Sunday, November 3, 2013

Something about prayer

*Probably a 7 minute read*

Recently I became far more disciplined in a practice of which I'm currently gaining more knowledge and comfort from the character of God than any other practice. The practice I'm talking about is prayer.

It's not that I've never prayed before, and it's not even that I didn't pray in the correct way before, but over the last month or so I've sought to intentionally pray in a way I've never consistently prayed before. I'm talking about intercession - which is basically just a fancy way of saying that I've been praying in favor of other people. I've never experienced understanding the power and goodness of the Father's character than when I prayed for him to work on behalf of others- completely detached from my own preference.

I don't know if you've ever prayed for a friend, or if you've ever prayed for a family member, or if you've ever prayed for anyone on the face of the planet ever, but if you haven't, please oblige me in sharing some thoughts and consider participating with me.

Pray for the person it's hardest for you to pray for.
Anyone can pray good things for someone whom they love or whom they care about, it's a completely different story to pray for someone who has hurt you. Maybe there's a friend who let you down, maybe a sibling whom you can't seem to forgive, maybe a parent who hurt you, maybe a spouse who betrayed you, maybe a child who left and hasn't looked back. It may be someone who hung you up to dry, or someone who abused you, or insert any other reason. It could be that even the thought of praying for this person makes your stomach drop, it makes your heart ache, it seems to go against everything in you, and maybe you can't even think about this person without tears welling up in your eyes. Maybe it seems impossible to even consider praying for them, but that's probably a good place for you to be. And I'm not saying you have to pray for this person- I'm merely suggesting it could serve to grow you in ways you never would have otherwise. I know for me, it was a learning place. I'm learning not to despise the learning place, regardless of how painful it is.

Sometimes, the place of inability and incomprehension is the breeding ground for breakthrough, maturity, and healing. It's the place where you say, "God, I can't do this." and He says, "My grace is sufficient for you."

At first you may have absolutely no idea how to pray for that person. And I think that's a good place for the Spirit to come in and lead you. Luckily enough for us, we have something that gives us a perfect starting place for praying- scripture.

I start with scripture. I pick a verse. It could be a psalm, or a proverb, or something that I read earlier in the day in my own study. It might be a verse someone told me about or I saw written somewhere, but the point is I start with scripture. I start with the word of God, because if I'm going to pray for something, I want to know who I am praying to and I want to understand His power. Additionally, if I'm going to be praying for someone whom I really don't have the heart to pray for, I'm at least going to gain knowledge of the character of God; I'm going to start with the mindset that His Word is living, and active, and transformative (Hebrews 4:12); and when I'm praying for someone whom I find it terribly hard to pray for, I'm going to be pretty dang sure that the one I'm praying to is powerful enough to do something about it.

So, like I said, I start with scripture. I write it down; I ponder it; I think about how it speaks of the character of God, and I praise Him for that attribute He displays for us. I thank him for His grace, for His goodness, and ultimately for His holiness and how He is perfect in all He does. I'd say a significant amount of my prayer goes to showing adoration and thanksgiving to the Father. Usually, this is a humbling practice because it reminds me of how unlike him I am. It's a good practice. I get a good sense of who I'm praying to and that pretty much catapults me into how to pray for that person.

I pray the attributes of God would be revealed more fully to that person, in that person and through that person. I also thank God, when I can, for how that person has displayed those attributes or currently does. I pray that they would see God as His word shows Him to be, that they would be overcome by those attributes and, by His grace, they would become more like Jesus. If I'm praising God for His mercy, I thank Him for His mercy, I thank Him for the times in which the person I'm praying for has been merciful, I pray that they would better understand the Lord's mercy and that they would be transformed into a more merciful person displaying the rich mercy of God to those around them.

Here's the catch though:

When it comes to intercession, I never pray for my own gain. Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever pray for anything on your own behalf. The Bible clearly states that we should let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). What I am saying is, when I specifically pray for other people, I've made an effort not to include my own desires in that prayer. I try to remain pretty impartial. Take mercy for example. I may be praying for God to show His mercy richly to someone and that they would in turn become a more merciful person, but I never pray that they would be more merciful toward me. And, you know, sometimes you want that person to be more merciful to you. So it's hard. But like I said, I leave my praying in favor of another person as strictly that... favor of the other person. Aside from if I see the benefits of the Lord working in their life in that way and regardless of if I ever see the fruit or am blessed by it, I pray favorably for that person.

Praying in this way for other people has caused me to really recognize my motives in it. If I'm genuinely praying for someone else I have to recognize that I want God's best for them even if it's apart from myself. If I'm going to pray that The Lord would make someone more gracious, and I genuinely want them to be a more gracious person, then, if they are gracious to me isn't the point. The point is, are they more gracious? Is this making any sense at all? If the goal in intercession is the most favor and the best blessing for someone, then it doesn't matter if the most favor and the best blessing is seen to me. Because the goal isn't "make that person more gracious to me." The goal is "make that person more gracious for their sake and the sake of God's glory, so they look more like Jesus."
Plus, if you're praying for them to be a more like Christ, in time, everything else should flow out of that.

The goal is for them to be made more like Jesus for His glory, not for my benefit.

When you're praying for other people, I think the best thing you can pray is, "make them more like Jesus." That's a winning prayer. That's a prayer that runs in line with the will of God. That's a prayer, I bet, pleases Him to answer favorably. There's no selfishness in praying that for someone else, it's just genuine, pure love for that person and authentically desiring to see the Lord work in their lives.

So I challenge you, in addition, to the times that you commune with God already, take some time to intercede for others. Take some time to pray scriptural truths over them. Take some time to pray the most for them, the best for them, more grace for them, and more of Jesus for them.

Over time, I've seen God soften my heart in many ways for the people I've hardened it to. I think I've seen a more genuine love in my heart for people. I don't think any of those prayers are wasted time, or wasted breath, because if even God doesn't choose to work those prayers out, He did a work in me as I sought to prayerfully humble myself before Him and pray in favor of others.

And more than anything, I've been able to sense more of the heart of God in intercession. If the Holy Spirit, intercedes on our behalf, and if Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for me (Rom. 8:26; 8:34), how much more certain can I be of His love for me? If He can do it for me, then my heart is to imitate that for others.

My flesh wants all for itself (and it's a long and rough fought battle), but my soul longs for the things of the Lord. More than my desire to seek my own, my desire is to be more like Christ. So, with confidence, I say I want to lay myself down (even when it hurts) that I might see others become all that Christ died for them to be.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
-1 Thessalonians 5:16-19

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