Nehemiah 1:11 – “Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
Nehemiah 2:4 – The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven
The scripture encourages us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) but what does that really mean? Surely Paul can’t mean that the church at Thessalonica is supposed to always be praying.. can he? As it turns out, that’s exactly what he means. The Greek word used for “without ceasing” is adialeiptōs which Strong’s Concordance defines as “incessantly”. Don’t you love when the translation of a word is another word that requires a Google search for context? Maybe that’s just me. Incessantly is defined by “without interruption”. The Message simply translate 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray all the time”.
So why is today’s focal verse Nehemiah 1:11 and Nehemiah 2:4 if I’ve focused so much on 1 Thessalonians 5:17? Because this is a perfect, real example of this direction in action. The Art of Real Time Prayer simply refers to the behavior we learn as we mature in the Christian faith of praying and seeking God’s guidance throughout our day. Getting ready for an important meeting at work? Pray. Getting ready to wake the kids up for school? Pray. Having a heated moment of conversation with your spouse? Pray. Learning to seek God’s guidance and obeying Him when He speaks is important.
I once heard of a man who literally prayed over every decision of every day. What should he eat? What should he wear? Where should he sit in the restaurant? All decisions that have to be made but probably don’t require the type of prayer we are talking about. Burger King or McDonalds? Chances are likely God doesn’t care (not like my wife, He really doesn’t care). Should you share the Gospel with the restaurant employee who struck up a conversation with you? Pray (but the answer will almost always be a resounding “yes”).
In today’s focal Scripture we see Nehemiah who was in exile in Persia. The Jews had been taken into captivity and now lived in a foreign land because of their rebellion against God. Nehemiah was getting ready to have one of the most important conversations of his life, and with the earthly king of the Persian empire no less. Although Nehemiah had been praying for weeks, we see the Art of Real Time Prayer come in to play when Nehemiah says that he “prayed to the God of heaven”.
The challenge for today’s devotion is not only make specific, dedicated, daily prayer time where we seek God’s will for our lives but also praying real time. It isn’t either/or, but both and. We should be praying daily for our day and then throughout the day for God’s guidance. We must learn to seek God’s will throughout the day and obey Him when He speaks. Learning the Art of Real Time Prayer can help us be a more Christ honoring spouse, parent, friend, worker, and neighbor. As you prepare to pray today, I wonder: how many times are you seeking God’s will throughout the day? How many wrong choices could have been avoided if you’d spent just an extra moment to seek God’s will before you spoke or reacted? Confess that to Him today and ask Him to aide you in this learned behavior of “praying without ceasing”.
Father, we confess that sometimes we wait to seek Your will until it’s too late. Lord, we say or do things before asking for Your directive and it can end poorly. Help us to learn how to pray without ceasing. Help us learn the Art of Real Time Prayer in which we communicate with You throughout our day. Lord, we know our lives will be richer, more abundant when we seek and obey Your will throughout our day. Lord, please help us know when to pray, when to act, what to say, and how to react when You speak. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Mark 1:35 — Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
I am still amazed at the thought of Jesus praying. As fully God, he has no unmet needs (see Devotion – Day 1…The Why of Prayer? — we need God). But as fully human, he has the same needs that we do…food, water, shelter, rest, God…I guess it makes it all the more profound just how much this human flesh prevents connection with our holy Father God. So when Jesus prays, it may be helpful to go about it the way that he does and to pray for the things he prays for.
Today’s Scripture reading points out that Jesus got up very early (while it was still dark) in the morning to pray. Oh, I can hear the great groan of the masses as they read that last line!!! I know for many of you morning doesn’t start till 10am!! (Or certainly not before coffee!!) And believe me, your body will object to this disturbance…but remember what we said about fasting…“our physical bodies cannot help us overcome a spiritual struggle.” Many of you have told me (and I’ve said it too), “if I get up early to pray or read my Bible I just fall asleep.” You’re in good company (or bad, depending on how you look at it), because when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he is praying so intensely that sweat drops (like drops of blood) are falling off of him (and his disciples are supposed to be praying too) — But we find out, “When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’” (Luke 22:45-46)
I know it’s hard to pray early in the morning…believe me, I know. Nevertheless, there is something quite powerful about starting your day with prayer. It does several things:
It gives the First Fruit of your time to God. — Now some of you will say, “the morning hours are not the best part of me or my time.” That may be true. But it is certainly not the leftover of what you have either. It is acknowledging God with the first words you have in the morning. It is putting Him in mind as your very first thoughts. It reminds you to not forget Him all day and then suddenly say, “Oh yes, I almost forgot! Maybe I should thank God for my food, or ask God to help me in this situation now that I’ve worked my way into trouble!” It also sets the stage for speaking to your wife, your children, your coworkers, your boss…whoever you come into contact with — you are ready to speak with a mouth sanctified by communication with a holy God. It’s a lot harder to cuss at someone after you’ve just spoken with God (or it should be, at least).
