“I have never prayed fervently for 40 days and not seen some earth-shattering, window-rattling, life-altering God event and I want that for you. God will show us so clearly that He is at work, when we’re faithful to seek him–that’s what breakthrough prayer is all about.”
– James MacDonald
Before prayer gets answered, the pray-er needs to step out in faith. Jesus had several encounters with people who trusted in Him, and the way they approached Him should be our model for prayer. Don’t you think God is up to the challenge of answering prayers of faith? Let Scripture shape your prayer life… and watch how God shows up in the midst of your circumstances and makes Himself known.
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13, esv)!
Two guys go into the temple . . .
That’s how one of Jesus’ parables from Luke 18 begins.
Now neither one of these men was particularly likable. One was a Pharisee, a member of one of the three main sects in first-century Judaism, known for being over-the-top sticklers to the various rules of religion. The other was a tax collector, a position held by Jewish men who’d purchased from the Roman government the right to collect taxes in far-flung territories of the Empire. And any overage they were able to extort from the people, they generally pocketed. So needless to say—they weren’t very popular with the masses.
But between these two unlikely, unlikable characters, Jesus selected one of them to show us what it means to go deeper in prayer.
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’” (Luke 18:11). He is the picture of what prayer is not—seeking a place of public prominence, looking down his nose at others, considering his own character to be superior to those around him.
But if you’re wanting to go deeper in prayer, take a good accounting of the tax collector . . . because he gives us a picture of how to do it.
• Take a humble position. Posture is helpful in prayer. Kneeling is an indication of submission. Bowing your head communicates your awareness of God’s honor above your own. Closing your eyes and folding your hands contributes to the earnestness of your heart. The tax collector “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven.” He knew the kind of man he was. He knew the kinds of sins he’d committed. He approached God from a lowly position, from a heart attitude of humility.
• Come with true contrition. Contrition means heartfelt confession—sorrow and admission put together into the same package. To “beat his breast” didn’t mean he was inflicting pain on himself as some sort of penance. This was more of a sign that said he wasn’t seeking his own comfort in prayer. He was willing to go to the depths of himself with God, and to see it all . . . in all its ugliness. True contrition results in a change of direction from sin, which proves the sincerity of a heart that wants to be free of it.
• Make sincere petitions. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Only seven words. There’s no need for eloquence when your heart is in prayer; no need to try to impress the Lord (much less other people) with your command of spiritual language. For as Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
The way up in prayer is down—down to where you don’t care what it costs or looks like, down to where you want God more than you want anything else in the world.
Humbly. Contritely. Sincerely.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner. In Jesus’ name, amen.
So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again (Matthew 26:44, esv).
We tend to think of prayer as asking for things—prayers of petition. And that’s a biblically valid function of prayer. But sometimes prayer is not so much about getting something from God, as much as getting through a trial with God. Prayers of surrender are for those times when we’re still trusting in His power to change things, but we’re accepting the fact that things are unlikely to change anytime soon.
That’s surrendered prayer.
And that’s not a one-time thing.
Jesus’ appeal to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane is marked by not one, not two, but three periods of prayer. The tenor of His opening prayer was summarized in His statement, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). After chiding His disciples for not staying awake with Him, He returned and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42). In His first prayer, He’d asked for some way of accomplishing the Father’s will that didn’t include the cross that was coming. Then, accepting that the cross was at hand, He yielded Himself to its certainty. But the third time He went into prayer, Scripture doesn’t even spell out what He said. The Spirit only inspired the Gospel writer to record Jesus “saying the same words again.”
Why would that be, do you think? It’s because when our prayer is an acknowledgment of our surrender to the Father’s purposes, we should anticipate needing to repeat that prayer frequently, reminding ourselves that God can be trusted, and reminding ourselves where our restless heart must stay.
I know what you may be thinking: Doesn’t the Bible say we’re not supposed to pray the same prayers over and over? No, it doesn’t—not exactly. When Jesus said not to use “vain repetitions as the heathen do” (Matthew 6:7, nkjv)—“meaningless repetition” in our praying (nasb)—He was condemning prayer that is ritualistic, head-only prayer that’s done for no other reason than to say that we said it.
But how many times have you risen from serious prayer and gone almost immediately in your mind toward solutions other than surrender? Perhaps you’ve started going to work on fixing the problem yourself. Perhaps you’ve become overwhelmed with guilt and despair, convinced He’s unwilling to walk through this thing with you any longer. It may be only the next day, the next hour—maybe no more than the next ten minutes. But it’s not too soon for you to remind yourself, even as you volitionally reiterate your choice: “I’ve given this to You, Lord.” “She belongs to You, Lord.” “It’s forgiven and in the past, Lord.” “I’m not living in regret, Lord.” “I’m going forward in joy and gratitude, Lord.” Repeating your submissive prayer from the heart is the road to real surrender . . . and repeating it as often as necessary.
If you’re at the point of praying a prayer of surrender, I’m sure you did not want or plan to be here. You’ve asked God to take something away that He’s not taking away, or to give something that’s simply not on the horizon. And there’s no indication that His answer will change to “yes” in the near future, if at all. But in returning time and again to surrender, you will find He’s still here with you. You will experience His grace flowing over you, and He will carry you.
So pray it again.
