Prayer- Part VI
The comprehensive title of this six-part series has been “Making God an offer He can’t Refuse.” This particular phrase was a line of dialogue taken from a movie that has become the corner stone of American cinema- The Godfather. In this movie, the phrase was mentioned by the Godfather (played by the late Marlon Brando) only to select people in situations in which his wish and desire had to be carried out. It was a powerful phrase that was employed in an event when a refusal from the petitioned party was simply unacceptable. So, making you an offer you can’t refuse meant using all means necessary to ensure that the desired response to his request would be brought back by his consigliere, or counselor or intermediary without the slightest chance or disappointment.
Now, while the Godfather in this movie may have employed some underhanded and terrible tactics to ensure he was never refused what he wanted, it suddenly became evident that the same phrase could be applied to our life and prayers to God. While bullying, threatening, exploiting, blackmailing and such – as was employed in this movie – can never work with God, our Lord, being the ultimate Godfather, also has a set of rules and expectations, which, if met, guarantee that our prayers, requests and supplications to him will never return without being fulfilled. It is these set of rules that have been researched, tested, discussed, proven and divulged in this six-part series article on prayer. And this particular article being the last or sixth in the series, inevitably brings us to the point and crux of this entire journey, which is
R (Reward, Recovery).
Reward and Recovery are the final destination of prayer. If something is expected, this is where it is rewarded to you. And if something is lost, be it husband, wife, child, job, home, health, wealth…this is exactly where it is recovered and restored back to you.
So, if you have read the previous five articles discussing prayer, then you are already familiar with the steps, formulae, requirements and prerequisites to ensuring that your offer to God, your request of God, is one that God simply cannot refuse. And if you have in truth employed all these factors without compromise, then it behooves me to assure you your reward is at hand. “Why at hand and not in my hand?” Some may demand to know. Well, because the journey from prayer to reward, while responsive to the universal formulae detailed in the previous five articles, is always uniquely tailored to each individual. So, while Jack and Jill may have the exact same prayer and hope for the exact same reward, the distance, speed, time and total experience on their journey from prayer to reward or recovery will seldom be the same, because the journey is customized to the passenger or person, not to the prayer request. And that poses a different set of challenges in itself which we will now be discussing.
While we pray, we all expect to receive the fruit of our prayers immediately, but that, as we all know, is seldom the reality. In this ‘desert’ of perpetual and almost insufferable waiting and expectation, there are three indispensables that must be employed-
Persistence is the act of being consistently committed to the goal, objective or dream that you nurture. It is your absolute and adamant refusal to give up or tire of your pursuit- Which means the quality and quantity of the effort – both spiritual and physical – that you put into seeking that reward remains unchanged and unwavering throughout your pursuit. It simply must be consistent.
Luke 18:1-8 - And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, 'Vindicate me against my adversary.' 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'" 6 And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily.
Clearly what Christ was demonstrating with this parable was that persistence will sooner or later win over resistance where the prayer and action are matched with the will of God for such a person. The widow’s relentless commitment to her objective is what earned her the reward and vindication she received in the end, not just her Act of Prayer.
The problem of course is with most of us, we find it very difficult to remain committed to the pursuit if we don’t realize immediate rewards and benefits. And sometimes what the Lord is simply trying to determine is how bad you truly want and need what you claim by prayer to want. The Lord even goes on to say-
Isaiah 65:6-7: You who call on the LORD, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it the praise of the earth.
The Lord is stating here through no ambiguous terms that you should under no circumstance, like the persistent widow, give Him or yourself any rest until he has granted you the desires of your heart. So, if we fall away because we have not received, then how can we possibly expect to receive from the Lord?
Endurance is the act, quality, or power of withstanding hardship, stress, trial or tribulation. It is the fire or passion that keeps asking, seeking and knocking upon that door until somebody opens it and caters to your need or until the door breaks open and invites you in. Endurance is what keeps you outside the door of your blessing, bundled up against the chill and winter of uncertainty, oppression, failure and perpetual expectation, with chattering lips and trembling hands from fear of disappointment and rejection, while still refusing to go away until your reward rises eagerly or reluctantly from slumber to come see about you. That is exactly what endurance is and that is the very quality demonstrated by Abraham and Sarah in the Book of Genesis from Chapter twelve to twenty-one, while they waited almost interminably for twenty five years of trials and tribulations until the promise was manifested. Consequently,
Hebrews 6:15 - And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.