It shows your body who’s boss. — Your body will fight back in innumerable ways, aches, pains, hunger, nausea, tiredness, weakness — and let’s be honest, most of the time it wins (it gets what it wants, sleep, food, medicine, etc.)…this is one way you can gain some victory over your body. You tell your body, “I don’t care if you’re tired…man up/woman up!” I’m calling the shots because the Holy Spirit has given me, not a Spirit of fear but a Spirit of Power and of Love and of Self-Control! When you weaken the flesh, the Spirit increases! When you deny the body sleep, it will be weaker and you will be tired — but your Spirit will be stronger and stronger!
It helps drown out distraction. — Distraction is the enemy. Satan may not be able to steal everything from us, but if he can distract us he can steal our time. If he can distract us, he can steal our focus. If he can distract us, he can steal our joy. Our verse says that Jesus went to a “solitary place.” Away from kids, spouse, work, hobbies, tv, cell phone, computer…the list starts to get big doesn’t it? Can you find solitude in the middle of the day? At the end? While you’re working? While you’re cleaning the house or fixing dinner? Maybe, and if you can great…but Jesus found solitude at the beginning of the day…before most anyone else was awake…while it was still dark. Because it is hard to fight distraction in all its forms throughout a 24-hour day that never stops. Sometimes you have to fight the fight on ground that already gives you an advantage. At least the kids are asleep. At least my phone is not ringing non-stop. At least I don’t have to be at work in 10 minutes and I’m late and I’m in a hurry and I need to…get on high ground to fight this battle against distraction, where you have at least a couple of advantages to start with. Find a solitary place.
When Jesus prays, he does so very early in the morning, in a solitary place.
Father God, thank You for Your Son Jesus. Thank You for the example He set for us in all things, but particularly in prayer. Help us to be more like Him in all things and in all ways. Help us to engage in prayer the way He did. Help us to fight off the pull of our bodies — your Son understands just how hard it is to resist the pull of our bodies toward temptation and sin. Thank You that we have victory over sin, death, and our bodies through the blood of Jesus. Thank You that we can be victorious over our sinful flesh…help us have more victories than defeats. But even if we do not have more success than failure, help us rest in Your grace and mercy that covers our sin and defeats even our failures. I love You, Father. And I ask for a restoration (or a new beginning) of the solitude and fellowship of early morning prayer with You for each end every one of my brothers and sisters (and for myself as well) in the Name above all names, in the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Luke 18:1 – Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
I have the cure for whatever your facing. Not really but pretend with me a minute. Is it some cruel disease like cancer? I have the cure. Are you trying to quit smoking or drinking? I have a solution that works 100% of the time. Is your marriage falling part? I have the advice that is going to change it all. Now that you know… are you going to come ask me to share it with you? Of course you are. What if I say no? No I won’t share it with you. Are you going to give up that easily? I didn’t think so.
Before we move on in today’s devotion, remember what we’ve already said: God is not some cosmic genie that responds to our every beckon and call. Sometimes God’s answer is no, even to our most desperate prayers. But the question for today is: do you give up in prayer too quickly? Do you pray half-hearted prayers never really believing that God would answer your request even know He could? Sometimes do you believe that God couldn’t even answer your prayer if He wanted to? Where is your persistence in prayer? Where is your faith?
