HOW TO ENSURE YOUR PRAYERS ARE IGNORED BY GOD

HOW TO ENSURE YOUR PRAYERS ARE IGNORED BY GOD images

 Screwtape and Wormwood[1] would be pleased.  This is the sort of list they could find useful when dealing with a praying mortal. By encouraging the following inventory of omissions, the hellish creatures might have some degree of focus in corrupting the kneeling correspondent:

  1. Disregard justice
  2. Be heedless of the oppressed
  3. Ignore the fatherless
  4. Neglect widows

God has firm opinions regarding prayer. He has criteria by which He ignores certain prayers. He, the all-seeing, all-knowing One says He becomes blind and deaf to prayer under some conditions.

“When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen.” (Isaiah 1:15)

What? God not listen to some prayers? He goes on to prescribe: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

This directive was written nearly three millennia ago. Does it have relevance for us today?  Let’s read the list again. Is there still injustice in this world? Are there still oppressed peoples?  Any fatherless? Any widows? If we answer yes to any of these, we must take note. There are still needs in this world to which we must apply ourselves if we hope to have a hearing for our prayers.

Jesus teaches the same truth. He demonstrates and teaches servanthood, then proceeds to pray[2]. James, leader of the early church in Jerusalem, observes the double-minded “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord”[3] then prescribes we “look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

God delights in the prayers of His people, but He will not be manipulated.  Our love for Him must be demonstrated by our love for others, real loving actions and service toward the hurting and disenfranchised.

C.S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape say, “Whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…” Let’s ensure we do not ignore God’s warning. God is serious when He calls us to pair prayer with service for the hurting of this world.


[1] Fiendish characters in C.S. Lewis’ satire The Screwtape Letters

[2] John chapters 13-17

[3] James 1:7,27

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PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON: Part 9 Conclusion

John 14:8-26  Part 9: Conclusion

 

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from the Gospel of John. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

PROSPECTUS: A document that advertises an enterprise in order to attract or inform members.

 

This series on the PROSPECTUS FOR PRAYING PERSONS comes to a completion. Today’s wind-up is not so much an ending as a beginning, not so much a conclusion as a commissioning.  Jesus makes the seven promises not only to ‘attract or inform’ us; He wants to TRANSFORM us. He is calling us to place these promises as central to our hopes and dreams, to place them above every plan and intent of our day. Remember what He offers?

 

LIMITLESS POWER, INDWELLING COUNSEL, SPIRITUAL VISION, ETERNAL LIFE, HOLY COMMUNITY, APOCALYPTIC LOVE, and INTIMATE MENTORING.

 

Let’s rise up and take what He promises. Let’s enter into the adventure of daily drawing from the promissory notes God places within our reach. Jesus was vitally concerned to communicate these promises—His final instructions prior to His earthly death must be significant.

 

Jesus closes His discourse with a prayer of intercession for us (see John chapter 17).  He uses words like ‘unity’, ‘love’ and ‘glory’.  He wants very badly to see us actively participate in this great plan of His; He can see something we don’t yet fully see, and it’s good. Very good.

 

So let’s encourage one another to embrace a life that strives after these promises.  He wants to give, so let’s be receivers of the benefits. The prospects are excellent.

 

(Challenge: Find the gospel of John and read through chapters 14-17 every day for a week or more. What does God highlight for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.)

 

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 8: John 14: 8-26; Intimate Mentoring

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 Vs. 26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

 Remember the three spirits of Christmas from Charles Dickens‘ story, A Christmas Carol?  While Dickens portrayed them as visible creatures who visited the miserly character Ebenezer Scrooge, they were intended to portray the essence of Christmas. They personified the very reason Christmas exists, and the purpose of their visit was to transform the hard-hearted Scrooge.  I don’t know if Dickens realized the beautiful analogy his story portrays, but that’s the power of Truth: it finds its way into everything noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.

Jesus’ promise to people who choose to follow him, who make prayer the breath they breathe, is for intimate mentoring.  This concluding promise in the prospectus for praying people (John 14:8-26) is so relevant for me, and I’m guessing for you too.  It points to the need for mentoring; it provides input for things as yet unknown, and things known but sometimes in need of reminding.

