Prayer

Praying Like Jacob

woman holding Bible up

May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.Genesis 43:14

The Context

There is a powerful lesson about prayer in this brief passage. Please allow me to provide some context. Jacob (aka Israel), the son of Issac, the son of Abraham, spoke these words to his son Judah. Jacob believed that his youngest son, Benjamin, was being held for ransom. As far as Jacob knew at this time, he had already lost his son Joseph, so in verse fourteen, he is facing the loss of another son.

God’s Word shows us a lot about Jacob’s human nature. Jacob’s sons, Joseph and Benjamin, were his youngest kids, and it seems that Jacob may have loved them more than their older brothers. This is a common but unfortunate outcome when children in a family span across many years. However, for Jacob, his special love for his youngest sons is not without merit.

Jacob Faces a Big Problem

So, in Genesis, chapter forty-three, we see Jacob facing a challenging problem. He’s lost Joseph, and Benjamin is being held for ransom. Does he risk even more sons? Will Egypt decimate the very children called to inherit the promise given by God to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, the promise passed down from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob? 

Now verse fourteen shows us the faith of Jacob. Remember, God didn’t rename Abram, Israel, and God didn’t rename Isaac, Israel, but God did rename Jacob, Israel, and it is that name that God’s chosen people are stilled called today. Jacob knew God and God knew Jacob.

Not only did Jacob carry the promise of God, but Jacob also had a powerful tailwind. God personally selected his grandfather, and his dad had, by faith, submitted to his sacrificial death and had been redeemed by a substitute ram that foreshadowed salvation through Jesus. God’s favor rested upon Jacob.

Okay, that’s the context. If Jacob attended our small group meeting or our Zoom Bible study, everyone would take to heart his comments, and he would be asked to pray the closing prayer. So, in verse fourteen, Jacob shows us true faith.

Praying Like Jacob

Jacob begins his prayer, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin.” Jacob has asked God, just as Jesus taught us how to pray. Prayer uses the faith God has given you to ask Him for your needs and the needs of others. Jacob did this. Then a peculiar addendum is added. Jacob essentially says, “If I must lose another son or all my sons, I accept this and say, ’The will of God be done.’” Isn’t this the same humble pray that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. (Luke 22:42)

So, what is the take-away for us? It’s a difficult lesson; our prayer of faith is faith in God, not faith in a spiritual recipe. We can’t add a bit of righteous living, a smattering of good deeds, and praying on our knees and get exactly what we asked. No, first, we must be sure that what we ask for represents what Jesus will put His name to. And then, as a child of God, we ask our Father in the name of Jesus. We place our request in the hands of God, and we say; nevertheless, Your will be done.

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Sloppy Prayers

two men staring at each other

Fickleness

Having raised five kids, I have first-hand experience with the fickleness of childish requests. It starts when they’re infants. They cry and cry for their bottle, but when you give it to them, they either won’t feed or will take a small amount and then use their tongue to push the nipple out of their mouths.

As your bundle of joy grows, so does their fickleness. “Jimmy, do you want to go to the store with me?” Mom says. No sooner does Mom cross the threshold of the store before her little tike says, “How soon can we go home? I’m bored.” 

And, yes, this fickleness continues. Adults learn to suppress their childishness, but fickleness is like an inflated beachball. You can hold it underwater for a while, but eventually, it will pop to the surface; that’s fickleness. 

Sloppy Prayers

The Bible has a different word for fickleness; it’s called being double-minded. In James 1:8, we find, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” In all his ways includes prayer. Many Christians pray sloppy prayers. They will pray sincerely but have no recollection of their prayer by the next day. Others ask the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) for one outcome today and a different one tomorrow. We cannot receive what we ask for unless we ask in faith and then set our face like flint (Isaiah 50:7).

Sincere Prayer

We find in Habakkuk 2:1,3 an excellent example of how we should anticipate God’s answered prayer:

I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.


For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

We cannot expect God to care about our needs if we don’t care. Prayers are sacred. Sincere prayer is instigated by the Holy Spirit, mediated by the Son of God, and actuated by Father God. Having a sloppy prayer life is setting ourselves up to be disciplined by God. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6)

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Qualifications

graduate from college

Each person that God calls, He calls for a purpose. God is not subject to times or circumstances. So, if He has called you then He has already gathered the provisions for you. Neither man nor virus can stop the will of God.

