No More “Zap Me with Holiness” Prayers

Sometimes I wish God would just download faith and virtue into me. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to pray a simple prayer like, “Please make me humble, Lord” and in a flash, self-promotion, competition, and attention-seeking were things of the past?

 But God doesn’t operate like that.  It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but He really values partnership and process. And a quick, impersonal download of humility wouldn’t involve much of either.

I’ve prayed my share of “Give me faith, God!” and “Patience, oh Jesus, I really need You to give me patience!” kinds of prayers. But honestly, even though I know the desires for patience and faith line up with God’s will, I haven’t noticed much change as a result of those prayers. Which brings me back to partnership and process. Did I mention that God really likes them?

God likes to be with His kids. He loves relationship. He delights in conversation. He wants us to be holy far more than we do. But I’ll go out on a limb and say this—He seems to want our company even more than our holiness.

So what does this mean when it comes to praying for matters of character? I’m learning that it means talking with God about what it is I want to see Him form in me—not just asking for microwave change.

For example, a while ago my small group collectively accepted a challenge to grow in generosity. For two weeks, we were all going to pray about and look for opportunities to be more generous. So I prayed along the lines of, “God, make me more generous” then went on about my day. At the end of the two weeks, I realized that not much had changed. I was no more or less generous than I’d been before we took on the challenge.

Bothered by this, I talked to God about it. This time, instead of just asking Him to make me more generous, I asked Him why it was hard, why nothing had changed. He responded with a question: You’re afraid of being more generous. What are you afraid of, Child? As I reflected on His question, I realized there were fears I was barely aware of. Fears of not having enough. Fears of growing old alone. Fears of being taken advantage of. Fears that God would not really be there for me.

As we continued to talk about it, God showed me that my issue really wasn’t about money and stuff. It was about trusting Him. About believing in His goodness and personal care. About having faith that He would protect me and care for me, come what may.

God wasn’t interested in getting more money and stuff from me. He doesn’t need my money and stuff. But He does want my trust. He wants me to really believe He is there for me so I can depend on Him with the faith of a child.

As you can imagine, my prayers changed quite a bit after that conversation. One day as we continued to sort through all this, God gave me a mental picture. I saw myself as a daughter of the King, His princess. All that He had was mine. He didn’t give me an allowance—I didn’t need one because the King gave me access to all that He had. Every day we would take walks together in His Kingdom. When we would see people in need, He would encourage me to give something to them—out of His royal treasury. His joy was apparent. He loved giving, and He especially loved doing it with me. And for my part, I loved giving with Him, too. What I gave was not mine—it was His. He had a treasury that would never be exhausted. When I was giving in partnership with Him, I needed never fear scarcity. I could be as generous as I wanted—and I found that I wanted to be very generous!

Need I tell you the effect that conversation with God and the picture He gave have had on me? I don’t ask God to make me generous now. Instead, I thank Him for sharing His riches with me. And then I ask Him, King Papa, who shall we give to today? Help me to see people and their needs the way You do so that we can give to them from all that is Yours.

That seems to be a prayer God loves to answer. Many days He shows me someone He wants to share with. And I’m amazed at the joy and freedom I feel to be able to do that with Him, trusting in Him to take care of me.

I’m still in process on this, of course, and the conversation is very much an ongoing one—but it helps me to see the difference between praying for God to zap me with instant holiness and inviting God to partner with me in the process of growing my character.

Have you had experiences in the role of prayer in spiritual transformation that you’d like to share? I’d love to learn from you.

 

 

 

 

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So Easy, a Child Could Do It

Actually, my title is misleading. When it comes to prayer, children much more often seem to “get it” better than adults do. When it comes to prayer, we would probably be more accurate to say, “So easy, an adult can do it.” But I’m only a few sentences in and I’m swerving off topic already. Let me get to my point.

This summer my church’s prayer ministry is teaching a series on prayer in children’s church. We’re teaching the kids everything from the basics (prayer equals relationship with God, the Lord’s Prayer, and intercession), to more advanced (for adults anyhow—maybe not for children!) concepts like listening prayer, perseverance, and inner-healing prayer. I’ve been amazed and encouraged by how easily some of these kids put into practice what they are learning—with faith, earnestness, vulnerability and boldness, no less!

Take, for instance, the little girl who has been praying for a long time about a friend who is mean to her. She told me that at first all she asked God to do was to “make her nicer.” But as she persisted in prayer, she started to realize some things. She realized that other little girl might be nicer if she knew Jesus! So she started praying that her friend would come to know Jesus. But then she realized that her friend might not even have heard very much about Jesus, so she started praying that she would read the Bible so she could get to know Jesus.

Over time, as she persevered in prayer and let God reshape her prayers, her prayers became more mature and others-focused. She told me her prayers are not so “greedy” any more.

It took me many years to learn that persevering in prayer does not mean praying the same (often self-focused) request over and over, day in and day out. Now I realize that part of God’s work is to shape me and my prayers into conformity with His character and plans. I do that by listening to Him, asking questions, listening some more, and hanging in there, even when God seems to be taking a long time. But this little girl already almost intuitively understands these critical truths.

So I have a thought: What if, after we’re done teaching the prayer series to the kids in children’s church, they come and teach the adults to pray in the adult service? Maybe they could make it simple enough that even we adults could do it!

 

Foul Play

The enemy plays unfair. He tempts you with a thought, and then condemns you for having it! I’ve been the target of that cruel strategy far too often—as most of us probably have. We know that God says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” But somehow it’s seems easier to believe Satan’s accusation, “You are nothing but a sinner. Always have been always will be. You’ll never change, you’ll never overcome your sin. So why bother trying?”

