The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

How Hard to We Have to Pray?

Posted on: January 24, 2017

THERE IS A BALANCE BETWEEN HAMMERING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR AND ACCEPTING THAT IT MAY NOT OPEN

Last week, I shared my struggle with the fact that God instructs us to importune (ask someone pressingly and persistently for or to do something) Him for things that are of great importance to us.

The big question is, “Why?”

A sovereign God does not need to be informed, and a loving Father does not need to be begged or pestered! So why does God instruct us to hammer on heaven’s door for things of extraordinary importance? Why doesn’t He just give it to us if He’s open to the idea?!?

In his book entitled Prayer, Philip Yancey writes that the Bible seems to teach that “We should pray like a salesman with his foot in the door, like a wrestler who has his opponent in a headlock and won’t let go. Raise your voice, Jesus’ story implies. Strive on, like the shameless neighbor in the middle of the night. Keep pounding the door.”

Then he asks, “Why would God, the all-powerful ruler of the universe, resort to a style of relating that to humans seems like negotiation – or haggling, to put it crudely? Does God require the exercise as part of our spiritual training regimen?”

I am inclined to think that He does. That is what makes the most sense to me. I am inclined to think that hammering on heaven’s door… in the right sense of the word taught in Scripture… changes us. It converts us into larger, greater people, more in touch with who God is, more in tune with His will, more perceptive about right and wrong, true and false, good and bad… more involved with desiring His will over our own.

It can teach us to care about the same things God cares about… that by importuning God, we may appropriately inflame our own sense of injustice, our desire for righteousness to prevail, for the world to come under the dominion of a righteous King… for right to be done and wrong to be done away with.

If we always moderate our requests, if we always say, merely, “Thy will be done,” it may subdue our perception of the world as it really is. On the other hand, if we give leeway to our convictions, it may help us become more like Christ, to see, think and feel more as God does.

In any event, engaging with God deepens our understanding of Him, our relationship with Him, our capacity to love and serve Him.

Philip Yancey gave an example of a time when he and his wife had a falling out. Yancey withdrew… but his wife followed. She wouldn’t accept the breach. Because of her persistence, instead of remaining estranged, they reconciled. He concluded that wrestling was better than withdrawing. And that it was so, with God. Better to wrestle and struggle, and eventually come to unity than to withdraw and entrench the breach in the relationship.

Hammering on heaven’s door, I conclude, must be for our benefit, not God’s.

That does not mean that we always importune.   Sometimes, we submit. Jesus prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane that God would “take this cup from me,” but in the end prayed, “not my will but Thine be done.”

This gives us the pattern for our own prayer and for the balance of asking and submitting.

Timothy Keller writes, “Asking with boldness and resting in God’s sovereignty are not contradictory, but complementary, concepts. Because God would never answer a prayer badly (as a genie in a magic lamp might) we can pray confidently because God won’t give us everything we want. If we balance God’s will with our requests, it creates enormous incentive to pray.

We may ask with confidence and hope, unafraid that we will ask for the wrong thing. God tempers the outcome with his incomprehensible wisdom. We may ask, seek, and knock – we will get answers if the Scriptures are true. But the request may not be granted. We get answers that are consistent with God’s will for our lives. (Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)

The importance of balancing importuning with submission is that if we overstress submission we become too passive, and miss out on the benefits of wrestling with God that we mentioned above. We never pray with the remarkable force that builds over time of wrestling with God, and therefore never know the joy of hard-fought answers that sometimes come after the struggle.

However, if we overstress importunity without an acceptance of God’s wisdom and sovereignty, we will become angry, confused, defeated, when our prayers are not answered.

We must avoid extremes – of either not asking and wrestling with God for things on the one hand, or on the other, of thinking we can wear God down and coerce Him into doing what He would not otherwise do if it were not for our incessant whining. We must combine tenacious importunity with deep acceptance of God’s wise will, whatever that turns out to be.

We must be willing to hammer on heaven’s door, knowing that God encourages it for our benefit, while at the same time accepting that if God does not open the door, He still knows best.

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