The word ‘patience’ is synonymous with endurance in almost every dictionary, and to a large extent, it is. However, more than a synonym, patience is the second half and complement to endurance, much like a woman completes the man and vice versa in a marriage. And the union of the two conceives the promise and reward we earnestly seek and pray tirelessly for. Patience is long-suffering; that is, not only the ability and power to endure hardship, but the maturity and restraint to endure it quietly, without complaining, with cool temperament and self-control.
Hebrews 6:12 - So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
James 5:7-9- Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.
Clearly patience is such an essential virtue of prayer, because impatience has urged many into rash and untimely decisions that consequently resulted in their forfeiture of the prize or reward. For instance consider Saul, whom the Lord anointed as King over Israel. Samuel, the priest, gave him strict instructions concerning the Burnt and Fellowship offering that only he, the priest, could and would offer on Saul’s behalf before the Lord. But there was only one minor requirement-
1 Samuel 10- 8 And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do."
Despite this specific instruction, what did Saul do instead?
1 Samuel 13: 8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, "Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings." And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11 Samuel said, "What have you done?" And Saul said, "When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, 'Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the LORD'; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering." 13 And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you; for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."
And while you might shake your head and point fingers at Saul because he got so impatient only minutes away from his blessing, how much different are you in your relationship with God? How many times have we found ourselves waiting on the delivery of a promise or reward from God only to grow impatient, lose hope and turn away from the Lord or from ourselves in the end? Ponder that in your heart for a moment. Patience will never prove false, but reward your self-control and faith in the end. A secret David discovered himself, which is why he says in Psalm40-1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
Consequently, when one considers this popular verse in Matthew 7:7-8
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
It becomes evident that the Lord in fact required these three virtues, persistence, endurance and patience to be employed in consonance with our prayers before him. In the first phrase-
Ask, and it shall be given you; if you think of a child, begging his or her mother or father for something, they ask and ask and beg and cry until they receive what they want. Sometimes the parent gives it to the child not even because they want to, but because the persistency of the child is wearing them out or driving them crazy! And has the Lord not required the same of us? Indeed he has!
Seek, and ye shall find; It clearly takes great endurance for any one to keep seeking despite how many times they fail to receive their reward. This particular phrase quickly calls to mind a Nike TV commercial of Michael Jordan in his days with the Chicago Bulls. As he exits his car, camera lights flashing hungrily at him, everything suddenly slows down to a deliberate pace; his head held high as he walks majestically to a door. Then we hear a voice-over of him saying, “I have failed again and again and again.” And then he opens the door and the voice concludes, “And that’s why I succeed.” And from the great cathedrals of Rome to the thatch-roof villages of Kenya, I dare you show me which corner of the earth the name, glory and conquest of Michael Jordan has not reached? A feat – in his own words – which he achieved with persistence and endurance.
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For this phrase, I only ask that the next time you visit a friend, knock on the door and watch yourself standing there, waiting, for a voice, a buzz, a yell or a hand twisting the door knob to open the door and let you in, ask yourself if that seemingly absurd act of waiting requires anything but patience. You don’t wait by yelling, mumbling, pacing or running amuck; instead you stand out there, especially outside an office door, and wait patiently until someone comes to open. If they do not, you repeat the act again, and wait. Especially when it is imperative that you be let in to see whomever it is you are there to see. Yet, when that door opens, is your patience not rewarded?
Finally, there are three types of journeys or races, if you will, in the prayer life of any Christian. And at any given point, you can find yourself facing either type depending on the many variables – though mentioned in previous articles - that will be reiterated in this article.
