I’ve started reading John Eldredge’s newest book, “Moving Mountains,” and it’s been soooo good! It’s all about prayer, and praying effectively. I hope to write several blog entries about it as it will help me process the good stuff in this book, and hopefully also be a benefit to you reading my blog.
I picked up the book as the description seemed to be where my thoughts have been for the past several years. It did not disappoint and Eldredge put things into words so much more effectively than I had been able to. He wrote on prayer, but I’ve been thinking about how these concepts apply to our relationship with God in general. His general concept in the book is that there is a way things work, it’s that way with everything in life. There is a way friendships work, marriage, owning a dog, raising a child, planting flowers, reading a book.
But like many people, I’ve had the idea that prayer just works. Raise a prayer and hope for the best. But in my heart, I knew that wasn’t quite it. Especially based on my experience of when my prayers work and when they don’t. It’s not as simple as God giving a “yes”, “no”, or “later” answer; even more so as we mature as Christians. I know that statement ruffles some feathers, as it goes against some long-held beliefs many of us have had.
Let’s look at praying for guidance. There is a way to pray effectively for guidance. And really, it’s common sense, or at least to me, because as I read what Eldredge wrote, I noticed this is what I’ve done when I’ve experienced effective prayer for guidance.
So here are some of Eldredge’s thoughts mixed with my own, taken from Chapter 11: “Let There Be Light” – Praying for Guidance, Understanding and Revelation.
The first rule of seeking guidance is to take the pressure off. Pressure to get an answer or hear something “right now”. Or pressure, stress, or drama of any kind in our lives from any source. Pressure nearly guarantees you will have a hard time discerning what God is saying, if you hear anything at all. Pressure clenches up your heart and soul and ties up all your insides in rubber-band knots. Even if God is shouting, it is unlikely he can get through to you because of the chaos. We need to do what we can to reduce the pressure. Get someplace quiet, peaceful, away from the chaos and stress. The whole “Be still and know that I am God…” concept is super important. Take a moment to remember who God is. Our hearts need some breathing room to hear God. I think of the story of the scattered seed in Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
Eldredge shares the story of Daniel (chapter 2) when King Nebuchadnezzar had dreams that troubled him. He wanted his “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” to interpret the dream, but first to tell him what he dreamed. When they said it was impossible and they couldn’t, the King ordered their death. This included Daniel. Talk about pressure! Daniel took the pressure off by asking the King for some time and sought God. Now, I doubt many of us can even comprehend the pressure Daniel faced, but our pressure will still clench our hearts just the same. If Daniel needed to take the pressure off in a high pressure situation, we certainly do too.
Daniel calms the situation down and he and his friends seek God, God answers and Daniel praises God:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.” (Daniel 2:21-23)
God will make known to us what we ask of Him. But first, we need to take the pressure off.
The second thing we need to do is let go of our constant attempt to “figure things out”. This one gets me often, my brain will just go and go, figuring out plans and plan b’s, and c’s. I’ll start praying for guidance and then get sidetracked in my trying to figure it out.
Eldredge shares how God has some strong feelings about those who choose to walk in the light of their own counsel:
Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment. (Isa. 50:10-11)
Ouch! Wow! God wants us to seek Him rather than light our own fires and try to figure things out on our own. And why not?! He is the God of all wisdom, knowledge, insight, and power. It’s silly for me to not go to him. Even sillier, fruitless really, is seeking God’s counsel while I am privately committed to one course of action over all others. Or trying to “fill in the blanks.” Spending half my energy trying to figure it out while I give the other half of my energy to seeking God. It’s far better to live with uncertainty for a while than to be our own counselors. Tolerate the ambiguity!
We must surrender our agendas. We must surrender our “best thoughts” on the matter. We must surrender even our secret desires. When we do all this, we are in a much better place to receive God’s thoughts on the situation.
Surrender is the key. We need to be open to WHATEVER it may be that God has to say. If you are only open to hearing one answer from God, “yes, you should take that apartment,” then it’s not likely you will hear anything at all. And if you do hear a yes, you won’t be able to trust it (is that me or is that God?). Yield your plans, desires, even hunches (oi!) to the Living God so you can receive something far better: His counsel. Give the matter to God; give the process of decision making over to God too!
Finally, give it some time. Seeking God’s guidance through prayer isn’t something to get done in 5 minutes. It takes time to take off the pressure and be still. It takes time to remember who God is. It takes time to truly surrender our thoughts, desires and hunches. And it takes time to specifically pray. “Do you want me to take this job?” “Is now the time to move?” If it’s a complex decision, try and break it down into parts: “Do you want us to move, Lord?” Should we move now or wait?” Complex decisions are better handled in bite size pieces.
If you feel you are receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit, then ask Him to confirm it. God speaks through His Word, His People, Circumstances and Prayer. Look for all four areas to line up.
If you haven’t heard anything, try another round of prayer. If clarity isn’t coming, come back tomorrow. Most decisions don’t need to be made right this instant, and if someone won’t give you time to pray about it, then my advice is to say no. However, if a decision truly needs to be made now, then ask God to come into your decision and to block your path if you haven’t chosen well.
I’ve also noticed that when we aren’t getting the answers we seek, it’s because God wants us to be asking a different question. Quite often God wants to address a different issue in our lives first, and He will be silent on the one matter until we let Him speak on the other. I’ve noticed in my life, I’ll go to God because I really want some direction, but He wants to talk to me about a relationship that’s gone sour. I don’t want to deal with the relationship, so I won’t talk to God about it. But He won’t talk to me about what I want until I talk to Him about what He wants. And I’ve learned that I can’t argue with God and win.
A sample prayer for this situation:
Holy Spirit- is there something else you want to say to me? Is there something you want to address before you speak to this? What should I be focused on right now – what do you want to speak to? Shine your light on that; make it clear to me. I surrender the process and I allow you to speak into whatever it is you want to speak into.
I hope this helps. There is a way things work. There is a way prayer works. There is a way praying for guidance works.
I look forward to processing more thoughts and sharing them with you in future blogs.