Prayerfully requesting grace

Once more the king sent an officer with fifty men. He went up the hill, fell on his knees in front of Elijah, and pleaded, “Man of God, be merciful to me and my men. Spare our lives! The two other officers and their men were killed by fire from heaven; but please be merciful to me!” – 2 Kings 1:13-14 GNT

It is not only a prayer seeking grace, but it is a prayer that is offered up with honour.

There is a way to serve the Lord prayerfully, out of godly character, joyfully in His power and for His glory.

Paul teaches me how to do this well.

Our friends, we must thank God at all times for you. It is right for us to do so, because your faith is growing so much and the love each of you has for the others is becoming greater. That is why we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God. We boast about the way you continue to endure and believe through all the persecutions and sufferings you are experiencing.

All of this proves that God’s judgment is just and as a result you will become worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering. And he will give relief to you who suffer and to us as well. He will do this when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven with his mighty angels. That is why we always pray for you. We ask our God to make you worthy of the life he has called you to live. May he fulfill by his power all your desire for goodness and complete your work of faith. In this way the name of our Lord Jesus will receive glory from you, and you from him, by the grace of our God and of the Lord[a] Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5, 7, 11-12 GNT

This is how Paul models how I should be praying.

  • Pray for spiritual growth
  • Strength to endure asking God to use this time to reveal how just He is
  • For relief of the suffering/hardships/persecution being experienced by myself and other followers of Jesus
  • For God to enable me to live a life of divine purpose
  • May His power to complete my faith and my desire to accomplish good
  • For God to receive glory from every area of my life
  • For me to receive grace, honour, and favour from God

Some commentators argue that the groans here are only the groans of the Spirit, not ours. We are, therefore, entirely unaware of them. They arise to God beside our petitions. The Spirit’s intercession, therefore, arises constantly and happens essentially apart from us and our prayers. (Commentators on Romans 8:26–27 who take that view include Douglas J. Moo and Joseph A. Fitzmyer.) Others believe that while it is strictly true grammatically that the groans are the Spirit’s —the point of the promise is that we feel weak and don’t know how to pray and the Spirit helps us in that. After all, God is a “searcher of hearts” (Rom 8:27), and this means God is looking into believer’s hearts. So the groanings of the Spirit are believers’ groanings and longings after conformity to God’s will originating from the Holy Spirit. Commentators such as John Murray, Peter O’Brien, John Stott, and Thomas Schreiner take this latter view. – Timothy Keller

Pray at all times to find grace and mercy

It seems like three impossible commands.

Be joyful always, pray at all times, be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 GNT

Can anyone say that they have “always” practiced any one as opposed to all three?

Even in our corporate worship we find it hard to practice them – probably because we have not practiced them individually.

To pray all the time means that I am being challenged to have an attitude of prayer – an awareness of God’s presence – a constant dialogue and close relationship with Him.

In other words, continual prayer is a posture of unceasing dependence on God.

Prayer is my ability to tap into God’s limitless resources. I limit my praying if I do not give my whole self to His grace and mercy.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to be a person of prayer – to be in regular communication with Him. It becomes my first instinct in every situation. It does not occur to me not to pray.

Prayer is about being thankful.

Prayer is simply a conversation.

Every day tasks can incorporate prayer. When I was younger and in physical training, I used that time to pray. I prayed four hours a day – changed my life.

Watch out for the revenge type prayers.

May his life soon be ended;
    may someone else take his job!
May his children become orphans,
    and his wife a widow! – Psalm 109:8-9 GNT

It is a serious thing when we look at Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who come against us.

It is good for me to evaluate why and for whom I am praying for. When I find myself praying for those who come against me, I pray they may find the same grace and mercy that I have received from Jesus.