This need for reminding is an interesting thing.  It’s so human to know something, and yet to forget.  Even if that something is of incredible value, we forget.  While our essence is spirit, our crust is material, and the material things around us we see and touch and taste easily distract us.

Jesus knows this about us, so He promises His very essence to be our mentor.  His mentoring presence is so close to our spirits, he touches the real us.  He gets beyond externals.  Our Scrooge-like or even Mother Theresa-like exteriors do not distract him.  He is so deep within us He is able to impress Truth on our spirits in the most intimate and loving way.  This essence of God, the Holy Spirit, is called the Counselor, one who comes alongside, teaching and reminding, transforming and making ready for eternity.

Mark Twain observed, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything”.

I think what he meant was that truth is consistent, whereas lies are situational.  Without the Spirit of God, the Counselor, living within us, mentoring us, we do not have truth in our core being; living a ‘good’ life becomes a matter of remembering situational ethics.  However with the Holy Spirit as guide and mentor, our spirit is saturated with the essence of Truth, and we are moved from within to live the life of love Jesus commissions and empowers us to live.

Intimate Mentor, Instructor, Reminding One; Thank you for meeting my deepest need for integrity.  Speak Your Truth to my spirit over and over again until it exudes from me, inside out.  Sent by the Father, in the name of the Son, dear Counselor, remind me today of the Law of Love I want my life to reflect.  I’m listening for Your deep and quiet voice  to speak.

 

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 7: Apocalyptic Love

Part 7: Apocalyptic Love; John 14:8-26

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 Vs.  21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

I once urged a group of extended family members to take an excursion. I wanted to show them a beautiful waterfall that cascades onto a remote beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  It was near the end of summer when the day outing finally arrived. The long drive on twisting roads was followed by a hike through forests of towering cedars and Douglas fir.  Reaching pristine Mystic Beach we trekked along the shoreline to the end of its span, just before a sea cave marks the beach’s limit.  Looking up, a dozen pairs of eyes scanned the salal-covered cliffs. That day, though, only a few drops of water dribbled down the clay bank, landing in a rust-coloured puddle before being absorbed into the sand. Where was the cascade? Where was the tumbling surge of falling water? The waterfall had dried up into virtually nothing. The day’s objective had dismally failed us.

As we come to this verse in Jesus’ prospectus of promises for followers of His we come to a very important objective; it seems to be a sort of waterfall of cause and effect correlations.  I see a cascading culmination of action and reaction like torrents of water falling over rocks and cliffs.  Stay with me.  I want to explore this metaphor that seems to illustrate some important truths for people like us. Praying people.  Followers of Jesus. We might be in for some amazing scenery.

We’ll label this promise ‘Apocalyptic Love’. The word apocalypse does not mean a catastrophic destruction or end of the world, as its usage by the media seems to imply. It means to uncover or reveal.  Apocalypse comes from the Greek; its counterpart, ‘revelation’, comes from the Latin.

Here, Jesus is uncovering for His friends a promise that has previously been hidden.  He is saying that He, God of the universe, Father, Son and Holy Spirit will embrace us in a new level of love.  This relationship will include revealing Himself to us.  Think that through again: Jesus promises to love us, and to show Himself to us.  It is a revealing love, an ‘apocalyptic love’.  This is the pool at the base of the most beautiful coursing waterfall in which mankind ever bathed: God’s love for us.  We don’t merely view it; we are invited to submerge ourselves in it. If the thought is breathtaking, what must the experience of it be?

Now, I’ve said it is a cascade of cause and effect correlations, so what lies upstream?

Jesus describes the subject (“whoever”) as anyone who has His commands and obeys them.  So that means anyone, and is delightfully inclusive.  But it also means only those who obey Him, and that is decidedly exclusive.  In regard to His commands, He has been very clear.  He is on record as having clearly described His laws of love: We must love God first and foremost; we must love our neighbour; and finally, as members of God’s family, we must love each other.  Our lives must be a cascade of love, gushing surging, overflowing, spilling out, getting everything wet within sight.

