Meditations

A Life of Prayer

life_as_prayerIt was about the middle of the night while still preparing for my message, when we received a text message from  the Deboma family in Zambales requesting for an urgent prayer for Juan Miguel. Apparently, Miguel (the 2nd of three Deboma siblings) is suffering from stomach ache since coming home from school that afternoon and it was already late at night and the pain has not subsided and even became more unbearable.   So I requested Ann (the mother) if I could speak with Miguel and I asked him if it was really painful and he replied, yes. While we are praying over the phone, I can hear from the background, Miguel uttering, “aray ko po”, “aray ko po!”. I couldn’t help but pity the young boy, who, when not sick would play silently and all alone, as if he has his own world, and satisfied with whatever things he finds to play with.

Thirty minutes or one hour after we prayed, they sent a text message that Miguel was already sleeping soundly.

That was a prayer, and my message for today will be about Prayer.

Prayer, more than anything else (we would all agree), is the true test of one’s devotion and intimacy with God.   Prayer to a Christian is like breathing. It should be as natural as breathing.  We can in fact say that one cannot be called a “true- blue” Christian, (or one cannot experience what true Christianity really is all about) if he or she does not know how to pray.

Prayer is as essential and as basic as life itself to a Christian.  One cannot be called a Christian if he/she does not know how to pray to God and asked for His help in times of adversity or when faced with stressful situations.

Truth is, if you truly consider yourself a dedicated Christian, there is no need for someone (nor this sally of mine) to remind you that you ought to pray always. It is as basic as sleeping in the evening and waking up in the morning—that’s what prayer is.

But prayer is not an “all exclusive” formula. I’m saying this because there are those who think that since they know how to pray and they in always pray to God, all they have to do is to sit back and wait for an answer. But rather, prayer should be an all inclusive work, meaning, that if you want your prayer to be the most effective prayer of all, then make your life, make your work, a prayer to God. It is all inclusive—everything you do in life should be a prayer to God.

However, there are times that our prayers are not being answered.  Most of us have deep intimate prayers that are waiting to be answered, even up to now. I have my own prayer, you have your own petitions or prayer.

Bibilically speaking, I could cite at least ten hindrances to an answered prayer. These are:

1. Our prayer is not being answered because there is disregard to God’s law. You can read that in Prov 28:9. One who turns away his ear from hearing the law,Even his prayer is an abomination.

2. A lack of compassion, a lack of empathy for those who are in need. You can read that in Prov 21:13 Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.

3. Pride could be another reason. We can read that in Luke 18:9-14, Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified ratherthan the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

4. A sinful way of life, we can read that in Isa 59: 1-2,

 

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened,
That it cannot save;Nor His ear heavy,
That it cannot hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear

A way of life that is contrary to the words of God may be one reason why your prayer is not being answered.

5. Unconfessed or hidden sin. We can read that in Psalm 66:16-18

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
And I will declare what He has done for my soul.
17 I cried to Him with my mouth ,And He was extolled with my tongue.
18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, The Lord will not hear..

So it says here, if you regard iniquity in your heart, meaning, those sins that only you know, then the Lord will not hear your prayer.

6. Disobedience or being rebellious or presumptuous. We can read that in Deut 1: 43-45.

So I spoke to you; yet you would not listen, but rebelled against the command of theLord, and presumptuously went up into the mountain. 44 And the Amorites who dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah. 45 Then you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord would not listen to your voice nor give ear to you.

 

Ultimately, because of the rebellious and presumptuous attitude of the Israelites, the Lord did not listen to their prayers which resulted to their defeat from the hands of their enemy.

7. Praying with a wrong motive. In James 4:1-3.

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires forpleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet[a] you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

That is asking, praying to God with all the wrong motives in life and God so will not hear that prayer.

8. Broken relationship. Do you have a broken relationship? God will not hear your prayer. In I Peter 3:7. Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

Similarly, you can read in Matthew 5:23-24 about reconciling first to your brother before coming to God.

9. Unforgiving attitude. In Mark 11: 25. “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

We need to have that forgiving attitude. We do not need to bestow forgiveness, but we must have that attitude to forgive. Jesus Christ says, if we do not forgive neither will your Father in heaven forgive our trespasses.

10. Doubt of lack of faith. In James 1:5. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

 

A prayer that lacks the faith to do it —God will not answer. As it says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for”, so you need to have that positive assurance, for your prayer to become effective.

Going back to our question, what if, you think honestly to yourself, Oh God, I don’t see anything from the list the things that I do. Honestly and with a pure heart, I can say, I follow Your laws and commandments, I have compassion to the needy, I don’t have pride, I confess all my sins, I listen to your word, my family life is alright, I am forgiving, in fact, even if they do not yet apologize, I forgive them already. And I do not doubt you, because I believe that you will answer my prayer, etc.

And yet, you have not received answer to your prayer. You may have started thinking that since you have already waited far too long enough, there could probably no answer to your prayer.

Is this the scenario in your life, right now? Have you considered how your prayer can deeply affect your work and your ways of doing things?  You may be thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” “I already have devoted my life, service, everything to God”.

