Crushingly Heavy Prayer
I've put on a facade more times than I want to admit when it comes to praying.
Sometimes, some prayers seem too big to even attempt. Know what I mean?
Reversing the terminal diagnosis, resolving the war, eliminating abortion, stopping persecution . . .
Often the magnitude of the problem and degree of control we have over the problem is what leaves us feeling prayer is hopeless.
But equating the size of a problem with our ability will always leave us discouraged while remembering God's omnipotence should do the opposite. We must stop judging a problem by our power, sight, judgment and thus by our temporal perspective.
Praying with and having an eternal perspective changes everything.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts , neither are your ways my ways.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your thoughts
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." - God, Isaiah 55:8-9
Strong Burden, Neglected Prayer
While I have at times been absolutely consumed by the weight of the persecuted across the world, my prayers haven't matched the weight of my burden.
You know how in your mind you are someone or do something but you actually don't and aren't that person. Maybe you aspire to be and convince yourself you are, but you aren't? Like in college I loved Jesus and was living it out in my mind. I pictured myself as this committed, mission-minded follower, involved in church, using my life and passions to glorify him, etc...but honestly, none of that existed. I realized one day I was living a lie to myself. Yeah it existed in my head and heart but didn't manifest anywhere. I was stagnant and just waiting to get out of college to become the person I was in my mind. Two of Satan's best tactics were at work: procrastination & self-deception.
Likewise, I support persecution ministries, read books on the persecuted, am subscribed to magazines about the persecuted, share articles on persecution, talk about the persecuted, but actually praying? Not so much. How can I say I am dedicated to the persecuted church when I don't even pray for them? The persecuted rely heavily on our prayers as one of their most powerful resources and means to keep going.
Their Reality, Our Responsibility
Many missionaries go into the field knowing persecution is a real possibility. Others live in countries where Christianity isn't tolerated and accept Christ knowing they can lose their lives. Yet we count our costs in America and often decide if it's too inconvenient, we don't want Jesus or don't want a certain version of Jesus: the true, die-to-yourself, I-surrender-ALL, bear-your-cross-daily Jesus. Grace is free but following Jesus is and always will be costly (Luke 14). John 15:20-21 tells us that we will be persecuted and treated poorly because Jesus was before us. Paul describes the circumstances Christians, the persecuted, and missionaries often face and the secret to it all:
"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We are knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you . . . This is why we never give up though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever." 2Corinthians 4: 8-12,16-18
Fixing his eyes on his faith and the eternal value and impact of what he was enduring was Paul's driving force. Everything we can SEE now will soon be gone, and the things we CANNOT see will last forever. Temporary focus versus eternal focus. The persecution is temporary, the faith of and impact of the persecuted is eternal. It is truly humbling to know there are thousands of Christians across the world that willingly face these circumstances every hour of every day by clinging to this hope and their faith.
Over 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith since Jesus walked this earth and even more have suffered in other ways. The magnitude of the injustice is overwhelming but it should be no surprise. The bible clearly says that Christians will die for their faith and the world will hate Christians because of their faith (Matthew 24:9); it says also that martyrs and the persecuted will have a special place in Heaven (Revelation 6:9-11). And so, we know persecution will be a part of life until God walks among us (Revelation 21:3-4).
Until recently and because of my temporal, discouraged mindset, praying for the persecuted seemed futile, and the futility discouraged me from praying, especially because scripture described persecution occurring until the end and I knew it had been around since the beginning. If it would be around until the end, why pray? But I finally realized why I had such despondency with even thinking about praying for the persecuted.
Satan would have me focus on the size of the problem and MY will leading me to pray from a temporal perspective.
God would have me focus on Him and HIS will, leading me to pray from an eternal perspective.
Facing the Weight
I don't worry much, I don't fear much, but I DO fight discouragement with other's welfare much. Discouragement is one of Satan's best tools. It means "to cause someone to lose enthusiasm or confidence." When I base my enthusiasm and confidence on my temporal perspective --my performance, another's choices, the size of the problem, my degree of control -- I find myself discouraged which affects my prayer life. When I base it on God's truths and an eternal perspective, I gain confidence, courage, and enthusiasm.
Often or maybe always, we pray for our problems with temporal focus and zero eternal focus. We are accustomed to praying our requests and needs, without giving a thought to God's glory and eternity. Temporal focus leads us to accept and want only what WE want, what WE see as best, and what WE control while ignoring placing it in the hands of God for His purposes. We have a human view not a God-view, but we should view our problems and desires with eternal focus and pray about them WITH eternal focus! Focusing on eternal benefits and consequence of our tribulations gives us insight into how to pray.
