I have discovered a secret.
It is one that I always knew existed.
It was there, right in front of my eyes, the whole time. I just didn’t know what I was looking at.
What was my normal experience of praying for things, was to keep praying, say for a particular need to be met, and if it didn’t happen within an unspecified period of time, I would either ‘tweak’ my request, or just gave up. I am guessing this may sum up many people’s experience of so-called faithful praying.
What this approach has exposed in me is that, by giving up or changing what I am praying for, I lacked the real trust in God, from the outset of asking, that is essential for my prayer to be answered. It means that I either didn’t believe God could or would supply my needs. Perhaps an example would be helpful to show exactly what I mean.
Imagine that during a moment of quiet in the presence of God, you discerned that God purposed something for your life. Let’s say it was to do something, for Him, in His name. For argument’s sake, let us say it was to deliver Bibles to people who didn’t have them. Imagine you felt this calling very clearly so that it was as real to you as the screen in front of you as you read this. As the moment passes and you are left with this calling weighing heavily upon you, you realise that you lack two things in order to fulfil your calling – firstly, you have no Bibles; and secondly, you have no car. You accept, in your heart, that this is no big deal for God – He can, after all, supply all of your needs. And, you will see the lack of the means by which to fulfil your calling as a part of it – these things of God always require faith.
Now, imagine you have no disposable income whatsoever, so you are left with no option but to ask God to meet your needs. It might be that if you had some money in a savings account, you might be tempted to invest in a car, and even some Bibles. But, without the money, you would have to pray for the things. So you get to it.
Let’s say that after three months of praying every day you see nothing – no car, no Bibles, what do you do? Do you (a) tweak your prayer, thinking that you need particular words for God to answer it, or (b) become disheartened, believing now that you must have been wrong and eventually give up asking for either car or Bibles?
Well, if that hasn’t been your experience, it certainly has been mine. The absence of answered prayer causes us to question everything. But what I had failed to see, until fairly recently, is that being patient in prayer is a big part of the whole process. It is how God tests us to see if we can be both patient and faithful to Him in what He has said for us to do. And, if we can stand upon what He has said, continuing to believe, despite all the evidence that tells us we are wrong to believe, then (and only then) He will answer our prayers.
My own experience is such that when God speaks, in whichever way He chooses to, at the time I am very excited and absolutely certain that it was Him. However, as time passes and nothing appears to change, I start to doubt that it was even God who spoke. I start to believe that it was my own imagination or self-motivated desires. I suspect that this is a similar experience for many Christians. I also suspect that, as a result, many have unfulfilled lives and missed opportunities. Well, I for one, decided a while back, that I wasn’t going to let that happen. The problem was, I simply couldn’t see how to overcome the first hurdle of getting through the time of endless prayer with little or no results. Of course, the answer was right in front of my nose all the time – hidden in plain sight.
Throughout the Bible we are furnished with the accounts of the men and women who are often described as the ‘heroes of faith’. Now, this isn’t just a nice twee phrase designed to inspire people on a Sunday morning. This is a statement of fact. Have you ever stopped and considered any of them at great length?
Think about Abraham, as an example, for a moment. He never saw all that God promised him, but it didn’t stop him from believing that it would happen. He believed God, even when the evidence in front of him told him not too. From the time God had said to him that a great nation would come from him, it took 24 years before he saw his and Sarah’s first-born through whom that great nation would be reckoned. 24 years. Besides being persuaded by his wife after ten years to bed her slave girl, Abraham managed to hold onto God’s promise. But don’t forget, he was tested not only in terms of his patience in waiting all that time just to see the start of the promise, he was also tested afterwards when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. Even through that, he never once doubted that God could and would still fulfil the promise.
Sermon over. You don’t need to hear this stuff from me. I am sure that at least once a year you will hear a sermon or two on Hebrews chapter 11. But (and here’s what’s hidden in plain sight), what you need to do isn’t just believe what you are being told…you have to practice it too!
