Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Should I Pray For You?

I recently became involved in a conversation that troubled me deeply.  A fellow believer was attempting to talk people out of ever offering "unspoken" prayer requests.  (For those who may not know, an "unspoken" request is a request in which a person, for whatever reason, chooses not to reveal any details.  They simply say, "I have an unspoken request," and they ask others to pray for them.)

His arguments, as I understand them, went like this:

  • You have to give me at least some bare specifics, or I won't know what to pray about.  I will not pray for your unspoken requests, because they might be sinful.  (But don't give me too much information...I do NOT want to hear it!)
  • There must be something wrong with either your ability to form healthy relationships, or something wrong with your church's ability to provide such relationships, if you do not have someone you can trust with the details.  You need to work out those problems with yourself or your church, instead of bringing your unspoken requests to us.
  • If you're in a tragic situation where you don't have anyone that you can trust with the specifics, then why bother bringing your unspoken request to us?  You obviously don't trust us, or you'd tell us more (but remember, not TOO much.  We really don't want to hear it).
  • You lack faith if you believe that your own prayers for yourself are inadequate.  Trust God to listen to you as you pray for yourself.  You don't need our prayers.
  • I suspect that your request has something to do with your sinfulness, and your unwillingness to talk about it comes from your prideful unwillingness to confess your sin.
Someone else agreed with him, and complained about people going on and on with their requests and boring him with the details.  He actually described it as "torturous."  And then he complained about the fact that people who pray for the detailed requests will actually mention the details in their prayers, "as if God hadn't heard them the first time."

I was left stunned.  If the people who brought these arguments and complaints are representative of many believers (and I pray they are NOT), then the church has a lot of repenting to do when it comes to the subject of intercession...regardless of the amount of detail given or withheld in our requests!

Are we really going to pridefully critique one another's prayer requests and refuse to pray for those that we consider imperfect?  Where is our love?  Where is our humility?  

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
For we do not know what to pray for as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us
with groanings too deep for words."
(Rom. 8:26)

That was the Apostle Paul, including himself when he said "WE do not know what to pray for as we ought."  Do we dare believe that we do better?  

God forgive us our arrogance!  Where would we be if Your Holy Spirit would only intercede for us when our prayers were perfect?  Where would we BE?

If we feel ourselves qualified to sit back and judge the prayer requests we hear, and spurn those who "do not know how to pray as they ought," we place ourselves above the Spirit.  He may condescend to intercede for us when we pray imperfectly, but we have higher standards than He does, evidently.  "Don't bother me with the details, and don't bother me without the details.  Tailor your requests to suit me, or you can forget my prayers."

Oh, how I thank God that He never spurns my imperfect prayer requests, because those are the only kind I've ever made!  And not only does He not reject our requests, but He actually goes a step farther and polishes them up for us, making them like sweet incense as He brings them before the Father.

Are we above interceding...above taking an imperfect request and agreeing with it by offering an imperfect prayer of our own?  Do we not realize that the Holy Spirit will have to clean up our intercessory prayers, just as He has to clean up the prayers of the person we're interceding for?  

Do we not realize it is a privilege to be allowed to pray for others, to be allowed the opportunity to be used by God in someone else's life, when we are so imperfect ourselves?

What is the purpose of asking for prayer?  Is it, as my acquaintance suggested, because we lack faith to believe that God hears us if we pray alone?  Is it so that people can judge our requests and determine if we deserve their intercession?  Why didn't God just tell us to keep our requests to ourselves, and why did He tell us to pray for one another?

Could it be that, wonder of wonders, God wants us to learn to love one another, humbly and non-judgmentally?  And could it be that love is actually more than enjoyment of others, but extends into bearing with them, and bearing their burdens?

What would these acquaintances of mine do, I wonder, if someone they deeply loved offered a "sub-par" request, with either too much or too little detail?  Would they roll their eyes and say, "Forget it, I'm not praying for you?"  I think not...and the reason would be simple.  They love that person.  So when they roll their eyes and refuse to pray for someone else with a "sub-par" request, with too much or too little detail, the reason is equally simple.  They do not love that person.

Jesus said that "Love your neighbor" is the second-greatest commandment.