Can this really happen? Despite all of one’s dedication, still a prayer is left unanswered?

Yes—it could happen.

As I’ve said what if despite your life’s dedication, your life’s work focused on God, centered on God, God seems to be having that  deaf ear on your prayer? I know that in some point in our lives we have this similar encounter.  But why is it so?  When we are doing everything that pleases God, sometimes those who do wrong, are the ones who prosper. This is similar to one of King David’s prayers, so we felt self pity.

Do you have that unanswered prayer? Do you know the answer to your unanswered prayer?

Now, hidden in the pages of the Old Testament is one prayer that I would call is the loneliest prayer. This heartrending prayer was recorded in no less than the book of praise and thanksgiving—the book of Psalms .

Among the most powerful and uplifting psalms, we find a desperate prayer to God, and like some of our intimate prayers, there seems to be no answer to this man’s prayer. Let’s read from Psalm 88:

O Lord, God of my salvation,
I have cried out day and night before You.
2 Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
4 I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
5 Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.

6 You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah
8 You have put away my acquaintances far from me;
You have made me an abomination to them;
I am shut up, and I cannot get out;
9 My eye wastes away because of affliction.

Lord, I have called daily upon You;
I have stretched out my hands to You.
10 Will You work wonders for the dead?
Shall the dead arise and praise You? Selah
11 Shall Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave?
Or Your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
12 Shall Your wonders be known in the dark?
And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But to You I have cried out, O Lord,
And in the morning my prayer comes before You.
14 Lord, why do You cast off my soul?
Why do You hide Your face from me?
15 I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
I suffer Your terrors;
I am distraught.
16 Your fierce wrath has gone over me;
Your terrors have cut me off.
17 They came around me all day long like water;
They engulfed me altogether.
18 Loved one and friend You have put far from me,
And my acquaintances into darkness.

Notice how the prayer ends? The last word is “darkness”. Other translation renders the last verse, “Darkness is my closest friend.” This is perhaps the most unsettling, because it tells us the real hopelessness and rejection the writer felt in his life.

Marginal references of our Bible will indicate that the above prayer was written by a certain “Hemman the Ezrahite”.  From the background of his name, we can easily tell that this person was a scribe in the Temple. He’s one of the grandsons of Ezra (the Scribe), which means that like his forefathers before him, his life and work was totally dedicated to the service and ministry of God, ministering in the temple. Ezra’s family, being priests, their main tasks was the preservation of writings, history, poetry, compositions and hymns—which were all to the praises and glory of God.

But Hemman’s prayer was different, in that it was very intimate and personal, and apparently no answer was heard from God since he was a youth.  Thus he cried out, “Why do You cast off my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth...”

So if we were in Hemman’s place, some of us could easily lose out in life’s desperation and rebel against God a long time ago. Or we would have stopped writing and composing hymns for God. Because, we might think, since nothing is happening, I will just stop. I might be better off outside the temple.

According to some commentaries, Hemman was suffering from a highly contagious disease believed to be “leprosy”.  It is an incurable disease that in ancient Middle Eastern nation like Israel, to be afflicted by it was like a death sentence—you will just wait until your flesh are all eaten out to your last breath. Hence, a leprous man was treated as an outcast.

Hemman may have served in the temple, but he was an outcast while inside it. He probably lives in a separate quarter, totally isolated from the rest, to do his work. Maybe no matter how he desired to be with his friends and relatives, he cannot come near to them. Imagine the feeling of despondency in such a state. No wonder, his prayer talks so much about “pit”, “depths”, “grave”, in fact, he considered himself to be “among the dead”.

Yet, reassuringly, even without deliverance from God, his prayer will always comes out fresh as the morning:

But to You I have cried out, O Lord, And in the morning my prayer comes before You.” (verse 13)

Even with unanswered prayer, Hemman showed total dedication and devotion to God!

Can you identify with Hemman the scribe? Do you have an illness or predicament, that has been with you since your were young or say since you started having that deep commitment, surrendering your life to God? Do you still have unanswered prayers?

One thing is sure. Just like Hemman, his prayer, recorded for our lesson, we must be assured that God knows our every prayer.

But like the writer of Psalm 88, who wrestled with the question of whether or not his prayer will be ultimately answered, our work and dedication should and must always be that funnel as we continue to hope in Him.

Moreover, the Bible tells us stories of righteous individuals whose prayers didn’t seem to work for them. David prayed, fasted for his sick son but nonetheless, his son died.(read the story in 2 Sam 12)

Job, so called the most righteous person in “the East” cried out to God, and in the midst of his suffering, came to that point where he felt abandoned (Job 30:20).

So these are pleadings of help, desperate prayers that need desperate answers, but no immediate answer or help came.

In the New Testament, we have the case of the apostle Paul who three times he pleaded to God to remove a kind of “thorn in the flesh”, yet the thorn remained, and that made him even “stronger” in the midst of weakness (2 Cor. 12).

Other innocent people like Stephen, most of the prophets, God-chosen servants, cried for help, but some of their prayers, were not answered.

These were not ungodly people but righteous people. However, their prayers were not answered.