In today’s focal Scripture we see that Jesus is telling His disciples a story. The purpose of His story is laid out in our verse: “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” I encourage you strongly to open your Bible to Luke chapter 18 and find this parable because it’s powerful. To summarize, we should persistently seek God in our prayers and not give up. Pray like your life depended on it. If God doesn’t answer right away… keep praying. Pray until God answers clearly and then trust Him through the answer.
I’ve said it before but prayer really changes our heart when we seek God’s will in it. I can remember for years praying about something I thought I desperately needed in my life. I prayed and prayed, ultimately God never answered that prayer in the way I thought He should. Fast forward and eventually the prayer I prayed had been answered in a very real and different way. Through the answer to my prayer when I finally had what I thought I desperately needed, I found that what I thought I needed was never really what God knew I needed.
Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees; have you ever experienced that? As you prepare to pray today, I encourage you to start by asking God to reveal to you your heart. Ask God to search you and reveal the truth about what you’re praying for (Psalm 139:23-24). As it turns out, the prayer I desperately prayed was because I had totally misunderstood (or resisted) what God’s Word had to say concerning who I was supposed to be as a husband. Meditate on these two thoughts as you prepare to pray today: are you giving up too easy in prayer? If God answered your prayer, would it really be game changer you think it would be? Ask Him to reveal the truth and change your heart through it.
Father, I confess sometimes I give up too easily in prayer. Through a mixture of doubt, frustration, despair, and hopelessness, I get discouraged and stop praying before You’ve ever answered. Lord, help me to persistently seek You and to continue seeking You until You give me a clear answer. Once You’ve answered Father, help me accept that Your way is always the best way. Please encourage me when I’m disheartened and discouraged. Please fill me with Your presence and strength, in Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
1 Samuel 1:10 – In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.
Chances are likely that if you’ve been alive long, you’ve prayed prayers of “deep anguish”. It’s interesting that in times of intense hurt that both those who trust in Christ and those who don’t even believe in God both pray desperate prayers. As the old saying goes: there are no atheist in foxholes. Webster defines anguish as: extreme pain, distress, or anxiety. Have you ever prayed in “deep” anxiety or pain?
Sometimes in the midst of great grief or suffering, God can feel far away. Sometimes God can appear silent or even worse, apathetic or uncaring to our prayers. The enemy fills our heads with lies and questions God’s goodness, so we begin to wonder. If we are being honest, each one of us have had a crisis of faith or will have at some point during our life. But as David so beautifully observed: we can’t escape God’s love (Psalm 139:7-12). Sometimes for me personally, it can seem as if Satan is relentlessly trying to bring every truth of God’s Word into question. Time and time again God reminds me: His Word is true, even when it doesn’t “feel” like it.
Today we see a desperate prayer of Hannah. A barren woman who was loved by her husband but unable to conceive a child. This woman comes before God and prays, weeps, and pleads with God to intercede. I imagine her prayer in “dep anguish” didn’t just come out of one painful experience. She and her husband must have tried to conceive time and time again and she was unable to carry a child. Hannah knew what everyone of us will learn: God is the only one who can answer our most desperate prayers.
Perhaps you’re like Hannah and you’ve been praying in deep anguish. Maybe you’ve prayed for mercy and that God would spare someone’s life. Maybe you’ve prayed a child might be delivered from a drug addiction. Maybe you’ve prayed for a job. Maybe you’ve prayed for a better marriage. Whatever you’ve been pleading with God about, sometimes it can seem like He isn’t listening or even aware of your suffering. I promise He is. One thing I’ve learned over the course of the 9 years I’ve been following the Lord is: I can trust Him even when I don’t “feel” Him. He will keep His promises.
Today as you prepare to pray, I wonder: has the enemy convinced you that God doesn’t care? Has doubt began to creep in and the anguish has become deep? Is your heart heavy under the stress and pain with whatever your dealing with? Begin your prayer here today. Just as Hannah said concerning her prayer, let us seek to do today: “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:15). Come before God in humble honesty and pour out your soul to Him. No matter what the enemy or anyone else has said let us: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1 NIV).
