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Lesson 8 looked at taking our personal needs to God in prayer. We learned that He promises to take care of our needs, but He likes to be asked to do so. We also saw that God is a loving Father Who delights to give good gifts to His children, so He will often (but not always) give us the things we desire as well. We learned that it is OK to bring our wants and needs to God and ask Him to meet us in them.
But there are other dimensions to personal prayer as well.
The Bible gives us a lot of wonderful insights into how we should live our lives and how God desires us to behave. It makes it real clear that God wants us to walk in honesty and integrity. So if someone comes to us with a dishonest "get-rich-quick" scheme, we don't have to pray for divine guidance about whether to participate in that. The Bible already makes it clear that God doesn't want us involved in unrighteous schemes.
But there are many situations we can get in that the Bible doesn't clearly deal with. For instance, a high school student may want to know which colleges s/he should apply to. A businessman may have two job offers and wants to know which job God wants him to take. Or perhaps an important relationship in your life is becoming problematic, and you need wisdom from God about what to do in that relationship.
Fortunately, God loves to give us His wisdom and guidance in any situation we bring to Him and ask Him about. James 1:5 encourages us to ask God anytime we need His advice. It says, "If you need wisdom -- if you want to know what God wants you to do -- ask Him, and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking" (NLT).
God wants us to get to the place where we can go to Him for anything, big or small. Most of us find it hard to trust God in the "big stuff" if we haven't already seen His faithfulness in smaller things. God is quite happy to help us in the little things as well as the big ones. He loves to build our faith that way. 1 Cor. 2:5 explains it this way, "... so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom." God wants us to get in the habit of trusting Him for His guidance in all things. He wants you to have "a complete understanding of what He wants to do in your lives, and to make you wise with spiritual wisdom" (Col. 1:9).
If you have a difficult problem that leaves you upset and worried or frustrated, try talking to God about it. You might be able to work through the problem with Him.
I do this a lot, and He always seems to give me insights to put things into perspective and come up with a strategy. I happen to be a fast typist and I'm very comfortable on computers. So I keep a directory on my computer called "dhs" for "Dear Holy Spirit." When I'm frustrated or confused or worried about something, I go to God for advice. The way I do it is to sit down and begin typing in a file in that directory as if I were writing a letter (or an email) to God, describing the problem and telling Him how I feel about it. As I do this, God usually speaks to me. He brings clarity, insight to the situation. He also brings along godly principles and shows me how to apply them to that situation. I literally work through the problem with God. On a really big issue, I may end up writing more than one "dhs" letter to God as I explore different issues all related to the same problem. God loves to give us His insights, wisdom and advice as we invite Him into our puzzling or troubling situations.
Another aspect of divine wisdom and guidance is to invite God to actively be involved in your day, leading and guiding, etc. I call that asking God to orchestrate our day. In the morning, I make a fresh commitment to His lordship in my life and I ask Him to be in control of what happens. I invite Him to lead and guide and I give Him permission to break into my routine with His presence or direction any time He feels like it. And when He does that, I'm committed to obey Him.
Sometimes it's simple little things, like when I wanted to read a textbook for a ministry class on BART. I had a half-hour train ride and I intended to use it productively to study. But God sat me next to a woman whose husband was in the hospital. She made a brief call to her daughter's answering machine telling her that, "It doesn't look good. They did an angiogram last night. I'm on my way to the hospital now." I wanted to ignore her problem and study, but God told me to minister to her.
So I began to talk to her. Pretty soon she had broken down and tearfully shared her story. They were from Texas. Her husband had collapsed on a business trip and had been in a coma for a month. She had left her job and flew out here and was staying in "corporate housing" from her husband's company and spending all day at the hospital by her husband's side in hopes he might wake up. She was unable to sleep or eat much because of the stress of the situation. So I was able to pray with her for her husband and to minister to her for the half-hour train ride. My agenda was to study for my class. But God's agenda was to comfort His daughter and He orchestrated my day to seat me next to her on BART on my way to work.
Sometimes God breaks into our day in really big ways. I got an email from someone shortly after the September 11 terrorist attack. I'm not sure if this is a true story, but I think it might be. A woman was supposed to be on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania when terrorists tried to hijack it. She was on a business trip and wanted to get back home to be with her family. But God had broken into her day during the trip and instructed her to call her estranged sister to restore the relationship. She didn't want to do that, but she obeyed God. The sister wanted to get together face to face so she extended her trip a few days and rescheduled her flight home. If she hadn't rescheduled, she would have been killed on the fight home. God broke into her day in a really big way and saved her life when He asked her to call her estranged sister.
