thessalonians 5:15-18).

Over the years, my husband and I have learned the importance and tremendous value in spending time in prayer and reading and studying the Bible. We both view God as our loving and caring Father who is always available and listening, so it only seems natural to converse with Him as with a friend. 

Most of us don't categorize prayer, but here are a few of the different kinds of prayer that we should implement to insure that our prayers are heard:
1. Prayer of Agreement
In Matthew 18:19, Jesus introduced the prayer of agreement and said that if two agree in prayer on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by His Father in heaven. Not only must our agreement always align with God and His Word, but we must be in agreement with the person who joins us in prayer. For example, if we are praying for healing, then the person who is praying with us must also believe in healing. Otherwise, there is no agreement.
2. Prayer of Faith
God calls us to pray in faith and not doubt. Jesus said whatever things we ask when we pray, if we believe that we receive them, we will have them. (Mark 11:24). However, we cannot assume that the answer will come quickly. The promise is that we will have them...in His time.
3. Prayer of Praise, Worship, and Thanksgiving
God said that He formed us for Himself that we might declare His praises (Hebrews 13:15). Therefore, we are called to continually praise Him and give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever (I Chronicles 15:34 NIV). Apart from Him, we have no good thing (Psalm 16:2). In all circumstances, we are to give thanks, for He has the power to take any negative situation and turn it around for our good (I Thessalonians 5:8 NIV).
4. Prayer of Intercession
We intercede in prayer on behalf of family, friends, our nation, the government, the lost, and ourselves. We pray for people that request prayer, and we pray for those who don't ask for prayer. We pray when and where we see a need.
5. Prayer of Surrender
We are to emulate Jesus, who in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in agony of Spirit, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42. The key to effective prayer is surrendering our will to God and trusting that He will do the best for us.
6. Prayer for Humility 
We approach God with humility, for God tells us that our sacrifice to Him is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humbled heart (Psalm 51:17). We are not to pray out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility we seek His will, for humility births wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).
7. Prayer of Forgiveness
The most important prayer is the prayer of forgiveness. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He taught the disciples the Lord's Prayer and then followed it with this powerful statement regarding forgiveness. "If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15). God will not answer our prayers when we hold unforgiveness and bitterness in our heart towards another. The only way to rid ourselves of bitterness and unforgiveness is do what Jesus commanded, "...pray for those who persecute you..." (Matthew 5:44-45). 

God's timing for answered prayer can take seconds, minutes, days, months and even years. However, faith says that no matter the length of time or what we experience with our physical senses, we must be persistent in our prayers and know that God is working all things together for our good. We must never give up. That day will surely come when the door opens and we receive the answer that has been tailored to our specific needs and to the needs of those for whom we have prayed.

PRAYER:
LORD, Your disciples had asked to be taught how to pray. Although they prayed daily and in the synagogue, they sensed a power in Jesus' prayers that they had not yet experienced until they were later filled with the Holy Spirit. Fill me with Your Spirit and teach me to pray persistent prayers that will move mountains and shake the kingdom of darkness from it moorings. Help me to trust You and surrender all that I am to You and Your loving care. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.





Monday, October 24, 2016

HIS DELAY IS HIS GIFT

My husband and I have come to appreciate and understand God's delay in answering prayer. We have learned over the years that His delay is not His denial. In fact, it has been our experience that His delay is His gift to us...if we don't interfere.

We had lived in Florida for 20 years when we felt God leading us to purchase a lot. To clarify, God led us to only buy a lot. However, we wrongly assumed the reason for its purchase.

In the Spring of 2002, a very beautiful and affordable piece of prime property became available in the neighborhood where we had wanted to live. We purchased the lot, with the intention of building our "forever" home. The next logical step was to sell our home, so without seeking God's direction, we immediately put our home on the market. After sitting on the market with no offers, we became discouraged, disappointed, and perplexed as to why God hadn't helped us sell our home. In frustration, we pulled the house from the market in the Spring of 2003 and sold the lot (at a loss). We took the loss, because we were afraid of being straddled with a property that required indefinate monthly HOA fees and yearly taxes. Unfortunately, we didn't understand the importance of God's timing. No matter how hard we may try, God cannot be manipulated, but we can manipulate ourselves out of His blessings.

The day after Christmas of 2004, my husband's company offered him a transfer to Tennessee and after praying, we accepted the transfer and moving package. At the same time, the land and housing markets had taken off like a rocket. We quickly realized God's reason for delaying the selling of our home: God, who is omniscient, had plans for us to move to Tennessee. He knew what the market would bear between late 2004-2005.  He knew that a buyer would come just three days after putting the house on the market with an offer that was almost three times over the original asking price. And He knew the lot would profit us three times it's original value...had we not sold it.

