Prayer is communication with the loftiest of all beings. Shouldn’t little ol’ me coming before the most significant and powerful being do something to me? But so often as a measly human I point out to the Creator of All my measly problems with the world and life He has placed me in as if He didn’t know. Then with anticipation that God Almighty will put a Band-Aid on my scrape I find I can get plum angry when He fails to do what I say when I tell Him to do it. You know?
You probably do. That has to do with prayer that succeeds. It succeeds in getting what I want, and if it doesn’t come through as I think it should. Well, who needs that kind of God anyway? I want an infinite concierge to handle all my requests in a timely manner. All I am supposed to do is give Him my list and add an abracadabra, uh, no, I add the name of Jesus, and then there it is. Prayer that succeeds. But what if there is another approach to prayer?
Try this on for size. Prayer that exceeds. What is that? Glad you asked. This is an approach to God that sees Him as the wonderful, wise, loving, and powerful person He is. Upon approaching Him there is no shortage of honor given Him. It is seen as privilege not entitlement. Then in the presence of the one true and living God which has been made possible by the works of the Lord Jesus Christ prayers can be made. Think about how someone would approach complaining or requesting from the most influential person in a company or a country. Would they point out the aches and pains of ordinary life? Would there be a lengthy presentation of the details of unhappiness? Would there be tattling on those who misbehave or possible treat you badly? How ought a person approach the most important and most powerful person ever? Consider the experience of Isaiah when in the Temple he saw the Lord high and lifted up and the angels calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The Temple shook. Isaiah was shaking too and said, “Woe, I am undone.” He realized God at a whole new level. That look at God caused an instantaneous evaluation of himself and he realized his powerlessness, his failings, his sin and his limited view of God. Bam! He was changed. God cleansed him. God trusted Isaiah to communicate His message to others.
Prayer that exceeds sees God as He is. And it includes an approach to life that is God-centered, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit empowered.
There is great benefit for each of us as we center our lives in and on the Lord. In a great story Jesus tells of banquet over in Luke 14. This story is often used to illustrate the need to gather people into the church or evangelistic events, and though that is helpful that isn’t what Jesus says it is about. It is about being centered. Centered on Him. Being His follower or His disciple. Those who do stay centered on Him enjoy the banquet which is also living the abundant life or walking in the Kingdom of God. Those who do not stay centered miss out on the banquet. Jesus says it this way: “For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:24 (NLT)
Not even the smallest taste…whoa, serious. In the story Jesus tells of people being invited. Supposedly friends or potential friends of his. This is how they responded to the invitation to the banquet. Excuses: (1) I just bought a field and I have to go inspect it, (2) I have just bought five pairs of oxen and I want to try them out, (3) I have a wife so there you go. The Lord tells the story so that we can know these are not acceptable. Those who were invited will not get even the smallest taste of what the Lord is offering. And that’s not all.
Next up in Luke:
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-26 (NLT)
You can see how centered He is expecting His people to be. People may say they are following Jesus, but if they are seeking to please other people then they aren’t. This simple test a disciple of Jesus is more enamored with Him than anyone else. The disciple listens to Him. Satisfying one’s own desires are taken away. Those who give into self-desires or to pleasing others will not get even the smallest taste of what the Lord is offering. But the banquet is available for those who respond to the invitation. The disciple who is centered on the Lord. What has this got to do with prayer that exceeds?
Prayer can get bogged down in the stuff that makes up our lives. For example a person who has just bought a field and can’t stop thinking about it or asking God to provide for it somehow. It could be a new house or job, but it takes over. It might be getting oxen or a car or a project that fills the mind and time. It could be getting married which is a good and noble relationship, but when it takes center stage it means not even tasting the smallest bite of the Lord’s banquet. What about family relationships? Jesus says you must hate everyone else by comparison to Him. Here is the bog. Jesus is not central. God’s concerns are not central. What becomes the center is my life, my family, my activities, my things. What does my prayer look like? It is all about my family, my activities, and my things. Oh yeah, and there is my life too. Let’s take a look at that one. My life is made up of my thoughts, feelings, needs, urges, body, finances, circumstances, relationships…you get the idea. If I keep those as central what will my prayers be about? If you have a prayer journal take a look at it and see what you pray about. Are you keenly aware of every ache and pain? Do you have days when people are giving you the emotional support you desire? Compare with this.
I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NLT)
Quite a list. Does Paul complain about it? No. Does Paul focus on these things? No. Why do it? He is centered on God and His concerns. Paul explains.
Perhaps you think we’re saying these things just to defend ourselves. No, we tell you this as Christ’s servants, and with God as our witness. Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you. 2 Corinthians 12:19 (NLT)
Paul isn’t finding excuses not to show up at the banquet. He is fully involved. Paul isn’t using relationships or even his own life as an excuse, but is centered on the Lord and His work. Paul’s goal is to strengthen the Corinthians in their faith. The result for Paul is tasting of the Lord’s banquet in this life and the one to come.
What does Paul pray for?
We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature. 2 Corinthians 13:7-9 (NLT)
Do you see the focus Paul has in his prayer? He isn’t concerned their feelings will be hurt, but he does want them to accept the correction and do the right thing. He is interested in them becoming mature in Christ.
Prayer that exceeds is centered on God and His purposes.
There is more in the prayer that exceeds. Let me present a portion of Ephesians 3 for your examination. See if the focus lifts the believer higher. Watch for words like purpose and plan to gather an idea of what God is up to. Is suffering mentioned, and, if so, does it become the center of prayers prayed? Does this prayer indicate that there is more than the average church goer experiences? Read through it and see if you would like your regular prayers to succeed or if you would like prayers that exceed.
God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored.
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:10-21 (NLT)