progress of prayer



Bit of a hiatus here.  I finished summer school, spent a week in Maine, and then spent this last week cleaning up the mess in my study resulting from the school year and summer school.  In three days I have to get back to teacher meetings, and school starts again the 25th.  Short summer.  It’s probably a good thing, because I tend to drift and lose focus with a longer break, but now I am just feeling like I can breathe and then I have to go start it all again.  Hopefully this year I will be better planned and organized (I started teaching last year two weeks before Christmas, so there was a lot of running in place involved), so my life won’t be so nuts.  I do want to get back to posting regularly on here, and not just cookie recipes either!  🙂 Although I know that’s important too. 😉

Last post I talked about the politics of prayer and why, if God knows everything, we need to pray and ask Him for things anyway.  I mentioned that there were two reasons we should pray: politics and progress.  Today’s post, of course, will be about the progress of prayer.

First off, we’ve probably already realized that we are creatures of necessity. Habit. Mostly selfish, and certainly usually self-serving.  At the same time, we look for and desire something better than ourselves, something bigger or more, something that, as popular newsy blogs say, “This Restored My Faith in Humanity”.  (Insert other catchy title to draw readers in...)  This desire, says C.S. Lewis, shows us that we aren’t made for this world. We wouldn’t want something better if there weren’t something better, and if the knowledge weren’t buried deep at the core of each one of us.

However, although we are drawn to and deeply desire better for ourselves, we tend to simultaneously sabotage our progress towards real, lasting improvement.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, we diverge, detour, or completely regress, and then collapse in a metaphysical heap, angry at ourselves and a world that would cause us to lose the progress we’d gained. (Not that I’d know about this…)

Here’s where the progress of prayer comes in.  No matter how faltering our baby steps toward personal goals might be, prayer can’t help but shore up our teetering selves and provide an anchor point to draw on.  Ellen White says, “Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (Steps to Christ, chapter 11).  Sounds obvious, but think about it a little more.  The reason the Greek and Roman gods seemed so accessible is because they were only larger-than-life copies of humans; superhumans if you will, with all the foibles and issues the real humans had.  The Judeo-Christian God, on the other hand, was omniscient and perfect — a daunting Being to believe in when you belong to a race of imperfect self-saboteurs!

If we continue to try to meet God on our level, we will always fail.  If we try to clamber up to His on our own, we will also fail.  It isn’t till we join our own efforts with prayer — gaining divine assistance — that we will succeed.  Again from the chapter The Privilege of Prayer: “Why should the sons and daughters of God be reluctant to pray, when prayer is the key in the hand of faith to unlock heaven’s storehouse, where are treasured the boundless resources of Omnipotence?” (White).  Even Jesus (especially Jesus) spent hours and whole nights in prayer, struggling not only against Satan, but against His own inclinations — “Let this cup pass from Me…but not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).  If He, who was God in human form, felt the need for these long, close communions with God, how much more so should we, who are so very, very human indeed?

Prayer isn’t, then, the means just of talking with God, or asking Him for things.  It isn’t a spiritual vending machine or phone conversation.  Prayer is meant to be transformative.  

We’re familiar with the idea of intercessory prayer, praying for God to intervene in events or in people’s decisions.  We pray this type of prayer all the time.  “Please heal…” “Help me on this test…”  “Bless so-and-so…”  Less frequently, we pray in gratitude for something, whether it is blessing a meal, noticing a bird or flower, or in response to having had a previous prayer answered.  Another type of prayer is the prayer of worship, where we praise God for who He is, in the world and in our lives.  This is less common still.  For good examples of this, check the Psalms. There is nothing wrong with these types of prayers. 

But the type of prayer that I mean, transformative prayer for our lives, is the scariest type of prayer to pray, and we seldom pray it — and mean it.  This type of prayer requires true, deep soul-searching, looking for flawed areas and not only noticing them (as we do tend to pick at ourselves!), but praying that God will change us!  Truly, when was the last time you realized something awful about yourself, some major character flaw, and threw yourself at God’s feet to beg Him to change you?  And if you did that, did you keep praying, keep trying to change, until you really did?

I can say for myself, it’s easier to notice something wrong with myself than really work and pray to change it.  Yeah, I complain about who I am, but it’s comfortable.  I’m used to myself.  I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t occasionally lose my temper, for example.  “People wouldn’t listen to me”, “I don’t think I can control myself”, “Things just get so…”  And that goes for any of a number of issues or flaws I notice about myself.  It’s easier to notice flaws, easier to accept flaws (even while bemoaning them), easier to fail, than to change the inner self.

It takes grueling effort, near-constant prayer, and an honest self-evaluation to pinpoint areas to change and change them.  It’s not possible without God.  Benjamin Franklin famously attempted to change his personality traits, one at a time.  He focused on each one for a time until he felt he’d conquered it, then focused on another.  But what he found was that as he added new habits or good traits, he started to slip on the ones he thought he’d mastered.  He eventually gave it up as a bad job and concluded that people couldn’t really change.  But Franklin was a Deist who believed that God created the universe and then just left it to run.  He didn’t believe in a personal God or transformative prayer.  Think of what he could have accomplished if he had surrendered himself and his faults to God’s power!


