Here are portions of a letter I received recently:
“I have been really encouraged over these last few months interacting with the Lord and allowing Him to speak truth into my life and then to grow in it. Hearing the Lord no longer seems to be a problem, now that I am learning to hear and trust His voice. Choosing to believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within me and will continue to guide and lead me has been most releasing.”
“Since the beginning of this year, I have met with a friend twice a week in the early mornings to get up and pray for people.”
“I guess my frustration has been that it all seems so fruitless. The passage “Ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you” John 15:7 – raises some interesting questions.
“My prior view of this scripture is that as you grow in Him, your will becomes conformed to His, and then you begin to see things from His perspective and want the things He wants. As that transformation continues within us, people will find that more of their prayers begin to be answered.”
“We often find ourselves praying that the Lord will move in people’s hearts, that He will be able to move in fresh ways in our lives, to send the fire, and so on.”
“From my perspective, our requests seem to be very similar to Father’s views and are what He desires. So my question of late is, why doesn’t He answer our prayers? I can see that my expectations of Him moving might be far different from what He is actually doing, but my only wish is to see Him glorified and praised, see Him moving in people’s lives – and being truly given all the honour and glory . . .”
“I have several friends who have gone through periods of real frustration in their walks with the Lord and His seeming inactivity and fire in their lives. From what they have told me, they have really searched for Him, longed to find Him for themselves and to live and walk in the freedom of His love and grace. In most of these cases, the Lord doesn’t seem to meet them where they are at and I have really no idea why.”
“If people are hungry for Him and are seeking Him earnestly doesn’t He desire to pour Himself out upon them and deepen the relationship – to take them from seeming superficiality into reality? I have wonderfully experienced Father do that for me in a tremendous way and long for others to find that in Him. I haven’t seen it happening with my peers around me.”
“Is it simply a timing thing? Are there wrong motives involved? Are people not hungry enough or do they have to come to the end of themselves before things begin to happen? I just don’t know.?”
My dear brother
It may seem as though I have forgotten to reply to your letter, but I have actually thought of it quite often in the last couple of weeks, making notes of comments I should make to you. At the same time isn’t it possible that our wonderful Lord may have been wanting to reveal more of His ways to you in the meantime? My delay is not from indifference – how much less God’s delays are!
In withholding an answer to our requests the Lord well may be [a] testing our persistence and depth of desire; [b] challenging, testing, and strengthening our faith; [c] bringing us to readiness for what we and He both want, so that He alone gets the credit, even within our own minds; and [d] preparing all concerned to pay the price that He requires which involves self-crucified living, continuing responsiveness to the Holy Spirit, and purity of desire for God?s glory.
Years ago we had a dear friend who often said when beginning to pray, “Lord, we seek your face, not your hand.” A lovely attitude!
There are two aspects to communicating with God that I want to write to you about.
The first aspect is illustrated in Luke 18:3-8 and Luke 11:5-10. These stories both picture God being moved by persistent and urgent pleading. With these Scriptures, we can link the early Methodist terminology of ‘praying through,’ that is, praying until God answers our requests. This is never a result of breaking through God’s reluctance, for He is always eager to grant His very best choices to us, but through coming to where we know with an inner knowing that God has heard and is answering our heart’s cry.
A TOTAL TURNAROUND
Even in introducing others to the Saviour, those early Methodists expected seekers to persevere in prayer until the light of heaven burst upon them, so to speak, and sin’s burden was replaced with the joy and release of salvation blessing. Sometimes they agonized for days, but in the end, the results were spectacular. This is ever so much better than today’s shallow ‘easy believe-ism.’
In this, as in other matters, they accepted that prayer was answered through a dynamic inner witness of the Holy Spirit giving full assurance that it was so. God only needs to tell us once that a thing is done! Whether we see a visible sign of it sooner or later is of little consequence, since it is done and will be manifest in God’s timing.
I am a strong believer in praying through.
PRESENT TENSE REVELATION
Now secondly, in your letter, you say that your frustration has been that it all seems so fruitless. Over many years I have held to the reality that whenever I speak to an individual on spiritual matters, or in a gathering, the Holy Spirit speaks within them. This is regardless of whether there is a visible response or not. Things may seem fruitless from the outside, but who can tell what God is doing within? Trusting Him for that is essential for effective ministry, and also for effectual praying.
You see, it is my deep conviction that we cannot pray, exercise effectual faith, testify for the Lord or live effectively, without or beyond personal, present tense revelation. On-going revelation is essential for triumphant, God-glorifying living. There is a God focus in it that provides a sure basis for total trust. If the Holy Spirit reveals to me the exact ‘what and how’ of praying or sharing, then trusting God follows virtually automatically.
In this context, we can confidently remember that Jesus said, “Whatever you pray for, be believing that you have received, and you will receive.”
I recall being in a meeting where quite a number of people were asking for prayer for healing. I was asked to join several others in praying for these folk, one by one.
While others started praying for these needy folk I just stood back in quiet contemplation. After some minutes I stepped forward and said, “Let me pray for this person.” Why? Simply because I was responding to the inner revelation and prompting of the Holy Spirit and thus could ask and receive with certainty.
