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Careful How You Pray
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“Pray in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20). What does this mean?

It means more things than we can describe here, but one meaning is this: To pray in the Spirit means to pray along the same track in which God’s Spirit is working. It means to discern the will and the way of God, and then to pray confidently within his will and within his way.

How often we charge ahead and pray along the lines of our own will, our own way, our own spirit!

A single person spies a potential mate and right away prays, “Lord, send that person my way! That’s the exact one for me.” As the old line says, We must be careful what we pray for—we might get it.

Human-based or God-dependent

Our praying can be either human-based or God-dependent. In human-based praying, we think, “This is wonderful; I’m really experiencing God’s blessing in this”—when the truth might be that we’re using prayer to form God in our own image. “This is what I really want, God—now I’m expecting you to bless it!”

Sooner or later, we come into pain by failing first to pray long and hard for discernment. Am I willing to wait upon the Lord? Am I resting in the place of surrender to God, especially when his will differs from my mine?

One key to discerning God’s will at the crossroads of our lives is to be equally prepared to accept from God an answer of Yes or No. To reach this point, we might need to devote a full day to prayer, or to plan a week or a month of special prayer with some fasting. Through such discipline the Spirit reveals God’s will. Afterward, we can wholeheartedly express the prayer of Christ—not a feeble “If it be thy will,” but a firm “Thy will be done.” (See Matthew 6:10 and 26:42, KJV.)

It is not that God cannot bless us if we fail to pray for discernment. He knows and understands our weakness. He will do the best he can even when our praying is shallow and human-based. But how much more pleasant it is for God and for us, if we wait upon him for discernment, and act only after we clearly perceive his will. Our waiting is warmed by the promise, “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10).

The need for biblically informed discernment applies not only to our prayers for ourselves, but also to our prayers for the church and the world.

An example is our praying about persecution of Christians. We may indeed pray for peace (Psalm 122:6). Yet in the New Testament it is startling to find no instruction or example about praying for persecution to stop. Rather, in the face of endless persecution, Christians pray for boldness, resilience, protection and deliverance. They pray for their enemies and for the persecuting emperor—just as the Lord instructed (Matthew 5:44). They pray for the Gospel to proceed and for sinners to be saved. The peace they treasure is the personal tranquility that Christ promised through trial. (See John 14:27; 16:33; and Matthew 10:34.)

A man known as Brother Yun spent 20 years serving Christ in the underground Christian movement in China. When told that prayers were going up for the government in China to collapse, so Christians could live in freedom, Yun replied, “Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.”*

This is “praying in the Spirit”—discerning God’s will and God’s way, and praying along the same track in which we see the Spirit of God at work. This approach to intercession brings godly power into our prayers for ourselves, and into our prayers for the world.

* The Heavenly Man: the Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, with Paul Hattaway (Monarch Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Copyright © Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway 2002), p. 287.

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By Ed Gallagher. Reprinted with permission from Mid-America Outlook Magazine, Vol. 27, #11, with permission from the Mid-America Union. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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