A Big God calls for Really, Really Big Prayers5
When people confess that they find prayer boring and uneventful, I often wonder if they really know the One to whom they are speaking. Of course, some push back against that suggestion and say: “Come on, Sam. Be a little more gracious and kind. Of course I know the God to whom I’m speaking. After all, I’m a Christian.” Well, I’m sorry, but that isn’t good enough. A lot of genuine, born-again believers go through their Christian lives largely oblivious to the nature of their God and even more unaware of the supernatural dynamics that occur when God’s people pray.
Let me briefly remind you of a couple of things. First, the God to whom you and I pray is the God portrayed for us in Revelation 4-5. When you pray you are speaking to the God whose majesty is so unfathomable that the four living creatures never cease, day or night, to cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8). This is the God whose beauty and power compel the 24 elders to continually “fall down before him” and “cast their crowns before the throne” (Rev. 4:10).
This is the God who, they declare, is “worthy . . . to receive glory and honor and power” because he “created all things” (Rev. 4:11). This is the God whose love for you and me was so intense and so relentless and so measureless that he sent his Son to be slaughtered on a cross so that we would receive forgiveness of each and every sin we might ever commit and be granted entrance into the glories of the New Heaven and New Earth.
This is the God who, according to Psalm 115:3, “is in the heavens” and “does all that he pleases.” This is the God whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion, and” whose “kingdom endures from generation to generation” (Dan. 4:34b). When you pray you are talking about the God who “does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:35).
This is the God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
So let me ask you again, “Do you know the God to whom you are speaking?” How do you envision him as you pray? Do you think of him as so completely occupied with people more important than yourself that he could barely find a spare minute to listen to your little requests? Do you think of him as hearing your tiny voice or you half-muffled whispers and saying, “Good grief. It’s you again. Come back with your prayers when you’ve put your life in order and cleaned up your house and stopped yelling at your kids and when you’ve overcome your struggle with lust and greed and bitterness. I may have some time for you then.”
Do you think of God like the Santa Claus at the local shopping mall, who has to be paid to pretend that he enjoys listening to the requests of squirming little kids? Do you see yourself as one of those children, lined up perhaps for hours waiting for your precious 30 seconds of time on his lap? Do you think talking to God is like calling your bank or credit card company and hearing only a recorded voice who tells you that you’re the 37th person waiting for one of only a handful of operators who will try to get to you in about 45 minutes?
So, I ask you to close your eyes and try to envision what you think is happening in heaven when you pray? Let me tell you what is happening. The omnipotent, all-loving, all-wise God who called the universe into existence out of nothing is bending over with joyful anticipation, waiting for you to bring your requests to him. He is happily and with a glad heart and generous spirit urging you to come boldly and courageously to the throne of grace where he has abundant mercy and grace to help you in your time of need (Heb. 4:16).
This is the God who said this to his people, Israel. And don’t think for a moment that because this passage is found in the OT that it doesn’t apply to you and me. The God who speaks there is the same God we know and love. And what does he say?
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you” (Isa. 30:18-19).
The NIV translates the word “waits” in v. 18 as “wants”. God’s desire is to hear and respond to your prayers. Notice again that he will “surely” be gracious to you, but you have to speak, you have to cry out to him. It isn’t the case that God “might” be gracious to you or that you and I can, at best, “hope” or “wish” that he would be gracious to us. No. He “will surely” be gracious to us. And as I’ll point out in just a moment, that is true even when he appears to decline to answer our prayers in the way we had hoped he would.
Perhaps two more texts will be enough to drive home my point:
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).
And then there is Paul’s statement in Romans 8:31-32,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).
“If God is for us . . .” What God? The God we’ve been talking about. This God. If he is for us, and he is, no opposition or enemy can ultimately prevail against us. And if this God has made the greatest, indeed the most inconceivable sacrifice possible for you and me in giving to us his Son on a cross to atone for our sin, “how will not also with him graciously give us all things?” This is unbreakable, unshakeable, glorious heavenly logic.
And this is why it simply makes no sense that you would find it boring to pray. Perhaps the remedy for boredom and passivity is simply to rehearse these biblical texts every time before you begin to pray.
I must tell you that my prayer life has been radically transformed by Ephesians 3:20. I’ve known and long ago memorized this text, but only recently has it embedded itself in my heart and mind in such a way that it changes everything about my attitude in prayer. The God to whom we pray is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, beyond everything we could possibly ask or think!
That is why I urge you, as I urge myself, to start asking for outrageous answers to prayer. Answers that seem utterly impossible. They are impossible to you and me, but not to this God. If God can do exceedingly and abundantly beyond every single thing your mind could ever conceive or your tongue could ever articulate, what reason do you have for keeping your prayers tiny and timid? Make your prayers every bit as big and bold as your God is.