 Now, obviously if you’re reading closely you’ll realize there’s a bit of “Physician, heal thyself” in this post, because I have many flaws and don’t always take the time, the effort, or the thought to even try to change myself, let alone encompass that full surrender that is necessary.

[And I do think the surrender is necessary.  We cannot change if we are not willing to cast anything away that might be potentially hindering.  The beginning of the verse above speaks about running a race and putting aside anything that might “easily entangle” us (Hebrews 12:1, 2).]

But, for all of us who profess Christianity, we are not perfect.  We are definitely “works in progress”, some more so than others!  And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as we remain in progress.  Trouble comes when we stagnate or regress, while still claiming to follow Jesus.  All the complaints from non-Christians about hypocritical Christians, hateful Christians, etc., come from viewing someone who has stopped following Jesus and is either standing still or (more likely) moving away from Him.

So that progress in prayer?  Vital.  It should be our most-prayed prayer, rather than our half-hearted, hope-He-doesn’t-really-hear-me mumble buried in the litany of “please”, “praise”, or “thanks”.  The transformative prayer is what is going to cause us to grow up to the “measure of the stature of the perfect man” (Eph. 4:13).  It is the only thing that will erase our sinful selves and recreate a character worthy of heaven.  It is the way to the “mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5).

Take a challenge with me?  Pick a character trait you don’t like about yourself, just as Franklin did.  But instead of relying on a little notebook, fix your eyes on Jesus. Pray.  Surrender.  Immerse yourself in transformative prayer.  Let’s see what happens.  I can promise you it’ll be scary, but you can’t imagine where He will take you if you do!


politics of prayer



So prayer is the breath of the soul, and too often I say instead of pray.  Too often I say I’ll pray for someone or about something and then forget to do it.  Does that mean God won’t answer prayer then?  Is the intention enough?  If He wants our good, then why should we bother to pray at all?  Shouldn’t we just depend on Him to do what He wants to do best?

It all boils down to two things — politics and progress.  To understand the politics of prayer, we have to skip back a few millennia and explore prehistoric Heaven.  We’ll get to the progress next post.

Long ago in a galaxy far, far, away…the shining angel Lucifer was unparalleled in glory among the created beings of Heaven.  Known as the “covering cherub” and installed amid the “stones of fire”, he was “perfect in his ways” until his “heart was lifted up because of [his] beauty” (Ezekiel 28:10).  He became jealous of the praise and adulation rightly given to Jesus Christ, and began a whisper campaign against God. That ended in an attempted coup and the banishment of Lucifer and a third of the heavenly host (Revelation 12:7-9).  He was bound to this earth, and we must know the rest — all sadness, wickedness, and everything evil comes from his continuing rebellion against the authority of God.

The politics of prayer come from Satan’s accusation that God is unfair.  God allowed the tree in the Garden of Eden as a chance for Adam and Eve to make a choice.  They chose to disobey.  Through the rest of history, we all have this same choice.  Job chose to obey, Judas to disobey, and so on to our day.  

Prayer comes into it by God not giving us unfair advantage.  That is, God cannot interfere in our lives unduly.  Satan’s complaint in the book of Job gives us an example of his lawyering:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 1:8-11).

God does allow Satan more-or-less free reign in Job’s life to the extent that he loses everything but his life (and his cranky wife), but still does not curse God.  He eventually is blessed by God and gets back everything he lost.  

All of this was to prove that God’s followers do not only follow Him because they receive benefits from doing so.  Of course we do, but often it seems like those who follow God fare worse than those who ignore Him.  It would not be fair if God was continuously interfering in the lives of His followers to help them out of trouble just because they had pledged to Him.  Nepotism, cronyism; I’m sure we can think of other less-than-savory business practices that apply.


But there is this verse that says, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).  Sort of a blank check, really.  Within reason, of course, but that is the verse that opens up the widest realms of possibilities when it comes to the blessings of God on those who pray.

Said a Christian writer,

“Our heavenly Father waits to bestow upon us the fullness of His blessing. It is our privilege to drink largely at the fountain of boundless love. What a wonder it is that we pray so little! God is ready and willing to hear the sincere prayer of the humblest of His children, and yet there is much manifest reluctance on our part to make known our wants to God. What can the angels of heaven think of poor helpless human beings, who are subject to temptation, when God’s heart of infinite love yearns toward them, ready to give them more than they can ask or think, and yet they pray so little and have so little faith?” (Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, ch. 11).

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like God gives us as much as He fairly can, and then is waiting to pour out more if we ask!  The same author, in another book, says, 

Were not miracles wrought by Christ and His apostles? The same compassionate Savior lives today, and He is as willing to listen to the prayer of faith as when He walked visibly among men. The natural cooperates with the supernatural. It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow, did we not thus ask (The Spirit of Prophecy, v. 4, p. 348).

Did you catch that? “It is a part of God’s plan to grant us, in answer to the prayer of faith, that which He would not bestow, did we not thus ask.” Wow. That is amazing.  A whole Heaven’s worth of blessings going wasted just because we don’t ask!  

It’s kind of like what I tell my students when they complain I didn’t help them.  “I will help you if you ask for it.”  Now that’s usually coupled with “I’m not God; I can’t read your mind,” or another similar comment.  God does know our minds, our hearts, and, most importantly, what is best for us, but we have to ask. “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2).

I am resolved to ask more.