So what do we do with unspoken requests...or any kind of prayer request?  It would seem to me that humble love for our neighbor could not be satisfied with less than this:

"Lord, my brother/sister has a need. I don't know what it is, but You do. Help me to love my brother/sister as I lift them before you now. Please work in their situation for Your glory, and may your Glory in their situation ultimately bring them joy in You.  If there is anything I can do to lighten their load, please help me to do so.  And please bring their name to my mind frequently so that I can continue to hold them up before the Throne of Grace.  Thank You for giving me the privilege of praying for someone who trusted me enough to ask."

Let me say it is a privilege to be allowed to pray for someone in this way!  

Oh Lord, forgive me for the times when pride has sullied my prayer life, as I'm sure it often has.  Please humble me so that I can pray for others as I should.  And please raise up a whole army of prayer warriors who love deeply and humbly, so that no one need fear to bring their requests, however worded, before Your people.  In Jesus Name, and through His Spirit who intercedes for me, Amen!

Friday, August 12, 2011

How I Mock Jesus (And You Do, Too)

Imagine, if you will, a classic tragic tale.  (And if you think from the beginning that you know where it's going, hang in there.  It might surprise you.)

Ours is the story of a prince (the best, most noble sort of prince) who dearly loves a peasant woman, though she seems incapable of returning his devotion.  One day he hears that his beloved is sick, near death in fact, and that nothing can save her but a transfusion of his rare blood type.  And her condition, he's told, is so desperate that it will take every drop of blood he has to save her.  He will have to die.

Because of his love for her, he donates all of that blood.  But as the last light of life is fading from his eyes, his beloved walks into the room.  She takes in the scene, is told why the prince is dying, and responds condescendingly.  

"Well, that was so very noble of you," she says with a pat on his arm.  "I will do my best to remember your sacrifice, and I'll sing songs of praise to your memory every Sunday.  But it was really a waste, you see.  Noble, but unnecessary.  You completely disease really wasn't that serious."

To her dying day, though she cherished sentimental thoughts of him, she remained mostly puzzled by the foolishness that had driven him to such extremes over nothing at all.  She couldn't quite bring herself to honor his memory as she should, because she found his foolishness pitiable, and just a tad embarrassing.

I've been that peasant.  Far more often than I care to admit.  And I'm willing to bet that you have, too.  Think not?  Hear me out.

This morning I was in the mood to coddle one of my pet sins.  And so I coddled away, not caring that I was doing so.  It really wasn't a big deal.

My condition wasn't that serious.

Then I found myself in a conversation with one of my sons... a son who was once again revealing his love of  "sin for sin's sake."  He really loves badness because it's bad, and bad is fun.

As He so often does, my Prince of Peace convicted me by what came out of my own mouth.  Here's the gist of what I heard myself saying:

"Son, Jesus wasn't a fool for coming and suffering the way He did, and dying the way He did, to save us from our sin.  He didn't overreact to sin, as if sin really weren't the "big deal" that He thought it was.  Look at Calvary and understand.  Calvary paints a picture of how much God loves us, but don't miss what else it tells us.  Calvary paints the very truest picture of just how horrible our sin really is.  The God of the universe looked at our condition, lost in sin, and decided that we were in such a desperate state that it was worth Him coming and being tortured and dying to save us from that sin.  Do you want to look at Him and tell Him He was a fool for doing that?  If the God of all the universe says that our sin is that big a deal, then it really is.  And one of the worst things our sin does to us is blind us to how bad it really is.  And it blinds us to the glorious wisdom and love of the God who chose to save us from sin, at great cost to Himself."

I had to slow down as I heard the irony of what I was saying. 

Whenever I coddle my favorite sin, calling it "no big deal," I am mocking the One who thought (or rather, who KNEW) it was worth His very life's blood to save me from it.  I set myself up to think of Him only sentimentally, as the noble but pitiable fool who overreacted.  I prime my heart to sing songs of praise condescendingly, instead of in awe and wonder of the love that saved me from my worst own sin.

That's how I have unknowingly mocked Jesus sometimes, and I bet you've done it, too, without realizing it.  I hope you'll join me in repenting and re-discovering the awe of what really transpired on Calvary, the horribly glorious truth of what we were really saved from.  May it infuse our prayers, our praises, our lives with joyful love for Him, and an ever-growing hatred for the sin in our own hearts.  May the Gospel, and the God of the Gospel, free us to walk in greater holiness today.

And may we love our wise, gloriously loving Prince as He deserves to be loved.
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