In the 1987 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the report of the Foreign Mission Board contained a telephone hook-up with Frances Fuller, one of our missionaries to Lebanon. A few days earlier, President Reagon had ordered Americans out of that war-torn country, and had warned any who insisted on staying they would lose their passports. Our missionaries had been evacuated to Cyprus, from where Mrs. Fuller was placing her call.
“You have failed your missionaries by your prayers,” Mrs. Fuller told the thousands of messengers at the convention. With that, she had our undivided attention.
“All the people I talk to back in the States tell me, ‘We’re praying for your safety,’ or ‘We’re praying for you to get out of that country.’”
She continued, “You should have prayed that God would keep us safely in this country in order that we might bear fruit for Him. Consequently, we have been exiled from a country of great need where we should not have left.”
She concluded, “Give us back to Lebanon in your prayers.”
No one who sat in the huge auditorium that night will ever forget her plea.
In the New Testament epistle of James, we read, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives….” (4:3) Another translation has it read, “You ask amiss.”
Lehman Strauss wrote a powerful book on prayer a generation ago, with the intriguing title, “Sense and Nonsense About Prayer.” I confess to buying it for the title. I knew there was a lot of nonsense about prayer out there, and was glad to hear someone in a leadership position admit it.
Nonsensical prayers would be those where we feel we must use the right wording, have the right posture, use the right formulae, pray the right length, and such.
A sensical prayer would be any that touches God, that wants what He wants, that desires His glory above all else.
A man of God stood at a meeting I was attending and said, “I have talked to hundreds of missionaries over the years, and have heard their prayer requests. Never once have I heard them ask us to pray for their safety. Their prayers are always for the effectiveness of their work and their own faithfulness, for God to turn the hearts of the people they are serving, for revival in their country.”
That’s a great reminder about right praying.
My friend Rick Humphreys, a deacon worthy of the office, tells me he calls my name in prayer at least weekly. “I pray specifically that God will bless you with long life so you can serve him for many years to come.”
What’s striking about Rick’s prayer is that, while I was his pastor for over a dozen years, I’ve been gone from that church for 22 years as I write this. Now, that is a faithful prayer warrior, and I’m deeply blessed to be the beneficiary of such intercessions.
I recall the Hezekiah lesson, however. When told the time of his death had come, he panicked and stormed Heaven with desperate prayers. Therefore, God added 15 years to his life. Whatever we may think of God’s doing that, we have the record of Scripture that it would have been better for Israel had Hezekiah died on schedule. During that overtime add-on of 15 years, two tragic things occurred. Hezekiah fathered Manasseh, who would become the sorriest king in Judah’s long history, even to the extent of sacrificing his child to the pagan god Molech by burning him alive. (II Kings 21:6)
Then, when a delegation from Babylon showed up in Jerusalem–”We heard you were sick and wanted to bring you these get-well cards and flowers!”–Hezekiah was so flattered he lost his composure and did something truly foolish. He took the visitors into his treasury and showed them his wealth, then led them into the Temple to see the golden vessels being used in the service of God.
Like giving the Mafia a tour of your vault. Not real smart.
The visitors could not wait to report to the Babylonian king on their return home about all the wealth of Judah. Then, when Nebuchadnezzar began flexing his muscles and looking around for nations to conquer, he remembered Judah.
Thanks a lot, Hezekiah.
(The Hezekiah story is found in II Kings 20.)
My point here is that, while all of us would like to live long and prosper, as Mr. Spock put it, better to live as long as God wills and serve well. Thanks, friend Rick, for such a prayer.
“I hope you will pray for me,” a woman said after learning I was a minister. I answered, “I’ll be happy to. What shall I pray?”
That simple question threw her. She had in mind some kind of general prayer for her well-being, I suppose, but my question caused her to think about the needs in her life, something I gathered she had not done in a while.
After a bit, she said, “I need peace. My husband is not well. And my son needs a job.”
And we did pray, right there on the spot, for the three requests she mentioned.
Jesus once asked a man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The odd thing about that question is that the man was a blind beggar who had been disturbing the Jericho neighborhood by his cries, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” When people tried to shush him, he yelled that much louder. Clearly, he wanted to meet Jesus and to have His blessing in his life.
You and I could have said, “Lord, why would you ask such a thing? Anyone can see that this man is blind and he’s a beggar. He needs healing.”
But the question was not to you and me. It’s so easy for us to assess the needs of the people around us while turning a blind eye to our own. He was asking Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, to get specific in his prayers.
Bartimaeus could have asked for a better begging place. He could have asked for five shekels. A training program for the blind. Employment opportunities. He could have said, “Lord, make them be nice to me.”
All of these would have been legitimate requests. But they would have missed the point. Here he is facing the Lord of Heaven and earth with the chance of a lifetime. He must not blow this.
Bartimaeus answered, “Lord, I want to receive my sight.” And Jesus said, “Okay. You’ve got it.”
Really. That’s what He said. (Luke 18)
May the Lord lead you and me to really think about what we are praying and to leave behind the foolish nonsense of prayers prayed amiss.
Paul said, “We do not know how to pray as we should.” (Romans 8:26)
That’s why one of our first prayers might ought to be, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)