by A. B. Simpson
Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word.
Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.
Once 'twas painful trying, Now 'tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost.
Once 'twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast;
Once 'twas constant drifting, Now my anchor's cast.
Once 'twas busy planning, Now 'tis trustful prayer;
Once 'twas anxious caring, Now He has the care.
Once 'twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says;
Once 'twas constant asking, Now 'tis ceaseless praise.
Once it was my working, His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me.
Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.
Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He's mine;
Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine.
Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the vail.
As Simpson describes; prayer can be transformative to the life of each Christian. We often can begin praying with a specific motive, but end up refocused in relationship with Jesus, and finish praying with an entirely different motive, desire, or outcome. He is that good to us and desires to meet us with that depth of intimacy!
Yet prayer, for many, is an afterthought in daily life. Few consider praying until hardship strikes, or a circumstance gets out of their control. It's only then that prayer becomes applicable or important in their lives.
In our American church culture, prayer is largely a spectator event. Many churches treat prayer almost as an add-on in the service (a tradition that must be honored- at least for 1-3 minutes of a busy, tightly-packed, hour-long service/program/event), or at best, a specialized thing that only those who are "gifted in prayer" (there's no such thing as the spiritual gift of prayer) do in a small, separated room set apart from the rest of the hustling and bustling people in attendance. A pastor or elder may "say or offer a prayer" in front of the congregation, but seldom, if ever, are the church attendees invited to pray or practice prayer with or for one another. Is it any wonder that American Christianity is considered by many outside of the Church to be a toothless, weak, religion- and something that is just like every other religion or cult belief system in the world today? Have you seen a "Coexist" bumper sticker, with symbols of many popular religions (including the use of the cross as the T in the word) on a car recently? When you see that on a car, it essentially means, "Christianity is no different, more powerful, or life changing than any other belief system." What a lie and misconception!
It's no question that many people, following other belief systems/faiths, pray to the gods of their imaginations. By deception, the dark forces (demons) playing the role of god(s), will sometimes, or often, "answer" the prayers offered in the manner the person asks. They do this in order to further deepen the deception the misled praying person has opened him/herself up to receive. The person will feel further empowered in their belief system and thus, their god(s) become real, meaningful, and powerful to them (or they, themselves, may feel powerful). Yet, it's all a lie; they're praying to a lie and liar- Satan.
But Christian prayer is vastly different than prayer of any other religion or cult. The difference comes from the People receiving and stirring the prayer within us- Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (in case you're not aware; the Holy Spirit is a Person, not a thing; one of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)! Jesus is the only Person who died to take the sins of everyone upon Himself; to set each person free from sin and eternal separation from God; and to lead them into a personal, intimate, relationship with Himself, the Father, and through the working of the Holy Spirit. It's by faith in Jesus; His work of living a perfect, sinless life; His death and taking the sins of all upon Himself; His resurrection from the dead; ascension into Heaven; and His upcoming return to establish His eternal kingdom, that we are saved. No other god or belief system can bring us into a personal relationship with the Savior of our souls! Only Jesus was given power (by God the Father) to rise from the dead, take away our sins which separate us from the Father, and establish us into a personal relationship with our Creator, Redeemer, Lord, and Savior.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. - Ephesians 2:4-10
The Holy Spirit's Work
Since creation, the Holy Spirit has been actively wooing the hearts of men, women, and children, to seek and know God (and Jesus Christ, His Son)- often through prayer. Whether people realize it or not; each day, they are given opportunities to realize God is in their midst (in truth, He's always present no matter where they are and no matter what they're doing- good or bad) and that He wants a close, ongoing relationship with them. But those separated from God by their sin and sinful lifestyles miss His presence. They're blinded by their sin, the world's ways, and our adversary, the devil. The Holy Spirit is constantly working to bring conviction of sin to the heart, mind, and attention of the sinner (as a means to help them realize their need to turn toward God and away from sin, called repentance). He does this in many ways- drawing the hearts of each person in ways that personally connect with their history, motives, desires, background, prior emotional, spiritual, or physical wounds, and much more. He's the one working to soften hearts that have been hardened by sin, the world, and the devil. The Holy Spirit is actively working out God's love- and is a constant reminder that God has not given up on a single living soul on this planet!
Yet, many have no idea that they're being pursued by God. Some may, but reject God for one reason or another. Others are confused by the "white noise" of all the religions bantering about to add to their numbers and practitioners- and thus many discard God as they give up altogether in their confusion.
Is the Holy Spirit too weak to turn the heart of every person to faith in Jesus Christ? No. He could; but God has given each person a will. They can control it, make decisions, and choose to do whatever they please. The Holy Spirit won't force Himself, or Jesus Christ, upon anyone who refuses Him. He yields to their preferences and choices. Ultimately, they choose whether they'll humble themselves or harden their hearts toward God. The Holy Spirit patiently works and waits- even until the person's last breath of life on earth. But if at that time they continue to reject Him, their eternity will be spent in Hell; permanently separated from God- just the way they ultimately chose or wanted it.
As Christ-followers, we can quickly forget that we were once in that position ourselves.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. - Ephesians 2:1-3 (emphasis added)
What Do You Pray About Most?
Praying for the Spiritually Blind to See
1. Pray. Ask God to bring to your mind 5-10 people who you know are without a personal relationship with Jesus, or who you're not sure if they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I pray that the gospel would be presented to _________, not only with words, but also with power and with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
As we pray for others, their lives and circumstances will change, and we'll also begin to fulfill Jesus' command in Matthew 6:20-21 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
If you begin praying specifically for someone using the Scriptures listed above, or other Scriptures the Lord leads you to pray, would you write to me about how God changes you, and/or a person you pray for as you've prayed? Stories of God changing lives (both within Christians and non-Christians) need to be told as encouragement to others. Share these stories with others you know- as a testimony of Jesus' work in your life and in the lives of others!
Lord, continue to teach us to pray.
* Scripture examples borrowed from Paths of Gold; Praying the Way to Christ for Lost Friends and Family, by Terry Gooding.