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Once, when I was a youth pastor, I remember teaching a particular Sunday School class. After awhile, one young man began to ask questions fast and furiously. Since the issues were related to the material I was teaching, I took a few moments to address his concerns. Soon, I found that young fellow had different motives for his questions. He never let me share my thoughts on one question before he leaped to another. Whatever his reasons were, the barrage of questions stopped the class from moving ahead.
That experience was the devil using him to taunt me as I taught the class. It caught me off guard at the time, but I learned that I need to be aware of the startegies that the enemy uses against me so that I can foil them.
The enemy loves to use taunting strategies against intercessors as we wait on God. The devil will try to confuse and confound you when God asks you to wait, instead of answering your request immediately.
I'd like to explore four basic errors the enemy uses to hinder our progress, and then give you strategies to overcome them. Here are the four errors that the enemy will try to get you to believe in order to foil your prayer life:
(We are going to talk about the first two in this lesson and then talk about the other two in the next lesson.)
One question that may plague your prayer time is, "Why ask God for something He already knows that I need?"
Doesn't God know my needs without my asking? Yes, God is all-knowing. The fancy word for that is omniscient. And God does know our needs before we ask Him. If the preceding is true, then why doesn't God take care of my needs without my asking? That's an unbiblical idea, as we shall explore.
First, God provides a general grace that nurtures His entire creation. That provision is available to all humanity: "For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45b).
Second, Jesus teaches that the general grace extends to every living thing:
"Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they...And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field...will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'" (Matthew 6:26-31).
Third, Jesus' words reveal that, while God does take credit for feeding the birds, worms do not grow on trees. Nor does God toss worms into birds' nests. The birds are responsible for getting the food to their own mouths. Otherwise, the sparrows would get too fat, and they couldn't fly. In the same fashion, while God provides for us, we are responsible for using prayer (and sometimes our labor) to draw His provision into our lives. James spoke of this matter: "...You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask" (John 4:2b).
Therefore, it is important to ask God for specific prayer request(s). As we have seen before, our Lord does that so we learn to depend on Him. If our Father supplied all our needs without asking, then we wouldn't have the need to press into Him. And our relationship with God is our greatest need.
Another error the enemy dishes out to stop us from waiting on God is "Prayer is not meant to be answered."
Many religious people don't believe that God answers our petitions. They view prayer in a positive light, even if their definition isn't biblical. Some alternate explanations for prayer include, "therapy for those who can't afford a therapist," "help to accept the trials of life," or "making contact with your higher power." Skeptics view prayer in a neutral to negative manner. Some natural descriptions of prayer are: "wishful thinking," "a means to avoid taking responsibility for one's life," "an escape from reality," "an unsophisticated person's way of dealing with the unknown," "pious hocus-pocus," "a religious opiate," or "a sign of a mental illness, since both include talking to oneself."
In contrast to the preceding views, I believe that God answers prayer. That's what the Bible says in passages like: "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:7-8).
Although other benefits of prayer exist--fellowship with God, feeling God lift our burdens, etc.--its primary purpose is to receive answers to requests posed to our heavenly Father.
God also grants petitions to confirm His covenants. The Lord wants us to know about His character through His generosity towards us. He wants us to know that we can trust Him to do what He says. Our Father wants to change the toxic definition of faithfulness that we may have learned in childhood when a caregiver--usually a father--was either too impaired or too wounded to deliver on what they promised.
Next, answered prayer sets the pace of your prayer life. Often, our first experiences shape what we expect from later encounters. If a young boy goes on his first fishing trip to a pond where there are no fish, what does he conclude? He figures catching a fish is hard to do. If the same boy makes his first outing to a frequently stocked pond, he's more likely to hook a fish. His conclusion: catching a fish is easy.
As we make our first requests to God, He answers us, so there is no mistake about what is the purpose of prayer.
In addition, answered prayer becomes the foundation for our intercession. Granted petitions represent grounds that have been taken back from the enemy. We war on behalf of others based upon the confidence and faith we've gained from our own personal victories. Once you've triumphed in prayer for yourself, it's easier to believe that God will do the same for someone else. After all, how can you chauffeur someone else, if you've never learned how to drive yourself?