Praying as it is intended with eternal focus begins with a posture of surrender and submission to God's will, just as Jesus was always surrendered and submitted to His Father's will. As a result of our prayer and pursuit of God's will, we become aligned with His will. When Jesus modeled how to pray he said something that I believe often people don't understand fully. We've all recited The Lord's Prayer but have we thought about it's meaning? "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). God's "kingdom come" refers to Him "reigning" in the hearts and minds of all people now on earth (through salvation) & in eternity. We want his kingdom to come now because we want him to reign here on earth WITHIN people because we know the one who reigns in the world now is Satan, "Satan who is the God of this world, has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They are unable to see the light of the gospel" (2 Corinthians 3:4).
We know Satan's ultimate destiny which is why we can have confidence his temporary rule on earth will be overcome. God reigning in our hearts and minds will be transformed to Him reigning on the new earth for eternity:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away . . . I heard a loud voice saying from the throne, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among his people. . . They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God (He will REIGN!). He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things (Satan ruling) has passed away" (Revelation 21:1-4).
Praying with Eternal Focus
My focus before and my negligence of praying for the persecuted was because I was focused on the temporal aspect - persecution to stop once and for all. I knew that wouldn't happen, so why pray it? But through my realization of how I should be praying for the persecuted, I have realized the way I should pray always and for everyone - with eternal perspective. Prayer isn't for God to fix something, change the circumstances, and bend it according to my will; it is for God to be glorified, for the eternity of people to be impacted, for His will be done, His kingdom to come, and for us to align with His will. As Rick Astle puts it in his book "The Priority of Kingdom-Focused Prayer," when you are eternally focus instead of temporally focused, you look at life in a completely different way asking '"What can I do to help establish the kingdom of God?'" not '"What can I do to improve my circumstances.'"
Praying for the persecuted with eternal perspective may look like this:
- Their hope to be unshakable
- Their faith to be made stronger
- Their perseverance in light of what they face
- Their impact on spreading the gospel to flourish
- God's strength to manifest through their weakness
- Their protection
- Their boldness
- Their protection
- Their witness to spread
- Their faith to lead to other's knowing Jesus
- Their continued transformation into his image
- God to be glorified through all of the above
- Gods will be done
- **(much, much more)
These ways to pray can be applied to nearly any situation because they have eternal focus, glorify God, and align us with his will instead of ours. We must approach prayer submitted and surrendered to God's will and his mission for us on this earth in light of eternity, not our will in light of what we desire.
With an eternal focus, we can be confident in prayer. We can enthusiastically approach communication with God, knowing we are praying for "Thy kingdom come, Thy will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven." If everything in life were faced with an eternal perspective, we would all be walking closer to Jesus. and rightfully approaching prayer, relationships, careers, decisions, persecution, and more. As Paul said in the face of persecution, the secret is to always transfix our gaze on all things to do with our faith and eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18); furthermore, we should "set (our) affection on things above not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2).
Take a moment and think of a situation you are praying for. What are the potential eternal consequences and benefits? Is there something you are praying for with temporal focus instead of eternal focus? How can you change your prayer effectively?
Don't let discouragement stop you from praying those crushingly heavy prayers. No prayer is too big when we have an eternal perspective. The weight of tribulation is transformed into something beautiful when we lay it at the feet of Jesus.
In Other Words
Omnipotence: Unlimited power, authority, and influence
Temporal: of or relating to earthly life; now as opposed to eternity; secular rather than sacred
Eternal: having no beginning or ending; lasting forever
Discourage: to make someone less confident, hopeful, or determined; to deprive of enthusiasm, courage, or confidence
Tribulation: A cause or state of great trouble or suffering
Deeper & Further Reading & Involvement
- This is an easy to read, relatively short but very good book on prayer: "The Priority of Kingdom-Focused Prayer" by Rick Astle
- Read about the persecuted and find out how to help at this link: The Voice of the Martyrs . Staying informed about what Christians are facing across the world is humbling and encouraging.
- You can sign up here to receive a monthly magazine/newsletter from The Voice of the Martyrs full of encouraging testimonies from Christians facing persecution. You will grow in your knowledge of what countries are hostile toward Christianity, what believers face outside of America, and what you can do to help.
- Follow Voice of the Martyrs on twitter at @VOM_USA
- Follow Persecution.org on twitter at @persecutionnews for awareness and news on the persecuted
- Charles Stanley podcasts/short messages on prayer can be found at the following links: Praying with Impact, Changing People Through Prayer Part I, & Changing People Through Prayer Part II. (Message series is currently going on as of February 13, 2016 so you may have to search to listen to the rest. Alternatively, you can subscribe to his free daily podcast on iTunes and listen to the short messages (typically around 25 minutes).