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Prayer Investments

Prayer

by Dennis Pollock

Every Christian acknowledges the importance of prayer. Yet for many prayer is a chore and is done neither regularly nor with much enthusiasm. Much of the reason for this has to do with a past record of unanswered prayers. We prefer to engage in those activities that we see as of great benefit to us, and when we look back over our life and see multitudes of our prayers and petitions which seem to have gone unanswered, it is hard to get very enthusiastic about prayer. Too often believers don't believe very much when it comes to prayer, and do it more as a grudging obligation than with joyful expectation. 

Many have decided that prayer is more of a spiritual callisthenic than a petition which is sure to be answered. "It may be good for me, but I don't expect much to come of it. I'll grow a little more spiritual from my time with God, but that's about it." What's wrong with this picture? Much of the problem is a false perception about prayer and how and when we think God should answer us. Too often we have it in our minds that if God really wants to answer us, He'll do it quickly – very quickly. And if a few days or weeks pass and nothing happens, it must surely mean that God just isn't very interested in giving us that which for which we so greatly long. Better forget about it, and stop pestering Him. 

Jesus was the biggest promoter of prayer and the expectation of answers that we find in the Bible. More than Moses or Elijah, or Peter or Paul, Jesus was huge on prayer and expecting an answer from our Heavenly Father. One helpful little sentence found in the gospels is from Luke. In an introduction of one of Jesus' parables pertaining to prayer found in Luke 18 we find some important words. Luke not only gives the parable, but tells us the exact reason for the parable. Luke writes: "Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…" 

People Should Pray 

The first thing we notice is that men ought to pray. God wants us to ask of Him and expect to receive from Him. When you pray you are pleasing God, just like when you give to the poor, and help the weak, just like when you go to church and witness of Christ. Prayer is one of the righteous acts of the children of God. Cornelius was a Gentile who wasn't even saved, and yet he prayed regularly. One day an angel appeared to him and told him: "Your prayers and your alms have come up as a memorial before God." He was told to call for Peter who shared the gospel of Christ with him and led him and his family to Jesus. Prayer gets God's attention! 

Secondly, we are told that men always ought to pray. Prayer is to be a continual aspect of our day to day living, just like eating meals and working at our jobs. Prayer is one of the things that we Christians do. The final part of the statement is also very instructive: "and not lose heart." Here the element of time is strongly implied. If our prayers were answered the second they left our lips, there would be no losing heart by anyone. The reason we lose heart is that prayers sometimes can go on for days, weeks, months, and even years unanswered. 

This just doesn't suit us. We look upon prayer as something that should take very little time for heaven's answer. God is able to do all things; why should He not move heaven and earth to immediately respond to our request? And when He doesn't seem to do this, we assume He must have no interest in answering our prayer. The result is that we lose heart. And yet this is what we must not do. Again the Bible tells us: "men always ought to pray and not lose heart." 

Normal Prayer 

This problem is largely solved when we properly understand the normal prayer process. While God can and sometimes does answer prayers immediately or almost immediately, this is not His normal practice. He normally finds if more beneficial for us to require that we wait for a season, and to allow us to persevere in the prayer and faith process. In Hebrews we read: "…that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:12). Patience implies the passing of time. Patience means waiting, patience means delay, patience means doing without that desire of our heart for a season. And who enjoys that?  

The concept of faith has become huge in the body of Christ. We have faith seminars, faith teachers, and faith series ad infinitum. Christians have figured out that faith is important, but not so many have seen that patience is also important. Most of us can psyche ourselves up into some kind of faith for a day or two, but when the days stretch into weeks and months, our faith often drains out of our feet. The truth is that faith and patience are meant to go hand in hand. When you pray and a day passes without the petition being answered, you should not be shocked or feel as though some strange, terrible thing has happened – anymore than when a farmer plants a corn crop and goes out the next day to find the fields looking exactly as they did the day before. When your prayers have not been answered by the next morning, you are in good company – the company of men like Abraham, Daniel, John, Paul, Martin Luther, George Mueller, John Wesley, and all the other men and women of faith who found perseverance a vital aspect of the fight of faith. 

