It seems to me that we ought to be careful what we pray for - we just might get it!
That thought had never occurred to me until about two years ago. I was totally immersed in a job and family activities and "church activities" when I got intrigued by a subject in Scripture that I had never seen before. I studied it a little, became fascinated with it because it had been grossly misunderstood and mistaught for about 100 years. Decided that I needed more time for some detailed research and time to write a book on the subject.
Just did not have the time, however.
So, being a praying Christian, I took my problem to the Lord.
"Lord," I said, "if it is Your Will, let me do this. Let me somehow (and I certainly didn't know how) have the time and the money to do this research and get a book written on the subject, if indeed your children are mistaught on this subject."
I don't know exactly what I had in mind, because I didn't have enough vacation time to do it. I certainly couldn't quit my job, research and write the book, then find a new job. I had been working for this company 15 years and had too much time invested, too much to lose if I just quit. A leave of absence was possible, but that would shut off our income.
Whatever it was that I thought, I had the deep faith that the Lord could find a way. I just wasn't quite prepared for the way He found.
Within a few weeks of the time Alice Ann and I prayed these prayers repeatedly, I went to see my doctor for a routine physical examination. He found a hereditary blood disease that could kill me in 18 months if not treated, but was easily treatable. All they had to do was to take 2 pints of blood each week out of my puny body--for the next four months! My doctor and I made all kinds of jokes about leeches, of course.
The treatment was painless, however I had to leave work for four months--my company gave me full pay--because the frequent phlebotomies kept me so weak I could not even spit over my chin. I could read and run a typewriter.
By the time I went back to work after four months, I had the research done and the first draft of the book written.
Now if I had been the one answering the prayer, I'm not sure just how I would have done it, but the way the Lord did it was certainly effective. That's the reason for my opening statement.
It seems to me that we sometimes do not give enough consideration to what we are praying. Oh, I used to pray frequently.., every time I "went to church" I prayed two or three times. On Sunday, counting Bible Study, at least five times! Sometimes, I even prayed during the week:
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father. Thank you for all the many blessings both spiritual and temporal that Thou hast bestowed upon us. For we know that all good and perfect things come from Thee.
Bless all those whom it is our duty to pray for the world over, especially those of the household of faith.
Bless the sick and the afflicted (sometimes, the widows and orphans were included here) wherever they may be. Bless those that are sick of our number (sick of whom?).
Bless the one who is to bring us the lesson this morning (evening, tonight, or whenever). Give him a ready (sometimes rendered "happy") recollection of the things which he has studied (prepared), so that he can help us to be better Christians in Thy sight.
Bless those who are laboring in foreign fields, especially under adverse conditions. Give them the strength and courage to continue.
We pray that our worship (sometimes, "service") is holy and acceptable in Thy sight.
Forgive us of any sins we have committed, whether by omission or commission, since we last called upon Thy Name (or, "approached Thy Throne of Grace").
In Jesus (sometimes, "holy") Name, Amen.
Sound familiar? I prayed prayers just like this for years. I had heard older men pray similar words, so I learned from them. I was just as sincere as the ones I learned from, and by no means would I intentionally belittle anyone's attitude nor sincerity in praying like this. It's just that now, I've tried to put myself in the Lord's place and tried to figure out just how I would answer a prayer like that.
A few years ago, a young Catholic had just been converted to the Truth when he took a trip across the country. When he came back he asked where he could get a copy of the "Church of Christ Prayer Book." He had heard the same prayer over and over as he visited with Christians in different cities across the country. He thought it was beautiful and he wanted to learn it and the other "Church of Christ prayers." He was as surprised to learn that we didn't have a prayer book as I was that he asked for one. I had thought of this "Xerox prayer" before, but that really woke me up and I started paying more attention to what I was really saying to God. After all, I thought, He might be listening!
Do you really think God expects to hear from us in Elizabethan English? If we were to change "art," "Thee," "Thy" and "Thine" to "are," "you" and "yours," do you think He would still understand? I'm only serious.
Paul said in Rom. 8:26,27:
And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Of course, He understands our prayers without regard to the words we put them in, but do we understand a 400 year old language ourselves? Some people even think that the apostles went around talking like Shakespeare and King James, but the apostles were about 1500 years too soon. We are about 400 years too late.
How do you talk with your own earthly father? I believe our Eternal Father would prefer to hear from us like that. Just relax and tell Him what you want Him to know.
Please be deadly serious with me. Suppose the Lord answered my prayer when I prayed in those words, how could I possibly recognize the answer if He did? Those prayers we prayed were so impersonal and general, today we would package them in white boxes with black block letters "GENERIC PRAYER."
I think, if nothing else, I have learned to ask my Lord in my words about needs that I know about. I have learned to ask Him to take care of the specific needs of others.
If someone is lost, I ask Him to give me (or someone) the opportunity to reach him with the Truth and that the lost one will have a searching mind, ready for the Truth. I have also learned to ask Him to help me recognize opportunities when He does provide them. I have stumbled blindly over so many. Will He forgive me of all that I have wasted? I ask Him to do that, too.
What about the poor widow that we are trying to help, or the dear friend with cancer? I now ask the Lord to let my hands be His hands. "Help me find a way to take care of Mrs. Blank's and her children's needs;" or to use the doctor's hands as His own, "Please cure Mike of his cancer."
Do you believe God can cure cancer?.., that He can heal the heart, torn by cardiovascular disease? ... that He can really give comfort which we do not know how to give to those who feel the deep emptiness that follows the loss of a loved one? Do you really believe that?
The only difference then and now is that now I ask Him to do specific things. Perhaps we got an aversion to asking God to heal the sick when we saw the likes of Jack Coe and Oral Roberts making a blasphemy of healing. Perhaps that explains my past reluctance to say, "Lord, I don't know what else to do. The doctors have done all they can. Now it's in your hands. Please heal my friend. You are the only hope."
Do you pray to the Lord like that? I didn't for many years, but I do now. I also pray many times every day. I keep kind of a "running prayer" going all day. And do you know what? He answers--just as specifically as I ask, believing that He will answer.
It seems to me that if we pray a "generic prayer," we should expect to get a "generic answer" that we may not even recognize. How could we ever know whether He had "blessed the sick and afflicted wherever they may be?" From now on, please join me in praying personal, specific prayers, and just see what God can do.
Let us pray:
"Lord, help me live from day to day in such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray my prayer will be for Others.
Help me in all the work I do to ever be sincere and true,
And know that all I'd do for you Must needs be done for Others.
Let "Self" be crucified and slain And buried deep: and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again, Unless to live for Others.
Others, Lord, yes, others, Let this my motto be,
Help me to live for others, That I may live like Thee.1 Amen.
1) Copyright C. D. Meigs