“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame (Psalm 22:1-5).”
I collect baseball caps. Over the years I have obtained numerous hats that have some meaning for me.
I have also lost a lot of them. One load was left behind in a Middle Eastern country after I left there at the last minute. Other caps have just been misplaced.
For example, a friend of mine took me to a professional football game and gave me a cap of the home team. I loaned it to my teenage daughter one rainy day, and she lost it.
That story has a happy ending, though. After several months my daughter came to me and told me she had found the cap my friend had given me.
I believe this was not just a coincidence. I had put a list of caps I wanted on my prayer list and it included a replacement for the cap my daughter had lost. Instead, the Lord gave me back the original cap!
For years I have wanted a cap from my alma mater. A couple months ago I reunited with a classmate from my university days and he had brought me, unsolicited, a cap and shirt from our old school.
I hadn’t put this cap specifically on my list. However, the Lord did more than I had asked for. Fancy that!
A couple weeks ago I was caught between a rock and a hard place in my circumstances, and I uttered out to God these words:”Lord, what am I going to do?”. The small, quiet voice of God seemed to reply,”Pray specifically.”
I tend to pray generally. My prayers are more of the “bless my job” variety. Instead, I believe the Lord was telling me to be very detailed in my prayer life.
There’s historical precedent for this kind of praying. One of my heroes is George Muller, who is famous for this kind of effective prayer.
When I believed I had gotten this message from God about praying specifically, I picked up his biography in the church library. I think this must be at least the third time I have read the story of this saintly man’s life.
The author, A.T. Pierson, notes this about Muller: “And of George Muller it may well be said that he was to be, for more than 70 years, the man who conspicuously looked up to heaven to learn what he was to do. Prayer for direct, divine guidance in every crisis, great or small, was to be the secret of his whole career.”
In the last couple of weeks I have seen some answers to my more specific praying. I have already mentioned in an earlier post the intervention of a believing brother who volunteered to take care of a glaring need for my family. Indeed, he called last night to remind me of his wish to help.
One item on my prayer list is “meat”. We need more protein in our diet. But meat is not cheap these days. However, on two occasions this past week we have obtained healthy, good meat at no cost to us.
One of the reasons George Muller became such a prayer warrior was because he witnessed a man praying on his knees the night he was converted. According to Pierson, Muller made praying in this fashion a cornerstone of his life.
The apostle Paul also was a man of great faith. Even at his conversion he knew He needed to ask God for specific, clear guidance in everything.
He once gave testimony to this to an unruly mob in Jerusalem. Here is his story from the book of Acts:
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“ ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.
“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.
“Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’
“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’
“‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles (Acts 22:6-21).’ ”
Paul communicated with God, and he listened for His reply, even at the beginning of His new life in Christ. God answered his prayers, sometimes directly, and sometimes indirectly through other believers.
Even when no one else will come to our aid, God is availabe in prayer. The Psalmist wrote a prayer of his own that illustrates this truth: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help (Psalm 22:11).”
In addition to God giving specific prayer answers from His own hand and at from the efforts of other believers,the Lord sometimes uses us as the answer to our own requests.
As a biblical scholar, the apostle Paul had to be familiar with the exhortation of the Psalmist to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).” I am sure Paul had to have prayed this prayer himself. It is more than ironic that in one case he sought to bring peace to a crazy crowd in this city.
Perhaps I have discovered the source of my ineffective prayer life. Through the voice of God Himself, and through the lives of my predecessors in Christ, I have learned that I need to be very specific in my prayers to God.
I believe He delights in giving me answers to even the little requests in my life. They’re not small to Him because they are coming from me.Like a father with a child, He loves me and takes pleaure in giving me good things.