How do you know if you’re treating God like the Genie in the Lamp?
One way is your prayer life. 1 John 5:14-15 reads:
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
What do you pray for? Whatever it is that we really want usually winds up in our prayers. It says here that if it according to his will- he hears us. Does that mean there are prayers of mine that he doesn’t hear? No- the word hears is better translated as heeds. If its part of God’s will for our lives he heeds us- its automatic.
God’s will is no big secret. Too many of our prayers are like rubbing the lamp to get our three wishes.
God’s will is in His Word: love, joy, peace, patience, or other principles like justice or mercy or loving your neighbor better. How many of our prayers are about that stuff?
Don’t pray to God just so He can help you get the stuff you really want besides Him. Pray to God so you can get more God. Anything else and you’ve turned God into the Genie in the Lamp- in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We have a choice in how we laugh. In Genesis, Sarah models two kinds of laughter for us. The laughter of Ishmael or the laughter of Isaac? The laughter of Ishmael is either proud and mocking of others because of our imagined self-success, or its bitter as we mock ourselves or blame life for our failure. But the laughter of Isaac happens when we see that God has been patient and he’s blessed us, and even transformed us, despite our failures- It’s the laughter of relief, “how could I have been so stupid.”
Ishmael or Isaac? Ishmael is the way of ‘works’, of getting a son in a way they had a human ability to achieve. It’s a way of unbelief. Isaac: represents the way of grace and the way of Christ, of getting a son by simply waiting in faith for what only God could do. If you’ve never fully trusted Jesus Christ to be your promise- you are stuck in the dry, hot desert of reality without hope.
And for those here who have believed, watch out: don’t have the heart of Isaac but live the life of Ishmael. The place between the pieces, that place of unbelief, Jesus has already passed through for you. So you are free to believe and even free to fail- because the outcome is not up to you. Admitting there’s a space between your belief and unbelief.
Mark 9:24 is one of the most contradictory but accurate verses in the Bible about belief. “Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” This is the space where the Holy Spirit does his best work. Say it, pray it. And He will come. Both Isaac and Jesus are miraculous births that are acts of God’s saving grace. But Jesus is by far the greater one- because Isaac only points us to Christ, and its only in Jesus that we finally hear the laughter of God’s grace.
The Untimely Death of a Prayer Life
The death of a prayer life starts long before we recognize it. We’re still praying. Spending our few minutes a day, maintaining our routine. But its form over substance. There is a coldness to it, a boredom, a monotony, rather than the Spirit filled time we used to enjoy.
The 19th Century preacher Octavius Winslow has some questions you can use to diagnose your prayer life:
Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart; have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God; know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of his goodness and his love shed abroad in the heart; is this your experience?
There’s a progression to declining prayer:
- our private prayer time goes
- then our “walking around” prayers- the spontaneous prayers we offer God
- next is family prayer (say goodbye to family study and praying at meals)
- and finally social prayer- with other Christians
What you exchange for prayer: The absence of prayer does not leave a vacuum. Something else fills it. Humility, dependance on God and desperation to share the gospel gets exchanged for self-reliance, judgmental-ness, and a lack of interest in increasing the Kingdom of God.
Winslow chronicles the final result:
Satan, the subtle and sleepless foe of the soul, is prepared with a thousand enticements to smooth the downward path; the world appears with some new attraction; sin tastes less bitter, and appears less “exceeding sinful”; objects of sense become familiar, are looked at, admired, then embraced: and now the soul, but for preserving and restraining grace, has taken a farewell forever of God.
Most people are reluctant to go to group prayer meetings precisely because they’ve been to group prayer meetings. Count me among the recalcitrant. Group prayer time used to send me into despair. I once suggested privately to my wife that we should pass a Yahtzee timer around. Not very loving or patient on my part. Hopefully, I’ve grown since. But my problem wasn’t the prayer, it was the prep. The backstories dominated the time. All too often, they began, “It all started back in fifth grade.” Cue famous painting “The Scream.” But two years ago, a couple of our Life Groups began to combine once a month for dedicated prayer time. Wary of past time sinks, we laid a few ground rules:
- Get started right away. After a short 2-3 minute introduction by an informal leader- with a few community and church themed things we should be considering, we got started, right away.
- No backstories. If the details are important, they are important enough to reveal them in the prayer.
- Make a list of things to pray for BEFORE you arrive.
- Pick a passage of scripture to pray for- concerned about the will of God? Worried you won’t have anything to pray? Plenty of material here. God’s Word is God’s will.
- Embrace the silence. The Holy Spirit is still moving.
Then simply pray until everyone is prayed out. You’ll know when. Our early meetings lasted 15 minutes and eventually stretched to 45. It felt like two. Prayer is like distance running- you have to get in shape.
Getting right to prayer was the answer. There is still a place for backstories- albeit more appropriately in Life Group setting where the express purpose is to share life experiences. But give it a try. Get a couple of groups together, once a month, and if you’re nervous, have one of the pastors take the lead until you get the hang of it.