The Prayer That Ceases
As the calendar changes from 2011 to 2012, many of us will celebrate the passing of another year. Many of us will dream a little, make new resolutions, set new goals, and live in hope and expectation. And as Christians, we shall commit these things to the hands of our heavenly Father, and we shall do so by prayer.
We pray because we recognize God as the sovereign Lord of all creation. We recognize all things are in His hands, and that nothing can happen apart from Him. We realize that every hair on our head is numbered, and that not so much as a sparrow falls to the ground without His recognition. We pray because we know God is committed to us and cares for us. We endure in prayer, not only because the Lord commands it, but because we realize that what we pray for is seldom answered the very next day. And trusting Him, we continually come back to him day after day until the Lord moves heaven and earth in response to our petitions.
Knowing these things, the apostles reminded us that our faith has need of endurance and patience. Endurance, because sometimes our prayers are months and years in the making. Patience, because sometimes we get frustrated, tired, and upset that the thing we are continually praying for always seems to be outside of our reach, and never seems to come to pass. Indeed, sometimes things only seem to get worse at first. And in such times, we know we must fight the good fight, keep the faith, and press on so that we might obtain the prize. We pray without ceasing, knowing that God will come through for us.
What I have just described to you is the normal Christian understanding and experience, and the approach we are to take when it comes to prayer. Indeed, it is the model presented to us time and time again in the Scriptures, not only theologically, but in practice as well. And not only has this been the belief and practice found in the Scriptures, but the great men and women of prayer down to the present times have so understood prayer. This has been the normal model of which I have adhered to in my own prayer life.
But in describing what the normal prayer life is like, I want to bring to your attention a side of prayer that departs from our normal models of understanding. For the careful student of Scripture, and the saint who knows what it is like to truly pray, both realize there are departures from this normal model of prayer. Sometimes in the Christian life, there comes a time in which endurance fails, patience disappears, and in which prayer ceases.
The Abraham who believed God and had it counted to him as righteousness was also the Abraham who conceived a child named Ishmael. Job, who daily interceded for his children and whom God considered perfect, was one who for a season believed God was out to get him. Jeremiah, a true prayer warrior who knew what it was to weep and intercede, came to the place in his prayers where he accused God of being altogether a liar, and likened the Lord unto a deceptive stream. And although Paul says over five-hundred people had seen the risen Christ, we know from the book of Acts that only one-hundred and twenty tarried in Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost had fully come.
In my own life, as of this very year, I know what it is like to pray for your circumstances to change, only to give up hope in ever seeing your prayers answered. For over three years, I worked as a mail-room clerk at a law firm. The job paid next to nothing, and because of my financial situation, I was forced to take a second job, and work 60 hours a week. My fiancé called off our engagement. Sometimes I could pay the bills. Sometimes I couldnt. My car had 250,000 miles on it, and started to die on a regular basis. My expenses kept adding up, and to top it all, I developed a chronic medical issue that kept me in tremendous pain. I was eventually forced into bankruptcy. My social life was next to nothing, and I had little time I could seriously devote to ministry within the church. Not that many opportunities were presenting themselves anyway.
I kept praying and praying for my circumstances to change for the better. I was feeling overwhelmed, and was beginning to lose heart. I would pray, but instead of my situation getting better, my situation only got worse. My life felt more and more like a country music song. I would look for a new job every single day, and submitted literally hundreds of resumes around the greater Charlotte area. At one point, I went well over a year or two without so much as hearing a phone call from anybody regarding a job.
Feeling like I had drifted onto the wrong course in my life, I started to consider alternatives. I felt like the course I originally had chosen while in college, which I believed God had directed me specifically towards, was the wrong path. I decided that I had somehow missed the mark, heard God wrong, and began to make new plans. Although I didnt want to, I had decided I was going to go back to school, and get an education in something else. I had completely abandoned my previous plans and prayers, and started planning for a new future.
Then one day early this year, the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart and said this simple word: Jimmy, you are getting ready to turn a new corner in your life. I believed this word, and although I didnt know what it meant, it encouraged me. Then suddenly, one day shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from a staffing agency I had submitted a resume to almost three years ago. They said they found my resume on file, and wanted me to come in and interview for a job position Id never heard of, at one of the worlds largest banks. They said they were looking for somebody like me, with my exact background and skill set. I was one of twenty people to be interviewed, and by the grace of God and the favor that can only come from Him, I landed the job.
My life hasnt been the same ever since.
Since then, God has made up for all the years that the gnawing locust devoured. Not only that, but He has blessed me beyond anything I could have ever thought or asked. The change Ive experienced in my life has been nothing short of supernatural and revolutionary. And although this year has had its shares of ups and downs, without reservation I would say this year has been the best year of my life.
And Im not just saying that because I actually have some money in a savings account for the first time in my adult life, or because I have seen the sphere of my ministry increase, or because my social circle has grown larger. I am saying that because of the tsunami-sized wall of prayer that Ive seen God answer seemingly all at once. This has been the best year of my life, not because my circumstances have changed for the better, but because of the faithfulness Ive seen from our God.
Ive come to realize in a very tangible way that God is faithful. He is faithful, even when our faith fails. Our God is the God who responds to prayer, even when our prayers begin to cease. He didnt respond because I was consistent and never ending in my prayers, or because I was loud and fervent . He didnt respond to my prayers because I prayed the promises of God, invoked the names of God, or because I spoke in tongues. He didnt respond to my prayers because I am super spiritual or super holy. God wont let you play such religious games with Him. He will not be manipulated.
God responded to my prayers because He is my heavenly Father, who knows what I have need of even before I even know what to ask Him for. And if He orders the answer to our prayer before we even know what to ask Him for, then we need to understand that the answers we receive to our prayers are not so much answers to prayer as they are an opportunity for God to demonstrate Himself faithful, and to demonstrate His ability to respond to us above and beyond. Armed with this understanding, then we can be assured that even should we grow tired of praying, that God will be faithful to us, even should our praying cease.