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Lessons five to seven cover various dimensions of our prayer life that enable us to grow emotionally and spiritually, to come to maturity in God. Lesson five talked about self-evaluation, repentance and freedom from enemy oppression/bondages. Lesson six looked at growth and maturity in deep heart issues (e.g., inner healing prayer and refiner's fire prayer). This lesson will look at two other aspects of growth/maturity prayer: commitment prayer and prayerful study.
This falls into three categories. One is where God is asking you to make a short-term but significant commitment to Him. It may be that He calls you to a 40-day fast, and you need to be sure it is really Him before you start this fast. Or it may be that He is asking you to make a large donation to a ministry, an amount that will make a noticeable dent in your pocket book. Or maybe He is asking you to take a few weeks off work to go on a short-term missions trip to Afghanistan or India or some other potentially dangerous place. These are examples of things where God is asking for a large commitment toward a specific task or event. You need to spend time hearing from God and confirming that He has really asked you to do this, and possibly to get directions from Him for the specifics of carrying out the task.
I remember one time when I was having health problems. I had been to two regular doctors and a specialist and had some tests run and they determined it was a digestive problem. I had been sick for months. I was still able to go to work and church, but I was not able to do much else. The doctors were trying to figure out a strategy to make me better but had not come up with one. The pastor of my church had started a 40-day fast, and the following Sunday, called his personal intercessors together and asked us to join him in the fast. I knew that I had to be very careful about my diet and eating because of the digestive disorder. I immediately assumed that I had a really good reason for not doing this fast. But God began to convict my heart that maybe I was supposed to do this long fast. (Coincidently, I had not had breakfast before service.) After church, I went away to a private place to pray and seek God on this. The thought of the fast really scared me because of the health problems I was having. I told God about my fears. His reply surprised me. He said, "Teresa, if it were to kill you to obey what I command you to do, would that be any excuse not to obey Me?" After wrestling with that for a while, I made a commitment and started the fast. Strangely, I did not have a single symptom of my health problem from the moment I committed to the fast. God seemed to take the problem away for the duration of the fast, and I felt better and healthier while fasting than I had for months preceding it. I was afraid that I would get sick again once the fast was over. But the healing held even after I stopped fasting, and the doctors were unable to explain my recovery.
The second type of commitment prayer is when God calls you into some type of covenant or long-term commitment with Him. A covenant is an agreement between two parties where each person involved has their part that they agree to carry out. When you enter into a covenant with God, God has His part that He will do and you have your part that you will do.
The most basic covenant is, of course, a commitment to walk out the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of your life - for Him to be Boss, in control and calling the shots and for you to be committed to obeying Him. God's part is to teach you how to do this, then to clearly and actively lead and guide you and reveal Himself and His will to you. Your part, of course, is to obey what He tells you and do what He shows you to do. It also involves not doing things He does not want you to do. He even gets the right to dictate how you spend your money and your leisure time. There is a transfer of control that takes place. God gets control of your life, of your actions and your destiny. He makes the decisions, then you do what He says. However, along with that you get increased intimacy and friendship with God, clarity in hearing His voice, and His presence, power and anointing in your day-to-day life. (I think we get the better end of that bargain!)
I hope that each person who reads this will make a serious commitment to Jesus' Lordship in every area of your life. You can enter into an agreement (or covenant) with God where He becomes the boss and you become committed to obeying Him and doing things His way. Once you make this type of commitment, your entire life will change. It will become incredibly better as God brings His presence and His Lordship into many areas of your life. If you are not already in this type of covenant with God, please consider it. I hope you will spend some of your prayer time this week talking to God about this.
God may call you into other covenants to deal with specific areas in your walk with Him. I shared earlier how I used to be terrified of being deceived because deep down I didn't trust God to correct me or clarify if I heard Him wrong. At one point, the Father invited me into a special covenant with Him. My part was to trust Him and to begin to step out quickly to obey what He showed me. His part was to gently and lovingly correct me if I heard wrong and to make sure I did not make serious mistakes as I sought to obey and honor Him.
God may want to enter into a covenant with you to deal with some area He's working on in your life, just as He dealt with my fear of deception by entering into a covenant with me to correct me if I heard wrong. Covenants with God should not be entered into lightly, because once you enter into a contract with God, He's going to expect you to keep your end of the bargain and He will keep His. So you should prayerfully explore any covenant with God before you enter into it.
The third type of covenant prayer is renewing an existing covenant. That means that we remind ourselves of our covenant with God and make a fresh recommitment to keeping it. We may also want to remind ourselves of the things God has done and will continue to do for us in keeping His side of the covenant. I have three covenants with God: one with the Father (the one about trusting Him to correct me), one with Jesus (about Him being Lord/boss) and one with the Holy Spirit.