I like this picture.  More than that, I believe it.  I’m staking my life on it.  It’s nothing like the fickle waterfall at Mystic Beach, its vibrancy dependent upon the whims of season and nature.  This image is the essence of life.  It’s a promise, and I want to be fully available and open to it.  How about you? Want to come along?

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 6: John 14:8-26; Holy Community

Vs. 20 “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

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re·al·ize transitive verb \ˈrē-ə-ˌlīz\ become fully aware of (something) as a fact; understand clearly.

Have you ever woken from a dream only to gradually realize your dream was not real? What had seemed so vivid and logical now no longer makes sense? You might even laugh at the crazy incongruity of the events of the dream as you begin to compare them to your waking reality.

Little episodes like that remind us that while we are truly amazing creations, we humans are also rather frail in many ways, such as in discerning reality.  I think most of us would say, however, that we want to be aware of reality; we don’t like the idea of being self-deceived.

Jesus talks about a reality that is revealed to those who honestly seek relationship with Him. He has revealed truths of limitless power, indwelling counsel, spiritual vision, and eternal life (see previous four blog posts). Now He introduces a reality new to our experience, but not new to Him. He says we will realize that there is a holy community within the Godhead, between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; but more than that, He says we believers, disciples, praying people, are invited into that community.  He will later go on to describe it in terms of a body.  It’s like He is the head and we are all the parts (different forms, different functions) of His body. It’s an analogy to try to help us realize the kind of diverse oneness in which we were designed to partake with God.

It’s baffling really; it’s a mystery beyond comprehending. I don’t pretend to understand it. But I believe it’s true. I believe He is Truth and I’m just waking up to the reality of this truth. A wise follower of Jesus once put it very succinctly, ”Christ in you, the hope of glory”.  Christ in me?  I am awestruck.  This is hope and glory. This is the thrilling reality our culture tries to replicate with all its extreme endeavors, but cannot even remotely approach.

We previously talked about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling counsel, now we have the Father and the Son in whom we live and who live in us. This reality can get confusing if we are still thinking in terms of this material world. But it’s time to wake up. Get out of the bed of our superficial, here-and-now thinking. Shake off the mist of our sleepy, temporal mindset.  Yes, the movements of our daily living must happen: we wake to alarms, dress for our tasks, earn our living and try to live meaningful lives.  But let’s not be deceived into thinking that leaving the world a better place is all there is to life. Our purpose for living is in entering into this amazing holy community of God’s existence.

Let’s get on our knees and open ourselves to God living in us. Let’s get real.

PROSPECTUS FOR THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 5: Eternal Life

Eternal Life: John 14:8-26              Vs.19 “Because I live, you also will live”.

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C.S. Lewis observes, “…You won’t get eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”  He goes on to say,

If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die.

Jesus tells us in verse 19 that our access to life is contingent upon His life.  Knowing He was about to die, it’s an interesting comment He makes.  In fact, He’s revealing to His disciples (and us, by extension) the promise every person longs for.  He’s promising eternal life.

He’s showing us how life becomes Life; how the temporal becomes eternal; how creatures of God become children of God.  Tell me this earthly life is enough (that it’s a fluke of chance, and we must make the most of it) and I’ll ask you to explain why we are so bothered by death.

Lewis has understood something core to the concept of this eternal life.  It’s not obtained by talking oneself into the idea that peace and beauty bestow the Life. Eternal life is borne out of the eternal One. It is not an impersonal aura transposed from some cosmic source of energy. Jesus claims it can only be procured through Him.  He is Life.  His resurrection displays what we will someday experience.

But wait a minute.  Who is the ‘we’ that will experience this eternal life?

Jesus is very clear about the extension of His Life to people.  While it is freely given, it was purchased at a dear price (a costly ransom of forgiveness), and is not automatically dispensed at birth or any other time; it is available to those who want it badly enough.  It cannot be bought by money, good works, church attendance, knowing the who’s who of Christendom or any of this world’s religions.  But it will cost me giving up my own plans.  I must give up my own ideas for procuring eternal life and accept His.  I must give up my own ideas of what is sin and what is right. I must give up any hope of self-righteousness and accept that it is only Jesus’ life, given for me, that makes me righteous in the sight of an eternally holy God.

