We are working with God to determine the future. Certain things will happen in history if we pray rightly.
Prayer is the great mystery. If God is all powerful, why did He let my wife die? Why weren’t my prayers answered? Why have I lost some of my best friends and mentors to cancer and other horrible diseases?
Here is a God who can do anything. He is all-powerful and now has ultimate authority on earth. He can speak the word and the universe is created. He can raise Lazarus from the dead. Why does God need our help? Why, in fact, did He even need to create me? Or you? Of what use are our prayers to a self-sufficient God? And if God really loves us, why do some prayers seem to go unanswered? Or if the unanswered prayer is an illusion, what is the reality of prayer?
In Ezekiel 22:30-31 we find an amazing verse:
“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,” says the Lord GOD.
In this verse we see that an all-powerful self-sufficient God is saying He will destroy a nation and execute judgment unless one man stands in the gap between the nation and God and prays, petitioning for the saving of the land. God wants to save the nation but will execute the judgment unless one intercessor stands and prays for the land. God leaves Himself totally dependent on the prayers of one man.
Here is another example of one man saving a nation:
Fed up, God decided to get rid of them—
and except for Moses, his chosen, he would have.
But Moses stood in the gap and deflected God’s anger,
prevented it from destroying them utterly.
Psalms 106:23 THE MESSAGE
Why did an omnipotent God set up a system that depends on us?
God’s problem is not that God is unable to do certain things. God’s problem is that God loves. Love complicates the life of God as it complicates every life.
John Douglas Hall
What is Prayer?
You would think that for most folks prayer is defined like this:
Prayer is asking God to give us the resources we need to play our roles for the day.
We smile at this definition and often deny that’s how we pray, but isn’t that more often the reality as we define it? We are so sure that our agenda is God’s agenda that we pause in our schedule for a quick break and ask Him for what we need to get over the next hurdle in our agenda. Then we wonder why our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.
This is really a poor definition, and the reason is in understanding the key word in this definition: roles.
Dr. Paul Tournier had great success in healing people where other doctors had failed. When others asked him what he was doing different, he explained that healing was a whole-person experience. You could not separate the person into physical, emotional, and spiritual parts. The word for salvation in the New Testament, soteria, refers to total healing.
Tournier said that we spend much of our lives playing roles. The person playing the roles is wearing a mask. Tournier called this the personage. Sometimes when going to the doctor the doctor will ask me questions such as “How is your job going?” or “How’s your love life?” He knows that my physical condition is directly connected with the answers to those questions. Unfortunately, however, he is still asking from within the personage and roles, such as web developer (on the job question) or lover on the second question. Most doctors don’t go to the deeper level.
The real person underneath those roles and free of the roles and masks Tournier called the person. Tournier began the healing process inviting the patient to coffee or tea by the fireside. Then he would draw the patient out of the roles they were playing, seeing them as a unique person before God—free of any roles, masks, and games.
For many this risk of moving outside of the personage was too much to take. Tournier helped initiate this, he said, by being open and free of roles and masks himself. He would take the risk first and share from outside his roles. Of course, at the moment you choose to step outside of your own roles you are vulnerable. That’s why you had the roles in the first place. Yet for the healing, you have to take the risk.
If you are the counselor and trying to initiate healing, you must remember that if you wish to succeed as Tournier did you must step outside of your counselor role. The healing won’t take place until you are both outside of any roles. If you are in a small group at your church and sharing, don’t expect real healing until someone leads and speaks from the person and outside of any roles. If you are a lover trying to win your beloved, you both must step outside of roles to see each other’s heart. It is not so much an issue of going through a series of steps (taking a role yourself). That’s personage. It’s rather a surrendering of the heart to Jesus to discover Place.
The same is true in our relationship with God. For prayer to be real, we must free ourselves of the mask and roles before God. We must choose to be on His agenda—not our agenda. Once you step outside of your roles in relating to God, however, there is the risk and vulnerability. Can we dare to do this?
When we are praying from within our roles, we can’t expect God to answer. To see God’s answer we must step outside of the personage and pray from our heart, our burden. We saw in the last chapter how Nehemiah did it.
Here is a second definition of prayer that is often used:
Prayer is communication with God.
This involves both speaking and listening. If you are communicating with your spouse and you interrupt when he/she starts to speak, the communication rapidly fails because you aren’t listening to your spouse. Prayer also, like communicating with your spouse, involves action. What are you specifically called to do in response to what your spouse says? What are you specifically called by God to do in response to God? How does this relate to what your spouse is saying?
We must no longer see prayer as preparation for action. Prayer must be understood as action itself, a way of responding, a potent spiritual weapon to be used in spiritual warfare against the most powerful forces in the world. Prayer is not undertaken instead of other actions, but as a foundation for all the rest of the actions we take.
We see Samuel as an example of how to listen and respond to God. At the beginning of Samuel’s life, we are told there is no vision in the land.
Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.
1 Samuel 3:1
Samuel, though, was able to hear the prophetic words that the Lord spoke to him and act on his calling. The Hebrew word for LORD here is Yahweh, referring to a personal God. By the end of the chapter Samuel is a man, and now there is vision and prophecy in the land.
So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD. Then the LORD appeared again in Shiloh. For the LORD revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD.
1 Samuel 3:19-21
Notice this passage also identifies Shiloh as Place. It was a place where Samuel could hear, where the vision was birthed. Samuel listened, God spoke, and Samuel acted.
Prayer involves listening, as we can expect no answered prayer unless we know God’s agenda, and the only way we can discern that is by listening to Him. Without that, you can only expect unanswered prayer.
Some people think Christian prayer is an illusion. They don’t hear God speak and there is no listening, so there is really no prayer. Maybe they should find out why they can’t hear God as a clue to their illusion of unanswered prayer.
Let me take you now to what is my favorite definition of prayer.
Prayer is an intimate lover’s conversation with God, the lover’s Creator.
Prayer is, as John Eldredge says, an integral part of a Sacred Romance that is richer and deeper than any words can describe. In this Romance with my Lover (God), we have special places, special songs, special stories, and secret names He has for me that cannot be expressed to anyone else. Ah, there you go. In this type of prayer you are stepping outside of your personage and crying (ezer) from your heart. What might surprise you is that if you have trouble letting go of those roles in your prayer, you will find (as I mentioned earlier) that God steps out of that personage image you have of Him and reveals himself to you as Person. In the Old Testament translations, as I mentioned, you will often see the word LORD used for the Hebrew Yahweh when this happens. See Exodus 32:31-33:23 for an example of this type of praying between Moses and God.
©Copyright 2009, Carl Townsend. Beyond Illusion: Leading from Reality