Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Transforming Power of Prayer (Part 3)


"Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). Prayer requires you to see yourself as needy. The prayer for something as normal as bread for the day makes no sense unless it pictures something true about you. We are needy and dependent. We were never hardwired for an independent, self-sufficient existence. Prayer makes no sense at all unless it is really true that you are dependent upon God for the basic necessities of life. Prayer always requires you to acknowledge personal inability, weakness, and need. Daily prayer acknowledges daily need. Daily prayer acknowledges God’s call for you to be content with what he gives you today and to trust tomorrow into his hands. And if you are dependent on God for something as basic as bread, then there is a whole catalog of things necessary for your life that you are unable, in and of yourself, to provide.

I cannot and do not control all the things that need to be controlled in order to guarantee that I will have a job that can support my family. I do not rule all the circumstances that must be in place to ensure that my family has an adequate home to live in. I do not control all the things that will result in those I love and me being healthy and safe. I do not determine all the things that must be in place for my children to have a good school to attend. I do not exercise authority over the things that will ensure that I will have a solid church to attend. There are many important needs in my life that I do not have the power to independently meet.

But there is more. If you take obedience to God's call seriously, you need to know that you can’t become these things or do these things by yourself. You do not have the ability to turn yourself into a person who is loving, kind, patient, thankful, gentle, forgiving, faithful, and self-controlling. And you surely have no power whatsoever to ensure that the people near you will be these kind of people. These essential character qualities of life are only ever the fruit of the transforming work of the Spirit of God in your heart. They only come as he progressively delivers you from you and forms you into the likeness of Jesus.

Prayer yanks you out of your delusions of self-sufficiency and reminds you of how deeply needy you really are. Prayer reminds you that you will never be what you need to be and do what you are called to do without divine rescue and restoration. Prayer humbles you, and as it does, it makes you more patient and more understanding of others. No one is more patient with the weaknesses and needs of another than the person who has admitted that he is also deeply needy.

For many of us, somewhere in the early days of good commitments, wise choices, and loving responses, we quit seeing ourselves as needy, and the result is devastating. At some point we begin to feel that we have figured it out. More and more it seems as though we have arrived. We don't know it, but we are turning gifts of God’s grace into an occasion for personal pride. This pride in our wisdom, ability, and strength is subtle and deceptive. It almost always is. Then we announce, in some moment of theological change, “We don’t need God anymore.” And we don’t quit praying before a meal and at the end of the day, but our prayers are more a spiritual routine than an indicator of what we really believe about ourselves and God. We never quit participating in the programs and ministries of our church, but there's a clear separation between the Sunday celebration of God’s grace and the self-sufficiency of the rest of the week.

In fact, in a real way, we effectively quit praying, because we quit seeing ourselves as needy. Sure, we mumble well-rehearsed religious phrases with heads bowed and eyes closed. But these “prayers” are no more true prayers than the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple in Christ’s illustration in Luke 18. Often our prayers are devoid of a deep sense of personal need, and because they are, they are also devoid of heartfelt appreciation and celebration.

I wish I could say that I’ve never been in this position, but I have. Much of the trouble that I experienced in the early years of my marriage was due to my pride and my impatience with Luella, who was “not as righteous and mature as me.” My prayers were more an act of external religiosity than they were an honest expression of the cries of a needy heart.

Real prayer transforms you as it requires you to acknowledge how fundamentally needy you actually are.

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