“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5
Isn’t this what we want? We want Him to do something in our days. That’s what Habakkuk wanted, but he wanted God to follow his plan. Instead, God began to let Habakkuk in on what He wanted to do.
What is the key to answered prayer? Pray the heart of God. How can we do that? We must first know the heart of God. How? Answer this: How have you gotten to know the heart of your spouse, your children, your brother or sister? Your best friend? Through time spent with them. Real time; intimate time. It’s no different with God.
Sometimes—especially when we have experienced some remarkable times in the Presence of God—we can find ourselves struggling and even discouraged when we can’t seem to find God. Sometimes there may be a reason we can’t seem to enter into His Presence—an attitude, a sin, an offense—but I think most of the time it is just because we are human and susceptible to the ups and downs of emotion and physical/mental energy, etc. BUT HERE IS AN IMPORTANT POINT TO REMEMBER: Our access into the Presence of God is not our ability to feel a certain way. It is our faith! Sometimes just remembering that fact is enough to jar our hearts and press through the numbness that can happen to us!
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2, NIV, 1984)
I have been struggling lately in prayer and not able to pinpoint the problem.
There’s not always a problem just because you don’t feel a certain way in prayer. The lack of emotion in your prayer time is not always a reliable indicator of how your prayer time is going. Think about it: My connection to those closest to me does not disappear just because I have a day where I don’t feel emotionally close to them or am distracted by the details of life. Genuine love and intimacy persist through such temporary things. But after a while, if things don’t get back to normal, it is wise to prayerfully examine your own heart and thinking.
In my case, I️ have been suspecting that the problem was distraction. Not phones ringing, or interruptions, but, in this case, a competing distraction.
This particular distraction is noble, useful, and, in my case, done for upright reasons. Yet, because it is something I️ also happen to enjoy immensely, it can be a distraction.
I️ have been praying for a few weeks now, asking the Lord to show me what He would have me do about this noble distraction. I feel that He gave me Philippians 3:7-8 (which you can see in context in the attached graphic).
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.As a result, I am examining the distraction in light of what really matters. Will He teach me to pursue this noble activity in a different way or give it up altogether? If He has me to give it up, what will have me do instead? Perhaps it is the doing that is the problem! We will see. For now, I am still wrestling but I understand the struggle now and will continue to pray about it until He wins!
“To illustrate all this: suppose I were to be describing to a person, who was entirely ignorant of the subject, the way in which a lump of clay is made into a beautiful vessel. I tell him first the part of the clay in the matter, and all I can say about this is, that the clay is put into the potter’s hands, and then lies passive there, submitting itself to all the turnings and overturnings of the potter’s hands upon it. There is really nothing else to be said about the clay’s part. But could my hearer argue from this that nothing else is done, because I say that this is all the clay can do? If he is an intelligent hearer, he will not dream of doing so, but will say, “I understand. This is what the clay must do; but what must the potter do?” “Ah,” I answer, “now we come to the important part. The potter takes the clay thus abandoned to his working, and begins to mould and fashion it according to his own will. He kneads and works it, he tears it apart and presses it together again, he wets it and then suffers it to dry. Sometimes he works at it for hours together, sometimes he lays it aside for days and does not touch it. And then, when by all these processes he has made it perfectly pliable in his hands, he proceeds to make it up into the vessel he has purposed. He turns it upon the wheel, planes it and smooths it, and dries it in the sun, bakes it in the oven, and finally turns it out of his workshop, a vessel to his honor and fit for his use….The lump of clay, from the moment it comes under the transforming hand of the potter, is, during each day and each hour of the process, just what the potter wants it to be at that hour or on that day, and therefore pleases him. But it is very far from being matured into the vessel he intends in the future to make it….The apple in June is a perfect apple for June. It is the best apple that June can produce. But it is very different from the apple in October, which is a perfected apple….God’s works are perfect in every stage of their growth. Man’s works are never perfect until they are in every respect complete.”
Taken from Hannah Whitall Smith’s, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Chapter 1
Picture the Secret Place as an immense wilderness.
You enter into it for the first time only to find that there is only a small square of grass on which to stand. There is more land, to be sure. Abundantly more! But it is fraught with thorns and thistles, dangers and difficult places, and even enemies! It is overwhelming. You repeat a few perfunctory prayer requests and leave in discouragement.
But then somehow word comes to you of new possibilities for the Secret Place; at least they are new to you.
“The Secret Place is yours,” someone said. “It only needs to be cultivated!”
“How?” you have the presence of mind to ask.
“The Secret Place is about intimacy with Him!” you are told. “In fact,” the messenger says, “if you can receive it, the Secret Place is a reflection of your intimacy with Him. It cannot be cultivated by more and more petitions, and intercession won’t do it either. The Secret Place is cultivated by pursuing intimacy with Jesus!”
Seeing that you still could not understand, the messenger continued,
“You see, there are three ways we can look at the Secret Place that can help us to understand why it is so important and why the enemy fights so hard against anyone who would try to tarry there.