You may say, all around me are problems that seem to block God’s call upon my life. What am I to do? Recall what God said to Moses:

The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” – Exodus 4:2

Stop and look at what God has placed in your hands. God placed a staff in the hand of Moses to overcome an insurmountable obstacle (Exodus 14:16). God put a horn of oil in the hand of Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13) to anoint Israel’s new king while King Saul was still on the throne. And God put Elijah’s cloak in the hands of Elisha (2 Kings 2:14) while a group of prophets watched him to see if God was really with him. So, pray, ask God what He has placed in your hands? Ask Him to anoint your gift as He anointed the gifts given to Moses, Samuel, and Elisha. God will make a way for you where there is no way.

No doubt, many of us are familiar with Isaiah 42:8 (ESV) – “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” We know that where God guides, He provides. Many of us know the testimonies of Andraé Crouch, who God instantly gave the ability to play piano for his dad’s church and that God also, instantly, gave the gift for playing the piano to Annie Herring (2nd Chapter of Acts). But those people are the exceptions.

The Responsibility Rests on You

God usually puts the responsibility squarely on us to act in faith and develop the qualifications we need to meet the call He places upon us. That’s the reason for Christian universities, seminaries, medical schools, and such. God places His call upon us, but He typically requires us to acquire the qualifications. We see qualifications recognized in Christ’s parable of the talents.

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” – Matthew 25:14-15 (ESV)

The servants didn’t get the same opportunity or responsibility but were given “according to his ability.” Ability implies talent, training, and time, otherwise known as qualifications. We are not born with skills. God gives talent, but skill is talent that has been refined and perfected over time. As God’s Word states in 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV): “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” By saying “do your best,” the Holy Spirit shows us that our effort is measured by God.

Making it Personal

Even while you are preparing for God’s purpose for you, there is no substitute for spending time with Him. Praying to the Father in the name of Jesus under the unction of the Holy Spirit is the only way for you to journey from talent to the skill that God has called you to. Don’t believe anyone that tells you that there is a shortcut.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

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A Faithless Man

John 5:2-9, Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

A Different Kind of Miracle

This miracle that Jesus performed is quite different from most others. Why? Because in this miracle the man didn’t profess or demonstrate any faith in Jesus. Yes, the man obeyed Jesus but it’s clear from the text that the healing came before his actions.

Why would the Apostle John include this account in his manuscript? Perhaps because there is something very encouraging in what Jesus demonstrated. We see Jesus healing the unfaithful. Jesus has ALL authority in heaven and on earth, and Christ’s action of healing this man shows that He can and does show pity on the unjust.

A Faithless Man

Do you know anyone that is currently unsaved but has a serious need? Yes? Well, be encouraged, it’s okay to ask God to intervene on their behalf. Certainly, that person’s spiritual condition is, by far, their critical need, but it is okay to ask God to do the miraculous for people that are unsaved, or weak, lacking any meaningful faith in Jesus.

If you read the entire account in John 5:1-17 you’ll see that there is a greater agenda which Jesus had. Still, the fact remains that, on this occasion, Jesus’ power healed a faithless man. Therefore, pray for the needs of others. Pray first for their salvation, but have confidence to pray in the Name of Jesus regarding the problems and illnesses of everyone that God lays on your heart. Don’t shrink back, don’t limit God in what He can do.

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Remnants

a Tapestry with angels

When Judah was in great distress from an invading country, Judah’s king, Hezekiah, sent a plea to the prophet Isaiah. Here’s a snippet of king Hezekiah’s request: Isaiah, 37:4, “therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.

The world has been fractured since this pandemic hit. In America we have become a collection of remnants. Remnants of churches, of employers, of social services, of humble hearts, of human love.

Almighty God is a defender of remnants. There are so many accounts in the Bible of remnants that it’s apparent that there is a purpose in the heart of God for remnants. Consider this: In the English Standard Version of the Bible, there are 84 references to the word “remnants.” And if we search for remnants in the King James Version, we find 91 references.

God’s Word is Full of Remnants

Here are just a few passages about remnants that I’ve pulled from the ESV:

Genesis 45:7 And God sent me (Joseph) before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.

2 Kings 19:30, And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward.

Isaiah 10:21, A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God

Amos 5:15, Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Acts 15:17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant , chosen by grace.

God Specializes in Remnants

So, you get the idea; God works with remnants. Don’t become downhearted if just a remnant of your local church remains, or a remnant of your ministry remains, or a remnant of your family remains. God will still use and bless these remnants and prosper them.

Through the work of the Apostle Peter, Syria was one of the first regions to receive Christianity. Today, in Syria, only a remnant of Christians remain. As Christians, we need to lift our prayers for our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria, for they are in great distress.