Father, You have never failed me. Your ways are right, true, and secure, and I admit that they are high above mine. I cannot see today what Your purpose may be for this trial, but I do not want to pay the inevitable price any longer for being resistant to Your will. I surrender to You today, trusting that You and Your sufficient grace will see me through what I’m facing, as well as sustaining my loved ones and others who are facing it with me. I am Yours, Lord, and I rest today under Your full control, clinging to the name of Jesus my Savior, amen.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11–13, esv).
God has a plan for your life. He has some objectives for you. Even knowing those truths, it’s still easy to get stuck in the bottomless vortex of questions: Who am I supposed to marry? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do for work? It’s time to set aside the questions and get back to what God has said.
His plans for you are not so much about those specifics as they are about developing your character. Everything else will sort itself out.
God always has plans for the welfare and future of those who are His. He always has plans to give His children hope. Even in the midst of sobering seasons of discipline, God pours out His heart for His people, pointing them (and us) toward relationship. The circumstances He allows are designed to cause us to call upon Him. We’re always able to call, seek, and find Him because He wants us to call, seek, and find Him!
When God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” His words are a great comfort. But wouldn’t you love to get a look at those plans? The tension isn’t, “Does God know?” The tension is, “I want to know!” Although God understands our questions, He doesn’t owe us any answers. It’s as if He says, “I know, but I’m not going to fill you in . . . yet.”
He does give us hints, however. God provides us with some general categories that describe His purposes. First, they are plans for your welfare. The Hebrew word is shalom, meaning “the complete state of well-being; fulfillment; prosperity; peace.” As God looks down the telescope of time, His plans are for your total well-being.
Second, His designs for you are not for evil. People who are determined to prove they can live contrary to God’s program will pay a price for their experiment. God’s plans take us away from evil; ours tend to take us smack into the middle of it.
Third, God’s plans are designed to give you a future and a hope, both immediately and eternally. The biblical definition of hope is a confident expectation of something better tomorrow. When your hope is in God, He’ll always deliver. It doesn’t matter what has happened, better things are coming. That’s hope! You can be confident He has good plans for you.
Father, thank You that You have good plans for me. How ever I may feel and whatever I may face today, I can anticipate that You are working for good in all of it. So I call to You, come to You, and pray to You, believing that You hear me. I seek You, believing You will allow Yourself to be found by me. I know I can’t imagine all the good You have planned for my life, but I trust Your Word, so I thank You in faith. In the unfailing name of Jesus I pray, amen.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7, esv).
Throughout the day we need little arrow prayers—quick prayers in the car, in the office, in the kitchen. When we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), this connects us to the Lord in sweet communion. But these quick-fire prayers, though important, don’t yield the deepest peace.
Nor does ritual praying. Mindless repetition is unbiblical and won’t bring you peace. Little prayers yield little peace. Big prayers yield big peace.
Here’s a practical checklist: fervent prayer, by yourself, out loud, kneeling down, with a list. If you pray like that for five or ten minutes, a river of peace will rush down the parched canyon of your anxiety. Peace is coming like a flood to a person praying fervently to the Lord.
The enemy of your peace is anxiety. If you are living crippled by anxiety, that suggests your prayer life could use some focused improvement. Review the past month of your life. Have you been fretting over some things? Fearful? Anxious? Worried? No doubt, those feelings increased as you moved further and further from your last, fervent prayer time with God.
On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your prayerfulness over the past month? Ten means you’re rocking your world several times a day with faith-filled, awesome prayer. Zero means . . . zero. A prayer vacuum in your life. Perhaps you can’t even recall the last time you knelt down and prayed out loud fervently with a list.
On the same scale of one to ten, rate your anxiety level. Zero means you are calm. Nothing deeply divides you. Though bad things happen to you, they don’t rob you of peace. Ten equates to frequently freaking out, crippled by dividing cares—no peace.
Now notice the correlation. The lower your score in prayer, the higher your score in anxiety. The higher your score in prayer, the lower your score in anxiety. Where fervent prayer abounds, peace abounds.
If you want to lower your score in anxiety, the solution is to raise your score in prayer. This isn’t a mystery. It’s not a function of personality, as if some people are natural pray-ers and others missed out on that gene. Philippians 4:6 clearly links anxiety and prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” When anxiety goes up, up, up, you must pray it back down. Start by reviewing what you know to be true about God and His faithfulness.
Go in a room by yourself, shut the door, pray out loud fervently with a list, and begin to thank God. Thank Him for who He is, all He has done in your life, the ways you’ve seen Him provide, and His personal, intimate care for you.
When you pray “with thanksgiving” and review God’s résumé of faithfulness, you become more aware of who He has been and will continue to be. In light of His faithfulness, your anxiety will minimize and your problems will shrink into perspective.
It’s a holy exchange—anxiety for peace, through prayer. Available for you today.
Our Father, thank You that You don’t want me to live crippled by anxiety. Thank You that You are available anytime I pray. Forgive me for my prayerlessness and my stubborn attempts to handle my problems on my own. I know that’s not working for me. Lord, teach me to pray with fervency, with thanksgiving. Give me a clearer view of You, Lord, that my anxieties would fade into perspective. Though my problems are real and at times feel overwhelming, they are but light, momentary afflictions. I choose prayer. I choose peace. I choose You. In the name of Jesus, my Savior, amen.