A Recent Struggle with Prayer

warThe other night I was with some friends and we were discussing how we should pray.  My response was, “With faith.”  I was questioned, and I shared that the recent physical struggle and subsequent death of a childhood friend was still bothering me.  I had prayed that he would recover physically and be reunited with his family, but I am working through the fact that I did not believe it would happen.

Let me clarify something.  I do not believe God was incapable of doing it.  I just did not believe that even while I prayed for it, that He would do it. I prayed even using the phrases, “Have Your will,” and “Be glorified in this.”  I have to be honest and say that I was not using them for the right reasons, but rather as a way to pacify the guilt I felt for having such a doubt about the healing of my friend.

So, the result, my friend is in Heaven. I have no doubt about that.  Things turned out just the way I thought they would.  So how do I process this as I move forward?  How do I look at my prayer life in the future when faced with a need for prayer?  Should I hang a little sign that says my prayers cannot be trusted?

I guess I am struggling with guilt.  God is sovereign, and He will be glorified in the things He does.  I know that and I understand that He has a plan that I may not understand with my limited sight. If I had prayed and believed, and my friend was still taken, I would still feel grief, but I would know that God had a plan.  My struggle is with the fact that I asked but did not believe.  It was not unbelief of His power, nor was it a defiant attitude of my will rather than His.  It was something else, and it is not easy to put my finger on it – or explain it.

So, this leaves me in a position of trying to figure out what to do with something I don’t really understand and cannot really explain.  I need to move forward, and I need to trust God that He will help me with that.  Enter FAITH.  It is the only thing that will open the door to the peace and understanding that I need.  As I see it at this point I have a few things that I need to address as I look back on this:

  1. Was my unbelieving prayer a lie to God?  As I think it over, I’m still not sure.  If nothing else, it still needs to be addressed as something I should and have acknowledged with Him.  I am reminded of the man in Luke 9 who told Jesus that he believed, but asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief.  The actual exercise of prayer is what is required to help us with our belief.  As we continue to take that request to God, and stay close to Him, He may change our hearts as we begin to see a part of His plan.  That would transition unbelief to belief.
  2. Was my prayer sincere?  In the fact that I wanted healing for my friend, yes it definitely was sincere.  When I asked for His will to be done, I’m not as sure.  If I really wanted His will to be done, would my prayer have been different?  Probably so.  I would have focused less on His power to heal and more on His power to transform lives through this.  I would have focused less on physical healing and more on spiritual growth.  I would have focused less on not wanting my friend’s family to suffer loss, and more on the peace that He would provide them no matter the outcome.
  3. What is the source of my guilt?  Do I feel that I let my friend down and that he is gone because of my lack of faith, or is it because I have sinned against God?  Well, I think it is a bit of both, but in reality, I know that he did not die because my prayer was not what it should have been.  Rather it was for God to do a work in lives that would not have been done in any other way.  There may be things that his family will face with God at their side that they might not have been able to do before.  There are people who will hear his wife’s story of love, devotion, and faith that will be touched. So, I can (and have) ask God for His forgiveness and I know that it will (and has) be given to me as it says in I john 1:9.  I also need to address the lie that Satan is putting in my mind that says it is my fault my friend did not survive – If only I had prayed harder and really believed.  This is an attempt to pull me away from prayer.  There is nothing he would like more than that.

The importance of prayer has been hitting me from several angles lately.  It has always been a weak part of my Christian walk, and I am recognizing that more now.  The events of the past few weeks have made it clear to me that the spiritual battle that goes on around us is always the most intense in the area of prayer.  If Satan can pull me from prayer, he has effectively cut me off from communicating with God, and if I am cut off from God I will fall.  I can read His Word, but my communication with Him is the other part of that relationship that I desperately need.

I am working on developing a new strategy for my prayer life, and I am starting with the prayer that it becomes a more natural communication rather than a ritual.  As I work to grow in this I will ask God to help me, and I believe that He will.  He tells us of His desire to hear from us as children speaking to their father.  I want to model this for my family as well.

