Prayer & marriage

I’d like to make an addendum to my previous post on Christianity Today’s article about Early Marriage.

One good product of the sadness and pain that comes from remaining unmarried in my life has been the call to pray. I have often been drawn to the story of Hannah this past year, mulling over what it meant for the Lord to give her the desire for a son and then permit her to wait year after year, and through the waiting, instill in her an acute awareness of the need for upright leadership in their midst.

If I had not the depth of heart-felt longing that has been deferred, I would not be in as strong of a position to take up the call to pray…for friends’ marriages to be healthy and rooted in Him, for young men and women that I know to seek Him first, for men to have the courage to pursue leadership and marriage, for women to be modest and patient, that older women I know will stay faithful to Him, that younger women I know might not have to wait as long as some of the rest of us so that they will not face temptation and doubt…

Perhaps some of you might also be called to pray, either for marriages in general or for the people you know, married and unmarried, who could truly benefit from God’s divine purposes through the transforming work of prayer.

More than meets the eye…

Admittedly, this post might be a little odd. I want to talk a little bit about two somewhat unrelated topics that are classified (in my book) under ‘more than meets the eye.’

The obvious topic would be Transformers, the 80s cartoon. Can I just say that I really love that show? Really. It’s great. I love the transforming (zwert zst zst zst). If I watch several episodes, I begin to observe the big vehicles on the road and wonder what they would look like if they transformed… Autobots (the good guys) work as a team, drawing together their talents and abilities to defend and protect what is good and right. They’re level-headed, light-hearted, and committed to their cause. Decepticons, namely Megatron, repeatedly underestimate the power within the Autobots. They think that standing up for justice and loving your neighbor is a weakness, when it’s actually a great strength. The disunity and dissension that breaks out from time to time among the Decepticons (perhaps most evident in Starscream) contributes to their demise. I appreciate some of the principles that are laid out in this cartoon and how the inner workings of good and evil play out in each episode.

I know I’ve posted on prayer before, but there’s something more I want to share about it now that I’m going through a Bible study on it. It’s been so insightful and there are plenty of quotes I could fill up this post with that I’ve thought, ‘wow, I need to keep coming back to that and let it really sink in…’ Some of us have a tough time with prayer, especially prayer that seems to go unanswered. What do we do with that? How should we respond as Christians who are supposed to have faith? Here are a few excerpts that have been meaningful for me, and I hope can be valuable for you:

“The purpose of prayer is to release the power of God to accomplish the purposes of God.” — Jennifer Kennedy Dean

“To pray is to let Jesus glorify His name in the midst of our needs.” — O. Hallesby, Prayer

“In the first place, it is not our prayers that move the Lord Jesus, but the Lord Jesus who moves us to pray.” — O. Hallesby, Prayer

“The content of all true prayer originates in the head of God.” — Paul Billheimer

“If Jesus dwells at the source of my life–if the flow of His life has replaced all of my life–then He can safely commit the praying to my will.” — E. M. Bounds, The Neccesity of Prayer

“At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is chiefly set upon the blessings which we wait for. God graciously uses our need and desire for help to educate us for something higher than we were thinking of. We were seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.” –Andrew Murray, Waiting on God

“Rows of beautiful trees were laid low in a storm. Reason? The water was too near the surface; so the trees did not have to put their roots deep down to find water; hence the tragedy. God may deny us a surface answer in order to get us to put our roots deeper into eternal reality, so that in some future storm we shall be unmoved.” — E. Stanley Jones, Abundant Living

(I really appreciate that last one because the images are personally meaningful. Sometimes I want things to be beautiful on the outside and I fret when God permits storms to ‘uproot’ me. I worry what others are thinking about me and I wish I could still keep everything looking ‘under control.’ I ache for God to just fix me, but I sense along the way that He is allowing hardship to prepare me to be able to stand up in the face of some unforeseen task or situation that He’s got in store.)

So, in prayer, I’ve been recognizing on a new level that there’s more than meets the eye. God is orchestrating so much we don’t understand and cannot see. He invites us to join Him in this work, in part, through our prayers.

Oh, that prayer in our lives would be more than just our list of requests, praises, and thanks, but that it would truly be a relationship with Him and a transforming work from within that displays the great power of our Lord and Savior!

Listening in prayer

Martin Luther’s last written words were, “We are all beggars. That is true.”

