Monday, September 17, 2012
The Promise of Prayer
There is perhaps no area of the Christian life in which the modern church is more deficient than the area of prayer. We labor unceasingly in evangelism and outreach, yet see little lasting results. We struggle to survive in an increasingly secular and hostile culture, and are tempted to grow weary and discouraged. Yet we fail to make use of the instrument that the Bible says is the key to success: prayer!
Jesus addressed this issue explicitly right at the very beginning of Christianity. In the Sermon on the Mount He tells us, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matt. 7:7; NKJV). Jesus went on to explain how this works by using an illustration. A human father has a son who asks for bread. In a normal human society (not the corrupt, degenerate one we have today) fathers care about their children. In this instance, then, how would the father respond? By giving his son a stone? Not hardly! The father would care deeply about his son's well-being. If the son needs bread, the father will give it to him if it is in his power to do so. And so it is that if God is our heavenly Father He delights to answer prayer. There is no reason for us to do without things we legitimately need.
There is a condition attached to this, however. We must "ask," "seek," and "knock." God's blessings do not usually fall automatically, unsolicited, from the sky. If they did we would take them for granted and ignore the One Who bestowed them. We must ask for them. "Seeking" and "knocking" in particular imply persistent effort. God wants us to love Him with all of our hearts, with all of our souls, and with all of our strength (Dt. 6:4). To test the sincerity of our devotion God sometimes withholds the blessing until we ask for it in earnest, and then when the answer finally comes, sometimes in the unlikeliest of circumstances, it is evident that it came from God Himself. The problem with the modern church is that it is too apathetic to seek and knock.
Perhaps the most famous modern example of the efficacy of prayer was George Muller. Muller (1805-1898) started an orphanage in Bristol, England, which grew in size to five buildings and housed over 2,000 orphans at a time. Yet Muller never solicited donations from contributors. It call came as answers to prayer. At time his faith was sorely tested, but in the end God always provided. A more recent example of a ministry built on prayer is that of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, led by Jim Cymbala.
During the dark, dreary days when Israel was in exile in Babylon god said, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." But then He goes on to describe how this will happen: "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity . . ." (Jer. 29:11-14).
Are we willing to seek God with all of our hearts?