A hurdle race is one in which a series of barriers must be cleared or jumped without the competitors ever breaking their stride. Likewise, a hurdle response or reward to prayer is one that requires you, the petitioner or supplicant, to run a fairly long race while having to face several barriers, tests, difficulties and challenges, which require you not only to stand up to them, but to overcome them without ever losing your faith or falling away from the hope you profess. While, with the Sprint Response, the situation or problem that usurps the prayer is itself the challenge, the Hurdle Response poses additional challenges or barriers along the way in what may sometimes feel like a tedious and terribly bumpy road. While this may seem unfair, it is also important to note that there are mitigating factors or variables that play in the determination of this response. And this one, more than the former, is just as much a test of spiritual skill as it is a test of endurance and persistence. Joseph’s story is a perfect example of this response type. If you read from Genesis chapter 37-45, you will quickly observe the many hurdles Joseph had to overcome. He received a promise at the age of seventeen from the Lord that he was going to be so great that his father, mother and brothers were going to be subject to him. From the appearance of that vision and promise, Joseph began to pray for its manifestation. Yet, not much sooner after that, his brothers began to conspire to kill him out of envy. Then by the grace of God, they did not kill him, but mauled him instead, stripping him of his clothes and throwing him into an empty cistern. Then as if that weren’t already terrible enough an ordeal, they pull him out of the cistern, not to save his life, but to sell him into slavery! Then he is taken to a foreign land, far away from home and country, where he suddenly finds himself a slave and servant in Potiphar’s household, when he once was a heir to greatness and most beloved in his father’s house. Then he is seduced by Potiphar’s wife, but after refusing and remaining faithful to God, he is set-up and falsely imprisoned for attempted rape, a crime he never even considered, much less committed. Still, the grace of God was with him and he found favor in prison. He meets a servant of the king of Egypt there who promises him to say a good word on his behalf to the king. But the servant forgets him again. All this, until finally, when the appointed time came, the Lord caused the servant to remember him and Joseph was finally released into glory as the governor over all of Egypt, where the Lord’s promise to him some thirteen years before was finally fulfilled, because he ruled over all his brothers and parents. Imagine the hurdle after hurdle that Joseph had to face, yet not once did he falter. Instead he endured patiently, persisting in his efforts to see the glory the Lord had promised, offering interpretations of dreams no one else could understand without charging a dime for it. Praying and keeping hope and faith in the unfailing Word of God. And was he not rewarded in the end?
· The Marathon Response
The marathon, perhaps above all others, is the greatest test of endurance. A marathon race is an event or activity that requires a prolonged effort and great endurance. In like manner, a prayer that receives a marathon response from God requires a marathon commitment of the supplicant. It is generally a long and arduous undertaking, because the distance between prayer and reward is so long, often deserted, and beset by trials and troubles at almost every turn. And it is perhaps one of the most commonly experienced responses in the life of most Christians, especially to those requests and prayers that seek a relief we desire and want so desperately; perhaps even for the thing we most desire and long after above all else! In this journey, the goal is not so much how fast one gets to the end, but rather, how one endures patiently and keeps faith to the end. Abraham is not called the Father of Faith for his name. He is called the Father of Faith because of the stretch and length of the trial and test he had to endure before receiving his promise. As was mentioned earlier, he received a promise from God that he and his wife would bear a son of promise, Isaac, and that he would bless Abraham and his wife and descendants after them so much so, that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. A promise for a child at the age of seventy-five? And clearly he had been praying to God for this child for much longer than that. Perhaps ten, twenty, thirty years prior. And to add insult to injury, the child did not come to be until another twenty-five years later. And after all this, the Lord then demands that he take this one child, and kill him to offer him as sacrifice to Him! Yet, without hesitation, Abraham obeyed, though I am certain his heart must have been afflicted with anguish and despair. But still, he endured and just as he was about to carry out the task, the Lord appeared to him and stopped him. And there and then, Abraham received the full dispensation of his blessings.
So how does God determine into which race or response he enters us?