God's timing is never our timing and His intentions differ from ours. He knows the future, so when He gives us instructions, we cannot interpret those instructions according to our human reasoning or understanding. We must believe that He is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us (Ephesians 3:20 NLV). His thoughts and ways are so far above ours, that we cannot presume to know His plans. Our job is to trust Him.

We had assumed that God directed us to buy the lot to build on. However, we learned an expensive lesson (after the fact), that God intended the lot to be an investment only. Had we kept the lot and trusted in the Lord with all our heart and leaned not on our own limited understanding, our path would have been straight and prosperous (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The people who had purchased the lot from us in the Spring of 2003, bought it for speculation. So when the market soared in the Fall of 2004, there were bidding wars for houses and land. Had we waited on God, the huge profit from the sale of our home, combined with the profit from the lot that had tripled in value, would have made our new Tennessee home, mortgage free! God had made that wonderful provision for us, so we could be debt free. Unfortunately, we allowed fear and doubt to manipulate us to prematurely sell the lot, resulting in a missed blessing.

God always wants the very best for us, because He has great plans for our future. We have since discovered that it is unwise to force things to happen according to our plans and limited human reasoning. Therefore, to receive His best, we make every effort to cooperate with Him by walking in faith...one step and one day at a time. That requires praying about how and when to carry out His instructions. God will always direct us, when we are open to His leadership and His will.

We learned an invaluable lesson from that experience. If doubt, fear, and questions arise, then it's time to stop, pray, seek God, and wait for His instructions.

Why does God delay in answering prayers? He wants to develop faith, trust, patience, perseverance, and character in His people. We had become discouraged and upset with God. Instead of praying and seeking His will, we moved in haste and sold property that He had told us to buy. The fact that He told us to buy the lot should have been the first clue not to sell without His instructions. 

When God leads us to do something, it is for our benefit. We can't second-guess Him; we must remain obedient and prayerful or suffer consequences of choices made apart from His will. Our decision cost us financially, and we were painfully reminded of that fact each month we paid the mortgage.

God's desire is to bless us and not rob us. We do a pretty good job of robbing ourselves of His blessings, because of our inability to wait upon Him and His timing. However, our wait is not without purpose. He does hear our prayers, so we need to wait for the answer with expectancy for the unexpected. If we are expecting a certain answer, then we might be disappointed. Remember that God’s riches are so great! The things He knows and His wisdom are so deep! No one can understand His thoughts or His ways (Romans 11:33 NLV).

My husband and I have learned that when we are at a crossroads and don't know which direction to take, we ask: "Do we really want God's will and purpose in this situation?" Since this happened, the answer is always "yes". We know that we must place our trust in Him and not in our inadequate and limited understanding of the circumstances and what He wants to accomplish in us and for us. Faith doesn't require or demand having the whole picture. Faith is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Anger and frustration will only misdirect our attention away from God and to ourselves. When answers appear to be allusive, God is working patience, trust, hope, and faith in us. This is not the time to do our own thing, because it will result in disappointment and loss.  Instead, we must be steadfast in prayer, always giving thanks to the Lord for what He has already accomplished in our life. So the next time there is a temptation to be discouraged, disappointed, or upset with God, because He has not answered a prayer in a timely fashion, remember that His delay is His gift to you.

PRAYER:
Lord, there are times when it is so difficult to let go of what I want. I ask that You Help me to trust You. Give me faith and strength to surrender my plans and my will to You, with the expectation that in Your perfect timing, You will bring about the best outcome for my life. Amen.

Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always.

(I Chronicles 16:11)

Monday, October 17, 2016

THE FIVE D'S

Let us choose for ourselves what is right;
Let us know among ourselves what is good.
(Job 34:4 NIV)

We are presented with a myriad of choices each day, but our greatest choice is whether we will serve God and His values, or will we embrace the distorted values of this world. The prophet Elijah went before the people of Israel and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing (I Kings 18:21NIV). Satan, who is the god of this world, blinds the minds of those who won’t follow God (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel and summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials and told them that if serving the Lord was undesirable to them, then they needed to choose whom they would serve. He then added, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Our world is in flux, so the choices we make are critically important to our future, the future of our children, and future generations. God is calling His Church to make prayerful choices that reflect the values found in God's Word, because the world's values will always contradict God and His Word and what He would have for us. 

There are five snares of the enemy, which I call the Five "Ds," that are used to divert us from God's truth. These snares have a major impact in choosing whom and what we serve and believe. They can potentially prevent us from moving forward and can close doors to God's promise to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Those snares are Deception, Doubt, Denial, Disobedience, and Discouragement. As you know, a "D" on the grading scale is too close to failure, and failure to thrive and survive is exactly what the enemy would have for us.

