A prayer with serious intent can do the impossible

Do you ever get frustrated when God doesn’t answer your prayers? I’ve been there. I’ve asked God for things that He didn’t provide. I’ve asked Him for things I didn’t receive. It’s frustrating, because all throughout the Bible we see that we have not because we ask not. All you need to do is ask, and God will provide. Knock and God will open doors. Seek and you’ll find. Etc. etc. etc.

So why does it only seem to work half the time? It almost seems like a fifty-fifty shot, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why some prayers are answers and some are left hanging.

Sure, maybe you’re asking with the wrong intentions. Maybe your reasoning is off. Maybe your heart isn’t in the right place. But what if it is?

Something clicked for me recently. It’s one of those things that I’m sure I’ve always known. I just am not certain I knew how to apply it.

Today’s verse is James 5:16.

Praying-the-Lords-PrayerThe earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Well, first off, what does it mean to earnestly ask something? I thought I knew. I assumed it meant that you ask believing God will answer. I thought it meant that you asked and really meant it. And maybe that’s one way to look at it, but look up the definition of the word earnest.

I just checked on dictionary.com, and it means: “serious in intention, purpose, or effort.”

With that definition in mind, when you ask for something—let’s say a raise—do you ask with serious intention, purpose, and effort? Do you go into your boss’s office and ask for an increase in pay and explain the details why you need to make more? Or do you just declare that you deserve a raise?

That puts it in a different perspective, doesn’t it?

So how do you ask God to answer your prayers? How do you make your requests to God? Do you just say, “Dear Lord, please bless me today”? Or do you say, “Dear Lord, please be with so-and-so as they do such-and-such”? Or how about this classic: “Dear Lord, bless this food”?

Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of those prayers, but knowing how we now define earnest, are any of them earnest? Do any of those prayers demonstrate serious intention, purpose, or effort?

If you just walked into your boss’s office and asked your boss to give you a raise today, do you think they’d just do it? No! If they didn’t fire you right away, I’m willing to bet they’d want to know why. Why do you deserve a raise, and what are you going to about it if you get it?

If we wouldn’t walk into our boss’s office and demand a raise without giving some kind of indication that we were willing to invest ourselves in the company more, why do we think God would just drop blessings on us if we haven’t indicated that we aren’t going to be committed to Him?

No, blessings can’t be earned. No, you can’t work your way into God’s favor. No, God doesn’t play favorites. But according to Scripture, if you are righteous and your prayer is earnest (if it demonstrates serious intent or purpose or effort), that prayer can accomplish the impossible.

If you follow Christ, you’re righteous. Period. If you are trusting in Jesus for your salvation, God counts you as righteous. But just because you’re righteous in God’s sight doesn’t automatically mean all your prayers are going to be answered. No way. I know many Christians who might be righteous, but they are certainly not earnest.

So if you’re frustrated about your prayers going unanswered, take a moment and really look at your heart and the way you make your requests to God. If you’re just haphazardly asking Him for random things that make you sound like a great Christian, don’t expect much. If you’re just flippantly asking Him for things that will make your life easier because you aren’t willing to be uncomfortable, you aren’t going to impress Him. But, if you know what you want and why you want it, tell Him.

You know what I want? I want a novel on the bestseller list so that I can tell more people about my faith in Jesus Christ. I want to make enough money to support myself and travel to encourage His missionaries around the world. That’s what I want and why I want it. That’s specific. That’s earnest.

I’m taking God at His Word. Through Christ’s blood, I’m made righteous. My prayers have purpose, effort, and serious, specific intention. So I am expecting wonderful results.

God may not answer the way I think He will, and that’s okay. Because He will answer. And however He answers will be better than I expect. I just have to give Him enough time to work out His perfect plan in my life, and in the mean time, He’ll take care of me. That’s what it means to trust Him. That’s what it means to have faith. And faith, my friends, will impress God. In fact, it’s the only thing that does.