Am I completely over this bad feeling? No.  Not yet.  But I know I will be.  I recognize God’s open hand to me as He wants to help me through it.  He gets the glory in taking my weakness and carrying me through with His strength.

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Stress, Boxes, and Guarantees

box
There has been a lot of stuff going on in my life lately that has resulted in an inordinate amount of stress.  It’s easy to look around and see some of the usual suspects like work, travel, finances, some commitments that maybe were not the best idea, but now they are part of life.  The problem is that lately those usual players have been out on a recruitment spree and have been bringing a lot of other players to the game.  The worst part of that? Many of the new players are in one of two categories.  Either they are unwilling players in the game, or they are unaware that the game is even going on.

So, this is where I have found myself.  How do I deal with the players that are here to take me down at all costs while not laying waste to those who do not even know they are playing the game.  Well, there is something else to stress over!  Looks like extra innings…

So, as I have been dealing with all of this I have also become aware that I have not been spending time in the Word like I should.  So, I began getting into it again and I read through 1 Corinthians in a fog.  As I got into 2 Corinthians the fog began to lift, and as I came to the end of chapter four and the beginning of five, I am beginning to see some things.  Not only as a result of these two chapters, but also some other verses that have been popping up with some “coincidental” regularity over the last week or two.  So, today I am sitting down to try and kick some of this together into a coherent set of thoughts for myself, and if they do anyone else some good, then so much the better!

I can’t remember which author I heard talking about their book, but they commented on how a man’s mind is like a warehouse full of thousands of cardboard boxes.  Each box contains a thought, topic, memory, emotion… you get the idea.  A man’s mind works best when he thinks on one thing at a time.  In his mind he opens a box, dwells on it, uses the contents to solve a problem, and then he closes that box up and puts it back on the shelf before taking down the next box that is needed.  This system is how God designed the male mind and it works well until something happens that requires the opening of several boxes at once.

When we start getting too many boxes open at one time, stress sets in.  It is not the contents of the box that brings stress into our lives, but the fact that we are unable to close the boxes back up.  If the boxes are not closed back up and more boxes continue to be opened we end up with a mess in our minds.  I’ve heard it said that if a guy wants to understand what a woman’s mind feels like then they should imagine a computer screen with 5,837 different windows open – ALL THE TIME!  Yeah.  I think I just felt my heart stop.  This is something that women are definitely designed to handle better than men.  I’m sure it stresses them too, but they are better at handling it.

Another feature of the male mind is that we have a “Nothing” box.  This is another topic for another time, but suffice it to say, the “Nothing” box brings us a sense of comfort, because when we can find our “Nothing” box and crawl inside that for awhile it helps us be able to better handle things.  The danger comes when we crawl inside that box and close the lid to keep everything else out.  What can I say?  It is true, and men should be willing to acknowledge this weakness that we have.  Alright, moving on to what I wanted to talk about.

So, as I have been dealing with all of these boxes that are open I am getting more and more stressed.  I am seeing the toll that it is taking on my wife as she stands there in her box and begs me to listen to her.  I see my kids in their boxes as they wonder when I will have time with them.  I see my extended family as they are in their boxes and they look as if they wonder if I even remember them.  There are a lot of other boxes that hold friends, my church, some of my responsibilities around the house.  All of these boxes are open, the contents spilling out and crying out in my mind to be dealt with.  None of them want to bring me pain or discomfort, but are nevertheless part of the struggle in my mind that has been brought on by too much everything, and not enough nothing.

So, how am I supposed to make this right?  How am I supposed to get these boxes closed and back in order so I can get my head functioning properly again?  What on earth is God thinking in allowing all of this stuff to go on in my head to bring me such miserable feelings?

Again, in my reading the Bible I have been looking at how our struggles here on earth are with our short-sighted thinking.  We see the temporary, but lose sight of the eternal.  It is not until we can look past the temporal that we will see that God has things under control, and we can have victory if we will just set our sights on Him and His power to carry us through them. We must put off the flesh and put on the eternal.  So, what is God trying to tell me about beating the stress out of my life?

