The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down | Pt 2
BookRemarks are not book reviews, but topical posts inspired by books. This post was inspired primarily by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.’s The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.
In Part 1 of this series, we started a discussion on prayer that was inspired by a comment in R. Albert Mohler’s book The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: “What we believe about God is revealed most truly not in what we say about him but in how we approach him—in prayer or in worship… Prayer always reveals the underlying theology” (page 10-11).
What do our prayers reveal about our beliefs about God?
First, we should examine the types of things we pray for, and the popular ACTS prayer model identifies four common categories: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
Second, we should consider if we approach any of these areas to an extreme: too much or too little. Finally, we should consider the balance of prayers for ourselves and for others.
In Part 1, we discussed Adoration, Contrition, and the theology behind not offering enough Thanksgiving.
To wrap up this series, we’ll finish our thoughts on Thanksgiving, discuss Supplication, and then end with a discussion of prayers for Self and Others.
So let’s jump back in with a peculiar-sounding question:
An excess of Thanksgiving? Is it possible to thank God too much? Surely, not. We just saw how we are to give thanks in all circumstances.
In fact, we can even thank God for things He hasn’t done for us yet: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
So, how could we fall into a trap by thanking God too much? Well, our expressed gratitude to God can become problematic if our expectation of future blessings leads to an attitude of complacency.
It’s worth noting that although Paul instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances, he also says, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Notice that Christ is the agent through which Paul can do things, but Paul is still the doer.
Consider this: God promised that a great nation would spring from Abraham – but Abraham had to leave his home to go where God would direct him. And, when God planned to lead His people out of Egypt, He sent Moses – but Moses had to return to Egypt to accomplish God’s task; sitting at home wasn’t going to work.
There is a reason for the phrase a step of faith. It indicates the need for action on our part.
We should not just sit back and claim we are depending on God to provide all our needs; Paul writes, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Instead, we should trust God to take care of us as we follow His will. Does He want us to become a missionary in Thailand? We can go, and trust Him to meet our needs; and, yes, we can thank Him for meeting those needs in anticipation that He will be faithful in doing so.
Or, if we are injured and unable to work, we can thank God for providing for our needs. In this case, we are unable to take action – “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31-32).
We should not, however, thank God for providing our food if we plan to sit at home and binge on Netflix all day, every day. As Proverbs says, “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied” (13:4).
It’s worth remembering that in the parable of the talents, only those servants who actively increased what they had been given were given more; the one who did nothing with what he had been given, actually had it taken away.
We can thank God for everything – including meeting our future needs – as we follow His will for our lives. But let’s not slip into an unwarranted sense of entitled expectation and complacency.
An excess of Supplication. If we have an excess of supplication in our prayers – particularly the type of personal requests that would shape our lives into what we want them to look like – then perhaps we view God as a spiritual ATM.
Insert prayer request, provide the magic passwords “please” and “in Jesus’s name,” and then wait for an answered prayer (but not for too long, God, right?).
But God is not a spiritual ATM; He’s not an on-call genie or a vending machine. God is not there to serve us; we’re here to serve Him. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your God can do for you – ask what you can do for your God.”
In Deuteronomy, God says, “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of your but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees…?” (10:12-13).
The epistle of James suggests, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (4:3).
When we submit prayer requests to God, we should check our motives. Are we always asking Him to do things for us? Are we ever asking Him to do things for others? More importantly, are we ever asking God what we can do for Him?
It’s important that we do not see prayer time as simply a time to recite our Christmas Wish List to God.
A deficiency of Supplication. And yet, if we never ask God for anything, then it could suggest that we don’t really trust Him to answer our prayers. Multiple scriptures invite us to ask God for things, and they suggest He will grant requests that line up with His will.
James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (4:2). In Romans, Paul notes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:32).
As noted above, Jesus even stated that God wants to “give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11).
We can certainly take our personal issues to God, but we should not focus so much on ourselves that we neglect to seek God’s will for our lives or to pray for others.
Self (vs. Others)
In fact, in addition to the four elements of prayer already discussed (Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication), we should also seek a healthy balance in praying for ourselves and for others.
An excess of Self. When we do make requests in our prayers, it is common for us to ask God to provide things for ourselves. But if that’s all we do, then something is wrong.
When we focus only on ourselves, we make ourselves the center of the world – and we try to make ourselves the center of God’s universe: “Hey, Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth, pay more attention to me and my needs.”
Jesus had little use for self-centered thinking: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:43-45).
If we never pray for our family and friends, or the world at large, then we are failing at following the second most important commandment from God – to love our neighbors.
In Gethsemane the night before the crucifixion, Jesus spent time in prayer. A visual analysis of the verses in John 17 reveal that Jesus spent approximately fifteen percent of his time praying for himself (verses 1-5); about fifty percent of his time praying for those closest to him (that is, his disciples; verses 6-19); and about thirty-five percent of his time praying for the world at large – including people who had not yet heard his message (verses 20-26).
That means, based on the words reported by John, Jesus spent approximately 85% of his time praying for everyone but himself – the night before he was to be crucified (!). For many of us, those percentages are probably reversed.
Note: Based on the percentages above, I call Jesus’s prayer in John 17 the 3-7-10 prayer model. If you pray about twenty things, you might consider a similar percentage distribution: three things for yourself (15%), seven for the world overall (35%), and ten things for your friends and family (50%). Of course, this is simply a model that can be helpful to consider utilizing on occasion to keep our focus off ourselves; it is not a rigid framework to use during every prayer.
A deficiency of Self? If we never pray for ourselves, however, we miss out on a personal relationship with God. We miss out on the comfort and healing only God can give.
In the Psalms, David writes, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (55:22). Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
It’s important to remember that God cares about you. At one point, you were the single lost sheep, and Jesus left the flock of ninety-nine to find you (see Luke 15:3-7). Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Although God is the God of the universe, he pursues a personal relationship with each of us.
Consider the personal nature of Psalm 25: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God…. Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” (verses 1, 4-5).
We see in these words a close relationship between the individual and God, who teaches, guides, and comforts.
Yes, we should remember to pray for others – both those closest to us and the world at large – but we should not neglect the personal element of prayer or our personal relationship with Him.
So, what do your prayers reveal about your personal theology? Do you ever fall into one of the traps above, such as seeing God as your personal genie, not trusting Him with your pains, or perhaps even babbling many words in an effort to seem extra spiritual?
By paying closer attention to how we pray, we can identify potential trouble spots in how we relate to God.