Why do you think some prayer are left unanswered?

How can we reconcile this with reassuring verses like James 5:16 The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

And Jesus’ own words in Mark 11 verse 24, Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them”.

How do we deal with unanswered prayer?

If you still have those unanswered prayers, will you conclude, just like an atheists would do, that “there is no God after all, there is no one to pray to!”. Or, will you now resign yourself to believe in a God that created the world but “left it to spin on its own”, believing that maybe God has no interest in our personal lives, just like the deists would think? Will you now subscribe to the agnostics’ idea that “God is a powerless god, who cannot deliver us from all our troubles”?

On the other hand, there are those who believe in a God that is like their “mama” or “papa”. Have you heard of people calling their God “mama Mary” or “papa God”? The implication is that their mama or papa always delivers or provides their every wish and prayer. Or others think their God is like “Santa Claus” who would lavishly give in to their every whims and desires.  Some would equate their prayer to be like Alladin’s enchantment, “your wish is my command”, as if God is like a genie.

Nonetheless, these are not the true God. God is no spoiler and his ways are always perfect.

Psalm 37:4 could just be that good starting point, whether or not our prayer will be ultimately answered.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart”.

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus uttered in a similar vein when He said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”.

Understanding these verses to its very essense, we can be assured that it is always God, not us, not our will but God’s will that operates in His perfect timing.

So in our most intimate prayers, we trust God in His perfect will. In the model prayer, Jesus taught us this perfectly.

In  Matthew 6:9-10, Jesus Christ instructed us in this manner:

“Our Father in heaven,Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven”.

Assurances to our Prayer

Our prayer must always be subject to God’s perfect will, not our will, if we want answers and assurance to our prayer. Surrender your prayer to God’s will AND you will receive the answer. Just as Jesus Christ says,” let this cup pass from me …not as I will but as You will”. That is the secret as to how we wait for God’s answer.

Sometimes, trouble comes if we impose our own will.  If we are stubborn, pain, suffering, and illness set in. Desperate prayer resorting to desperate solution is not correct in God’s eyes.

God’s will is not our wishing well. Notice that in shopping malls nowadays, every time there is a fountain, a lot coins were thrown. People make the fountains their “wishing wells”.

Nor does God operate on our wish list in life. Next week, people will be celebrating the Chinese new year. You won’t see anything on television but Chinese astrologers/feng sui experts advising people to buy and arrange things in order to be lucky. A lot of people succumb to buying and wearing things so that their prayers will be answered. That is the tendency of the people who do not know the true God. They will resort to anything and everything under the sun to tie it up with their prayers.

Even prayers with the best intentions and motives may not bring about the best result. Sometimes, we have an honest and very good intention. It is a good thing that we have our All-knowing God, who, with all His wisdom, and with all His foresight, does not answer our prayer. As it is said, “be careful with what your pray”, if it is given, we don’t know how to use it properly. We must be assured that there is a God who knows when and how to answer our prayer.

That’s the first rule, our prayer must be subject to God’s will.

Second, we must realize that there are times when the best answer is NO. This does not mean of course that we asked a very selfish prayer with a wrong motive. God operates through His overflowing love and wisdom with our life and with our concern.

In the end, you may realize that a “no” as an answer to your prayer brings about life being much better. There are those unanswered prayers that in the end, you thanked God that He didn’t answer them the way you wanted to. God knows what’s the best answer. And sometimes the answer is “no”. Sometimes a no answer to our prayer makes us stronger in the end.

Third, more often than not, God’s answer is not a yes, or no. Either you can wait or you can go with your prayer. Sometimes we must realize that another possible answer to our prayer lies within ourselves.

As an illustration, a story is told about a very compassionate young woman who grew up in England. When she went to India for a vacation, she saw the harsh condition of the people she encountered. Lack of food, impoverished family and children living on a squalor, sickness and diseases rampant in the community with no help. So one night witnessing all these, she prayed, “Lord, why won’t you send some help to my people, they needed someone to care for them and I can see that there is no one helping.”  She waited and waited long enough until she realized the answer to her prayer, as she was now deep into caring and put up her own orphanage houses –“I sent you there. You have that care and passion to help, do it for your people.”  Later on, she understood that the answer to her prayer is herself doing the work.

Sometimes the answer to our prayer is simply there, waiting for us to do our part. So we need to check ourselves. Our action may be God’s reply to our prayer. God also wants us to be part of the answer to our prayer.

In 1 John 5:14-15,- Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him”.

If our prayer or longing is according to God’s will, God will finally hear your prayer.

In I John 3:22"And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight”.

So the operative here is DO, we need to do those things that are pleasing in God’s sight. Not wait, not seek, not find but sometimes do those things that are pleasing in the sight of God.

Finally, in 1 Pet 4:7,10-11, But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

As we pray to God, let us not make it a habitual or mindless prayer, we need to be watchful and doing in our prayer. Our prayer has their greatest work in our life when we do them. Hence the best assurance for an answered prayer is when you make your life and your work, a prayer to God.

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Transcribed and excerpted from a Sabbath message by Vivian Hipe; Photos by Jon Cardona/Raul Hipe 

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