"Deception " is fraud, deceit, pretense, lying and crookedness. Just as Adam and Eve were deceived, the enemy continues to deceive God's people in accepting a lie instead of the truth. In today's world, evil is called good and good is called evil. For that reason, we must pray as Solomon did for the ability to discern between good and evil (I Kings 3:9). If Adam and Eve could have been so easily deceived, then it stands to reason that we too can be deceived. For deception is no respecter of persons. It entices and whispers thoughts that persuade, manipulate, and challenge God and His Word, thereby creating doubts. 

"Doubt" is defined as uncertainty, hesitation, suspicion, vacillation, and lack of conviction. Without a strong conviction in our beliefs, room is made for doubt, which then causes a person to vacillate between two opinions.

The Apostle Paul urged us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind in Christ. Only then are we able to test and approve what God’s will is in all aspects of our lives (Romans 12:1-2). Knowing and believing God's Word is to know His will in the choices we make. Doubt bypasses God's will and His Word.

Doubt opposes faith and God's will, because unbelief and doubt come from a root of fear. Fear motivates us in taking the wrong path and making wrong choices. Rash decisions arise out of fear of losing something or missing an opportunity. Rather than making decisions that align with God's Word, many decisions are emotionally driven and are too often based on false information and assumptions. However, our choices must be weighed against God's Word. If we try to figure things out in the natural, we often miss God's will.

The Word tells us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). For His ways and thoughts are far above ours. In all our ways we are to acknowledge Him, then He will give us a straight and clear path (Proverbs 3:6). Conversely, doubt destroys trust. It questions, scrutinizes, and analyzes. It is suspicious, and causes one to vacillate between two opinions. But God's Word is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89). His Word is right and true (Proverbs 33:44). It is a trusted litmus test against worldviews that cleverly deceive with untruths. Unless we know the Word of God, we blindly accept false narratives, which create doubt, unbelief, frustration, and denial.

"Denial" is when a person is faced with a fact too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it, while insisting that it's not true despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Denial always contradicts the truth. Denial knocks on the door of our heart to work against the power of God. However, if we are praying and listening for God's direction, we will see His hand moving and will be able to accept His truth over the world's version of truth. If we are in denial, we are settled in disobedience.

"Disobedience" is a failure to obey rules or someone in authority. God has called us to obey His Word and His authority. Those who refuse to do so are disobedient. It is important not to walk in disobedience, because God tells us that in His eyes, disobedience is rebellion and rebellion is the sin of witchcraft (I Samuel 15:33). Therefore, if we choose to disobey God and take matters into our own hands, we make ourselves "god" of our life. That is what Satan did. His pride took control and caused his fall from heaven, along with the angels who followed him. Those fallen angels (demons) do Satan's bidding and move back and forth across the earth to deceive and destroy.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9) Because the heart can so easily be manipulated and deceived, God calls us to seek wisdom and knowledge from Him, for "blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding (Proverbs 3:13). The sure fact about disobedience is that it never results in a good outcome. And where there is a poor outcome there is heartbreak and discouragement.

"Discouragement" is defined as a loss of confidence or enthusiasm for something or someone. We all become discouraged for different reasons. It would be idealistic to think that we can avoid discouragement. However, the antidote is to obey God and be daily encouraged in His Word and in prayer.

God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He knows what lies ahead of us, and with our cooperation, we can reap the blessings if we trust Him. That's why we are told to wait upon the Lord. When we do, our strength is renewed and we do not become weary, worried, and fearful (Isaiah 40:31).

How do we know that we are making right choices? First, have we prayed about that decision? Does that decision or choice align with God's Word? Have we checked our motives and given our desires to God in prayer. Do we have a peace about our decision, or are we feeling anxious and unsure? Is fear the motivating factor in our choice? God's Word tells us that He has not given us a spirit of fear but He has given us a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). When God leads us, we have peace in our choice.

Humans struggle with trust; therefore trusting God, whom we cannot see, is not always easy when we are making choices. That is where faith steps in, believing that God will lead, guide, protect, and provide.

Trust develops, day by day from a growing relationship with God who is The Chief Architect of our lives. He drew the plans before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5). Because God is perfect, He created the perfect architectural design for each person with the purpose of seeing a completed and beautiful product at the end. Only our poor choices can prevent those plans from reaching completion. I have learned that there must be a prayerful weighing of the facts before making decisions, because every choice, every decision affects our future. Fortunately, God is patient with us and though we make mistakes and wrong choices, repairs can be made when we acknowledge those mistakes and turn to Him. It is never too late with God.

PRAYER:
Lord, I confess that I have made some bad choices. Some have been from personal desires, some out of fear, some from my failure to trust You, and some because I doubted and was discouraged. Forgive me, Lord. I ask that from this day forward, You, who are the Chief Architect of my life, would help me become Your finished product. Help me to seek You first in every decision, so that my choices are not based on man's opinion, but are based on Your Word, Your will, Your divine guidance, and Your sovereign purposes. Amen.

*(Every prayer that I write at the end of each blog is one that I pray.)