March 11, 2014

Persistence is rewarded, but first . . .

Selwyn Hughes tells of a young woman who continually prayed during public church meetings for a husband. The pastor asked her to keep those kinds of personal requests in her private devotions, so at the next meeting she prayed that God would give her mother a son-in-law.

Most people do pray concerning people and events in their circles of interest, but there is a difference between that and continually praying for myself. God warns me about my “I want” list and to watch out for sinful motivations in my prayer life . . .

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions . . . (James 4:1–4)

In Christian circles, the most common prayer requests concern health. While some assume that God does not want anyone to be sick or even uncomfortable, this is not a biblical notion. God can use trials like sickness to glorify Himself by healing the problem, but He can also use sickness to chasten sin, and trials to draw people closer to Himself. An illness might even be His way of taking His people home to be with Him. Instead of praying for comfort in sickness or in any other distress, God wants me to see trials His way, and pray for something else . . .

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:2–5)

My last heavy-duty trial involved a temptation related to a felt need. God kept bringing me back to the promise that He would supply all my needs, and His promise became my deliverance. However, in the battle, I learned some incredible things about His goodness and about my own sinful nature . . .

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12–15)

I know that God didn’t tempt me, but I also know that He allowed this to show me that when it comes to genuine need, I should never take it upon myself to meet that need. My ideas might look good, but the enemy is always fishing, and in the lure he hides his hook. Satan knows about human weaknesses and need. He can deceive us with all sorts of bait.

In my trial, God also showed me that continually resisting that lure means continually submitting to Him, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) In my efforts to remain steadfast under trial, I learned a great deal about the power of relying on God instead of my own ideas. Relying on Him means, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

It also means trusting that God’s answer is going to be the right one. Satan would have me think that whatever God wants to give me will not work, but Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7–12)

I also learned that a severe trial of any sort results in at least two other benefits. The first one is learning to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for that trial hammered at me day and night.

The second was that obedience insures God will hear and answer prayer. Many times I felt like my prayers were useless, yet persistent efforts to avoid the bait and the hook eventually lead to great assurance . . .

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:21–24)

That trial robbed me of any sense of what to do and even of knowing the best way to pray, but I did know what God wanted and I did know what to resist. Steadfast persistence pays off. So, for anyone in a heavy trial, I say cling to Jesus — He will never let you go.

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