Father, help us come before you in total honesty and submission today. Lord, let us leave our religious views of prayer at the door and instead come seeking Your faithful love. Our hearts cry out before You knowing that You and You alone are the Author and Sustainer of our faith. Jesus our hearts cry out for Your promises to fill us with joy. We confess every moment of doubt, every painful heartache, and every fear that has crept into our minds. Lord, we know that you are faithful and we can come to You in our desperation, You alone will give us rest. We thank you for Your unfailing promises and the love that You show us. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Matthew 17:21 — “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Jesus is once again ministering to the crowds in Matthew 17, when a man comes and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. He pleads with Jesus asking him to cast a demon out of his son. This demon had often caused his son to have seizures that threw him into both fire and water. His life was in danger. The man had asked Jesus’ disciples to cast out this demon but they could not. Jesus’ response was rather interesting:
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” (Matthew 17:17)
Unbelieving? Perverse? How long will I put up (literally: endure, bear with, suffer, have patience with) with you? A little harsh don’t you think? Seems like the tolerant, loving, patient Jesus took the day off! Maybe it doesn’t make a lot of sense right away, but you must consider what experience this came on the heels of…Peter, James and John had just witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus, seeing Moses and Elijah communing with Jesus! The very voice of God spoke and they heard it! You may say, “well and good, but not all of the apostles were privileged to witness this.” You are correct, however they did witness Jesus feed 5,000 and 4,000 people. They saw Jesus walk on water (along with Peter) and watched him calm a storm at sea. They saw him restore sight to the blind, heal the lame and paralyzed, cast out demons – multiple times, even raise a young girl from the dead!
In John 10:1, Jesus had sent out the twelve to the lost sheep of Israel, but before he did he “gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” Jesus had already given them the authority and power he possessed to accomplish the task! So, on the heals of a few successful exorcisms and healings, the disciples’ question was understandable: “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus replied simply, “Because you have so little faith.” and “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Faith is spiritual. Unbelief/doubt is carnal, it’s physical, it’s worldly. If we have little faith, it is because our bodies have become “fat” off of things of this earth…we are feeding ourselves: too much food, too much wealth, to many toys, etc. But when our faith increases, it is because we have weakened the flesh by denying ourselves physical things that will hinder our spiritual growth and fed ourselves on God’s Word, on prayer, on praise. When we have fasted and then pray… demons beware! — fasting brings power.
Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I have little faith just like the disciples. Thank You for Your instruction to them and to me. Lord, I believe that our wants are in alignment on this — I want demons to flee and no longer plague the people of this earth. Help me to be ready to cast out demons and continue Your work until You come back for Your people. Lord, fasting is difficult and my body resists when I seek to weaken it. Help me to discipline my body and to find power through fasting and prayer. Thank you for hearing my prayer and answering. I love you, Lord. Amen.
Exodus 20:7 — “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
The third commandment handed down at Mount Sinai — Do not misuse (or take in vain) the name of the Lord your God. As Daniel encouraged us to pray in Jesus’ Name, how do we keep from “misusing the name of the Lord?”
I remember Francis Chan saying one time that he had learned a prayer in Chinese that his family would say before every meal. It was kind of a sing-song prayer, much like the prayers we teach our children before bedtime (Now I lay me down to sleep…). He said that even as an adult and being away from home for years he found it very hard to not pray that same prayer because it had become so much a habit that he often could do it “without thinking.”
The danger of ending all our prayers with “in Jesus’ Name, amen,” is that it becomes a thoughtless tag line done out of ritual and tradition rather than out of conviction and faith. If you go back through the devotionals you will see that none of my prayers ended with this tagline…that was very much deliberate. It was to show you the same thing we find in the New Testament — none of the New Testament writers’ prayers ended with “in Jesus’ Name, amen.” Paul’s great prayer for the Ephesians (3:14-21) does not carry this tagline. Paul’s prayer in his letter to Jude (1:24-25) does not contain this line. Even when Jesus teaches the disciples to pray (the Lord’s prayer: Matthew 6:9-13) he does not conclude with “in My Name, amen!.”
