In the “Why Pray Series Part 1”, we discovered that prayer is the avenue for a relationship with God. But it goes even beyond this. It is through this relationship that comes by prayer that we open the door for God to give us wisdom and strength!
This becomes clear when we study the life of Jesus. Even though Jesus and God were one (“. . . So that they may be one as We are one.” John 17:20), Jesus depended on prayer, and He encouraged us to pray (see for example Mat 6:6). Just this fact should motivate anyone to pursue a relationship with God: If Jesus did it, so should I. It must be quite important.
When seeking wisdom, Jesus would often spend entire nights in prayer. However, the answers He received were sometimes quite confusing (sound familiar to anyone?). Take the time He was choosing His twelve disciples: “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them,” (Luke 6:12-13 NIV)
Let’s remember that among these “elites” that God told Him to choose were individuals who could be considered far from being “spiritual”. Remember Judas? “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor . . .” (Luke 6:16 NIV). What about the ambitious James and John, the “sons of thunder”? “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ (Mark 10:35-37 NIV) And of course, any such discussion would have to include the infamous Simon Peter: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'” (Matt 16:23 NIV)
No human reasoning would have ever included these men in a list of people who would later found God’s church! But as I contemplated this, it suddenly hit me: prayer is not a way to remove the unknown and unpredictable elements from our lives, but a way to access God’s wisdom so as to include unidentified elements in the outworking of God’s grace in our life! “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV)
Let’s not forget that Judas’s low-life betrayal led to the salvation of all humankind (See John 3:16); and James, John and Peter were all humbled, and later on they became pillars in the church (1 Peter 5:6), all by God’s grace! It brings great relief when we realize that Jesus really can identify with us 100% of the time. If some of our prayer-based decisions seem to turn sour, we should not be disheartened. Remember we are seeking God’s wisdom, not God’s endorsement on our own wisdom. When we seek His wisdom and follow His advice, His grace will somehow shine through!
Wow! That’s pretty awesome! It permits us to be lifted beyond our mere daily circumstances! “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:6 NIV)
We can also learn about prayer from the prayers that aren’t specifically recorded in Scripture. During His last meal with His disciples, Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32 NIV)
Interestingly, Jesus did not deny Satan’s request to test Peter, nor did he pray for God to embolden Peter to be able to resist the devil’s temptation. Instead He prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. Peter was not able to resist the devil’s temptation, but his faith did not fail. Through the grace of God, this situation was used to change Peter into a humble man who depended upon His Master instead of upon himself.
It seems that when facing tests, we have the freedom to fail or pass them. But no matter what, God can turn these into grace-filled opportunities if we allow Him! Jesus’ prayers for Peter, and assuredly for Judas as well, convey God’s immeasurable respect towards human freedom (in deep contrast with the freedom-crushing style from the devil).
As a young adult, I would have never imagined leaving my home. I loved the coast of Belgium. I loved walking down the streets of my hometown, contemplating the numerous historical markers and dreaming about what it must have been like to live there in the middle ages. I delighted in breathing in the salty ocean air, and one of my favorite things to do was to walk around the fish market. There was nothing in the world that smelled as good to me as freshly caught fish! But God had other plans for me. In order to pursue my studies in the fashion I had chosen to pursue them, I would have to move. I would have to leave behind my beloved ocean and cross the planet to another continent, to a place where the seacoast was only a distant vacation spot.
Feeling like an alien living abroad was far from being easy and initially I questioned the wisdom of my move, but looking back over the past thirty years, I can now see my move as a blessing from God. As a result of my obedience, I have experienced His grace numerous times. It was in America that I met my wife. As a result, I have been blessed with two adventuresome boys who constantly remind me that they make a difference in my life! Another result of my move was that I was in the place where I could assist an abused child from my home country. She wasn’t safe in her home, and because I lived on the other side of this planet, my family was an ideal place for her to begin the healing process. She accepted Jesus Christ into her life and was able to put her past behind her. She eventually married an European living in Canada, and they now have two beautiful children. Had I not been obedient to God’s guidance, I never would have been able to see such a powerful illustration of God’s grace in someone’s forlorn-looking life.
No matter your circumstances, when you prayerfully approach God’s throne, you will experience His wisdom in ways beyond anyone’s imagination. Life may be tough for a while, but what an encouragement to see God at work around us! And He is at work, filling us with His presence and with inner peace that nothing and nobody can disturb. He is awesome! Phil 4:7 “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” NIV
If you haven’t already done so, and you hunger to experience God’s grace in your life, come to Him in prayer and experience Him personally. Only then will you experience life to the fullest! John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” NIV
Past mistakes can be transformed and used to God’s glory!
P. S. Some of these thoughts were inspired from Philip Yancey’s book called “Prayer, Does it Make any Difference?”
(To access the entire “Why Pray?” devotional series, please click here.)