One thing that I’ve noticed about the Reformed crowd that I am a part of is that we often pray safe prayers. Sure, we pray. Sure, we implore God. Sure, we boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. But we often end (or begin) our prayers with phrases that let God “off the hook” or make His not answering easier for us to swallow. Phrases like, “If this is your will, please …” Or, “Please do so and so, but I recognize it may not be in your will to do so.” I don’t know if this is you or not, but I know it has been me in recent times. And the Lord has been using His Word to challenge me to stop praying safe prayers.
I was recently reading through the Gospels and came across statement after statement from Jesus that just didn’t quite square up with the safe prayers I was praying.
- Matthew 21:22 – “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
- Mark 11:24 — “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
- Luke 11:9 — “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
- John 14:13 – “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
And it isn’t just Jesus in the Gospels saying things like this. Later in the New Testament Epistles we see things like:
- James 1:5-6 — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
- 1 John 5:14 — “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.”
Now to be fair, many of us have experienced the gross and outlandish misinterpretation and misapplication of these passages of Scripture, and so our default position is one of caution. We rightly caution that Jesus is not giving us a carte blanche to get whatever we want in life. We rightly caution that we are not to be presumptuous in our prayers, expecting that God is our magic genie in the bottle, there to fulfill our every wish. We rightly caution that it is not the measure of our faith that causes God to act, but His Sovereign will based on His eternal decree. All of these are good and healthy cautions, and ones that we must keep in the back of our minds and warn new believers of as they may be lured away by the false teachings of our day.
But brothers and sisters, even after all of these right cautions, let us not miss out on the incredible promise given to us by Jesus and the other writers of the New Testament, and the amazing privilege afforded to us to commune with and entreat the God of the universe in prayer. Let us not make the cautions our main focus. Those of us who rightly emphasize the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things must be careful not to downplay, or worse disregard, the words of Jesus concerning prayer. As one preacher put it, we are often guilty of putting the back-of-our-mind cautions (“God may not answer this prayer because it may not be His will”) at the forefront of our mind (“God I’m going to ask you to do this, but I know you probably won’t because it probably isn’t your will.”)
With the utmost focus on the sovereignty of God, and careful attention not to presume upon Him, let us be men and women who pray God-sized prayers. Let us implore Him to move and act in a way that only He can, in a way that is only explainable by the fact that the God of the universe has intervened and acted on our behalf. Let us model the bold prayer of John Knox: “Give me Scotland, or I die.” As Burk Parsons says of Knox’s prayer,
“Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.”
As we prepare to enter into the New Year of 2019, what are the mountains in your life waiting to be moved, by God’s sovereign decree, through the means of your faith-filled prayer? What is your Scotland, for which you earnestly implore the Lord to the point that you would rather die than not see that prayer come to pass.
We aren’t talking here about asking the Lord for health, wealth, and prosperity. We are talking about those things that we know, by virtue of His perfect, sufficient, and inerrant Word, are in accordance with His Will and bring Him honor and glory. We are talking about asking Him for wisdom in a decision that we need to make or in a situation we need to handle, wisdom that would result in our good and His glory. We are talking about asking Him to overcome the hardness of heart in the lives of your neighbors and to enable you to have an inroad to faithfully and boldly proclaim the Gospel in a winsome way. We are talking about imploring Him to work in your marriage to enable you to be a sacrificial husband or a loving, honoring wife, to the end that your marriage would be a beacon to the world of the beauty and truth of the Gospel.
As I ponder some things going on my own life, I am speaking to myself as much as, if not more, than anyone reading this. While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment on the topic of prayer, I want to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to enter into the New Year committed to praying God-sized, unsafe prayers — committed to stop saying safe prayers. May we be men and women who come before the throne of grace with bold faith and expectant hearts, asking God to do what only God can do, that He may receive all praise, honor, and glory.