The Nature of Investments 

Ask and receiveOne of the greatest encouragements in prayer is simply to see prayer as an investment in our future. An investment is defined as: "A thing that is worth buying because it may be profitable or useful in the future." An investment is the expenditure of our resources at present for future gain. We pay a price now for benefits in the days to come. This precisely fits the case of prayer. Prayer and faith do not insist that the blessing must come at this very moment; they are content to wait for and believe for God's future perfect time. In Psalm 130 we read: "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope" (Psalm 130:5). Matthew Henry once wrote: "Whenever God intends great mercies for His people, He first of all sets them to praying." He was on good Biblical grounds. The surest evidence that blessings are headed someone's way is when that person is regularly and consistently praying for that blessing. And all who believe this will be consistently and regularly praying about various things all of their days. They are fulfilling what Luke wrote: "that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. 

People make investments not because they are eager to spend money, but because they believe they will eventually gain money in a big way. In August 1998, two college students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, met with a computer science professor named David Cheriton on his front porch. They managed to talk him into investing $100,000 in their little start-up company that would challenge the giant search engines of that time, like Webcrawler and Yahoo. It was a sizeable investment, but it paid off big-time. Their company, which they named Google, succeeded in a huge way, and today that investment has increased in value to well over a billion dollars. Cheriton's initial investment has multiplied around 17,000 times, and he now has far more money than he will ever need or be able to spend, because he invested wisely. 

The wisdom of the ants 

If only God's people could see this in relation to prayer! When we pray we are investing in our future; we are laying up blessings for the days to come. No, we may not see much happen tomorrow, but if we continue to pray and believe, the blessings and heaven's response are sure to come. In Proverbs we read, "There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer…" (Proverbs 30:24,25). Ants aren't very impressive to look at or strong of body, but they are smart enough to plan for their future. During the warm summer days they are working like crazy laying up food and nourishment for the cold winter days when food is hard to come by. And when winter does arrive, they do not fear. They are well supplied; their many days of hard labor are going to pay off handsomely. They can kick back, sleep in, and enjoy the fruits of their summer labors.

 When we view prayer petitions as requests for blessings that must be granted in the next few days, we miss so much! Like the ants that gather their winter food in the summer, we gather our future blessings through prayer, knowing that they will surely be manifested in our lives. Our prayers and our faith are building a secure future for us. Knowing this we go on praying and praying, laying up blessings for many days to come. Jesus tells us: "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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7,8). When we pray daily for our children, our finances, our ministry, our health, our relationships, our church, and all the other needs that we have, we are literally changing our destiny for the better. But we must continue! Paul writes to the church at Colossae: "Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). To the Ephesians he writes: "…praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18). We must stay at it! 

Of course prayer involves a lot more than merely asking God for blessings. It should incorporate praise, thanksgiving, intercession, confession, and simply sharing our hearts with our Heavenly Father. But we must not suppose that it is carnal or unspiritual to ask things of God. In point of fact we are commanded to ask and to expect to receive. 

Jesus, the Prayer Instructor 

It is Jesus who says the most about prayer and receiving. He tells His disciples: "Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24). Elsewhere He says, "And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive" (Matthew 21:22). Perhaps He was so insistent because He is the One who made answered prayer a reality. He gave two primary pre-requisites for answered prayer. First we must ask in His name, and secondly we must ask with faith. We ask in His name because God answers the prayers of righteous men and women. The Bible tells us, "The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous" (Proverbs 15:29). This should exclude every one of us, except that, amazingly, when we are born again through faith in Jesus, we receive the gift of righteousness; we are clothed with the very righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). In Romans we are told, "For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). 

When we approach God, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ through the power of His cross and resurrection, we get God's attention and receive His affirmative reply. Whether the manifestation of that answer takes ten seconds or ten years, we must wait and pray and praise and acknowledge the promises of God until we see the answer. We must join that select company of those who "always pray and do not lose heart."




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