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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Not Asking for Trouble”

In this episode, the yaks of Yakyakistan find themselves beset by disaster in the form of an avalanche and unable to alleviate their situation on their own. But as it turns out, “Yak Culture” does not like to ask other friendly individuals or races for help. Rather, the custom is to wait for them to help on their own without prompting. Yet this caused a bit of an unnecessary delay for Pinkie Pie, who wanted to get her friends to come help clean up the mess but felt it would be improper unless the yaks asked. Not understanding that part about their culture, it led to a great deal of wasted time on both sides, and all stemming from what was considered the proper way to ask for and receive help.

I thought about this episode quite a bit, and finally it was this part that stood out to me. It got me to thinking about how Christians and other religious people do their own “special brand” of asking for help, AKA prayer. A lot of Christians may not realize it, but it’s a hotter topic than one would think.

The Bible definitely encourages prayer, no doubts there. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6); “pray continually,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17…a very short and direct Bible passage!); ““So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”” (Luke 11:9-13) Nevertheless, there is some question of what is the “right way” to pray among different denominations and even within certain churches.

On one side, some Christians will say that we should pray about absolutely everything and God, in turn, will give absolutely everything, and that if he doesn’t it’s because you don’t have enough faith or aren’t living “righteously” enough. Yet we know that’s not necessarily true. Job was the most righteous man alive in his day and yet he had everything taken from him for a time (Job 1:1-2:10). The Apostle Paul was most certainly a model of righteousness and faith and yet he suffered constant misfortune and had his own prayers outright denied in at least one instance (2 Corinthians 11:16-33; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). If nothing else, we can see that when we ask for something in prayer we won’t always get it in “our” time but always in “God’s” time, or when we ask for something we think we need but we don’t we won’t receive it.

Of course, the other extreme is to pray but never expect anything in return. Even this has some basis in Biblical proof, such as in the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who knew God had the power to deliver them from the fiery furnace yet didn’t necessarily expect he would work a miracle on their behalf. Yet it’s easy to overdo this as well. If we expect God to only answer people whenever he feels like it without regard to our need or prayers, then it wouldn’t take long to get an image of a callous and uncaring God in our heads…or no God at all. David sharply reproved people who thought that way in his psalms (Psalm 14), and for good reason. If you feel your prayers are useless and unheard, then you probably won’t pray that much or often. And given what I mentioned earlier is said in the Bible about prayer, the last thing God wants us to do is pray less.

Another big question was proposed to me years ago about the power of communal prayer. The Bible encourages praying in communities and as a body of believers for individual needs, and calls special attention to those who pray for things in groups. “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15) And yet, the power of an individual’s prayer is also emphasized in the Bible (See the passages of Exodus 8:4-10; Numbers 17: 11-13; Joshua 10:12-14; 1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 9:36-42). The question was to consider the case of two very sick women in the hospital. One is the wife of a pastor with a large family, and both her family and the entire congregation prays for her recovery. The other is the wife of a poor, homeless man and he alone prays for her recovery. Is God any less likely to answer the latter’s prayer than the first’s?

Even Jesus’ own disciples asked Him what was the proper way to pray, which was where we received the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4).

For me personally, I think what’s important to remember is that prayer is not simply making a formal request of God. It’s not something that’s entirely “one sided” or takes the form of writing a little note wanting something, any more than the relationship with our own parents was simply trying to find the right way to say things to get stuff. Prayer often involves asking for things, yes, and God is gracious to those who call on his name. But prayer is more than that. The mere act of it is multi-faceted and builds us up spiritually as well as connects us to our Father in Heaven. To me, even the most simple prayer involves all of the following:

  1. Prayer is setting time aside for God. So is reading the Bible, going to Church, ministering, or any of our devotional life. Each of these tasks is declaring that God is more important than what is going on in our lives and he deserves greater honor even in this brief moment. That’s why the more we pray the more authority we give to God in our lives.
  2. Prayer is acknowledging the power of God. Whenever we stop to pray to ask for something great or small, we acknowledge that God has dominion over all things. No matter what it is, whether it’s walking home on a dark night, needing to find money for rent, or wanting a cancer treatment to succeed, prayer states that God has command over all things and all things must obey his Will. That’s why praying aloud over things, whether in our rooms or with someone in public, is a declaration of God’s power over all.
  3. Prayer is enjoying our relationship with God. The fact that we, still in the flesh and sinners, can come to God and ask him for whatever we desire acknowledges our role as his children and his role as our Heavenly Father. It shows that we have the freedom to approach God for whatever we need. That’s why the act of prayer also gives glory to the Sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ and what that meant for us, and why it is so important to not just ask God for things in prayer but to cherish and recognize our relationship with him…just as we don’t come to our own parents or loved ones just for things but to enjoy their company and presence.

To these I would add a fourth thing that isn’t necessarily always in prayer but I feel should be: prayer should always involve an element of thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God for what he has done for us is an acknowledgement of answered prayer, an opportunity to glorify God’s power in our lives, a reminder of what we have to be thankful for, and lastly a chance to show our affection for God. Thanksgiving is the “other half” of prayer–once we have received something, we acknowledge it and give credit to where credit is due.

To me, acknowledging these things each time we pray makes for effective prayer, no matter in what “format” it is presented. While some people need to pray more in general, for many of us who do so regularly it’s easy for it to become as routine as brushing our teeth. My suggestion for this devotional is for both groups: to take some time to think on these things the next time you pray. It might help you realize just how meaningful even these small experiences can be.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the gift of prayer, and that Lord Jesus has promised: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) Please grant that all of my prayers will always be a sign of your importance over my life, an acknowledgement of your authority over all things, a time to build our relationship, and most of all an expression of my thanks and gratitude for all you have done and continue to do for me. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”