The pain and glory of unanswered prayer

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me…”

alluaudia-procera-spice-plant-branch-38282Few things can be more confusing or frustrating for Christians than unanswered prayer, especially when we’re sure there are good, obvious reasons for God to grant our requests.

Recently I spoke to a good friend, a young man in (what should be) the prime of his life. Sadly, he’s afflicted with mysterious and chronic back pain. He’s tried every kind of medical treatment under the sun, and has persistently and faithfully prayed for relief. Yet his debilitating pain persists—unseen by most people, yet severe enough to prevent any real exercise and make everything in life difficult and uncomfortable.

My friend told me that he recently accepted an invitation to attend a large healing service. As the meeting went on and as many people appeared to be miraculously healed right before his eyes, my friend started to hope for a miracle of his own. “Maybe tonight’s the night,” he thought. “Maybe my suffering comes to an end—right here, right now.” Continue reading

Why we don’t evangelise – and the simplest way to start

I admit it – starting an article on evangelism with the reasons we Christians don’t evangelise might be a strange tactic.* Why focus on the negative? Shouldn’t we dive in and fire our imaginations with the positive biblical reasons we should evangelise? Wouldn’t you prefer some inspiring stories, or Five Easy Steps To Make You A Better Evangelist Before Tea Time, or maybe just the searing kiss of red-hot guilt to push you back out there on the evangelistic trail?

There are lots of good things (not to mention some really bad things) that motivate Christians to share the gospel of Jesus with their neighbours. Yet I’m convinced that for most of us normal people, acknowledging the obvious challenges is a helpful place to begin. Here, in no particular order, are 12 reasons (you might prefer to call them ‘excuses’) that Christians find it really hard to share the good news of Jesus with the people around us.

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31 Days of Prayer: Day 31 – Time to Pray

PrayWe made it – 31 days of prayer, done and dusted. If you’ve been here throughout the month, or if you’ve just dropped in occasionally, thanks for being part of it!

Actually, let’s not kid ourselves. Thirty-one days of blogging about prayer is hardly 31 days of prayer. My lingering suspicion – based largely on my personal experience – is that it’s far, far easier to talk about prayer, read about prayer, or think about prayer than it is to pray. Anyone with me?

So as we finish, let me recommend this short article from Don Carson, ‘Lessons from the School of Prayer’, as a way of helping you take specific action. This originally formed an Appendix to his magisterial book on prayer, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, but has now been reproduced in this abridged form with his permission. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day 30 – Resources to get us praying

As much as I hope ’31 Days of Prayer’ has helped you grow in your knowledge of prayer and in you prayerfulness, there’s only so much that short, daily reflections like this can achieve. So today, I’m providing a short guide to some of the best books on prayer.

Remember, reading about prayer is not the same thing as praying. If we think highly of prayer but never actually do it, then something is seriously missing. So if you’re going to embark on reading a whole book about prayer, do it thoughtfully and carefully, and with a willingness to change your priorities so you pray more.

That said, all these books will do you good. No doubt there are many others that could be added to this list, but these are the ones I’ve found most helpful (or which people I trust have recommended to me). Why not pick at least one, order a copy, and set a time to read through it?

Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip D. Jensen & Tony Payne – A wonderfully clear, no-nonsense book on prayer that covers the key biblical material and will answer most people’s biggest questions about prayer. Biblically rich and wonderfully practical. 190 pages  |  Kindle / eBook

A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson – Essential reading. Carson works through the apostle Paul’s prayers, showing how they should transform not just our prayers, but every part of our spiritual lives. A modern classic. 230 pages  |  Kindle

You Can Pray by Tim Chester – I always appreciate Tim Chester’s earthy, insightful approach to the Bible, and this is no exception. It opens with a Trinitarian approach to prayer, then moves on to consider challenges and questions that make praying difficult. 170 pages.

