A Wish and a Prayer

wishful-thinking

There is a great difference between a wish and a prayer. It’s very possible that what Christians so often do is offer “wishes” to God instead of praying in hope. So, let me say again, there’s a huge difference between praying and wishful thinking.

This topic really takes us to the big struggle of prayer. Why does God, at times, seemingly not answer and why is the answer sometimes just “no?” If you don’t struggle a little bit with this question you probably don’t have much of a prayer life. If you’re praying as a lifestyle, you will eventually run into the difficulty of not understanding why God is doing or allowing what He is or why He doesn’t seem to want to do what you’re asking.

So, here’s the question: is what I’m doing praying in hope or just wishful thinking? There’s a big difference in praying “wishes” to God and praying in hope.

To understand this difference in prayer, I must first demonstrate the difference between these two things: a wish and a hope.

Henry Cloud tells a story of a conversation he had with a woman who was frustrated with the relationship she was in. She had boyfriend and their relationship had been serious for some time, even to the point of talking about marriage. But, the longer their relationship went on he seemed to have less and less time for her. She felt that she was very low on his list of priorities. Out of frustration she broke up with him. After some “time off” she called him back to talk about rekindling the relationship because she missed him. When they were together, they enjoyed each other’s company. But, the problem was, he just didn’t seem to have time for her even when she gave him a second chance.

As she was trying to figure out whether or not to continue in the relationship she ask for some guidance. “Should I continue with this relationship?” was her question. The answer to her was that it dependent upon if there was hope or not. She said that she hoped it would work out. The problem was that it was not really hope at all, it was just a wish. She had all the objective evidence that clearly showed that he would not treat her as a priority, ever.

A wish is subjective, hope is objective.

Cloud’s summation of the story was this: “Remember that hope means investing time and energy toward results that you have solid reason to believe can be achieved. It is not hope to invest time and energy in a goal that has no forces acting upon it to bring it about.” That’s just a wish! (Henry Cloud. 9 Things You Simply Must Do. 63)

To pray for things that God is not even doing is nothing more than a wish.

How, then, do I pray in hope?

Before I can answer that I first must define what hope actually is. Here’s three definitions of hope:

Hope is something known but not yet seen. 

  1. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)
  2. Peter describes hope as something “living.” Because of who Jesus is, what He’s done and what’s he’s promised to do we have hope that has life to it.

Hope is expecting what is to come because of God’s reliability.

  1. “Faith trusts in God’s promises, while hope expects what is to come. God’s reliability and his promise should foster lively, growing assurance, despite delays and doubts.” (Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. 306)
  2. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
  3. In other words, we have great evidence from the Old Testament account of God’s reliability. He promises and does what He promises. He knows all things, even before they happen. Therefore, we can attach ourselves to Christ’s words all the more: “….your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)

Hope is solid reason to believe because God is acting on it.

  1. Christian hope is: confidence in the future, consistent trust in Jesus to provide and patient endurance to wait.

I still need to answer the question, though: how do we pray in hope?

It’s impossible to pray in hope if you don’t know what to hope for. Here’s a few questions that may help steer you in the right direction: What does Jesus promise? What is His desire for your life and the lives for whom you’re praying? What does He want to teach you? Are your current circumstances part of His plan for which you hope?

Praying in hope, then, is always praying “forward” (always looking to the future based upon the promises God has made) basing our request on what we know God is doing. That’s how we have true prayer in hope. Our prayer is based upon objective evidence that God is able or working to bring something about. That “something” is that for which we ought to be praying.  This is essentially what it means to pray in Jesus’ name. This is praying in hope.

Prayer and Faith – Twins

Faith and PrayerAs I lead our church through a season of prayer (and pray and plead for them to join me in prayer) I’ve decided to read E.M. Bound’s complete work on prayer. So far, wow!

Here’s a teaching outline and some thoughts that have come out of that so far.

Unless we come to place where we’re ready to rest our lives, daily, solely in the care of God, we will not come to the place of fervent, diligent prayer. Prayer begins and ends with faith.

Below is an outline I’ve written based upon the first chapter of E.M. Bounds “The Necessity of Prayer” from my copy of The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer. All quotes that are not Scripture are from Bounds.