The one with the Holy Spirit started in a really neat way. I was driving down a road I frequently drive. I stopped at stop sign and began thinking about how the Father had worked with the children of Israel, leading them and caring for them in the wilderness, etc. Then Jesus came to die for our sins and rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. But the Holy Spirit is stuck here on earth, in the lives of a bunch of believers who frequently grieve and disobey Him. I thought to myself that He's getting a raw deal and that it must be no fun for Him to work in our lives when we are resisting Him.
I prayed briefly, "Holy Spirit, I'm sorry about the times I fight and resist You. If You help me to do so, I would like to cooperate with You when You are working to lead or transform me." I got through the stop sign and began to drive. Suddenly the Holy Spirit said, "Teresa, did you really mean that?" I said yes. Then He invited me to enter into a covenant with Him. He would lead me and transform me to be more like Jesus and my part was to actively cooperate with Him in the process.
I drive through that area frequently and I pass that stop sign several times a week. It's a special place to me, my place of covenant. And it reminds me of the agreement I have with the Holy Spirit. I frequently renew my covenant with the Holy Spirit when I drive past that location, which is at least four or five times a week. A lot of times I will pray something like, "Holy Spirit, I'm glad I'm in that covenant with you. Please keep transforming me to make me more like Jesus. And please make me aware of when I begin resisting you and help me to cooperate with you in it."
Renewing the covenant makes me conscientious about the agreement I have with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when He is doing a deep work I will put up walls and resist Him without intending to. Then I will drive past this "place of covenant" and He will remind me that I have agreed to cooperate with Him as He transforms me. That almost always leads to an in-depth conversation where He will discuss how He wants me to cooperate with Him in this particular area. This is an example of "renewing-the-covenant" type of prayer.
The Bible encourages us to study and grow in our faith. It is a biblical concept; God does want us to study and grow in our faith. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, "Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved (tested by trial), a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth" (AMP).
Study can be done independently of prayer, or it can be incorporated into your prayer life. In other words, you can study on your own, or you can study with God. This applies to reading/studying the Bible, and it applies to books on Christian growth and even to studying things like church history or theology. Personally, I like to invite God into my study, to ask Him to speak to me or give me insights on whatever I am studying. He will often call things to my attention that I might have otherwise missed. Or He may speak to me on a subject or He may even suggest I look up a certain word in the Bible dictionary or concordance. When we invite God to become involved with us in our study, then our study enters the realm of prayer.
There will be times when God has a lot to say to us on a certain topic, and we don't get very far in the reading because of all God desires to speak to us. There will be other times when He will allow us to do a fair amount of reading or study and comment only occasionally on what we are reading. God likes to ask me questions when I'm studying to get me thinking about the material and seeing how to apply it to my life and Christian walk. It's normal for God to speak to me when I'm reading His Word, because I make it my habit to invite Him into the process, to speak to me and show me things from it.
There are times when He will give me a piece of information and then make me research it to get the whole story. For instance, one time God told me that He did not allow Aaron to grieve publicly when He killed two of Aaron's sons. I was really surprised by that. "Lord, you killed Aaron's sons? Why would you do that?" He told me to go look it up. I had to go to the online Bible and do a word search on "Aaron" and "son" and I found the story in Leviticus 10.
And there are times when it is critical for us to know how God feels on a certain topic because we need to make an important decision. I remember one time when I belonged to a church that I really liked, and where all my close friends went. One of the lay leaders, a very popular man, fell into something the Bible clearly calls sin. Instead of correcting him, the pastoral staff called his lifestyle "holiness" because he hadn't also fallen into another specific sin. I was horrified the pastors would call sin "holiness" and allow their leaders to participate freely in it. As much as I loved the church, I began to wonder if it was OK to belong to it because of this serious sin issue that the church was saying was OK. I went to God and sought Him with every ounce of my being. Instead of speaking directly to me, He had me fast and pray for 40 days.
During that time, God told me to research and read every verse with the word holiness in it and to check out every passage that had talked about calling sin "holiness." I ended up doing quite a bit of dialogue with the Lord and self-examination as I studied the Scriptures. God was with me in this study process and spoke to me quite a bit during it. By the end of my prayerful study and 40-day fast/prayer, it became clear that God didn't want me affiliated with a church (no matter how good its worship, no matter how good of a speaker the pastor was) that called sin holiness. I left that church and went elsewhere.
The reason I shared that story with you was to give you an example of prayerful study toward making a major decision. The point of prayerful study is to invite God into the process to speak to you and help you grow in Him and discern His will as you study.