Think Again: Sure Footing

Posted by Ravi Zacharias, on December 1, 2017
Topic: Just Thinking Magazine

I sat with a man in my car who shared with me a series of heartbreaks he had experienced. “There were just a few things I had wanted in life,” he said. “None of them has turned out the way I had prayed…. Not only have my prayers amounted to nothing—the exact opposite has happened. Don’t even ask me if you can pray for me. I am left with no trust of any kind in such things.”

I felt two emotions rising up within me as I listened. The first was one of genuine sorrow. He felt that he had tried, that he had done his part, but that God hadn’t lived up to his end of the deal. The second emotion was one of helplessness, as I wondered where to begin trying to help him.

Over the years I’ve met many people who have expressed similar experiences—and if we are being honest, who of us has not sensed this frustration, dejection, and confusion over prayer? On the other hand, I have also known countless individuals who have witnessed God’s dramatic intervention or certain answer to a request laid before Him.

Prayer is a constant reminder that we are not autonomous. Prayer, in its most basic form, is the surging of the human spirit in its weakness, grasping at the Spirit of God in his strength. Sometimes mere words cannot give shape to the longing of the heart.

Prayer, then, is a reminder that God is transcendent, all-powerful, and personal. As such, we may react with anger or withdrawal when we feel God has let us down by not giving us things we felt were legitimate to ask of Him. We may feel guilty that our expectations toward God were too great. We may feel that God has not answered our prayers because of something lacking in ourselves. We may compare ourselves with others whose every wish seems to be granted by God, and wonder why He hasn’t come through for us in the way He does for others. And sometimes we allow this disappointment in God to fester and eat away at our faith in Him until the years go by and we find ourselves bereft of belief.

And yet, I would suggest that prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. For every person who feels that prayer has not “worked” for them and has since abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but also in the very character and wisdom of God. That is, God is the focus of such prayer, and He is the One who sustains and preserves one’s faith.

Saint John Chrysostom wrote of the power of prayer:

The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire, it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest; extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt.

Who can read that and not be tempted to exclaim, “Is that mere rhetoric?” No, not so. Each of the instances referred to by Chrysostom is drawn right out of the Scriptures. The Bible talks about the privilege of prayer and cautions against insincere prayer. Whether we’re talking about the Welsh Revival or that in the Hebrides or the Second Evangelical Awakening in America, each had one thing in common: concerted prayer over a protracted period of time.

Often as a student years ago I would read stories of those revivals and their foundations of prayer, and I would think, That’s what I want to build my life on—on the solid footing of prayer. My library is full of books on prayer. One would think that with each passing year the discipline of prayer would get easier, but in fact it doesn’t. Whether early in the morning or late at night, it is always a challenge. But as God has proved Himself in his time and his way, I have no doubt in my heart that prayer makes a difference.

Indeed, no one is a better instructor on prayer than Jesus himself. Scriptures tell us that Jesus spent time in prayer, evidencing its vital importance: at his baptism (Luke 3:21); on the occasion of his transfiguration (Luke 9:29); at the selection of his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12); at the Last Supper (John 17:1-26); before his arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46); and at his cruel execution on the cross (prayers that are recorded by all four gospel writers).

Likewise, on the heels of the Lord’s Prayer and as his conclusion to it, Jesus encourages his disciples to pray, saying, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12). Then he gives the key to the whole passage that begins with his model prayer, Our Father: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (verse 13).

Jesus tells us that God will give the Holy Spirit, his indwelling presence, to those who ask. That is the whole point of the prayer. God will give the gift of his indwelling presence to any who asks—this is an absolute certainty! You can count on it! The Holy Spirit of God prompts us in prayer, prays for us when we don’t have the words to pray for ourselves, and comforts us in our times of need. God is both the enabler of our prayers and the provider of answers to those prayers. God’s indwelling presence conditions us to receive whatever answer He gives to us. If you are a praying Christian, your relationship with God will carry your faith. If you are not a praying Christian, you have to carry your faith—and you will get exhausted trying to carry the infinite. Sometimes the greater miracle is not in an answered prayer but in a transformed heart. Miracles can come and go but the just shall live by his or her faithfulness. In fact, the Scriptures speak of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

I wonder if perhaps the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put Him. We have kept Him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on Him in prayer, we wonder where He is. He is exactly where we left Him. Or, we have turned prayer into a means to our ends and seldom wait on God’s response long enough to think about what He wants for us in that very moment.

And yet, the ultimate aim of prayer is that Jesus intends to make his home within the life of the supplicant—to give the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit—to each of us who calls upon God: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). What an intimate invitation and amazing gift we are offered!