Unending existence is something every human soul is granted by God, but eternal life is His gift only a few will consent to accept.  He promises to give it.  It really is the keynote promise for the praying person.  By prayer we step into the realm of faith that says, “I’m trusting You, God, to make good on your promise. I want to be part of the Life that exudes from You, and I’m willing to give up my pride and independence in order to receive it”.

Amazing Life, this God-borne thing, held out to me, O gift of love. My every thirst and hunger deep, I see is but a symptom of my want of this Eternal Life. Because You Live, I also live, O Christ of God, O Life of life.  And as I take this gift You give, my soul is held in loving grip within Your Self, O Mystery!  Eternal Life, how broad and deep, I would but drown beneath its depth, except You breathe Eternal Breath in me. My Life’s first cry, “O God, I live!” will echo on eternally.

PROSPECTUS OF THE PRAYING PERSON, PART 4: John 14:8-26 Spiritual Vision

Vs. 17-19 “…but you know him…you will see me…”

 Here, Jesus promises the praying person will know and see Someone no one other than believers is able to know and see.  Sounds interesting.  Maybe even a little Sci-Fi. He says we will know the Holy Spirit, and we will see Jesus Himself.

For centuries philosophers have bemoaned, debated, discussed and complained about something called the ‘hiddenness of God”. They view it this way: If God is completely good, loving, powerful, all-knowing and ever-present, He would want the best for people, His creatures. Relationship with Him would be the best thing for them; an awareness of Him is essential in order to have relationship with Him, but His hiddenness limits that awareness. Some, in frustration, have even declared God must not exist since His presence cannot be verified by empirical data. They cannot see, hear, taste, smell or touch Him.

Jesus confirms they have a problem. He observes, “The world cannot accept him (the Holy Spirit), because it neither sees him nor knows him.”

I don’t presume to have the answer to age-old deep philosophical questions. But Jesus is making a promise in this segment of Scripture that seems relevant to the discussion. He is explaining the connection between sensing God and having a relationship with Him. The ‘world’ (those that are not His followers) wants sensation first; it wants evidence, empirical data, proof that He exists. Then, it will submit to relationship. Jesus says ‘you’ (followers of Him) are different: you submit to relationship first (now that’s faith!), and then you find confirmation in your spirit that HE IS; you come to know Him and see Him with the spiritual vision He supplies you.

It’s like character. No one sees character. We see the effects of character, and then surmise the existence of the core value. For instance, think of endurance. That’s a character trait. When I look at someone, I can’t actually see endurance; it’s not like a nose, or a knee, or a skin tone. As I observe that person for a bit, though, I begin to develop a picture in my mind of something much deeper than skin.  Perhaps I see that person going on regular early morning runs. I begin to think she has set a goal for herself and is trying hard to attain it.  After several weeks or months, if she keeps at it, I begin to see she is quite dedicated.  It’s not until she completes the marathon for which she’s been training, though, that I am finally able to observe in her the trait of endurance. (Perhaps she sees the same perseverance in me for all the months of watching!)

Jesus promises something similar. Those of us who have submitted to God, who have accepted the atonement for our sinfulness provided by Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection, have moved into relationship with God. We have become His people. As we begin to live each day with this relationship in mind, seeking to please Him in every way, His Spirit reveals Himself to our spirits in a deeper-than-skin way. We know Him and see Him through our spiritual vision.

He’s right, isn’t He? If you love Him, you know what I mean. If you haven’t chosen yet to love Him, what’s stopping you?

God of the universe,

Good and all-powerful,

All-knowing all-present One,

You give me that for which

my deepest spirit longs:

You show me your very Self.

Just who am I that You willingly give

Such a great gift, this knowledge of You.

What of Your hiddenness?

Thus is my spirit

Unseen, with Your presence, at home.

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