The Method to the Madness
1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted (tried) beyond your strength, but with the temptation (trial) will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
The clear and unambiguous conclusion that is inferred by this verse is that each person is tried, not according to their race, creed or color, but rather, according to strength of their faith and the weight and measure of the spiritual power that has been granted to them. Just as you have a lightweight or heavyweight in boxing, so also do we have different classes before God; not a discriminatory class that caters differently to the various socio-economic groups, but rather, a Spiritual class that follows more, an academic advancement principle. So, just as your courses get harder as you advance in grade level, so also do the tests differ by your advancement in faith. Now, let us be clear, at one point or the other and for one request or another, we will all find ourselves facing every one of these response types from God. It’s inevitable. But understand that as different portions of food satisfy different body types, so also do the different trials and tribulations we face satisfy God’s investigations of our faith to him and worthiness of the rewards we seek from him. Clearly what Joseph had to undertake, while terrible, was child’s play to what Abraham had to endure. And what Abraham had to endure, while heavy and almost unbearable, is not as dreadful as the sudden calamity that was visited upon Job as discussed in Article III, losing everything, children, servants, possession, name, face and health in one instant! But all these men faced different journeys in accordance to the spiritual architecture and composition of each man. And as the Lord has spoken, he will never allow you be tried beyond your capacity to endure.
We are quick too scream, “O Lord! This trouble is too great for me! This suffering is more than I can bear!” Yet, if that statement is true, then you prove God to be a liar, since he says he will never allow the enemy try you beyond what you can handle. And heaven forbid that God be a liar! The problem, consequently, is not an error in judgment on God’s part, but rather, an error in judgment regarding our power. If the trial is presented before you, then be sure that the Lord has equipped you with every element you require to withstand it. But whether you summon all the resources and employ them effectively or not is entirely up to you. And remember, just as the training of each athlete determines the performance in the race and the consequent achievement in the end, so also do the various trials and tribulations of each Christian and their respective response to such trials also determine the quality of the outcome in the end. And that is why Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
But some will protest, “Why try us anyway!?”
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
It is therefore concluded from this cited bible verse above that the Lord tests us for two reasons: The first, that he might humble us; to let us understand that it is neither by the power or will of any man to achieve anything, but rather by His power and grace that any good can be achieved in our lives. And this becomes evident when you consider how many times you have found yourself in a situation or facing a problem where you relied on a friend, brother, relative, money or position only to find that neither of those could save you from a second of that trouble or bring you any closer to that reward. He consequently humbles us, not to humiliate us, but to bring us closer to him and make us dependent on him for our needs. Which is what that last phrase, “Man shall not live by bread alone….” denotes. He strips us of our reliance on the world, humbling us, bringing us into emotional, spiritual, financial and physical deserts, where every one and everything appears bleak and hopeless, that we may be able to recognize, perceive and incline our hearts to his voice, and his voice alone.
Secondly, he does it that he may come to a firm determination of where our true devotion lies, whether within the reward we hope to obtain from him, or truly in our commitment and service to him. I have heard so many women say, “I thought he loved me with all those flowers he sent me, the poems he gave me and all the dinners and movies we shared together. But the moment I slept with him, he stopped calling, he would stand me up, and when I dared to call him, it took several days for him to return my call, if ever he did.” Well, this same principle applies here. Like the men who give women everything they want and say everything they want to hear in order to get what they really want, so many of us pray and tire ourselves before God, not because we truly want to worship God, but because of what we hope to receive from God. We worship rewards and expectations, not God. So, how else will he weed out the bad seeds from the good unless he puts everyone through the same stringent test, holding them in the desert of frustrations and interminable expectations, until suddenly, some say, “To hell with this! I don’t need this! I’m outta here!” and others stand there, sweating, parched, hungry and tired, yet still praising God and saying, “Please don’t forget me God.” Well, he never forgot. He only needed to know that you will never forget. And as for these women who fall victim to these traps, why don’t you try refusing that man what he hopes to get and see how quickly he retreats. If he is still standing when all is said and done, then you know here is a man worthy of your attention. But I digress. Marriage and dating will be discussed in a separate article.
And sometimes this silence in the desert, while also trying us, prepares us for greater rewards than we can ever fathom. Great trials sometimes mean great rewards.
