April 25, 2014

Motivated to pray

Over the years, God has granted some of my most outrageous and specific requests. Knowing what I know about myself and prayer, I’m convinced those were not my ideas; the Lord put those requests on my heart. In doing so, He teaches me that He cares about every detail and nothing is too hard for Him, so keep praying.

In the Bible, Hannah is a good example of diligence in prayer. She was barren, deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord with bitter tears and a vow that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to serve the Lord all of his life. (1 Samuel 1:10–11)

As she prayed in the temple, the priest saw her lips moving and thought she was drunk, but she protested and told him her story. He replied, “Go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and was no longer sad. She had assurance from God through the priest that her prayer was answered. (1 Samuel 1:15–18)

It was answered. Later, Hannah conceived and bore Samuel. She weaned him and kept her promise as the Lord had kept His. As long as Samuel lived, he served the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:20–28)

The point of today’s devotional reading is not about outrageous prayer so much as it encourages diligence. Hannah was diligent in prayer. For that, I’m to be diligent in guarding my heart for out of it will flow the issues of life, even my prayer requests (Proverbs 4:23).

The Bible applauds diligence, even says those who are diligent will be in positions of leadership (Proverbs 12:24). It also describes how diligence works; it means avoiding distractions, sticking to sound principles, and working hard . . .

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. (2 Timothy 2:3–6)

It also means keeping my life clean and staying close to the Lord: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) This is part of how to guard my heart; persist in keeping short accounts with God.

Yet the bottom line is not my ability for personal persistence. This comes and goes. God also encourages me by answering prayer, but that is still not the main reason to keep on praying, even to ask the most outlandish things if that is what He puts on my heart. The bottom line is that if God puts a prayer request or need to pray into my mind and heart, it would be a sin against Him to ignore it and not pray!

During Israel’s early history, that child that Hannah gave to the Lord was in a place of priestly leadership. (Did his mother’s diligence in prayer pass on to him?). The people asked God for a king, and he told them this was a sin because they were to rely on the Lord’s leadership, not a king. They said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Samuel told them not to fear. They had sinned, but must still follow the Lord and serve Him with all their hearts. He warned them, “not to turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.”

Then he said this most remarkable thing about himself and his responsibility to pray . . .

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (1 Samuel 12:19–25)

Putting all this together, I hear the Lord saying to pray what He puts on my heart, even if it seems outrageous, to be diligent and not give up as long as I’m certain these requests are His idea. If I make promises, keep them. If those on my prayer list need instruction, give it. If I need encouragement, remember what God has already done. Most importantly, do not be distracted or allow anything to keep me from praying — for to do so would be sin against Him.

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