Seeking A Heart After God
King David was known as a man after God's heart. God Himself said that about David: "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will" (Acts 13:22). How do you think David got to be that way? I believe it had something to do with his prayer life. He prayed some very powerful prayers inviting God to transform his heart and thinking. Possibly his most well-known prayer is recorded in Psalms 51:10-12. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit" (NKJ).
One day when I was doing prayerful study, God began to speak to me about that passage. I began to see that I needed to have my heart changed as well, that I wasn't able to change myself, that I needed Him to transform me. So I came up with my own version of David's prayer that I prayed daily for several years. It went like this: "Lord, please change my heart to line up with Your heart. Change my thinking to line up with Your thinking. Change my desires, so that I begin to like what You like and to distain what You distain. Change my motives to line up with Your motives."
I didn't see any instant changes, but over time, I did begin to notice that the things I wanted to do lined up more closely with God's will and that I had much less desire toward things that didn't further God's kingdom. I can't put my finger on a specific incident or date and say that I was changed from that time. It was a slow and gradual change over time. In fact, I'm probably still in the process of that transformation. But one day I did notice how much I had changed without even trying to. I had been inviting God to change my desires and heart motivations and He did.
He wants to do that for each of His children. He delights in transforming us and it gives Him great pleasure when we ask Him to change our hearts to better line up with His. A good place to start praying into this is to invite Him to have His complete restoration work in your own life. Tell Him that you will cooperate with Him as He does this, that you desire to be transformed to line up with His plans and purposes for you. Invite Him to examine your own heart, as per Psalms 139:23-24. Invite Him to transform your heart and make it pure before Him, as per Psalms 51:10-12.
You need to understand that if you pray along this line, God is going to answer your prayer, and a part of that answer will probably involve His refiner's fire. He will sometimes throw us into the "fire" of difficult circumstances so our impurities, fears and doubts rise up to the surface that He might get rid of them. God will usually transform us through a process rather than instantly. But we each need to be personally transformed if the church is to be transformed, because we (collectively) make up the Body of Christ; we are the church! So our prayer strategy goes something like this:
Change, restore and renew Your church; I'm part of it, so start with me. I'm willing to submit to You as You work in me. I pray that You will do a similar work in each of us, and that we will each have a heart to submit to You as You do it.
Seeking A Gifting/Anointing
Sometimes we desire a particular gifting or anointing, such as praying for the sick and seeing them healed or speaking clear and accurate prophetic words, etc. We find that it is OK to ask God to give us the giftings and anointings we desire. 1 Cor. 14:12-13 make it clear that we have permission to ask for spiritual gifts because Paul tells that those who have the gift of tongues should also ask God for the gift of interpretation. And Matt. 7:11 says, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" So it stands to reason that if you want a certain spiritual gift, ask God for it.
I have found this works over and over in my own life. In fact, the way I got the gift of prophecy was asking God for it. It was my birthday and God asked me what I wanted for my birthday. So I told Him I wanted the gift of prophecy. (I was a bit afraid that He might think I was being greedy and asking for too much.) He told me "OK, I gave it to you." I didn't believe Him when He told me that. More precisely, I didn't believe it was really God's voice speaking to me. I thought maybe it was the desire of my own heart imitating God's voice. So God asked me what it would take to believe Him and I had no idea. Then He said, "What if I have a prophet from out of state call you to tell you that I gave you the gift of prophecy? Would that convince you?" I said yes, that would be pretty convincing. Later that evening the phone rang and it was a prophet from Alabama. He said God told him he had to call me that day, it couldn't be the day before or the day after. It had to be that day. He had a short word for me. The word was that God was giving me the gift of prophecy in response to my request for it.
You see, God really does release spiritual gifts when we ask Him for them. Later I began seeking God for a healing anointing, and He has given me opportunities to pray for many sick people and see them get healed. I've seen sight return to blind eyes. I've seen deaf ears open. I've seen people get out of wheelchairs and I've even seen cancer fall off of people. I don't know if I move in healing at the "gift level," but God has certainly given me an anointing to pray for the sick and see them recover. And I love it when God has me pray for someone and then heals them supernaturally.
If you desire a spiritual gift or anointing, ask God for it. He just might say yes to your request.