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Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Wardrobe malfunctions don’t impress God

How do you demonstrate that you’ve changed? How do you show that you’ve become a different person? It’s difficult to do in some cases because so many times a heart change isn’t visible from the outside. If your heart changes–well, you still look the same. That’s what’s difficult about change; most of the time you have to take people’s word that they have.

Like an apology. How do you know it’s sincere? It’s not like you can judge by how many tears somebody cries or how much their voice wavers when they speak because every person is different. Well, until someone’s actions prove their words are sincere, you can’t really tell if an apology was real. Until you get to see how someone has changed, you won’t really know that the change was real, no matter if they claim it was or not. Granted, I believe we’re supposed to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But God knows what’s real and what isn’t.

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Han Solo and Chewbacca costumes from the Star Wars Exhibit at Exploration Place, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Joel 2:12-13.

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
    but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish.

In the culture of the Old Testament, it was common to tear your own clothing when you were mourning. It was a symbol of intense grief. So if you’re ever reading the Bible and someone in the Old Testament starts tearing their clothes, they’re not having a wardrobe malfunction. They’re demonstrating repentance. They’re showing how sorry they are for something or how upset they are about something.

Well, I’m sure it started out as a way for a very passionate culture to show their hearts to other people, but as time passed, it became a symbol like any other symbol. It developed its own meaning in the culture, and all you’d have to do is tear your clothes and everyone would think that you were sorry for what you’ve done–whether you really were or not.

Kind of like our own culture. Do something wrong, and call a press conference to offer a tearful apology. Do something wrong, and agree to go on a famous talk show and tell your side of the story. Do something wrong and write a book about it. And most of the time, our culture buys it. Why? Well, they stood up and said they were sorry. And we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that’s good.

But it’s not about telling the culture that you’re sorry. The point of apologizing for something you did wrong isn’t to show the world that you made a mistake. I mean, that’s an important part of it. To tell the truth. But that’s not the main point. The main point of apologizing for your actions when you have done wrong is to tell God. It’s to come before Almighty God and admit to Him that what you did was wrong and that you repent, that you are sorry, that you won’t do it again, and that you need His help.

And God knows if you’re just tearing your clothes.

He can see our hearts. He knows our motivation. He knows. So trying to put on a show for Him doesn’t work. He’s not interested if it isn’t real.

That’s what these verses mean. Don’t tear your clothes; tear your heart instead. If you’ve done wrong, be sorry. Don’t just offer Him a half-hearted apology that doesn’t affect you. If you’ve done wrong (and everyone has), be sorry and change your mind about what you did. That’s the difference. You can be sorry about what you did all day long, but until you change your mind about it, it won’t have the effect you’re hoping for. And this is true for any sin. Big sins. Little sins. All sins.

You have to examine your own life and your own actions, and you have to compare them (not to each other) but to Scripture. Is what you did wrong according to the Bible and the way God says to live? If it is wrong by that standard, you have sinned.

Guess what? So have I! And I hate it. As a perfectionistic, performance-driven person, I hate the things I do that don’t match up to God’s Word. I get so frustrated with myself because I want to be perfect, but I can’t be. And God knows that. But that doesn’t mean I can give up and live however I want and lead others to live however they want. That just means I won’t be perfect, and God is going to pick me up again when I fall.

This month has been about change. It’s what I’ve been studying. And the one facet of change that I keep coming back to is that real heart change is impossible without God. And honestly, a real change of mind is impossible without God and without the Bible. But the first step of reaching that real change of mind is ours. It’s our choice. It’s up to us to look at what God says is right and judge our actions by that standard, and if we find something wrong in our lives, we need to change our minds about it. And then we need to apply Scripture in our lives, and before you know it, your heart will change too.

So make a choice. Change your mind, and God will change your heart. He doesn’t care how sorry you look or how sorry you feel. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t intend to change, and if all you’ve done is put on a good show, maybe you’ll have people fooled, but as far as God is concerned, you’ll just have a ripped up shirt.