I attended mid-week prayer service for the second week in a row. No small thing, since I have struggled to be faithful in my Sunday morning attendance for years. But as is often the case, when trials and tribulations arise, we often sink to our knees. Our family is going through a rough patch and I’ve discovered myself drawing closer to the Lord, and this time it’s different. In years past, I would pray through a difficult circumstance and then return to my old habits. This time, I feel an incredible desire to change my ways — to honor the Lord who gave His Son to die for me. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card this time around, and it pains me to admit that I ever felt that way. But you need to know that to understand how different my experience is this time.
Usually when I would struggle with a rough patch in life, I would pray “Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God — Pleeeeeeeeease help me!” Things would get better (hooray!) or things would stay the same (boo!) and I’d go on about my business. Obviously, this is not how it’s supposed to work. God is not some vending machine that we pop our two “Oh, God, pleeeeease help me”‘s in with expectation of everything being put to right. Considering the Creator of the universe sacrificed his only begotten Son to die for my sins, it’s pretty certain He’d like to have an ongoing relationship with me. Since He found me (and all of mankind) precious enough to sacrifice His Son . . . it’s not a casual relationship He’s after.
I can’t really go into the details of the rough patch that I’m traveling through, but after several days of prayer and the Lord showing me scripture after scripture that really ministered to my heart, I had a revelation: as much as I was grieving for the situation, how much more does the Lord grieve for each person who rejects His gift of salvation? Or the person who goes through the motions without truly saying, “Lord, I yield myself to your perfect plan for my life”?
After thinking about this for a while, I realized that I did not want to “pray and have faith” until the storm passed, returning to my old ways until the next time a crisis arose. I’m going to truly walk my talk, and that’s something to rejoice about. But it’s not the only thing.
Like I mentioned above, I’ve really been praying for this circumstance to be resolved. And as I’ve sought guidance from the Word, from family, and from my pastor, I’ve learned (and will learn) so much. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned thus far:
Submit your petitions to the Lord and then thank Him for them.
Over the years I’ve been prone to the “groveling/repetitious” prayer. “Oh, God, please, please, please …. Dear God, please, please, please”. In my reading, however, I read the following in James 1:2-8:
2) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5) If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6) But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7) That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
From that passage alone, I’ve come away with the knowledge that this “rough patch”, while causing a lot of heartache and tears, has already drawn me closer to the Lord than I’ve been in years or perhaps even in my life. The footnotes in my NIV Bible say this: “James doesn’t say if you face trials, but whenever you face them. He assumes that we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.
We also must have a positive outlook as described in verse 6: “…he must believe and not doubt”. I just love the footnotes in my Bible, because they help to clarify so many things. In this passage, the footnotes say: To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God, but also believe in his loving care. It includes relying on God and expecting that he will hear and answer when we pray. We must put away our critical attitude when we come to him. God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request. We must have confidence that God will align our desires with his purposes.
Continuing on: A mind that wavers is not completely convinced that God’s way is best. It treats God’s Word like any human advice, and it retains the option to disobey. It vacillates between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s commands. To stabilize your wavering or doubtful mind, commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.
SO — if we are in the midst of trials, we should count it joy that those trials are helping us to grow stronger in the Lord, even if it doesn’t feel like it while we’re going through the trials. In addition, as we pray to our heavenly Father, we should have confidence that He WILL answer our prayers, as long as what we pray for lines up with the Word. I expect asking for the winning lotto numbers does not fall into the “lines up with God’s Word” category. But praying for another individual’s salvation or restoration to relationship with God? — definitely on the list.
I just love how the Lord has been confirming all the things I’m learning in the rough patch. This evening, during the prayer service, one of our elders spoke briefly and said, “Rejoicing is a sign that we’re trusting the Lord.” I just love that! I’ve been shedding more than a few tears the last few days, and I asked Pastor about it. I said, “Is it wrong to cry so much when I’m supposed to be trusting God for an answer to my prayer?” He said he didn’t think so, as long as my tears were not rooted in fear. Truthfully, I can’t really say if they were or weren’t, but I’m choosing to REJOICE in the Lord from here on out — I’m choosing to TRUST the Lord to resolve this rough patch.
Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Again, those desires have to line up with His Word (no lotto ticket numbers), but isn’t that an awesome thought?
Philippians 4:6,7 says “6) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7) And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If I delight in the Lord, rejoice in the Lord, find joy in the Lord, give thanks to the Lord, He will answer my prayers.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It just seems like joy is part and parcel of prayer, and that by being joyful when praying for specific needs, it’s like saying, “I trust you, Lord, and I know you have this under control.” I am working on making this kind of prayer — joyful, thankful prayer — a integral part of my life with the Lord.