The only way to make God an offer he can’t refuse is to ensure that you walk before him blamelessly. And while you will never be completely without fault or blemish, he sees your heart. He knows those who earnestly spend themselves and challenge themselves in service to him and he knows how to prune and weed away those who serve him apathetically without sincere love or commitment.
It is, therefore, impossible for you to employ to the letter all the precepts and requirements stipulated in theses six articles without your prayers ever being answered. If you truly follow every one of them without compromise, then understand that your reward will not tarry. At the appointed time, it will be revealed. And for such as do the will of the Lord and follow his percepts, then this verse is sent to you-
Habakkuk-2: 3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end--it will not prove false. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Hebrews 10:23 - Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Therefore, do not drift, do not falter, the Lord is faithful to all his promises. That which is yours will find you. Only keep the faith. Endure. Fight. Persevere. Persists. All things in its appointed time. The desert will soon come to an end.
Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
If despite all of this, you still do not see the manifestation of your blessing, then clearly the blessing you seek is not in accordance with God’s will for you. Before you are even conceived, the Lord has laid out a boundary for you; a limit of things you may or may not accomplish. And every time you pray and make a request, the list within your boundary is consulted. If your request falls outside that boundary of his plan and purpose for you, then that prayer will never return with the reward.
James 4:1-3-What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your passions.
And don’t hide under the protest of not knowing whether or not your prayer request is in consonance with God’s will for you. His will for you begins to manifest itself at an early age. However we spend so much time not paying attention to it. For instance right at an early age, I always had a passion for words and writing. But for a while, to impress my parents, I decided to try my hand at Science. Let’s just say those grades will never see the light of day. Clearly in this instance, my motives were wrong and consequently should have raised a red-flag in my mind. But it didn’t. And then the Lord spoke in a more overt and loud voice when my first report card was handed to me. He didn’t have to repeat himself, by the way. If you commit yourself diligently to worshipping God in all righteousness, doing away with those sins that so easily entangle, adultery, fornication, stealing, deception, backstabbing, malice, pride, arrogance, covetousness and the like, the inevitable result is that God will always reveal his will to you. Psalm 25: 9, 12- He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way…Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way chosen for him.
People will tell you, your own heart will tell you, his voice will tell you, your circumstances will tell you. And if after all that you still submit yourself to praying for that request in truth and faith, then it will still not be granted, but at least his reply will come with a reason. You only need incline yourself to perceive his voice.
So, having said all this, the conclusion and secret to prayer is this- Come unto the Lord in all righteousness and humility. Sometimes even with fasting if you can, because fasting humbles the flesh and quickens the spirit, but more importantly, come before him in complete piety and spiritual righteousness as discussed in Part I. Praise him; offer thanks and recognize his past deeds in your life that he may be pleased to perform new wonders today. But remember to yield yourself in submission to his will, rather than imposing your will upon him. He knows what is best for you, when it’s best for you and how best to serve it to you. Complement your ceaseless prayers with works. Put in as tremendous an effort as that goal requires, don’t just fold your arms and leave the work to him. Remember God only helps those who help themselves. Never lose hope. Persist. Persevere. Endure. And remain patient through that silent period of God’s workmanship and the testing of your sportsmanship. It’s a period of gestation. Your prayers have planted the seed. Don’t expect to come back tomorrow to find a tree. Be realistic. Give him time. And in the meantime, prove yourself worthy of him by remaining tireless in your efforts and worship. And see how mighty the reward he bestows upon you.
Just as chefs have recipes designed to yield a specific result in the food they make, so also do we have these recipe designed to teach you how to say a perfect and irresistible prayer to God. Deviate from the chef’s recipe to any degree, slightly or heavily, and the result will most certainly yield disappointment, or at best, different to the promise. The Lord, the master Chef has now poured out this recipe to a perfect, undeniable and infallible payer to you. Do not deviate from it, not to the right or to the left, and be assured that the promise will not prove false but testify to your expectations and more in the end.
You want to make God an offer he can’t refuse? The simply live a life his delight cannot refute.
Yours in Christ,
Asst. Evangelist Damilola Olorunnisola, CCC Voice of Grace Parish.
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