Pray for Syria, pray for your remnants, pray for our nation’s remnants, pray in faith, believing in the steadfast love and power of God. Pray in the name of the Father’s beloved Son, Jesus. Together, through prayer and through Holy Spirit-directed action, we will see God use His remnants, sewn together to create a beautiful tapestry which glorifies God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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Why Pray?

person praying with hands on a Bible

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. (John 14:1)” This is how Jesus began what we know as the opening to the 14th chapter of the book of John. 

You may rightly ask, “How can our hearts not be troubled when the whole world seems to be upside down?” But before you even ask this question, you already know the answer. We can find solace in Jesus, and we do find comfort in the very next statement that Jesus made. In John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” 

Not Our Final Destination

Thankfully, this world is not our final destination. In this world, we will have troubles. Jesus told us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) “

Now you may wonder, “why pray” if it’s inevitable that we will have troubles. I’m glad you wondered that. 😉

Jesus taught us how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus taught us to ask, to seek, and to knock (Matthew 7:7–8) so that we might receive good gifts from our Father in heaven. And Jesus taught us to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8). Therefore, God’s will is for us to pray and for Him to answer prayers. Within the sovereign will of God, there are actions that He will only do if a person or a people ask it of Him.

Join In

It’s rather staggering to consider. We come before the God of all creation to ask Him to intervene in situations, and if we ask within His will, He does! That is unfathomable love. Let’s not miss any opportunities to ask God for His help.

If you wonder how to pray, there’s a great answer on GotQuestions.org.

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A Lesson From My Sears Guitar

kid playing guitar

I learned to play guitar when I was in grade school. My parents doubted my commitment, thinking it an interest that would soon pass, like my love for school. They bought me the least expensive guitar that Sears carried. I’m confident Sears gave the guitar to my parents, just to get rid of it. With that Sears guitar in hand, my dad said, “Teach yourself to play a hymn, and I’ll get you a better guitar.” That was like saying, “Win the Indy 500 in this VW Bug, and I’ll buy you a real car!”

The strings on my new guitar were nearly impossible for my young fingers to press down to form a note – “a” musical note and chords were impossible. Since this was way before the Internet, the only guitar information I had was a booklet that came with my Sears acoustic. So every day after school I’d go to my bedroom and try to figure out how to read music and how to make my guitar play those notes. Having at least a modicum of musical talent would have helped.

Show Time!

Finally, the day came when I was confident. Dad got home, Mom finished up in the kitchen, and then I said I wanted to show them something. With my track record, those were frightening words to my folks! They both sat down on the sofa, braced themselves, and stared at me; I don’t blame them.

I ran to my bedroom and ran back into the living room with a hymnal and my guitar. I don’t remember which hymn I chose; no doubt, I’ve blocked it from my memory. Anyway, I played the hymn all the way through including each verse, note perfect’ ish. By the end, my fingers were bleeding; that week, Dad rented an electric guitar and amplifier, and signed me up for lessons – the horrid sound of that Sears guitar was a real blessing!

Wait, you’re writing about fasting?

So what does this narcissistic story have to do with fasting? Before I answer, let’s read what Jesus said about fasting.

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward…” Matthew 6:16

Jesus said, “when you fast,” not “if you fast.” He left us no elbow room. Fasting should be part of every Christian’s life. For those celebrating Lent, your fasting and abstinence from meat are already underway; I’m proud of you! For others, fasting and/or abstinence may be a new or atypical aspect of your walk with Jesus.

Fasting doesn’t need to be total self-denial of food. In fact, that can be dangerous or impossible for many people. The self-denial of food (i.e., fasting) is something you must discuss with your family doctor before trying it.

We each need to pray and ask Jesus to show us the things that have control over us. Food, TV, video games, shopping, and so forth; things that aren’t sin until they are. From your list allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to one and fast it. How long? It’s between you and Jesus.

Why Fast?

Why fast? Well, there is that directive from Jesus we just read. Also, fasting is intended to help us hear from God. We don’t change His will by fasting, and we don’t fast to lose weight. We fast to carve out more time for us to spend in prayer and to draw closer to our God.

Oh, how does the story about my first guitar fit with fasting? Well, learning on that Sears guitar was really difficult and really painful, but I didn’t care. I was learning something I loved; I still play. Like the Sears guitar, fasting is something that can be difficult and uncomfortable, but those annoyances pale in comparison to what we gain from walking more closely with Jesus.