I wonder how often sincere believers begin a ‘prayer time’ [whatever that means to them] with wordiness akin to “Listen, Lord, you servant’s speaking,” rather than being still before God. This would allow Him to speak to us, including revealing to us the way He wants us to pray.
WORDS, WORDS, AND MORE WORDS!
I suspect that much verbosity when we are joining with others in prayer is subliminally informing those with us of either our knowledge of the situation or of our capacity to pray maturely. Do we need to tell God all the details of a matter when He knows much more about the situation than we do? Or is our wordiness an effort to convince ourselves and ‘pump up’ our faith?
Makes me think of when I was sitting beside an old preacher many years ago. He nudged me and whispered, “Why are your eyes shut?” When I replied that someone up front was praying he said, “Open your eyes, they’re not praying, they’re preaching.? He was right!
1. Some years back a brother in the Lord asked me. What is different in your prayer life these days?” After some thought, I replied, “I think I now speak to God more like the way He speaks to me.” God isn’t wordy, but rather gives an impression of a thought or desire that is on His heart for me at the time.
2. Over the years I’ve heard some comments or teaching about reminding God of His promises, and of standing on a particular Scripture when we pray. We can quote as many verses as we like, but unless they are linked with revelation, Holy Spirit quickening, and present tense God-given understanding then I would feel that we are using a blunt and somewhat ineffectual instrument.
People quote all kinds of Scripture to support all kinds of things, feeling that they cannot now be questioned – even though they may seem questionable to others. The written word needs to become a Holy Spirit quickened and Holy Spirit internalized word.
3. I believe that there is a ‘seamless’ quality to Christian living. God not only hears our requests, but He also knows our inner hearts, understands our motives and desires, and is aware of every aspect of our daily lives, even including our secret thoughts. Wouldn’t you think that the old adage that a chain is as weak as its weakest link applies in this?
4. I was raised on the teaching that “God always answers prayer; yes, no, or wait,” which is a ‘cop out’ and leaves one feeling that God is very unreliable. That is not the case! God is totally reliable. He does honour His promises, even though we may not always understand His ways. To try to do so may be an unwitting endeavour to limit Him to our mental capacity!!
5. Personally, in spite of the way I’ve written this letter, I seldom use the words ‘pray’ and ‘prayer.’ In our day they tend to have a religious connotation and give the idea of limiting our conversation with God to special times and places. Healthy communication with a family member or friend is generally based on the freedom to chat in bits and pieces whenever we are together. So it can be between us and God.
Looking back over your letter yet again, I want to add these brief comments:
1. Nothing is fruitless when in accord with God’s highest purpose and for His glory alone. This day of instantaneousness often afflicts spiritual attitudes, I fear. I like the old saying, “If you want a quick harvest, sow pansies, but if you want oak trees you’ll need to be patient.”
2. Why doesn’t God answer your prayers? Perhaps He is in the process of doing so, though you cannot see it. He works from the inside out. If you can trust Him to begin a work you’ll need to persevere in trust until it is complete.
3. Years ago in a business situation an unbeliever asked me, “John, would you be happy with me if I stopped smoking?” I replied, “Not really, Mike.” So he asked if I’d be happy with him if he stopped drinking. I gave the same answer. He told me that I was a hard man and asked, “What would make you happy with me?” I shared with him the need to turn his life over to God, putting his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mike then told me of having attended a Billy Graham Crusade meeting. At the Gospel invitation, he had felt so compelled to go forward that he gripped his chair very tightly to the extent that his knuckles were sore for days.
What can God do to a man who absolutely refuses to bow the knee to Christ? I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit seeks to draw him again and again, including when we pray for him. With his God-given free will he can still ultimately reject the One who is his only hope, but I still believe it is well worth praying for lost folk, leaving the outcome in the hands of the Almighty.
4. Of course God does desire to pour Himself out on earnest seekers. Yes, motives may be suspect, but one could pray the prayer Jesus taught His disciples and be praying selfishly couldn’t one? It may be totally unselfish to cry from the depths of desire, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
5. I would to God that a host of believers would cry incessantly to Him on behalf of the multitude of folk everywhere who desperately need His forgiveness, mercy, and saving grace. Likewise, let us be alert to pray that today’s believers will enter into God’s fullest and highest purposes for their lives.
I have no doubt that God will soon manifest Himself to a person who breaks from the controls of self-will, personal ambition, and materialism, determining to live for God’s glory alone and at any cost, and allowing Him to be central in their lives. Of course, they’ll need God’s readily available help for that. There can be no triumphant resurrection living without self-crucifixion not only as a definite act but as a life-long experience.
Well my brother in the Lord, this has become far longer than intended, but I have shared my heart and my understanding on the matters you wrote to me about. Let me encourage you to enjoy the adventure of walking with Jesus. I love the thought of ‘yondering’ which I understand was a term used in the old American west as pioneers moved beyond anywhere they’d been before. Go for it, young man!
I love the slogan of an airline that asks, ‘When is the last time you did something for the first time?” Surely everyone who walks with the Lord, under the ongoing direction of the Holy Spirit, can point to many examples of that, and not in the remote past, either.