I was talking to someone yesterday about faith and trust. I likened trusting in God to a muscle in my arm. I can have faith in God and trust that He will do something, but unless I exercise that trust by putting myself in a position where I have to trust Him, that muscle will be unused and will waste away. The trust is still there, but after a while, it becomes not fit for purpose.
And, if for a moment, you are thinking with regard to Abraham and the other heroes of faith that it isn’t like that now; that God doesn’t work like that since the coming of Yeshua, the Messiah, then think again. Here’s an extract from George Muller’s journal dated March 12th, 1862:
“It was in November 1850 that I began to think about enlarging the orphan work from 300 orphans to 1000, and subsequently to 1150. It was June 1851 that my purpose became known, after I had kept it secret for more than seven months while day by day praying about it. From the end of November 1850, to this day, March 12 1862, not one single day has been allowed to pass without the contemplated enlargement being brought before God in prayer, generally more than once a day. But only now, this day, the third new orphanage was completed enough so that it could be opened. Observe then, first, esteemed reader, how long it may be before a full answer to our prayers, even to thousands and tens of thousands of prayers, is granted – yes, even though those prayers may be believing prayers, earnest prayers, offered up in the name of the Lord Jesus, and even though we may only for the sake of the honour of our Lord desire the answer. I did, by the grace of God, without the least doubt and wavering, look for more than eleven years for the full answer, and I sought only the glory of God in this matter.” [Release The Power of Prayer – George Muller p54-55]
Reading this the other day changed me. I realised the key wasn’t in what I said or how often I said it. It was, and will always be, in the believing in my heart that the purpose of God will always be fulfilled. George Muller made a rational decision to pray for God to provide a way and the means to enlarge the work God had called him to do amongst the orphans of Bristol. He chose to believe that would happen, whatever the circumstances suggested. Eleven years is a very long time. We expect God to act upon His will immediately. We like to think that He can’t do it without us. Well, both of those views are wrong.
God will act when He is ready, and if we aren’t ready for Him, He will find someone else.
Understanding this has revolutionized my thinking and my prayer life. I now know what I have to do – I have to pray relentlessly, unswervingly, and faithfully, until He actions His will.
The things which He said to us about Cornerstone and other things like not working and allowing Him to provide were, and still are all true. God never changes. What He said two years ago to me won’t have changed. Only I have changed. In fact, I have changed my mind so many times about everything He has said over the past two years that I have been like an unanchored ship tossed about by the sea. But no more.
Unless He tells me otherwise, I have made the decision that what He has already said is the purpose He intends to bring to pass. I have to now make the decision to pursue those things in prayer until they come to pass. The decision I make can only be made on a rational and conscious basis. I must decide now that no matter what events present themselves and attempt to sway my decision, I will not veer from my course.
I must accept that part of this process is not only to see God’s will being done, but also to conform me to the likeness of His Son, Yeshua. To achieve that, God will teach me patience and obedience. He will also test my faith by putting me into situations where I have no choice but to trust in Him. That muscle needs stretching constantly.
I have to accept that, like Abraham, I might never see the complete fulfilment of all that He has said that He will achieve. But I must pray as though I will.
I must do all of this to His glory and not my own.
I always maintain that there are no formulas when it comes to God. But, I have to say, that if you follow these basic rules below, I see no reason why you shouldn’t see answered prayers in exactly the same way as George Muller did.
- Establish exactly what God has said to you. Write it down. Look at it every day.
- Decide to pursue that end in prayer regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.
- Accept that your patience will be tested.
- Accept that your faith and trust in Him will be stretched.
- Never try and guess how God will work or provide – allow Him to do it all. He doesn’t need your help.
- Keep praying, no matter what.
- Do it all for His (and not your own) glory.
I write these words in the full knowledge that, as a result of these revelations and telling others about them, I will now be tested to ensure that I not only believe and understand these things, but also, that I am prepared to live by them.