Your Will–Not Mine
About the Guest
Do you think your prayers would be better heard if you prayed backwards? Today's guest, Dr. Bryan Chapell--president of Covenant Theological Seminary, thinks so. On today's broadcast, Bryan explains to Dennis Rainey how praying in Jesus' name before you start your petitions may keep you from requesting things not in line with God's will.
Bryan ChapellDr. Bryan Chapell is highly regarded in the evangelical community as a preacher, teacher, and author. He began his ministry pastoring in churches that include Glen Ridge Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (1976), Woodburn Presbyterian Church in Woodburn, Ill. (1976-80), and Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Sparta, Ill. (1980-1986). Bryan then joined the Covenant faculty fulltime in 1986 and has since served as a professor, Department Chair, Seminary Dean, and Executive Vice President. Fro...more
Do you think your prayers would be better heard if you prayed backwards?
Your Will–Not Mine
Bryan: What people do in this world is they try to evaluate the goodness of God based on their circumstances – I've got a good job or a bad job; I've got good health or bad health. They evaluate the goodness of God based on their circumstances. But what the Bible is doing is it's always telling us to evaluate God based on His character and the primary point that the Bible pushes is look to the cross. The God who provided His Son to give you life eternal can be trusted.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 9th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll hear today how prayer is one of the things God uses to remind us of His goodness.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I'll tell you, I was excited who we were going to have on the program and what we were going to be talking about, because, well, first of all, in regard to who it is, I have benefited from Bryan Chapell's ministry in speaking and in writing, but on the subject, when it comes to prayer, I need all the help I can get. I've got to be honest this is – of all the spiritual disciplines, this is the hardest one for me.
Dennis: And I think for most believers. In fact, the way Bryan begins his book – well, let's introduce him first and let our listeners know who he is. Bryan is the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, so he's a "show-me" guy, along with a couple of other show-me guys. Bryan, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Bryan: That's right. I'm with a couple of other show-me guys. I appreciate that. It's good to be with you all.
Dennis: Bryan and his wife, Kathleen, have four children, and he's written a number of books, but he's written one that, I had to admit, Bryan, when Bob gave me this book, I went, "Praying backwards? You're wanting us to rethink where we begin in prayer?"
Bryan: Because we're still praying childlike prayers even as mature Christians. What does a child pray? "Lord, I want a pony, a new red bicycle, in Jesus' name." Now, wait a second, was that really in Jesus' name? So often, childlike prayers are just in the child's name, and we become adults, and we're taught to petition God, but we're not usually thinking about the priorities. And so the consequence is we end up praying childlike adult prayers, which is "Lord, in Jesus' name, lower my taxes. In Jesus' name, give me a job in the Bahamas." And what Jesus did when He said over and over again to pray in His name was saying, "Put me first, seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."
But what we are doing when we pray is we are saying, "Lord, the first thing I want is the glory of my Savior. I am praying for the purposes of God to be promoted so that when I pray it will just change our priorities." But what I want to do is say will also give us great joy to say, "in Jesus' name, Lord, bring your blessing into my marriage." "In Jesus' name, I ask for my child to marry a Christian spouse." "In Jesus' name I pray that this family would truly honor You." And that gets us away from the notion of "In Jesus' name, just give me more money." "In Jesus' name, just make my life easy."
"In Jesus' name" means "Thy kingdom come into my life, my family, my purposes," and it will mean prayer isn't such a mystery – "I've got to find the will of God, whatever wavelength that is on and pray exactly that way, and then the Lord is going to give me whatever I want."
Now, wait a second, I'm simply praying, "Lord, make me Your servant and bring Your glory into my life for Your sake and then the thing I most want in the world," which is Jesus to be honored, you will, yourself, honor.
Bob: You're really challenging us to put the desires of the Father ahead of our own desires.
Bryan: In the book, one of the things I try to do is just take people through The Lord's Prayer. What did He say? Well, He started out by saying, "Hallowed be Your name." What does "hallowed" mean? It means "May Your name be holy, Lord." It's actually not a statement but a petition, a request of God that He would make His name holy in this world so that people would look to God and say, "God is really special."
Now, what does that mean in our lives? It means that I want my life to bring glory to my Savior. I tell in the book of one of my favorite people. His name was Eric, a schoolteacher, a wonderful man who had a great ministry to high schoolers. But Eric contracted a brain tumor of some sort that ultimately cost him his life. And I can remember going into his hospital room at one point, and, as I went in, his wife dismissed herself. She had been there for him, but he was in a lot of pain that day, and as he spoke to me, he said, "Bryan, as my wife is leaving, please help her. Help her to understand that even though I am suffering now, I know that I will be with Jesus soon, and I'm just praying that I can glorify Jesus in this."
