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Dancing with glee: God and our prayers

One cannot make it very far in the New Testament – perhaps especially in Paul’s letters – without being confronted by the centrality of prayer in Paul’s spiritual life, especially as regards the churches he loved so dear.

I wonder if the same could be said of us. Of me.

I was recently talking with a friend about Wildwood, about things we both wished were different, and reflected that I don’t pray enough. I’ve seen this reality all the more clearly in the last three months because God has answered my prayers for our church in several areas. In the last three months, I have seen distinct, recognizable answers to specific prayers I have offered over the last two to three years.

Those moments have been both a source of rejoicing and a cause of greater conviction. Rejoicing, to see my prayers answered; but conviction, because I have often complained where I ought to have prayed, or given up praying because I saw no change, or simply forgotten to pray in the busyness of life. My life, in other words, is a far cry from the Spirit-dependent, prayer-saturated examples of Jesus and the apostles. all of whom apparently spent regular time in prayer. Indeed, this is the testimony of the early church as well.

It is no coincidence that Paul so often pleads the prayers of the very people for whom he declared his own practice of prayer. We need each other, and we need each other’s prayers. God has ordered our world and our story such that his actions are often in response to our prayers. He has ordained the means by which he moves, not only his motions, and one of the chief means is our bringing him faithful requests, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year – and yes, decade after decade, if necessary.

So when we come up against areas in our local church that trouble us, or about which we are dissatisfied, or which seem not to match up with the clear teaching of Scripture, we should pray. There are, to be sure, other avenues open to us. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, it might behoove us to speak to an elder, or to take counsel with other believers in the church. We might, if we see a need, seek to fill it ourselves. We might, if the circumstance is sufficiently bad, simply flee. But we should always pray. No matter what other actions we might take, nothing is so effective in changing the hearts of men as prayer, because nothing changes the hearts of men but God, and God has ordained that he moves in men’s hearts in response to prayer.

Why is this so? Much ink (physical and virtual) has been spilled here; I will, for the moment, simply remind that God delights in the prayers of the upright (Proverbs 15:8).

That is worth pausing for, chewing on, savoring. God takes joy in our coming to and trusting him to answer. It is not merely that it is good for us; it is not merely that he thinks it good in some abstract way. He delights in it. Think about how we respond when truly delighted – dancing with glee, unrestrained shouts of joy, our bodies filled to bursting so we must find some way to let it out lest we explode. God delights in our prayers.

He delights in the way a small child comes to him, wholly trusting that he will answer over even the smallest request – and have we not seen God answer those small prayers our jaded hearts so often scorn? He is not like us! He delights when we come to him and seek his good will for our friends and families, churches and neighborhoods, our cities and nations. He delights when we pray.

What of the times when he does not answer? In those times, he calls us to be faithful. He has not promised his answer will be swift or satisfying according to our timelines or our understanding. He has promised that he hears us, that he delights in our praying to him. He has shown himself faithful and good; he calls us to trust him, to trust that his answer (whatever it may be) is in accord with his loving kindness toward us.

More: he still delights in those prayers. Perhaps he delights even more in those prayers: prayers that believe against every appearance that he will answer, that he is who he says he is when all our understanding militates against that truth.

Most of all: he answers. He does. True, he rarely answers on our timing, and rarely in the ways we might choose, but he always answers, and always to our good. (Don’t miss that: it is not merely to "the good" that he acts, some abstraction unconnected to our lives. It is for our good.) In my understanding, it would have been better for these prayers I have offered for Wildwood to have been answered two years ago when I began praying for them. Yet God is working all things – even this delay – into his perfect plan for all our good. Who knows how or why, but we can trust him; we have seen his hand in history and the way his answers have always proven best in our lives before.

And so I am resolved to pray all the more fervently and all the more faithfully for Wildwood. There are many areas in which I am dissatisfied, things that trouble my soul, causes for disquiet. All of them I may trust to my great God and Savior. He is good, and he will answer.

Pipe up!

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