“First, the Secret Place is actually the Holy of Holies.”
“Hebrews 10:19-22 says,
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (NIV84)
“When Jesus died, a ‘new and living way’ was opened for us ‘through the curtain.’ The curtain refers to ‘the veil’ that hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies–a room only the high priest could enter and then only once a year. That curtain or ‘veil’ was torn into two pieces, from top to bottom, as it hung there on the day Jesus was crucified.
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (NIV84).
“So now, because of Jesus, we are allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies. But don’t stop there in your understanding. Yes, in the Old Testament, the Holy of Holies was a room, but now, when we enter into the real Holy of Holies, we are entering into the Presence of God! But what is the Presence of God if not God Himself?
“So, the second way we can look at the Secret Place then, is to see it as Christ Himself!”
“We are entering into Him. Because we have been saved and called righteous by faith, we are already in Him. But that is akin to only standing in the doorway: we are ‘in’ but we can go so much deeper! However, petitions won’t take us further, nor are intercessions the path to deeper places! Those must flow out of our intimacy with Him!
“The third way we can see the Secret Place is to see that it is a reflection of our own hearts.”
“In other words, our hearts are the wilderness we encounter in the Secret Place and as we allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate the wilderness of our hearts into a place where He can move freely we find that the Secret Place becomes a place where we can run!”
Sometimes in the Project someone will describe the difficulties they had in praying the week before every day/set time/set place, and I remind them “that’s why I named the book ‘Contending for the Habit of Daily Prayer.” It is a daily battle.
When you have had to struggle for prayer or you feel you have been attacked by the enemy because of prayer, don’t be surprised! That’s contending!
In Matthew 6:6, the NIV says:
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door
However, the literal Greek is: “καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου” which is “and shutting the door of you.” Put into proper English, it translates to: “and shutting your door”
What’s the big deal?
First, I felt like the Lord reminded me to “shut the door.” In other words, don’t slide on the vision for prayer I have been promoting to others. Shutting the door means intentionally choosing to isolate myself from the outside world in order to be alone with God. Shutting the door means shutting out distractions—even important ones—and shutting myself in with God. Praying on the train, or in my car while I’m driving, or as I go throughout the day are simply no substitute for shutting myself in with God!
There’s one more thing…
It’s your door. Put another way: It’s your choice! We either make the choice to drag our flesh into the Secret Place—kicking and screaming if necessary—or we don’t. Let’s choose to do it.
Somewhere along the way congregations began worshiping through applause. I don’t mean clapping of hands in the Spirit as a personal expression of praise, victory, etc. I mean, as an audience, expressing appreciation (presumably to God and not the singer, etc.) through corporate applause.
According to Eusebius in his Church History, various pastors wrote an epistle reprimanding the activities and behaviour of Paul of Samosota saying that “he rubukes and insults those who do not applaud, and shake their handkerchiefs as in the theaters.”(Book VII, Chapter XXX, par. 9)
My own sense of the modern origin of this is that it began to arise in the average local Pentecostal church in imitation of what its congregants were seeing on the television when they would watch Jim Bakker and PTL, or Jimmy Swaggart in his big preaching campaigns. I assume that the applause in those settings was a natural byproduct of what a large audience does when it collectively experiences something that it likes, enjoys, or approves of. (For a lengthy treatment of the history of applause go here) All I know is that when I was a child it was not common for congregations to applaud in a way that it is today.
Here’s why I am bringing this up in the first place. I am in no way saying congregations shouldn’t applaud great points in sermons, etc. But my concern is that applause is a praise and worship shortcut. It relieves me of the need to say anything specific or intentional about the awesomeness of God. This applies to those in The Daily Prayer Project in that one of the comments I am beginning to hear a lot is “What do I say while I am pursuing intimacy with God?”
We have for too long assumed that God only wants us so that He can put us to work. In response to that erroneous idea, we have only pursued intimacy to the level of trying to cultivate obedience. But intimacy with God is not, in its deepest places, about doing something for God but is rather about being with God in the deepest places of our soul.
Let me end this beginning discussion of intimacy by asserting this: There is praise where we say great things about and to God. There is worship where we move beyond praise to surrender. Then there is the pursuit of intimacy. Think on all of this for awhile.
It may be that you are really making an effort to cultivate “your secret life in God” as Bob Sorge puts it in his book The Secrets of the Secret Place, but maybe not everybody else in your home is ready for it yet. That is not uncommon. Click here for an excerpt from Contending for the Habit of Daily Prayer, Revised and Expanded concerning spiritual legitimacy. That may or may not be going so well. However, there is no need to argue or to defend yourself. As you pursue intimacy with Jesus and as you cultivate the Secret Place, your life will begin to take on the fragrance of having been with Jesus. Look for that fragrance to attract your family and friends, especially those who observe you actually making time for the pursuit of Jesus in the Secret Place. Yes, in some cases, that fragrance may repulse others who encounter it. But, in most cases, others are going to want what you have! Just keep pursuing intimacy with Jesus and let God work on your friends and family