Wednesday

Why Does God Answer Our Prayers?


Ever wonder why God answers our prayers?


I used to think God answered our prayers because we were pretty good people. Until I discovered that no one’s good. Not really good, anyway, by God’s standard. Romans 3:23 confirms this. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

So much for that idea.

Then I thought God might answer our prayers if we do more good than we do bad. You know, like the proverbial scales so many people use to gauge whether or not they’ll go to heaven. Enough good works, and you slide in. More bad than good? Sorry. No admittance.

Since this is a faulty and unbiblical approach to eternity (Eph. 2:8-9), I’m not sure why I thought it might apply to our prayers, but for a while I entertained the idea.

Picture this: God: “Ah, Lori, now she’s done really well this week. She attended church twice, put a tithe in the offering plate, and let three people go ahead of her in line at Aldi. She deserves at least one answered prayer, don’t you think?”

Unfortunately, I’ve found no biblical support for this view, either. While I read hundreds of passages on how living according to God’s principles will bring blessings into our lives, I found nothing that discussed the ratio of good deeds to answered prayers. God does not “owe me” a favor as a repayment for my good works.

Sad, because there were a few prayer requests I really wanted to bargain for.

Then I considered the possibility that if I mustered up enough passion and energy about my prayer requests, maybe my fervency would catch God’s attention and convince him I was serious. After all, doesn’t James 5:19 say, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much?”

So fervent I became.

“God, pleeeeeeeeeeeease act in this situation. I know you are mighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, Warrior of the Universe, King of King and Lord of Lords, God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the patriarchs whose names I don’t remember. You’re faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings . . . oops, sorry. I got you confused with Superman for a minute there, but I know you’re even better than Superman, so pleeeeeeeeease answer my prayer.”

But the problem with this prayer theology is it pictures God as a reluctant giver who must be manipulated into answering my prayers. It implies if I don’t put on enough of a dog and pony show, if I don’t beat my breast and fall on my face, or work myself into an emotional frenzy in an attempt to convince God of my sincerity, then he won’t give me what I want.

Which is not God at all.

Matthew 7:11 tells me he loves to give good gifts to his children. Generously. Lavishly. Joyfully. I don’t need to become a drama queen to demonstrate my passion. He already knows my heart, without all the theatrics.

Then I finally figured it out.

Remember that passage about the widow who had no other recourse but to badger the unrighteous judge until he gave in and granted her petition? That’s the key. Persistence. Nag God until he’s so sick of hearing my voice that he answers my prayer just to shut me up.

No. No. No. That’s not it, either. While many prayer requests require a concerted effort over a long period of time, this isn’t because God is a miser whose every gift must be forced out of his prayer-pinching hands. The purpose of persevering prayer is to change me, not God. I’m the one who needs to be conformed to his will, not him to mine.


And then I read Daniel 9:18. And discovered one reason God answers our prayers.

“We do not make requests of you because we are righteous,” Daniel prayed, “but because of your great mercy.” 

Our goodness doesn’t earn God’s favor. Nor do our good works. Our fervency doesn’t manipulate him. Nor does our persistence. God answers our prayers because of his mercy. The abundant, unmerited, gracious favor that flows out of God’s great, big, loving heart. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but we should be infinitely grateful for it.

Father God, we come to you today a humble, sinful people, wrapped in the borrowed righteousness of Christ. Left to ourselves, we are foolish, stubborn, and prideful. Forgive us for daring to think we can bargain for your favor. While it’s been said prayer is the slender thread that moves the hand of God, remind us it is mercy that allows us to grasp that silken cord. 

We come to you now, not because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Hear our cries. Act on our behalf. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and may our prayers always glorify you. In the precious name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

If you'd like to celebrate God's mercy just a little while longer, I invite you to enjoy Matt Redman's "Mercy."







If you're reading by email and can't see the video, click HERE to watch Matt Redman's Mercy. 



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Sunday

When Is It OK to Stop Praying?

Sherry has a prodigal son. For years she’s watched him self destruct. After ten years of praying for his salvation, she’s weary and discouraged. She wonders if her prayers are accomplishing anything. Maybe she should just give up and quit praying. 

Lisa lives with a difficult husband. Angry and explosive, he loses his temper often over the smallest things. Although he’s always been faithful to her and provides well for their family, his anger has been an unpleasant part of their relationship for 30 years. Every morning Lisa prays, “Lord, help him not get angry today.” Sometimes her prayers work, and other times it’s as though she’d never prayed. She wonders if praying does any good at all. Maybe she should quit asking God for help. 

