|Photo from Lindsy D Briggs|
ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God's people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (NIV)
This stood out to me because repeatedly over the past few months God has been prompting me to spend more time in prayer for others. Repeatedly I've failed.
What is it about spending time in intercessory prayer that makes it so hard?
I've been thinking about this and I've come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is: My Flesh.
I want what is easy. I want what I want...be that pretty clothes and shoes, TV, food, lightweight reading, day dreams, 30 minutes more sleep in the morning...the specifics aren't what's important - it's that I want whatever it is I want, when I want it. I frequently have lacked discipline. I say I'm going to spend time in prayer, but then I don't, because I'm pursuing these other things.
So I've come to this study time this morning ready for self flagellation.
I'm feeling downcast and terrible. I know I'm bad. I'm ready for God to "really give it to me". But you know what He does instead? As I've been researching, reading and seeking some answers, God has shown me love, grace, and hope. He's supplied me with a different recipe for victory over my flesh:
Keep my heart happy by resting in His promises
God used an insightful and profound message by John Piper to help me see this truth. Piper's message was taken from the text of Galatians 5:16-18 :
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.(ESV)
I think these verses resound for all of us. I think we all know, all too well, the struggle between the flesh and spirit. I appreciate this insight of Piper's:
"Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!"
Earlier in Galatians 5:5-6 I find these words:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (ESV)
It's faith, trusting in God. It's not me mastering my flesh and denying myself and using "spiritual muscle" that's going to get it done. It's me having faith in God. Galatians 3:1-10 really drives this truth home. The 2nd and 3rd verses especially point out this truth:
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (ESV)
I grow my faith by thinking on God's Word. Romans 10:17 puts it this way:
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (NIV)
George Muller had this insight:
"I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God."
John Piper has this to say about Muller:
"George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises."
That's the key!
It's not about feeling guilty or beating myself. It's about seeking God first thing, getting my soul into a "happy state" resting on God's promises. I'm reminded of the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)
Currently I take about 3 minutes and read a daily devotion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But right now I feel God prompting me to get up 30 minutes earlier and spend more time in His Word. Given all the extreme challenges in my job, and the Spirit's urging me to engage more in prayer for my sons, I need more spiritual nourishment than I'm getting.
Father I thank You so much that You want me to walk with You. Thank You that You don't lay anything too heavy on me. Teach me how to refrain from being religious and trying to put stuff on myself that's not from You. Teach me how to walk with You. I want to learn Your unforced rhythms of grace. I want to learn how get my soul into a happy state from time with You. I want Your love and power in my life to make a difference at my job. I want to live in freedom from my flesh; to be able to say to no to me and yes to You. I want to grow in praying for my sons and others. I can do none of this on my own. I need You. Thank You so much dear Lord.