The Best Target on the National Day of Prayer
Recently, a friend of mine was enjoying a round on an unfamiliar golf course. He became confused on a particular hole and hit his tee shot toward the green of a different hole. It was a great stroke, very straight and with good distance. One problem – he shot at the wrong green. It is hard to play a winning game when you get confused about the correct target.
Our Prayer Targets
This week many of us will participate in the National Day of Prayer. As we enjoy this privilege of uniting our hearts and voices with other believers, I hope we will be aiming at the best target. Rather than asking God to change our country, our leaders, and our culture, I wonder if we should be spending more time asking the Lord to change us. I am learning that prayer is not so much asking God to change “things” for our gratification, but rather asking Him to change US for His glory.
Of course, God has ordained prayer as the means by which we join Him in His work to see Him move and provide for His glory. Yet, when we pray for other issues and miss the primary need to become more like Christ as we pray, we are shortsighted. When we pray about the ills of the world and do not confront the darkness in us so that His light may shine in great power on a Gospel-deprived world, we are irresponsible prayer warriors.
The means by which Christ intends to transform this broken world is through word-saturated, Spirit-filled, and Gospel-passionate believers. Prayer is our vital transforming exercise and empowering discipline in order to see this occur. Let’s examine a few passages, one that is especially relevant to our prayers for our nation.
Praying for my persecutors or for my perfection?
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus told His followers, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” So what might it look like to pray for our antagonists and persecutors? What would be the purpose of these prayers? Look at the next verse (v. 45), “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Could it be that as we pray for these enemies, we are the ones who change? After Jesus elaborates more fully on this idea in the following verses, He concludes, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (v. 48). It seems the goal of praying for our persecutors is not that they change, but that we change, becoming more like our Father in heaven.
Luke 23:34 records Jesus praying for those who were crucifying Him. He cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Of course, the crowd did not recant or take Jesus down from the cross with profuse apologies for their unjust infliction of suffering. Rather, Jesus’ prayer in that moment was a demonstration of grace and mercy, to the glory of the Father.
Acts 7:58-60 records Stephen praying for those who were stoning him as he declared with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” In his final breath, he was a recipient and announcer of amazing grace. Perhaps our prayer for persecutors is not so much that they will change so that we might be more comfortable, but rather that we might change in order to more fully demonstrate Christ.
Praying for the harvest or praying for my own heart?
In Matthew 9:37-10:1, Jesus speaks from His compassionate heart as He gives an admonition to pray. He is with His disciples while they are witnessing the compelling needs of the masses. He says, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Hearing this, most of us would genuinely begin to pray for someone else to answer that call – the young people, the educated, the jobless. We might say, “Lord, open their eyes to the need and let them be available to Your will.” This is a good prayer – but we might be missing the target.
In the very next verse, the text reads, “And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” Verse five says, “These twelve He sent out.” So we see that the prayers for the harvest actually were in heart preparation to be personally sent. Too often we want God to work on the mission field by strengthening the missionaries, sending someone else to go, and somehow providing through others – when God may actually be trying to work in us to send us or bring us to a new level of sacrificial personal involvement.
Praying for our leaders or praying for my lifestyle?
A third illustration is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, a passage from which many of us have prayed on the National Day of Prayer. Paul writes, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority.” This is a vital command. But what do we pray about and why? Notice the next verse: “…that WE may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Notice the emphasis. The goal of our prayers is that people be saved. How? Does it occur through the politicians or government? No, it happens in and through Christians who are being changed as they pray in order to demonstrate compelling lives of quiet, peaceable, godly, and reverent living. This is the good plan of God to redeem the world.
Changed for His glory so that…
Paul wrote that as we pray, we are transformed continually and powerfully into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). He said that this is the core of our ministry and results in living as servants, declaring Christ as Lord, and manifesting the glorious light and life of Christ to a dark world (read 2 Corinthians 4:1-7). This life-changing power is the treasure we have in earthen vessels that we may give great glory to God’s power, not to ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:8).
So when we primarily pray that God will change “things”, superintend “events”, or work in “other people”, our prayers may be articulate and well-intentioned, but they miss the target. When we pray in order to be changed, we become the agents of change that can conduct real and lasting transformation in this world through the power of the indwelling and outworking Christ.
Copyright © 2014 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.