What does Prayer do? (Part 4) – Philippians 4:7
There is a process to prayer in the heart of every believer. For the last four weeks we have looked at that process and found that the majority of the work that prayer is within the heart of the person praying. This should be no surprise to the Abiding Christian who has disciplined their wayward heart into dying to itself daily and remaining securely attached to the Vine. All actions that we would call Christian “disciplines” ultimately work to change the individual from the inside out so that as these changed individuals gather they might accomplish things of greater consequence than they ever could have imagined. We have discussed these disciplines in the past as Abiding, reading the Word, Prayer, and being involved in community – community being the meeting with fellow believers but also extends to ministry to unbelievers both here and around the world. All of these work, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to transform the heart of stone within each person into a heart of flesh.
The last aspect of what prayer does has to do with the logical progression of what we have been discussing already. If prayer creates humility in us that leads to a shift in focus from the things of this world to the things of His Kingdom bringing about an unexplained contentment and thankfulness we can only assume that we will find a peace “which surpasses all understanding.” Now this peace is not a blind peace forced upon us by blind faith or imagined comfort. Rather, it is a peace that is based on the very nature and character of God Himself. Therefore, it far surpasses any understanding that mortal man could ever grasp. God has done and continues to do mighty things through prayer. From relenting from destroying the Israelites in Exodus 32 at Moses intercession to stopping the sun in at Joshua’s request in Joshua 10 to the prayer of healing described in James chapter 5, all these are evidence of the mighty work of our faithful Heavenly Father. There can be very little peace if we are unwilling to trust Him to be able to do what we have asked of Him.
In this discussion we must also look at the times when we have asked for Him to do something extraordinary and He did not act as we had requested. Many people look at these times and use them against God believing Him to have failed them or as proof that He is not really there at all. I want to draw our attention to three figures in the New Testament who asked for something for God but were denied.
Three out of the four Gospels give us account of Jesus agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. In all three accounts Christ asks that there might be any other end instead of the cross. And as we all know, Christ suffered and died on the cross despite His pleading. This will be unnervingly harsh in the mind of the unbeliever who is resolved that God is not real or is unjust, but it is overwhelmingly encouraging to the one who has agonized in prayer only to be denied but allows their affections to remain intact.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his interactions with God in prayer in regards to his “thorn.” Paul, the writer of 75% of the New Testament, the greatest missionary our faith has known, a man who walked in supernatural power and anointing asked for his “thorn” to be taken and he was met with a resounding “No.” His “thorn” remained and was a constant reminder of his humanity and weakness for the glory of God. Again, the skeptic who searches for evidence to discredit God’s love and faithfulness to His people will use this case against God, but the child of God takes comfort that saints have asked but not always received.
Thirdly, we will hypothetically examine the life of John the Baptist. I say hypothetically because we don’t have an account of John actually praying as I believe he did, but John is very real just the same. His life was spent in devotion to God from the womb, and from that I would confidently venture to say that he was a man of prayer. I do not think it a stretch to think that John prayed in prison that he be released or at least that his life be preserved. I think this desire in John for life and freedom was at the heart of John’s question to Jesus when he sent word through his disciples asking, “Are you the One or should we look for another?” I would venture to say that John often spent time in prayer in his time in that dungeon. It would seem to make him more than human if he did not offer one solitary request for freedom and life. We all know how his life ended. I do not think that ending was what he had asked for in his prayers.
So how do these examples work themselves out at peace in the hearts of believers? How do we trust that our best interests will be looked out for by the God who is supposed to protect, bless, and save? I cringe to write the question. God is not concerned with what we consider “our best interests” will be considered by God. God always has our best in mind. Sometimes that best is suffering. Sometimes that best is loss. Sometimes that best is death. The child of God lives knowing that comfort and peace in this life are not the ultimate end of our efforts or God’s. We were made to pursue things that last eternally. This life is not to last, and the things in this life were not meant to be preserved. Our treasure should never be here. When it is we become idolaters. When we trade what is eternally significant for what is temporarily pleasing we are no longer worshippers of God. We are no longer humble, our focus is not longer on Him and His Kingdom, we are no longer content or thankful, and we can never know peace – the peace that surpasses understanding.
Prayer leads us to peace because we know that God is able to do whatever we ask of Him, but we also understand that even if He does not do what we ask His love, mercy, and sovereignty are still in place. Prayer changes us. Prayer draws us in and joins our hearts with His. It’s when we start believing that our prayers control God that things start to go wrong. Prayer is not about control for the believer. Quite the opposite. Prayer is about surrender. Prayer is about humility, connecting, contentment, thankfulness, and peace. Prayer is about us putting down our control and leaving it in the hands of the only one worthy of it. May we be people of Prayer. May we be people of Peace. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,