Imagine two oxen yoked together. One is strong, experienced, able to bear the yoke and go in the right direction. The other is young, untrained, and full of its own ideas. It chafes under the yoke and constantly tries to do its own thing. However, the older one steadily moves on in the process of getting the job done, even training the other one to work alongside in unity.
Prayer is like that; cooperation with God but also surrender. When Jesus was praying, He taught the disciples a similar lesson. He asked them who the crowds thought He was and they gave various answers. Then Peter declared his answer, that Jesus is “the Christ of God.” At this, Jesus told them He would suffer and die, then rise on the third day. He said if “anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:18–27)
He challenge their values concerning personal gain that does not last compared to values that bring eternal gain . . . “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” He also warned them that a change to eternal values would affect their lives in the present.
After Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, these men were tested many times and the fact of their total surrender was made evident in response to those tests. Very early, “as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody . . .”
This was a test. Even as “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” the disciples were interrogated by the high priest and his cohorts. They demanded to know who gave them the authority to teach people about Jesus. How would they respond?
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered that they were doing what they did “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead . . .” And Jesus was the cornerstone they had rejected. They boldly declared that in Jesus “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Their boldness, and the fact they were uneducated, common men, astonished these who wanted to stop them. These religious leaders could see that the disciples had been with Jesus. They also could see the evidence of God’s work in their lives. They ordered them to stop, but Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
They further threatened them, but had to let them go, finding no way to punish them and fearful of the crowds who were praising God for what had happened. (Acts 4:1–22) They passed this test and many others.
Anytime I am challenged to stop following Jesus, remembering answers to prayer have encouraged me. I think of Hannah who prayed for a child and, “the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.” (1 Samuel 1:27) and of Jesus when He came to the tomb of Lazarus and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” Then He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” and this man who had died rose from the dead. (John 11:38–46)
I’ve wondered if small prayers are not answered because we should be praying bigger prayers, prayers that honor our great and almighty God? As I read these verses and my devotional book, I’m wondering if the problem is less about the requests and more about being willing to say to God, “Lord, here is the problem . . . You take care of it, and I want not my own way, but Your will to be done.” What might my prayer life be like with a heart fully surrendered to whatever God might do and fully surrendered to what He wants me to do?
I can take a lesson from the psalmist who thought this way . . .
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:6–8)
Like the young ox, when I pull against the Lord who steadfastly leads me, all I get from it is a sore back and frustration. Surrender changes all that. By cooperation, I can take part in getting the job done.