Am I saying not to end your prayers this way, or that if you have you are wrong…absolutely not! I have ended many of my prayers this way and will most likely continue to. I simply present a loving but firm warning: a danger exists any time we turn something spiritual into a mindless, mechanical activity, we are in danger of misusing the Name of Jesus, our Lord. I am not wagging my finger, I am humbly asking you my brothers and sisters, to simply think about why and when you are using this precious phrase, “in Jesus’ Name, amen.” Because the second half of that verse should bring us a sobering reality: “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
Father God, I thank You for giving us Your Name. I thank You that Your Name is powerful. I thank You that Your Name is awesome. I thank You that we can call upon Your Name and be saved. Please forgive us when we have misused Your Name. Please forgive us when we have mindlessly uttered prayers without believing that You are God and that You will answer. Today we commit to You that we will pray prayers that are in alignment with Your Word. We will trust the promises that You have given us. Today, in the Name of Jesus, we ask that You would help us to keep these commitments. Today, we say that we believe in You, but in the Name of Jesus, please help our unbelief. We love You Lord, and we give You thanks and praise for all Your many blessings. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” And all God’s people said: Amen.
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)
In yesterday’s devotion we took a hard look at false teachings that attack our Biblical understanding of prayer. One false teaching we looked at was the “name it and claim it” delusion. In this we discussed the fact that God isn’t some cosmic genie that responds to our every beckon and call. But there is one very real, powerful truth we should remember in prayer: there is power in the name of Jesus. Claiming the pure promises of Scripture is not only Biblical, it is a great way to drive away the lies of our enemy.
You’ve often heard it in church or as others pray, we end by praying in “Jesus’ name”. Why do we end our prayers this way? In short, it brings glory to God through His Son Jesus. Our prayers alone are not powerful. Reciting God’s promises alone don’t have a supernatural affect. Praying in faith, trusting God’s will, through Jesus, and claiming the promises of God shake the very gates of hell. Plainly, there is power in Jesus name and through our faith in Him every promise is “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
One important reminder is that if our prayers contradict God’s will and character, it doesn’t matter how many times we pray in Jesus name, we shouldn’t expect a move of God. Sometimes I wonder why this is such a deep struggle for followers of Christ to understand. I think at the very root of accepting false teaching to be real is a deep desire for God to conform to our desires instead of us conforming to His (2 Timothy 4:3). When we allow our desires about who we wish God was to supersede the facts about who God is, disaster is always near.
I’ve heard of so many shipwrecked faiths where people stopped believing in God because He didn’t act the way they thought He should. Recently my wife and I took our daughter Annabelle in for her four-month check-up. For those who don’t have children or if you’re children are older, the four-month check-up features multiple shots for some of her earliest vaccines. Guess what? Shots hurt. Even my defenseless, precious daughter knows that. Guess who got to hold her little shoulders and arms down so the nurse could give her those shots? That’s right, dear old dad. Because I allowed pain to come into her life, do I love her any less? Certainly not. I know that even greater pain would come without the shots.
As you prepare to pray today, I encourage you to pray the promises of God. Don’t just pray the promises of God as a tool to try to remind God of what He’s promised, trust me when I say He hasn’t forgotten. Praying His promises should remind us of His unfailing love and faithfulness. I encourage you to pray in Jesus’ name knowing there is power in His name. Through the prayer of every promise and by praying in Jesus’ name, don’t forget to surrender your will and desire to God’s. Lastly, as you enter into prayer don’t let suffering past, present, or future, deter you from trusting in a faithful, unfailing God.
Father, the very fact that you allow us to call you Father should serve as a loving reminder for us today. Father forgive us when we fail to fully grasp the depth of your love. Forgive us when we struggle in prayer and help dispel any false teaching that has infiltrated our hearts. Lord, let us see your Word with new eyes and hear Your voice with clear ears. Your sheep know Your voice, help us hear You speak. Lord, help us trust you even when it hurts. Remind us to set our eyes on You as the Author and Perfecter of our faith, everything else is temporary. Help us know and claim Your promises, in Jesus’ name, amen.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
There is a poison that has infiltrated the church in the world masquerading as the “gospel”. Understanding this bad theology is important so we aren’t perplexed when God doesn’t appear to function in the way these false teachers claim. There are two flavors of the same false gospel known as the “prosperity gospel” and though it is hard for us to call out this false teaching, it is helpful as we consider prayer.
