Relax, dear reader! This is not going to be one of those diatribes about how we must pray more, with greater faith, for every need in the world. Instead, what I have to say about obedience in prayer might surprise and refresh you.
Have you ever thought about how Jesus managed the vast sea of human need that confronted him. He must have rarely been out of sight of poverty and injustice. The sick sought him out. False teachers also pursued him. In his humanity, how did he decide which needs to attend to, and which to ignore? How did he filter out the noise and the distractions to focus on the essential?
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.John 5:19 NIV
Jesus never acted independently of his heavenly Father. In every situation, his strategy was the same, he looked to see what his Father was doing, and was obedient to his Father’s will …
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.John 5:30 NIV
The distractions, challenges, conflicts fell away from him as pursued his passion to reveal his heavenly Father. That was his goal, in every situation …
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.John 14:10 NIV
And he went on to teach his disciples something quite extraordinary – that they could operate as he had …
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.John 14:12 NIV
In the same way that Jesus trusted in his Father and experienced the Father working through him, so we, as we believe in Jesus and follow him, experience the Kingdom of heaven working through us.
Obedient prayer is simply this: looking to Jesus, trusting in what he reveals to us, and doing only what we see him doing.
From time to time I have taken part in retreats where people come in their need, and my role, with others, is to seek with them for a fresh revelation of Jesus transforming love in their lives. One fine day, on one of these retreats, I found myself in a room with an individual whose needs seemed complex and intractable. I’ve seen God do amazing things in these situations, but on this occasion, I just wasn’t ‘getting it’. Thankfully, a female colleague was rather more tuned in to the Spirit than I was at that point. She ignored the baffling stronghold of need I was trying to unlock, and simply took up some verses of scripture which had been sent in for the individual. Patiently reading and re-reading these, she brought to this person’s heart the truth they needed to hear, and which enabled them to walk from the room free of their needs. She was doing only what she saw the Father doing.
In the afternoon, I was with a person whose whole life had been crippled by a traumatic experience. This occasion was the latest of many retreats this person had been on in an attempt to walk free. I was quickly very grateful for the kindergarten lesson God had allowed me to experience in the morning. I may be slow, but even I understood the need to do nothing but wait on Him. After half an hour, a verse was poked under the door from a group who were praying. And then, the simple act of repeatedly reading this scripture, resolving to say nothing else, once again brought light and freedom.
I believe our heavenly Father allows us to face situations where our knowledge and ability count for nothing, in order to humble us into depending upon him. Then we learn to trust him, and not our own strength. We learn to dismiss the thoughts that we are being crazy, indulgent, irresponsible in choosing to curb our drive to ‘do something’. We learn to see the works of the Father because we do only what we see Him doing.
Still not convinced? Perhaps you are thinking: supposing you step out like this but you end up however well-intentioned in doing something other than what the Father is doing. Will you have failed?
Romans 4:3 NIV
What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Does it say that Abraham believed that God wanted him to do this, or that, and when he did it, it was credited to him? No, it says simply that Abraham believed God. Abraham took several wrong turns in his journey to be the promised father of many nations, but he believed God, who credited it to him as righteousness, and fulfilled His promise. I believe that in the same way, when we trust God and not our own abilities, when we seek to depend upon him, we will see him fulfil his promises – because we believed, and took our first faltering steps in his kindergarten of prayer.