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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Masquerade

Does anyone know why Christians feel the need to maintain a facade of perfection when their lives are actually falling apart? I do this all the time. Even (and especially) if my life is crazy and feeling wildly out of control, I still keep my Good Little Christian Mask in place. And it’s the same when I sin. I sin just like everybody else, but I don’t like to talk about it. Because I don’t want people to think less of me.

Are those the same reasons every other Christian hides behind the mask of the Holier Than Thou? I don’t know. But it seems likely to me.

I don’t like people to know my weaknesses. I don’t like people to think that I’m a bad person. I don’t like people to know that I’m not perfect in every way. Of course, everyone knows all those things already, but there’s something in me that makes me want to put forth an image of perfection in spite of that. But it’s a lie.

So if every Christian is like this, wearing masks to cover up their failures and their flaws, what happens in a church? You end up with a bunch of people who are faking life. They’re fine. Their life is fine. Their family is fine. Everything is fine when it really isn’t. And I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that . . . until someone who knows they’re not fine walks through the doors.

That’s something that has always fascinated me. Christians have this concept that we’re supposed to be “fine” all the time just because we know Jesus. But people who don’t know Jesus already understand the fact that they’re screwed up . . . and they don’t have a problem with it. Most of the time, they try to be better. Christians cover it up.

So that’s why people who don’t believe in Christ feel like they don’t belong in church. They know that they’re not perfect, and hanging around a bunch of people who are pretending to be perfect is frustrating.

The verse this morning is James 5:16.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

We’re supposed to confess our sins to each other. Not to a priest for forgiveness. But to each other for accountability. It’s a lot harder to go back to your specific sin if someone is holding you to your word not to do it anymore.

Christians are people, and all people are flawed. It doesn’t matter what you believe, where you live, how you grew up or who you are; everyone sins. And trying to cover it up not only hurts you as a person, it alienates you from other people. Am I saying we should be proud of our sin? No. That’s kind of funny though. Taking pride in our sin. I know some people who do that, though, but I think those people just don’t understand how serious sin is.

How does covering up our sin help us? Just think about that. Jesus didn’t come to die for us so we can deny the fact that we’re sinners. He came to die for us to make a way for us to escape sin altogether. Covering up, denying the fact that we’re all imperfect, flawed failures, cheapens His sacrifice and it takes glory away from God.

When you get right down to it, denying your own sin is pride.

It’s so odd to me, personally. Because I have no trouble listening to other people confess their sins. I never think ill of them, and I always pray for people to help overcome whatever sin they struggle with. But when it comes to confessing my own sins to others? No. My pride takes over and I don’t want to admit to anyone that I struggle with the same things they do. I have this idea that I’m supposed to be better than everyone else and that everyone expects so much of me that I’m not free to admit any failure of any kind. And that’s wrong. Because I have failed. More times than I like to think about. And the beautiful part of my failure is that God has always been there to pick me up again. He’s never given up on me. Not once. And when I act like nothing’s wrong — when I act like I’m fine and everything is going perfectly in my life and in my relationship with Christ — I take all the credit for anything good in my life, and I don’t deserve it.

Masks are only appropriate in a place where you don’t want to show your face, where you don’t want to admit who you are or where you want to make people guess. People wear masks at masquerade balls with dresses covered in feathers and sequins and weird stuff like that. And while masquerades are fun to attend on special occasions, life was never meant to be like that. But that’s what we turn it into. We hide our faces — our real selves — from the world because we want people to like us, but all we accomplish is pushing the world away because we are hypocrites.

No one is perfect. Everyone has fallen short of the goal. It’s time we stop acting like we haven’t. And once we are free enough to let everyone in the world know that we have all failed, God will be able to show the world that He never has.