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Where Prayers Collide

One of the ironies of the American Civil War is that Christians on both sides prayed to God for victory. Of course, the Lord did not regard many of these prayers because the lives and motives of the people who prayed them were selfish. But there were Christians on both sides of the conflict. We know God hears the prayers of His people if they pray according to His will (I John 5:14). Their fervent prayers accomplish much (James 5:14). But the North and the South could not both have won. Even God cannot do some things because they are either against His nature or the nature of things He created.

Christians in different countries sometimes unknowingly ask God to do things that are opposite to each other. For instance, saints in an oppressive communist or Islamic nation pray for peace in their land. Christians in other countries ask God to bring those leaders to justice. But this might involve war. Both are praying for the good of the church, but they are seeing the problem from two perspectives.

We do this here in America. We pray for repentance in the land. In the same breath we ask God to preserve our way of life so we can make a good living for ourselves and our families. Can God do both at the same time? How many times do we read in the Bible of God bringing people to their knees through hard times? Men are often so stubborn that the only thing they will listen to is suffering. That may be national troubles of all kinds—economic hardship, battles, disasters, disease and other distresses. The evil king Manasseh and the people of Judah wouldn’t listen to God, so the Lord unleashed the brutal Assyrians on their land. The Bible says, “Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (II Chron. 33:12). It is natural for us to wish and pray for the well-being of our land. God tells us to pray for our rulers that we may live a peaceful life (I Tim. 2:1-3). But we may need to think more often about qualifying our requests by saying “If it is according to your will” or “Not our will but yours be done.” We need to remember that for reasons all His own “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men” (Dan. 4:17). The Bible gives us the bigger picture because we tend to be one-dimensional in our thinking.

Do we sometimes pray for ourselves as individual Christians and ask God for opposite things? Is it possible that we sometimes contradict ourselves in our prayers? The Bible says it is through trials that we grow. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3). We pray for growth and patience. But we also pray that God will keep us from troubles and ask Him to remove them immediately when they begin. A health problem, financial stress, of family issues may be how we grow. We sometimes ask God to do the impossible for us. We are like children. Kids want to play with other kids, but they don’t want any conflict with them. They expect parents to give them the best of both worlds.

We pray that our children will have a good and comfortable life. But we also pray for their salvation and spiritual growth. Can they be strong Christians without pains and troubles?

Christians get frustrated and discouraged when their sincere prayers for good are not answered in the way and at the time they expect. “I’ve prayed with faith like the Bible says. I know my heart is right and that my prayer is for something right. I just can’t understand why God won’t answer it.” There may be many reasons. It may take more time; the Lord may be working things out as you pray but there are a lot of people involved now and in the future that you don’t realize. It may be that He has answered it but you don’t see it yet; He may have worked out a different and better way. Or, you may be asking two things that can’t happen at least at the same time.

No wonder the Bible says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we pray because “we do not know what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). Often we vent our feelings in prayer. We may not be not thinking logically. We just pour out our hearts to God. If our hearts are pure God sees through the words that may not make perfect sense. Even Jesus showed human feelings when He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me” (Luke 22:42). Jesus knew He had to die on the cross. These words were His human feelings talking.

All this does not mean we should be careless in what we say in prayer. It does not mean we should say something wrong either ignorantly or deliberately. It does mean that we need to have faith and be patient because God sees everything while we only see a little.

“Men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

Kerry

West End church of Christ bulletin article for April 16, 2023

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