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV)

The truth is, the things that I am facing in my life are not unknown to God.  He is not sitting there thinking, “Wow!  Didn’t see that coming!  I hope Tom can handle this because I am just stumped.”  No, it says He has prepared me for this very thing.  The things I am facing in my life were foreseen, and if I take the time to think over what I know from the things I have learned and experienced, I can find the answers I need to face the stresses I am feeling and put things back in order.  God Himself has prepared me for this!  That should give me confidence in itself, but He gives me even more.

God has given me His Spirit as a guarantee.  The NASB uses the word “pledge”.  You could say that He has sworn on Himself that He will see me through the things I face.  That is a very powerful and humbling thought, and it has been absolutely pounding inside my skull for the past few days as I have been wrestling with coming to grip with this concept:

The God of the universe has prepared me to deal with the stresses and activities of my life in a way that will not damage my relationships with my family and friends.  He has given me the tools to put my thoughts in order and to be a productive follower of Christ in all aspects of my life, and He has promised me I can do this through the power of His Spirit working in me.

OK. I understand that.  I believe that.  How?

In a way this feels like another box opening up in my mind and that scares me.  I want my nothing box, but I can’t find it! I’m starting to worry that I am going to be the cause of this failure because He has given me the answer and I can’t figure out how to make that work in my life.  What am I supposed to do?

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God. – Philippians 4:6 (AMP)

It is time for serious and specific prayer.  If I read this verse and really think about it, God is commanding me through His Word that I am not allowed to fret or stress about anything.  I am supposed to pray about everything, and don’t, don’t, DON’T stop until I get the answer I’m looking for.  I want this stress to go away, and I have been praying about it for the last week or two, and I’m starting to feel that the answer is coming now.  The situation is not changing so much as I am not feeling the pressure because God is working in my mind.  He is closing some of the boxes for me and putting them back on their shelves in order to bring me that peace I am looking for.

Last night I was sitting on the couch for a few minutes before bed, and I was struggling with the fact that I was going into work today to put in a half day so I could take the day when I wanted to take it rather than because the calendar says today is a holiday.  I didn’t want to work today, I knew Tammi didn’t want me to work today, I saw no benefit to working today, but I felt I had to work today because I told people who did not expect me to work today that I was going to work today.  Logical?  Not so much, but that was the spot I was in.  As I sat there I thought about it and I took a minute to pray and really ask God for an answer to what I was supposed to do, and I believe He gave me a clear and definite answer because after I prayed I knew I was supposed to stay home.

Last night I slept more soundly than I have in a couple of months.  I slept for 9 hours, and I cannot tell you the last time that happened.  This morning I feel better than I have in weeks.  You can argue that it is because I got some rest.  That’s your prerogative.   I will tell you it is because I followed the leading of the Spirit and I received His peace through prayer and obedience to the Spirit’s leading.  The clarity of mind I am feeling today is not due to anything other than that.

As I sit here and think about all of this I am reminded that getting to this point would not have happened if I had not made a concerted effort at getting back into the Word.  That was reinforced when these verses came up three different times in some things I looked at this past week:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

God has given us His Word as our guide for life.  It contains what we need for every trial and struggle that we face.  He has given this to us so we can succeed.  It is through reading that we gain the knowledge that the Spirit can then use to overcome the problems that are in our lives – especially those of our own doing.

So, today I have fewer boxes sitting open in the mess of my mind.  There are some that I am going to try and close up today as well.  I know that there will still be some open and they are going to try and pull others down and rip them open as well, but I going to make a deliberate and intentional effort to keep bringing them to God and letting Him set them in order.  I will fail, but I will get up and try again.  I know I will succeed if I keep trying.  I’m going to be more intentional about this because I see the need for it for the health of my walk with God, and my relationships at home.  I know God is going to bless the efforts.  I have a guarantee!