Prayer that is fueled by faith is:

  1. Diligent
    1. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NKJV)
    2. Faith is the foundation of prayer and prayer grows faith. The two are inseparable. Without the one you cannot have the other.
  2. Sure of the God to whom it prays.
    1. Prayer that is by faith gives up first on self-sufficiency.
    2. “The faith which creates powerful praying is the faith which centers itself on a powerful person. Faith in Christ’s ability to do and to do greatly, is the faith which prays greatly.”
  3. Based upon the work that Christ is already doing.
    1. The only way to guarantee God answering prayer is a prayer that based upon faith in what God is doing, and join in on that.
    2. We will never truly understand verses like: John 14:14, “If you ask anything in my name I will do it,” without understanding this truth.
  4. Waits on God to answer
    1. When we pray by faith we don’t grow disheartened because God hasn’t answered right away.  (We should grow disheartened if God doesn’t answer a prayer we never prayed). Praying by faith trusts that God will answer when our prayer, by faith, matches His purpose that gives us that faith. E. M. Bound says that it’s a privilege to pray and wait on God to answer.
    2. Waiting in faith grows your faith
  5. Prays for today’s present need
    1. Bounds says that we don’t need to pray today for tomorrow’s bread, just for today’s. “The present is ours, the future belongs to God…We cannot have tomorrow’s grace, we cannot eat tomorrow’s bread, we cannot to do tomorrow’s praying. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; and, most assuredly, if we possess faith, sufficient also, will be the good.”

21 Days

Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 19) we will begin 21 days of deliberate prayer as a church. This is a challenge for all who are willing to join in (and I hope you’re willing) to begin to pray in unity for specifics people or topics each day. Each day I will update on this blog the prayer for that day and I’m asking you to join in prayer with me.

Here’s some ways you can get involved:

  1. Participate in praying (deliberately)[1] each day. 
  2. Share this with someone else you know or someone else in our church. Share this link on Facebook. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if this went viral?)
  3. Click the “follow” button to the right on this blog and receive an email each day as it is updated. 
  4. Leave comments on the blog page each day about your prayer, who you’re praying for and how God may be working in your life through prayer.
  5. Come to 10:30 AM worship service ready to enter into a season of prayer with your church family.

The goal of these 21 days is not to pray self-centered prayers but Christ-centnered, others-minded prayers. John wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” (1 John 5:14, ESV)

I’ll leave you with these words from E.M. Bounds written in his famous book on prayer:

“What a world of natural praying there is, which is selfish, self-centered, self-inspired! The Spirit, when he prays through us, or helps us to meet the mighty ‘ougtness’[2] of right praying, trims our praying down to the will of God, and then we give heart and expression to his unutterable groanings.”

Can’t wait to see what God does in us and through us because of just 21 days!

[1] Deliberate prayer is a time when you stop and devote your full attention to praying to God. This is not in the car, at your desk at work, ect. This is taking the time to do nothing else but pray.

[2] Luke 18:1 “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Encounter

Encounter

If you read any of Paul’s epistles it’s easy to see that he had a one-track mind after he met Jesus Christ. What an encounter he had! You can read about his encounter with Jesus in Acts chapter 9. It wasn’t that Paul was blinded that made the most impact on him, though it certainly got his attention. Paul, after his encounter with Jesus was overwhelmed; not by the situation, not by the circumstance but by Jesus Himself!

Paul initially did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but when he met Jesus, that all changed. When Paul met Jesus he had to deal with him the same way everyone does as described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. This paragraph in Lewis’ magnum opus has been distilled down by many as “liar, lunatic or Lord.” This is how C.S. Lewis describes how people must, or must not, view Jesus:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” This is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[1]

Every encounter with Jesus Christ demands a response.
The encounter Paul has with Jesus is one that affects him in such a way that the rest of his life will be telling others about Jesus that they may have an encounter with Him too. Paul knows if they do, like him, they will never get over it. No one who has a true encounter with Jesus will ever get over it. No one walks away from Him thinking He’s no big deal.
That’s why Paul preached, wrote and even endured trial, affliction and persecution the way he did. His encounter with Jesus changed his purpose and life-direction. That’s why he tells the Ephesians to pray this way: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.[2]

You may not have been blinded by a light when you met Jesus for the first time, as Paul was, but your encounter with Him was, no doubt, just as overwhelming; wasn’t it? So, what’s your response been? In all of history, since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the response has been to leave all to follow Him. Don’t think that your response should be any different. Are you still overwhelmed by Him? If not, take a look at Jesus again. He’s still incredibly beautiful and overwhelming. You won’t get over Him!


[1] C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity. p. 52

[2] (Ephesians 6:18–20, ESV)