How much might have to come our way before we can really grasp that and take it to heart?

Prayer includes asking and listening, among other things which we’ve been discussing. I’ve noticed that God’s model is often to allow us to come to the realization that we are in need, or to allow us to be emptied for a time and to feel the loss or the void before anything else happens. Next, we endure that for however long the Lord sees fit to help us acknowledge that we can’t control the situation or fill our own void. In due time, He then meets us with Himself and, as appropriate, He addresses those requests we have.

What this process does is that it brings us to our knees. We begin to discover something of what it means to be homeless or hungry spiritually and we know that we can’t meet that need with the resources we have apart from God. Allowing this humbling work to be done in us opens the door for us to listen to Him in a way that we may have never thought to do so before. We are bent towards Him and compelled because we start to distinguish the noise in the world from the voice of God.

Some of the work that He is doing in me is prompting me to admit, as Luther aptly claims, that I am a beggar. Even as I have been in the process of being broken down, tilled, stripped away, and sifted, I am still too proud and I don’t know what else it will take for me to be where the Lord wants me to be, but in this painful time, I am slowly becoming the quieted infant instead of the screamer. In that silence, I fully expect that God will speak and I will have the capacity to listen to Him in a way I have not before.

When you listen for God, what does He say?

Praising God through prayer

When we praise Him, we are acknowledging who He is, remembering that we are made for Him, and positioning ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually before Him. Although we won’t be telling Him anything He doesn’t already know, we need the reminder and we happen to bless His name and honor Him in the process. When we consider all that He has done by praising Him through scripture or praising Him for His character, or praising Him for good things He is doing in our lives, we are better able to see Him in a greater context.

Including opportunities to praise Him as a regular part of our life day by day is a healthy habit to form. It is then that we realize God deserves the adoration and glory for all the great and wonderful things that happen. In time, we also begin to take joy out of offering Him praise and worship. After all, we were made for it! Thankfully, the Lord knows when praise just bursts forth out of the abundance of a blessed time of life and when praise is truly a sacrifice born out of a time of struggle and pain. We are not giving Him anything of ourselves that He doesn’t already equip us to offer.

Prayer includes brooding and complaining

This week, I intend to spend some time examining various aspects of prayer. Perhaps one of the darker sides is what we consider lamentation. As I looked for a resource to examine this a little further, I came across Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom.

For today, a few words on brooding and complaining.

Brooding has to do with marinating in thought over problems and decisions. Sometimes this activity leads to unfocused thinking. In these times, it is helpful to remind ourselves of what Scripture tells us about God: who He is, that He will be with us, and the hope that we can have in Him. Meditation on God’s Word can soothe us and gird us up for those times of intense anxiety, busyness, or mood swings.

Complaining draws together lamentation and supplication. We are sending up petitions to God and appealing to His promises and His character for resolution to our requests. Complaints include opposition from enemies, deprivation, isolation, and depression. It is in these times that turning to God sustains us, reaffirms our trust in Him, and allows us to draw closer to Him.

Peter…the flawed, but faithful rock

The last of the three Biblical characters I wanted to mention this week with regards to faithfulness is Peter.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

I wonder that this passage sometimes loses some of its significance for us because in a few short chapters we see both the fall and the redemption and restoration of Peter. The scriptures on the denial of Peter leave a lot of room for us to imagine what might have been going on in the heart and mind of Peter when he initially defended his honor to the Lord, only to find himself denying Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.

Perhaps it is not until we really need to that we are able to see more in these words of Jesus. Not just to let it sink in that Satan wanted to go after Peter specifically, but that, in some measure, the Lord allowed Satan to get to Peter. Whoa. Yet, somehow in God’s sovereignty, this didn’t crush Peter or persuade him to abandon the faith. No, rather his faith was built strong, as Jesus had prayed that it would. This experience ended up being part of what prepared Peter to take on the leadership role that Jesus intended for him.

I hope that we can become so close in our walk with the Lord that we will be sensitive to His prompting, whether that is to be quick to seek repentance when we do fall or to pray for another who just may be sifted like wheat. In either case, it is an opportunity to submit to the Lord, to recognize how much we are dependent on Him to enable us to be the men and women He has called us to be, and to pray in accordance with the Spirit on behalf of other believers as well as those who do not know Him.