Pat has loved to write since she was a teenager. “Lord,” she’s prayed for years, “help me publish a book that will point others to you.” Almost a decade has passed, and although she’s enjoyed some writing success, her dream of publishing a book seems no closer to fulfillment than when she first prayed about it. She wonders if she should quit asking God for something he seems unwilling to grant. 

Christians know we’re supposed to pray, but the results are mixed, at best. Sometimes God answers our requests immediately. Other times it takes weeks, months, or even years to see results. Jesus, our best example of a prayer warrior, acknowledged this when he told his disciples a parable to show them “that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). 

But is it ever appropriate to stop praying for something? Is there ever a reason to cross an unanswered request off our list or strike it from our prayer journal? I think so. 

Scripture gives us several good reasons to stop praying: 

1. We should stop praying when God has clearly answered No. 

If you’ve been praying about a relationship with a guy, and he gets married, you can safely stop praying. God has closed that door. If you interviewed for a job, and they hired someone else, it’s time to redirect your petitions. Banging our heads against doors God has unequivocally closed is futile and foolish. It reveals a stubborn heart that thinks we know better than God what’s best for us. 

Pat’s book manuscript was turned down by every publisher she submitted it to. Once she exhausted her sources for book publication, she realized God might have something else in mind for her words of encouragement. She converted her chapters into articles and submitted them to magazine and online publications. So far five of her articles have been published, reaching more than 50,000 readers – far more than most books ever reach. Now, instead of praying for a book, she asks God to direct her to the readers who most need her words. 

2. We should stop praying when God removes our desire for the object of our prayers. 

Many times I’ve begun praying for something, only to find that after a few days, weeks, or months, I don’t really want it any more. Maybe I discover more information about what I thought would make me happy and realize it’s not best after all. Other times my desire just wanes and fades. When this happens, I can confidently stop praying about it. 

Psalm 37:4 promises that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of my heart. While this sometimes means he will give us what our heart desires, it usually means that he will give our heart the desires he wants it to have. As we pray in faith and trust that God knows what’s best for us, he takes our desires and molds them to fit his plan and purpose for our lives. In love, he sometimes takes what looks enticing and perfect and rubs the shine off so we can see it as it truly is. 

3. We could stop praying when God shows us a greater purpose for our situation. 

As Lisa faithfully prays about her husband’s temper, he continues to have angry outbursts. Through the years, she’s noticed that her prayers have gradually changed. Instead of asking God to change her husband’s disposition, she finds herself praying more often about her response to his outbursts.

“Lord,” she prayed this week, “help me not return evil for evil, but to use a soft answer to turn away his wrath (Prov. 15:1). Help me love my husband even when he acts unlovable, forgiving him as Christ has forgiven me. Protect my heart from bitterness.” 

Lisa’s husband may always struggle with anger, and it’s never too late for God to change him. But even if he doesn’t, Lisa can grow closer to the Lord and more like Christ through the struggle. By being open to more than one answer to her prayers, Lisa has experienced the closeness and growth in her relationship with Christ that’s even sweeter than a husband with a peaceful disposition. 

Which brings us full circle to Sherry, the woman with the prodigal son who desperately needs salvation. Should she stop praying for him after ten years with no apparent results? 

Never. 

Never. Never. Never. Why? 

1. Because she will never hear God say No to this request. While not every prodigal child will come to faith in Christ, only God alone knows who will ultimately accept or reject him. Sherry’s job is to pray in faith. 

2. Because God will never remove this desire from Sherry’s heart. Because she loves her son, she’ll never stop hoping he’ll accept Christ as his Savior and experience the joy of a transformed life. 

3. The only greater purpose God can reveal to Sherry for her son’s prodigal years is that they demonstrate his need for a Savior. This will only strengthen her resolve to pray. 

If you’ve been praying for something, and God has closed the door, it’s okay to stop praying. If you’ve been praying for something and God has changed your heart, it’s okay to stop praying. If you’ve been praying for something and God has shown you a different purpose for your request, it’s okay to stop praying. 

But if you’re praying for a loved one’s salvation, never stop. 

Never, never stop. 

While there is breath left in your body, continue to pray. “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much,” James 5:16 tells us, and on this we stake our hope. 

If you need a little encouragement, here’s a true story from D.L. Moody about the power of a mother’s prayers: 

The Praying Mother. 

"I remember being in the (military) camp and a man came to me and said, "Mr. Moody, when the Mexican war began I wanted to enlist. My mother, seeing I was resolved, said if I became a Christian I might go. She pleaded and prayed that I might become a Christian, but I wouldn't. I said when the war was over I would become a Christian, but not till then. 

