A Thought on Prayer
Too often our prayers are mostly concerned with changing circumstances, but when we read the recorded prayers of Paul we discover that they were all about changing character. It is true that he encourages his friends in Philippi to present every concern to God, but in the few prayers of Paul that are preserved in Scripture they all have to do with desiring the character of Jesus Christ to be more evident in the people for whom he prayed. A similar thought is expressed in this quote:
“Because we do not easily escape the thought-patterns of our culture, this ethos of control and explanation may very well influence our view of God, tempting us to choose for ourselves a controllable god. Such a god inspires no awe, of course, but neither does it threaten our security.” The Trivialization of God by Donald W. McCullough
How did Paul come to this place and what are the implications of it?
One of the transformations in Paul’s life was that he learned to stop working for God and to work with God as God worked out His purposes in and through Paul. When Paul was working for God he was viciously hauling those who believed in the risen Jesus off to prison and to death. However, many years later he could write to friends in Asia Minor, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me and I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Because when he got on God’s agenda he did fulfill the prophecy of Ananias that he would be God’s chosen instrument to proclaim the name of the Lord to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. Georgia Harkness affirms this way of thinking:
“Most of our prayers ought to be for the enrichment and control of the spirit so that motives, desires, and the spirit’s use of bodily powers will be in harmony with the will of God. If prayer did only this, it would do for us the most important thing that could be done.” Prayer and the Common Life by Georgia Harkness
Also, God gave Paul a shepherd’s heart and he learned that the real issues for people were not: “Where shall we live, how well shall we live, or even if we live at all?” but rather are we being transformed so that we are becoming like Jesus Christ. He carried this kind of a prayer for each of the churches in his heart so when he wrote to them he naturally wrote the things that he most desired for them.
Another factor that shaped his life of prayer was that he learned to embrace his suffering as he discovered the good things that it brought in his life. In fact, he told the Philippians that for the sake of Christ they had been given the gift of suffering. (1:29) When God gives in to our whining and changes our circumstances so that we will have no difficulties it is at the cost of the character he is building into us. He did give the Israelites meat instead of manna, but the result was leanness to their souls.
By contrast, at the end of his life, from a Roman prison, Paul can honestly write: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The litany of suffering in his life, recorded in 2 Corinthians 11, recounted the circumstances that God used to wean Paul away from self-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. If Paul had asked God to protect him from suffering the focus of his life may have been: “For me to live is comfort, popularity and importance—and to die is all loss.” Instead he learned to be content in whatever state he found himself. He was not preoccupied with circumstances.
“One of the statements most often made concerning prayer is that it changes things. The first thing that prayer changes is the one who prays! Time spent faithfully and devotedly in the Lord’s presence will most surely result in our becoming more and more like Christ in both spirit and in action.” Disciplines by Benson
Do I want my circumstances or my character changed?”