Prayer is more challenging than we’d like to admit. At its most basic elements, prayer is having a conversation with God. Sounds easy enough. But what if you don’t know what to say? What if you never hear anything from God? What if you get distracted? It’s easy to see where things fall apart. We find ourselves making the same request as the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
I’ve heard numerous different acronyms for prayer over the years. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses. A couple of years ago, I read Pete Greig’s book, How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People. I found this book helpful and have since started using Greig’s acronym P.R.A.Y. It stands for pause, rejoice, ask, and yield. In this four-part series, we will be exploring each one of these aspects of prayer.
Prayer is a time to go before God and speak your requests boldly. Maybe you’ve done that time and time again. There was a situation where you needed a miracle that never came. Unanswered prayer is perhaps the most challenging part of prayer. What do we do when God says no?
The reality is that on this side of heaven, we’ll probably never get an answer to the question “why?”
It is difficult to discern what causes our heartbreaks: the fallen world, the spiritual war, or God’s will. Even when we are disappointed, we can still trust that God is good and he loves us. Richard Foster in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home helps us with the question, “Why, God?”:
“Part of the answer lies in the fact that, frequently, we hold on so tightly to the good we know that we cannot receive the greater good that we do not know. God has to help us let go of our tiny vision in order to release the greater good he has in store for us.” – Richard Foster
The final letter in the P.R.A.Y. acronym (and the most difficult) is yield. There are two aspects of this kind of prayer: relinquish & confess.
1. Relinquish: Trusting God’s will.
There is a place for boldly asking God to move, but there is also a place for relinquishing control and letting God have His way in your life. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is our best model.
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
There are four critical steps to Jesus’ relinquishing prayer:
Love: “Abba, Father”
Jesus addresses God from the position of a parent/child relationship. “Abba” is an intimate term of endearment. A modern equivalent would be saying, “Daddy” or “Dad.” God’s silence does not equal God’s absence. God loves you and is with you even when He allows you to go through suffering.
Faith: “All things are possible for you”
Jesus doesn’t waver in his faith in God’s power. There is no hint of, “If you can even help me.” Jesus never doubts for a moment God’s ability to help. When things go wrong in your life, don’t ever assume that God is powerless. He is still on the throne and is our source of hope in the dark.
Petition: “Remove this cup from me”
This bold request almost seems unbiblical. The lesson for us is that we can be brutally honest with God. If Jesus felt comfortable asking for an alternative to the cross, we should be able to pray bold prayers as well. The tears from his eyes and drops of blood from his forehead display Christ’s vulnerability. It’s ok for us to be vulnerable with God, especially when it comes to suffering.
Relinquish: “Yet not what I will, but what you will”
Submitting to God’s will is the essence of faith. We must be willing to trust God’s way, even if it’s not the way we desire to go. Remember that Jesus described discipleship as denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him (Matthew 16:22-24). It’s not always easy to submit to God’s will, but it’s always worth it.
2. Confess: Trusting God to forgive.
When we’ve done something outside of God’s will, it is called sin. In confession, we trust in God’s goodness and grace to forgive us as we re-submit to His way. In the Lord’s Prayer, which is a daily model for prayer, Jesus teaches us to confess consistently.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:12-13)
Jesus uses the unique word opheilēma (“debt”) here instead of the usual word hamartia (“sin”) (as in Luke 11:4). The picture of forgiveness is a clean slate. While the payment made by Jesus on the cross is once and for all, we never want to abuse God’s grace (Romans 6:1). Christ paid the penalty, but we don’t want to add to the debt. The gospel is not a credit card with no maximum spending limit that gives us a license to sin.
After justification, sin still damages our relationship with God, others, and ourselves.
Confession plays a vital role in our sanctification. It forces us to come clean and face the aspects of our lives that still need the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. Keep asking Jesus to forgive and lead you. As you confess, you will become more like Christ. The good news is that you never have to doubt for a second that God forgives you.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:9)
Today you might be suffering or struggling with sin. Yield to God. You can trust that he will never leave you or forsake you. Turn away from sin and toward God. He is the good shepherd who will lead you through even the darkest valleys of your life. The more we pray, we find that the main thing we need God to change is us.
The more we pray, we find that the main thing we need God to change is us.
(For more from Joshua, check out joshuabranham.com.)