"All her pleading was in vain, and at last, when I was going away, she took out a watch and said: My son, your father left this to me when he died. Take it, and I want you to remember that every day at 12 o'clock your mother will be praying for you. Then she gave me her Bible, and marked out passages, and put a few different references in the fly-leaf. I took the watch and the Bible just because my mother gave them. I never intended to read the Bible. 

"I went off to Mexico, and one day while on a long, weary march, I took out my watch, and it was 12 o'clock. I had been gone four months, but I remembered that my mother at that hour was praying for me. Something prompted me to ask the officer to relieve me for a little while, and I stepped behind a tree away out on those plains of Mexico, and cried to the God of my mother to save me." 

Now it’s your turn. Has there ever been a time when God’s shown you it’s time to stop praying? Leave a comment below and share your story.



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Wednesday

4 of Satan's Lies - And the Truth to Combat Them



“The only weapon Satan has is lies.” 

Truer words have never been spoken. Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s statement finds its basis in Jesus’ description of Satan in John 8:44: “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” 

For an enemy with only one weapon, he’s sure waging a successful war. 

By definition, a lie is the opposite of the truth. Because fewer and fewer people believe in truth, let alone the truth of God’s Word, it’s no surprise that Satan appears to be winning the battle. 

Because lies are like cockroaches, which flee when you turn on the light, I’d like to shine some light on a few of Satan’s most pervasive lies:


Lie #1: Your worth is determined by what you do. 

Truth: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). 

This world (under Satan’s temporary rule) tries to convince us that we are only valuable when we are measurably productive. This is a lie from the pit of hell. The unborn, the handicapped, and the aged are victimized by this lie, but it also winds its poisonous tentacles around the stay-at-home wife or mother, the retired, unemployed, and uneducated. 

God’s Word, however, tells us the opposite — that we are valuable in and of ourselves. Because we are created in God’s image, we have infinite worth. 

 Lie #2: You’d be happy if you just had ___________. 

Truth: “Then (Jesus) said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). 

This lie, however, doesn’t limit itself to boats, and cars, and houses. It tells us we’d be happier if we were married. Or divorced. Or had different children, husbands, jobs, or bank accounts. The lie that we need something or someone is as old as the Garden of Eden, but Satan continues to repurpose it. 

The only thing that will truly satisfy us is a relationship with Christ. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” Jesus said. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). 

Lie #3: God’s Word isn’t true. 

Truth: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). 

“Think about how powerful that lie is,” writes blogger Douglas Hoff on Belief.net. “If the word of God is not true then there would be no need to obey God. The devil doesn’t care if you hang onto part of the truth, because he has you where he wants you if don’t have all of the truth. He doesn’t mind if people call the Bible ‘a good guidebook for raising a family’ as long as he can convince people it is full of errors and man-made stories.” 

Lie #4: Living for God is a waste of time. 

Truth: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:24–26). 

Author and pastor John Piper says this: “It is possible to waste your life. Few things make me tremble more than the possibility of taking this onetime gift of life and wasting it. Every morning when I walked into the kitchen as a boy I saw hanging on the wall the plaque that now hangs in my living room: ‘Only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.’ 

"And now I am almost 58, and the river of life is spilling over the falls of my days with tremendous speed. More and more I smell eternity. And oh, how I want to use my life well. It is so short and so fragile and so final. You get one chance to live your life. And then the judgment."

Pastor/teacher Chip Ingram issues a final warning to us about Satan’s lies: "We must recognize how the evil one is working in this world and take a firm stance against him. It means we take careful thought concerning what we put in our minds - what we listen to, what we watch, and how we use our time.” 

So how do we spot Satan’s lies? How do we guard ourselves against their poison? By filling our minds and hearts with the truth of God’s Word. 

I encourage you, the next time Satan's cockroach lies creep across your mind, turn on the light of God’s Word, and watch them flee. "The devil abhors light and truth,” missionary Watchman Nee wrote, “because these remove the ground of his working." 

Now it’s your turn. What lie does Satan throw at you, and what scriptural truth do you use to combat it? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.



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Sunday

Half Empty with a Bug at the Bottom or Full and Running Over?

“Isn’t the cool weather lovely this morning?” I asked my patient as I seated her in the dental chair.

“Yeah, but before you know it it’ll be cold,” she said, “and I hate cold.”


“True, but don’t you just love to curl up under a blanket on a cold winter night?”

“I guess, but cold weather means the holidays are coming, and I hate the holidays.”

“Whaaat? Don’t you like visiting with your family and eating all those delicious Christmas cookies?” I said.