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The Answering God

A group of people text messaging

A small frustration of mine is the plethora of messaging apps for mobile phones. Some people use Facebook Messenger and Google Messages, while others use Apple Messages and Microsoft Messenger or LinkedIn Messages. Some people prefer an open-source app like Jabber; that’s the shortlist!

Messages get lost because the person receiving the message may rarely check the app that received your message. For this reason, I consider text messaging unreliable. For example, if the person I’ve texted via Facebook Messenger has that app on his or her 5th screen of their phone, it may be days before they see, “Hey, can you pick me up now?” How can I remember which app each of my contacts uses?

God Hears And Answers Prayer

For the reason I stated above, I prefer a phone call to a text message, but that’s just me. (Now you can guess my age ;-)) But, here’s the thing, whether you need a “phone call” God, One you can talk to in that nanosecond, right before you wreck your car or a “texting” God, where you keep a journal and write down your praises, thankfulness, and prayer requests, either way, God hears you and will be there for you.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.1 John 5:14-15

He’s Not A “Can You Hear Me Now” God

Once you have received Jesus as your Savior and have the Holy Spirit within you, you have a direct line to God (Matthew 7:7). You never need to wonder if God heard you; He did. You don’t have to try, “Can you hear me now?” There are no “dead spots” with God, there are no roaming charges if you are in another country, and with God, you have unlimited text and talk! Plus, God has paid for this service (John 14:14).

So, with guaranteed delivery to the God of all Creation, we should use this service, for God not only listens, He answers. And He can make a way for you where there is no way (1 Corinthians 10:13)! Praise God!

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The Story of the Coffee Droplets

coffee cup sitting on coffee beans

A small array of coffee droplets were pooled upon my desk, forming a rough outline of Lake Michigan. They had arrived from sloshed coffee from my morning coffee cup; I like coffee cups.

The droplets did not land someplace that I could easily ignore, a place where I could clean them up later. Instead, they were positioned directly in front of my keyboard. I was thankful they had dodged my computer, but I was annoyed that I had to deal with them before getting down to business.

Looking around, I discovered that I didn’t have a single napkin, paper towel, old rag, or even a shirttail to remove Lake Michigan from my desk. Bummer. So I made my way back to my home, for you see, my office is separate from my house and I don’t walk well. Retrieving a bit of paper towel, I hobbled back to my office.

Sitting down, paper towel in hand, I looked at the droplets and saw a life lesson. How amazing that four or five drops of coffee, in just the right place, stopped my work, sending me off on an errand, and disrupting my morning plans.

A Few Drops of Coffee

Every day Godless people make plans. Some own lots of stuff and have lots of people at their disposal. But you and I can be their few drops of coffee.

Psalms 16:1-2 (ESV): The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Prayer: God lead us I pray so that our prayers and our actions disrupt the world’s plans of iniquity. Help us to be bold and allow You, our God, to use us like drops of coffee. In the Name of Your beloved Son, Father, we pray.

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My Beloved Son

elderly hands folded in prayer

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:16-17 ESV

Prayer is a Healing Activity

Prayer is a healing activity for us. As believers, we pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But when we get alone with God (Matthew 6:6) and pray to the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hears us, consoles us, and acts on our behalf.

As part of our healing, before we pray, we need to settle any matter where someone has something against us (Matthew 5:23). As we enter into prayer, we believe that God is and that He answers prayers (James 1:6), knowing that “if we worship God and do His will, God listens to us (John 9:31).

Preparing for Prayer

Entering prayer, we draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). We are entering our prayer time with confidence (1 John 5:14-15). We give thanks to God (Matthew 6:9-13). We confess our sins to God (1 John 1:9 ) and forgive anyone that has wronged us (Mark 11:25). As we pray, we should take time to be at peace (Philippians 4:6-7).

We Ask

Praying, we go before our Father, praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18 ). We pray on behalf of others that are in need (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We ask our Father for spiritual things, material things, emotional things, human things. We ask because our God has told us to ask (Matthew 7:7) and we remember that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37)

We pray to our Father, trusting that the Spirit leads us as we pray, and we know that Jesus is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5 ) between our humanity and God’s divinity. Most importantly, we pray for the will of Jesus, our Lord. That is what Jesus meant when He taught us to pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13).

God’s Beloved Son

So, whether we begin our prayer in the name of Jesus or close our prayer in His name, when bringing His name before our Father, I think it’s good to acknowledge that our petitions are in the name of God’s beloved Son (Matthew 3:17).

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