Ward goes on to show also that the Bible is a covenant document. When God enters into a relationship with us human beings, it is not merely personal but also covenantal. It means we are bound to God and he to us by promises to be faithful to one another—and now we have right of access to him. It is analogous to the covenant of marriage. Both the Bible and prayer, then, are covenantal privileges. God speaks to his people (through the Bible) and listens to his people (through prayer), who are bound to him in the covenantal relationship. – Timothy Keller

Pray, plead and show desperation

I know that I am encouraged to pray and plead with God for the miraculous to take place in my life. I am going to ask, believing that Jesus is going to move in my life and in the lives of those I am praying for. I also know that I will be praying with open hands entrusting myself and others to the will of God, especially if He has not given me any kind of promise or direction. This is something I picked out of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It is how I pray when I am walking through my own trials.

Lord, I know you can heal. Lord, I believe You will heal. And Lord, if You don’t heal now, bring glory to your name and keep my faith in You.

Psalm 107 is similar in this manner – it declares how people respond to crisis situations too. Those who hurt called out to the Lord during their time of trouble. It was not a simple, recited from memory prayer – there was desperation. Salvation was required.

Christian Smith’s Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005) explores the faith and spiritual lives of young American adults, who he describes as being characterized by “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” This is belief in a God who exists but who is not particularly involved in day-to-day affairs, where human free will and choices determine things. In this view, God’s main desire for us is that we live good lives, being kind and fair to others. If we live that way, he then provides “therapeutic benefits”— self-esteem and happiness (pp. 163–64). This view of God has a profound effect on prayer. Smith found that American teens personally prayed frequently; 40 percent prayed daily or more, and only 15 percent said they never prayed. However, their motivation for prayer was pervasively that of meeting psychological and emotional needs. “If I ever have a problem I go pray.” “It helps me deal with problems, ’cause I have a temper, so it calms me down for the most part.” “When I have a problem, I can just go bear it and he’ll always be supportive.” “Praying just makes me feel more secure, like there’s something there helping me out.” “I would say prayer is an essential part of my success” (pp. 151–53). Smith points out that from young Americans’ prayers there were at least two things missing. First, repentance is virtually absent. “This is not a religion of repentance from sin,” Smith writes. Second, prayer to this God is almost devoid of adoration and praise, because he is a “distant God” who is “not demanding. He actually can’t be, because his job is to solve problems and make people feel good. There is nothing here to evoke wonder and admiration” (p. 165). In Smith’s subsequent study of the faith of “emerging adults” (ages 18–29), Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), he observes “an increase in the selfish and instrumental use of personal prayer” (102). In summary, instead of adoration and repentance—two forms of prayer that put the one praying into perspective as small, limited, weak, and dependent—younger adults pray almost exclusively for help with their problems or to feel better and happier. Studies of younger adults in Europe have shown a similar shift in the use of prayer from seeking God to becoming “a path of discovery of the ‘true self.’ . . . God, according to these interviewees, can be found only inside the ‘true self.’” See Giordan and Swatos, Religion, Spirituality, 87. See also Giuseppe Giordan and Enzo Pace, eds., Mapping Religion and Spirituality in a Postsecular World (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2012). A thin or vague view of God does not simply reduce prayer’s content but also reverses its motive. In the prayer of younger Americans, God is a means to the end of a happy life for themselves. Glorifying God is not in view—and indeed, would be an opaque and confusing concept. Instead, prayer is used on a cost-benefit (to the self) basis. – Timothy Keller

How to pray with all our heart

Paul expresses love for the Thessalonian church and prayer was as much an expression of that than anything else.

Day and night we ask him with all our heart to let us see you personally and supply what is needed in your faith. May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way for us to come to you! May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him. – 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13 GNT

The Father and Jesus are recognised as active participants in our lives. And we engage them in prayer so that we can also be counted as active participants too.

“Prayer is the open admission that without Christ we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need.⁠” – John Piper

The passion expressed in the words, “with all our heart” goes along with the expression of praying regularly. It is not about being casual, but rather intentional and genuine.