When Satan goes after me like that, even if I don’t actually give in to the temptation, I usually spiral into a slump of defeat and disgrace. I feel so much shame that I can barely eke out much more of a prayer than, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” If I’m not very careful, I can get stuck there.

However, contrary to what the deceiver tries to convince us of, temptation does not equal sin. Tempting thoughts do not equal sinful actions. They can lead there, obviously, but temptation on its own is not sin. So I am getting pretty fed up with the enemy raking God’s children over the coals for being tempted.

But here’s the thing: if it were up to us to overcome sin and temptation, we could never do it. The enemy’s temptations are powerful and cunning. He’s both smarter and stronger than we are. So when he says that we will never change (and a thousand variations on that theme), in a sense, he’s right. We won’t—certainly not on our own feeble steam. However, and this is a huge however—it is Christ’s resurrection power at work in us that transforms us. And it is Jesus’ blood that delivers us. We do not save ourselves, we do not heal ourselves, we do not change ourselves—God does it all.

Today, the Holy Spirit directed me to some Scriptures that I can take up as my shield of faith whenever the enemy lobs his arrows at me. They all have the same theme—it is God in me that does the work, not me. I belong to Him, He is invested in me, and He will not let me fall to the evil one. Here they are:

  • “The Lord will fulfill [his purpose] for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever–do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138:8).
  • “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
  • ” I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).
  • “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

These verses help me to believe that when the enemy goes at me with those below-the-belt accusations, I don’t have to prove or justify anything. I don’t have to show him how much progress I’ve made in sanctification. Instead, I can stand up to him on the basis of what God’s Word says. I can remind myself—and him—that I’m counting on God to do for me what He says He will do.

What Scriptures do you pray and use when the enemy tries to take you out?

Mercy Everywhere

The fires I wrote about last week are now 80 percent contained and, though still burning, no longer pose immediate threat to my city. However, 32, 000 people were evacuated from their homes, 346 homes and a number of businesses burned to the ground, hundreds of people remain displaced, and our city grieves.

I personally was not involved in the fire, but that does not mean I was not affected. Just about everybody I have talked to knows someone who lost their home. It will take the better part of a year before many of them are able to find or build a new place to call “home,” and it will take many years, probably decades, before the natural beauty of the west side of Colorado Springs returns. And I doubt any of us will ever forget the horror of seeing fire jump over the ridge and burn down into the residential parts of town. (To see an incredible five-day, time-lapse video of the fire, go to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBA7eHY022k)

Everywhere I go, people talk about the fire. Everybody has a story. But here is the most amazing thing—terrifying and horrible as last week was, for the most part, people are grateful. In the grocery store, the chiropractor’s office, even the editorial page of our local newspaper, people are talking about God’s mercy. This fire was terrible—no way about it—but, as one friend put it, “God was all over it.”

If you read my blog last week, you know that my overriding prayer was, “Lord, have mercy.” And He has answered that prayer. Here are just a few examples:

  • Overwhelming hospitality. People opened their homes to evacuated friends, family, and sometimes to strangers.
  • Neighborly kindness. Some people had only 30 minutes or less to evacuate. Can you imagine? But people rushed to help. My musician friend who is out of the country didn’t have to worry about her harp because when her friends learned her house was in danger, they went and removed her instrument for her. My artist friend had another friend show up with his van to take his paintings to safety. My animal-loving friends found refuge in other friends’ homes, along with their cats, dogs, birds, fish, and rabbits.
  • Churches, businesses, and other organizations opened their doors to evacuees, offering food, water, hygiene supplies, and other necessities.
  • Firefighters showed (and continue to show as they still battle the blazes) incredible courage, selflessness, quick-thinking, and untiring dedication to save 80 percent of the homes and thousands of acres of woodland in the path of the fire.
  • Some people were astounded to find their houses intact while homes on either side of theirs burned to the ground.
  • On the other hand, people who did lose their homes—like the newlyweds in my church—overflowed with gratitude for the ways God had protected them, provided for them, and given them peace in the midst of the loss.
  • Some people are experiencing God’s mercy in the tremendous outpouring of caring people who are helping in myriad ways. As one friend said, “Going through this is restoring my ability to see goodness in people.”
  • Others are experiencing God’s mercy as they see their faith remain intact or even grow in spite of fear and loss. The day after the firestorm, when many people feared that their homes had been lost, I was astounded by the incredible faith people were showing. On Facebook, Scriptures and prayers and worship videos were being shared like crazy. I saw no fist-shaking there, but rather, incredible trust in God, no matter what.
  • I’ve attended three worship services since the worst day of the fire, and all of them were amazing. It seems that pain and loss either draw us closer to God or distance us from Him. What I noticed was that this trial is drawing people closer to God. It has been amazing to worship with so many hurting people who, like Job, seem to be saying, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). And to hear them sing, sincerely, “God is good. All the time.”
  • Even the opinion page editor of my local newspaper—not a believer as far as I know—was seeing God in the crisis, urging people to pray for God to use this catastrophe to bring our community together.
  • People from all over the nation prayed for Colorado Springs and have expressed incredible concern and support for us; we feel loved.

Our city isn’t through this trial by any means. The fires aren’t even out yet, and many people can’t go back to their homes, or have no homes to go back to. So I’ll still be praying “Lord, have mercy” for many days to come. But I wanted to let those of you who have prayed for us that God is indeed answering our prayers. His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:23).