“Yeah, I do, but as soon as they leave, I’ll have a mess to clean up. It’ll take days to get my house back in order. And Christmas cookies? Hmph. All that butter and sugar. My cholesterol will never recover.”

No matter what I did to steer the conversation to the positive, my patient was determined to reroute it. Like a magnet with a negative charge, this lady was headed in one direction and one direction only. Even the happy news that she had no cavities didn’t brighten her smile.

“I’ll probably have five next time,” she grumbled as she made her way out the door.

“Wow,” my boss said, “her glass was certainly half empty.”

“More like half empty with a bug at the bottom,” I said, shaking my head.

We encounter negative people every day. The grumpy barista at the coffee shop. The rude waiter at the restaurant. The Debbie Downer co-worker who loves to point out everything that’s wrong. Sometimes, horror of horror, we’re the Negative Nellie dragging down the happiness and licking the red off everyone’s candy. '

But while negativity is powerful, positivity is even more powerful. A smile, a kind word, or an encouraging “atta-girl” has the ability to change someone’s day. It can raise the happiness meter in the room and make everyone within earshot smile.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, said, “Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.”

This has been true in my life. When I was in sixth grade, my substitute English teacher, Mrs. Silva, wrote a note at the bottom of my writing assignment. I like the interesting verbs you used. You’re going to be a great writer someday. 

Thirty years later, I’m still a long way from being a great writer, but her words set me on the path and gave me a gentle nudge.

This summer I returned to my home town. Although I had tried unsuccessfully several times before to find my middle school teacher, a chance conversation with a relative provided the information I lacked.


Heart beating excitedly, I called her, explained who I was, and arranged to meet. When we visited that evening, I reminded her of the writing assignment long ago and the kind words she had written at the bottom.

“Oh my,” she laughed, “I graded so many papers that semester. I don’t remember.” 

“Oh, but I do,” I assured her. “Thank you for taking the time to encourage me. And for your part in my writing journey.”

I handed her a copy of my devotional book, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, inscribed with her name in the flyleaf. She sat quietly for a moment, flipping through the pages.

“I retired five years ago,” she said softly. “I’ve always wondered if I made a difference.”

Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Today, we have the chance to affect someone’s life, either positively or negatively. Will we be like my patient with her glass half full and something nasty in the bottom? Or will we be like my middle school teacher with her glass so full it runs over and splashes onto everyone nearby?

Now it’s your turn. Has anyone ever spoken words of affirmation that changed the course of your life? Leave a comment below and share your story.



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Wednesday

The First Step in Listening Well


Boy did I blow it. 


A friend was sharing her heart with me. Tender thoughts. Frightening possibilities. Hard questions with no easy answers. As I listened to her plight, my theology engine kicked in. Which is often a good thing. But not this time. 

When she finished, I responded with a strong and compelling argument why she shouldn’t be afraid. I had three Bible verses, a hero-of-the-faith story, and a personal example of how I had faced a similarly-frightening situation and come out spiritually stronger because of it. She nodded, but I could tell my words hadn’t calmed her heart. 

Reflecting on the conversation later (which is a nice way of saying, God took me to task over it), I realized how I had failed my friend. She had come to me with a need, and I had totally missed it. Instead of encouraging her, I added weight to her already-burdened shoulders. 

Listening to the quiet voice of the Lord, I realized that none of my responses were inherently wrong, just ill-timed. 

Did she need to be reminded of God’s sovereignty? Yes. 

Were the Bible verses I quoted appropriate and powerful? Yes. 

Were the stories I shared true and inspiring? Yes. 

Because I love my friend, I wanted to fix her situation – to ride in on the white horse of God’s deliverance, brandish my faith sword, and watch the fear demons scatter. But at that moment, she didn’t need a theological pep talk. She just needed me to listen. And empathize. And remind her of God’s love. 

Perhaps God’s Spirit might have steered our conversation to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the Scripture, or the stories, but in order for those truths to take root, I needed to soften the soil of her heart with tender mercies, and compassion. 

“No one cares how much you know,” once said, “until they know how much you care.” So often my left-brained, logical, get-er-done self wants to dispense heart medicine before I’ve even listened to it beat. 

Thankfully, as I prayed for my friend later that day, the Lord showed me where I had erred. As soon as I could, I reached out to her and apologized for my insensitivity. 

“No worries,” she said. “I know you care.” 

I’m thankful for the valuable lesson I learned that day, one I suspect I’ll have to revisit often: Don’t just listen to their words. Listen to their heart. 

What about you? Are you also quick to dispense spiritual medicine before you’ve thoroughly assessed the patient’s needs? What steps have you taken to become “quick to hear and slow to speak”? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.


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