There are different degrees of this false teaching but at it’s core it goes something like this: God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy… if you aren’t those things, it’ because you don’t have faith. The more faith, the more prosperity. The “name it and claim it” teaching goes along these same lines. If you “name it” in Jesus name, and “claim it” in faith, it’ll be yours… today’s Scripture destroys this entire false narrative. The God of the Scriptures isn’t concerned with your physical prosperity that is temporary and worldly, He is far more concerned with your spiritual prosperity since it has eternal consequences.
James writes that we have not because we ask not, but lest we be confused and tempted to think the “name it and claim it” teaching holds water, he follows up: when you do ask you don’t get what you’re asking for because you have impure motives. God cares about the heart of our prayers and thus the motives of our prayers matter. When we seek God in prayer above all else, we should seek His will. As it turns out, it may not be God’s will for you to have that brand-new house, that six figure salary, that healthy check-up, or that amazing new set of golf clubs. If we will remember that God isn’t some all-powerful, cosmic genie there to grant our hearts deepest desires, it will help build a proper foundation in prayer.
I recall Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane often and I think this prayer could serve as a stark reminder for us all. As Jesus spends his last night before the crucifixion with His disciples, he is desperately praying in the garden. On the other side of the sun rise Jesus knows He will face the mocking, the torture, the false accusations, the abandonment of His friends, and most cruelly He will face the cross to be put to a criminal’s death as He suffers for our sins. In His prayer He is almost overcome by emotion to the point of death and He prays: “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from my hand. But not my will Father, Thy will be done.” God’s will was done and the cup did not pass from Jesus hand…
As you prepare to pray today, I wonder: are you holding on to some false sense of what prayer is all about? Do you keep hoping that God might answer a selfish prayer with impure motives? Chances are He won’t. As you pray today, what if the things you are asking are contrary to God’s will for your life? Are you prepared, even to the point of suffering, to trust Him and His refining work? Although it may be easier to believe a false teaching about prayer and God, it is far better for us to pray for faith to trust God in prayer and that we would always yield our will to Him.
Father, forgive any impure or selfish prayers we’ve prayed. As we come to you in Jesus’ name, help us to seek Your will for our lives. When we pray Father, reveal to us the true motives of our prayers. Help us grow in this area as we seek to dispel any false teaching concerning prayer or faith. Lord, teach us to be faithful as you were in seeking the Father’s will knowing it is far better to suffer in God’s will than to prosper out of it. Teach us to trust you even when things don’t make sense and remind us that our treasure is in heaven. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
“Answer me, O LORD! Answer me, so that this people will know that You, the LORD, are God, and that You have turned their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:38)
Because of our status through faith in Christ before God, we are His children (John 1:12), sometimes I think the “who” God is eludes us. As God beckons us to come boldly (with audacity) before His throne to find mercy and grace to help in our time of need, we forget that this same God also hung the moon and the stars. Though our Father is all powerful, all knowing, and the very manifestation of true love (1 John 4:8), sometimes for me at least I wonder if I forget all that when I come before Him.
Dr. James Dobson in his book “When God Doesn’t Make Sense” writes of something he calls the “betrayal barrier”. This is the barrier that so many of us feel when we think that God has let us down. When He could have kept us from pain or suffering, and didn’t. When we desperately prayed in faith that God would do something and He didn’t do what we asked. Dr. Dobson says that many Christians find their relationship inhibited by this betrayal barrier and some never fully recover. Do you feel like God has ever “betrayed” you in prayer?
If I’m being honest, I can remember several instances where I prayed to the God of heaven knowing He was fully capable of doing what I asked and yet He didn’t. Over and over again I have struggled with the thought: God is sovereign, all powerful, and fully in control… why didn’t He keep the wreck from happening? He could have prevented the wreck that stole my 4-year-old Brynleigh and claimed the life of my late wife Cassie, so why didn’t He? For some time, I felt betrayed, angry and hurt. It has only been God’s continued grace and loving kindness that has slowly helped me understand that He did have a purpose for the immense suffering in my life.
So, who is our God really? Elijah found out. In today’s focal Scripture we see Elijah (the last prophet of God) boldly standing against the false prophets that were numerous. Elijah prays a powerful prayer and God moves in a mighty way that leaves no doubt in the lives of those around him about who was the one true God of the universe. Instead of recounting the story with you, I encourage you to open God’s Word to 1 Kings chapter 18 and read the account for yourself. As you read it, remember this is the same God who loves you, knows you, and gave His only Son Jesus so you could be forgiven and free (John 3:16).