The Valley of Vision – a collection of over 200 prayers from Puritan writers. A brilliant resource that will teach you to pray, and help you to pray biblically when your own words won’t come. 400 pages  | Paperback

Praying by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom – Typical Packer, this book is thorough and biblically rich. I like his choice of title – selected deliberately to convey the idea that thinking about prayer doesn’t matter nearly as much as actually praying. 320 pages.

Our Father by Richard Coekin – (unread) A guide to ‘enjoying God in prayer’ by working through the Lord’s Prayer. 190 pages  |  Kindle

Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell – (unread) From the back cover: “Praying Backwards introduces believers to the transforming process of beginning our prayers in Jesus’ name – not by moving a simple phrase, but by understanding and embracing the meaning behind the phrase. To truly pray in Jesus’ name is to reorder our priorities in prayer – and in life – away from ourselves and toward Jesus and his kingdom. It is to pray, “Not my will, but your will be done.” It is to pray boldly, expectantly, and persistently. If you want to revolutionize your prayer life, begin by Praying Backwards.” 210 pages  |  Kindle (on special for just $2 at time of publication)

Prayer by Tim Keller – (released November 2014) If you’re a fan of Tim Keller’s growing body of work, you’ll want to add this to your list.

Other Resources
JC Ryle – Prayer

Don Carson – Lessons from the School of Prayer

 

‘The Chat Room’ on prayer – an enlightening and enjoyable half-hour discussion on biblical prayer

 

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Prayer: Day 29 – Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up

Persevere“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)

Would you be relieved to know that Jesus understood prayer is hard work? Would you be encouraged to know he taught a parable specifically designed for people who were tempted to lose heart when it came to prayer? Me too!

The opening words of the parable in Luke 18 fill me with enormous hope. Jesus knew that prayer would be a struggle, and he told a parable to address this struggle. In this parable, Jesus describes a ‘persistent widow’ coming before a judge – a man who neither fears God nor respects man – to seek justice against her adversary. After initially refusing her request, the unrighteous judge relents, giving her justice so he won’t be beaten down ‘by her continual coming’. Jesus then makes his point: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:6-8) Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day 28 – Fighting the spiritual battle on our knees

This Means War“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. … Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:12, 18)

One of the reasons prayer is hard (and it is, in case you missed the memo on that) is that’s it’s part of an unseen but all-too-real spiritual battle. We’re not just battling our own busyness and tiredness, our own sinfulness and self-sufficiency when we try to pray. We’re battling Satan, the great adversary of God. And he delights in prayerless Christians. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day 27 – Why your ‘shopping list prayers’ are right, and wrong

Shopping List“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11)

Somewhere along the line, some clever Christian came up with the belittling idea of ‘shopping list prayers’. You know the idea – when you want to criticise someone for praying selfish, navel-gazing prayers, just deride it as a ‘shopping list prayer’.

I think the ‘shopping list’ has become a decidedly unhelpful Christian putdown. There’s nothing wrong with bringing all our requests to God. In fact, there’s everything right with it: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) There is plenty to be anxious about in the average life, so bring your ‘shopping list’ to God, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

However… Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day 26 – The glories and ironies of the Lord’s Prayer

AUSTRALIA-PARLIAMENTA brief look at the prayer that changed the world

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

It’s the most important, precious prayer ever uttered – a lesson in prayer from the master, an intimate guide from the perfect Son on praying to the perfect Father. Just 57 simple words,* but words that have changed the world in untold ways. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day 24 – Fifty great quotes on prayer

Quotation MarksAs I was putting together ’31 Days of Prayer’, I scoured books and websites for quotes on prayer that would encourage and inspire me in my own prayer life, and would help as I wrote this series. Over the course of these 31 days, not all the quotes are going to find their way into the posts, but they’re just too good to pass up. So, here are 50 of the best quotes on prayer that I could find. Be challenged and encouraged by the insights of God’s people! Which is your favourite?

“God likes to see His people shut up to this, that there is no hope but in prayer. Herein lies the Church’s power against the world.” (Andrew Bonar)

“Prayer is the most tangible expression of trust in God.” (Jerry Bridges) Continue reading