I think that Paul has already been practicing praying all the time and he has not lost his passion for communion with the Father and Jesus. I know I have had moments of passion and of fizzle too. I pray that I may pray consistently and fervently for those I love.

Interesting to note that he prays that he may be able to supply what is needed in their faith. What a disciple-making heart.

I am really challenged when he prays that they may increase and be fully engaged in loving each other as followers of Jesus. In fact, he wants them to be overflowing in love – not just for family and friends – even for those who are hard to love.

Something tells me that when I am praying for others I am beginning to love them more and more.

This process of praying and love makes me perfect and holy in God’s presence. I love that this is the priority of his prayer. It is not about affliction and suffering to go away, rather about actions and the motives, desires and thoughts of their hearts.

I pray that my love may grow and be available for all.

When Daniel prayed, it was not for love, what he needed was wisdom.

He told them to pray to the God of heaven for mercy and to ask him to explain the mystery to them so that they would not be killed along with the other advisers in Babylon. – Daniel 2:18 GNT

When God answered his prayer I love his thanksgiving prayer.

“God is wise and powerful!
    Praise him forever and ever.
He controls the times and the seasons;
    he makes and unmakes kings;
    it is he who gives wisdom and understanding.
He reveals things that are deep and secret;
    he knows what is hidden in darkness,
    and he himself is surrounded by light.
I praise you and honor you, God of my ancestors.
You have given me wisdom and strength;
    you have answered my prayer
    and shown us what to tell the king.” – Daniel 2:20-23 GNT

The answer came when they prayed for God’s mercy.

“The battle was won when Daniel prayed with his friends. Praying friends are a blessing, and “In prayer meetings such as this history has been made.” – Strauss

Considering what was at stake, both Paul and Daniel had their prayer life in a place where they prayed with all their heart.

“In the great majority of books written, and in the sermons preached upon prayer, the human element fills the scene almost entirely. It is the conditions which we must meet, the promises we must claim, the things we must do, in order to get our requests granted; and God’s claim . . . rights . . . [of] glory are often disregarded.” – Arthur W. Pink

Learning to pray my exhaustion to God

I am learning, when it comes to me being exhausted, there is nothing I can throw at God that He cannot handle.

I look at Elijah and I see him running away and weary of life.

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life; he took his servant and went to Beersheba in Judah.

Leaving the servant there, Elijah walked a whole day into the wilderness. He stopped and sat down in the shade of a tree and wished he would die. “It’s too much, Lord,” he prayed. “Take away my life; I might as well be dead!” – I Kings 19:3-4 GNT

I love the grace of unanswered prayer – God is so good at not anwering my ignorant prayers.

He lay down under the tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Wake up and eat.” He looked around and saw a loaf of bread and a jar of water near his head. He ate and drank, and lay down again.  The Lord’s angel returned and woke him up a second time, saying, “Get up and eat, or the trip will be too much for you.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to walk forty days to Sinai, the holy mountain. – 1 Kings 19:5-8 GNT

I am finding that praying while in the in-between place, the liminal space, is where God is leading me from here – a place that I know – to there – a place that is new.

Elijah’s “here.”

There he went into a cave to spend the night.

Suddenly the Lord spoke to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

He answered, “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!” – 1 Kings 19:9-10 GNT

Elijah’s liminal space.

“Go out and stand before me on top of the mountain,” the Lord said to him. Then the Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks—but the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice.

When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

He answered, “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me.” – 1 Kings 19:11-14 GNT

God taking Elijah “there.”

Yet I will leave seven thousand people alive in Israel—all those who are loyal to me and have not bowed to Baal or kissed his idol. – 1 Kings 19:18 GNT

I am learning to run hungrily after God and be listening humbly to Him.

The Father speaks to the Son and the Son to the Father: “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me” (John 17:4–8). The Father and the Son speak to the Spirit: “But when he, the
Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you” (John 16:13–15). – Timothy Keller