Elijah prays a powerful prayer in today’s focal Scripture. Notice the focus and hope of Elijah’s prayers: “Answer me, so that this people will know that You, the LORD, are God”. Elijah’s prayer is that God would reveal Himself as the one true God of the universe and that they would all know: “You have turned their hearts back again”. How does the betrayal barrier and Elijah’s prayer go together? Because God does not and will not answer prayers in the way we think He should. God is moving in ways outside of our understanding.
What was God’s purpose in taking my 4-year-old daughter Brynleigh? What was God’s purpose in allowing my late wife to lose her struggle and leave this life too? What good could have possibly came out of the suffering my son Kasen and I’ve done over the past three years? Looking back at each moment over my life, especially in the last three years, God has moved in an incalculable way. He has used the pain and suffering to help me pour out my heart to the nations praying He might turn “their hearts back again” to the only One who can save them.
Today I want to challenge you to remember the “who” you are praying to. The same God that spoke the universe into existence by the power of His Word loves you, knows you, and through Jesus hears your prayers. When He “Doesn’t Make Sense”, pray for strength to trust Him. When you are broken laying in a helpless mess on the ground, turn your heart towards Jesus, He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). When you feel betrayed, you’re hurting and your Elijah moment never comes, be still and know Jesus is still “the LORD” and He alone is “God”.
Father, help us trust you even when Your way is not the way we would have chose. In Jesus’ name we ask that you would clear away the doubt, fear, pain, and any sense You’ve let us down so we could boldly trust You. Teach is Lord to seek Your will above our own. Teach us Lord to trust You even when it hurts. Lord give us just a glimpse of Your glorious plan and help us to understand that You are truly using all things for good for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. We pray that you would help us magnify the name of Jesus and lift Him up so that all men would come to know He alone is Lord. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
Matthew 4:1-2 — “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”
You thought I forgot about fasting didn’t you? I know the last time we talked about it was day 4, and I’m sure that many of you were probably hoping that it was the last time we would! When we think of athletes facing incredible challenges, they go into training for big matches or tournaments. When they face these challenges they go into strict training, exercising, strength training, studying their opponents — their bodies are machines and what is the fuel for those machines? FOOD!!!
So Jesus, led by the Spirit into the wilderness for his greatest challenge to date — being tempted by, going toe-to-toe with the devil himself! His first move to prepare for this huge encounter…deprive His body of food. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, we know that Jesus is quite literally on the brink of starvation. Physically He is as low as you can get before death occurs. Why would Jesus put Himself in such a “weak” position?
Because our physical bodies cannot help us overcome a spiritual struggle.
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you–they are full of the Spirit and life.” John 6:63
“Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Colossians 2:23
“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Romans 8:6-7
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do…And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:17, 24
Jesus knew that to face Satan and his temptations with His body full of fleshly, worldly strength would be disaster. When our bodies are weakened through the denial of food, or comfort of any kind really (TV, wealth, sex or pornography — yes these can be used to comfort, gossip, entertainment, etc.), then our Spirit begins to have greater power and strength than our flesh. Jesus knew that fasting was a pathway to protection. When he stepped into the arena with Satan, He was physically at His weakest…but Spiritually at His strongest! When we pray, we are engaging in Spiritual warfare, not physical warfare (Ephesians 6:12). If you want greater protection, weaken your flesh that wars against you by fasting. Fasting brings protection.
Jesus, thank you for the reminder that I cannot win a spiritual battle through physical means. Help me to strategically and consistently weaken my flesh in order to obtain protection and power. Lord, I admit that this scares me. I fear that my body will react strongly, I may get sick, or it may hurt me. Help me to seek the aid of physicians who can help me do this correctly and safely. But please don’t let me talk myself out of this important discipline. Maybe forsaking food is too much for me, help me forsake other fleshly appetites that keep me from spiritual success. God I trust You. And I believe that You will help me to apply this appropriately and successfully in my spiritual walk. Thank You for hearing me and helping me. I love You. Amen.