I thought isn't that amazing? Here is a man who is suffering, but his prayer is that his wife would know that he would be with Jesus soon; that that would be the better life; that that reality of heaven would be even greater than the reality of this life with her.
Dennis: What I hear you saying is that we glorify God when our lives, in a very simple way, just remind others that God is …
Bryan: … and that He's wonderful and He's glorious and beautiful and loving, and that He can be trusted. And that He can be trusted – His character is always going to confirm the goodness of our God. You know what people do in this world, we know its temptation is they try to evaluate the goodness of God based on their circumstances – I've got a good job or a bad job; I've got good health or bad health. They evaluate the goodness of God based on their circumstances.
But what the Bible is doing is it's always telling us to evaluate God based on His character and the primary point that the Bible pushes is look to the cross. The God who provided His Son to give you life eternal can be trusted – look how good He is. It doesn't mean that all life seems good all the time. It doesn't mean that, it doesn't mean that, does it? Sometimes life is very hard. But the Bible says "Look at God. What's He like? If He provided His Son to give you eternal life out of this fallen world and against your own sin, then even in this fallen world, where suffering will occur, even Jesus said, "In this life you will face suffering. You will be persecuted. Even as the Master goes so must the servant go even to face suffering."
But we trust God through it because we have seen His character and know that He promises a life that is without suffering at the end of this.
Bob: Bryan, here is where my understanding of God in His sovereignty and His goodness can sometimes hinder my prayer life. There is part of me that wants to get up in the morning and say, "Lord, Thy will be done today, because that's what's going to happen, anyway, amen."
Bryan: Wow, it's a mystery, isn't it, how God has chosen to use our prayers to further His will. To me, one of the most powerful passages on prayer in all the Bible is Romans 8 that ends with the verse we all know by heart, but we forget that it's the conclusion of a passage on prayer. Romans 8:28 – "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose." Now, we go, yeah, that's kind of the Christian 2x4. You know, you're feeling bad – well – boom. "All things work together for good" – smile, brother.
You're kind of saying, but where does that come from? Well, Romans 8:26 says, and this is amazing for people who are being taught about prayer – "We don't know how to pray." Since you and I were kids, we were taught, what – God would answer a prayer as long as we prayed according to His will. Great. Just one little problem – how do I know what's according to His will?
Bryan: And so even the Apostle Paul says, "We don't know how to pray." So the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with "groanings too deep to utter." That's actually the language of childbirth – that as a woman in the pangs of childbirth is crying out, so the Holy Spirit is, before the throne of grace, saying "Lord, listen to him. Lord, answer; Lord, hear." And the Bible goes on there to say "Not only does the Spirit speak with groanings too deep to utter, but God, who knows the mind of the Spirit, hears and answers according to His will so that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose."
Now, listen, that's a lot of words going by. I need a simple image. For my heart, my brain goes back to watching my mother decorate a cake when I was a kid. You ever watch one of those icing syringes or icing funnels where you kind of glop in the icing in one end and at the other end, there is this decorator tip. And I think here is what's happening when I pray – even the Apostle said "We don't know how to pray." I’m not omniscient. I'm a finite creature. I don't have all the wisdom of a sovereign God, but God still says, "Pray," so I kind of glop in my human prayers, that's the icing going into one end of the funnel, and then the Holy Spirit, with groanings to deep to utter, He is speaking with fervency beyond what I can muster.
So I think of it – I pray about the most serious things sometimes in bed at night, don't you do that? I can pray for the salvation of my brother, and I can fall asleep in my own prayer, and to think the Holy Spirit is before God with urgency saying, "Lord, hear this prayer, heed what he is saying," and it's like pressure on that icing funnel, pushing the prayer out. But then the Spirit is also designing the prayer beyond my human ability, so that what comes out is according to God's infinite wondrous plans and then this promise "so that all things will work together for good." I am praying, and God, in His sovereignty, for reasons I cannot explain, this mystery, God designs to use my prayer to bend the universe to bring about His will so that His glory and my good will be accomplished.
Now, I have trouble get my mind about that, but what God is saying is that as we pray, the world is being changed. Those who write about this thing, it sometimes is astounding to hear what they say – that we are, in essence, God's co-creators of the New World. That is a huge mystery to me. I cannot explain why God would take a finite creature like me and involve me in the work of creating the world as He wants it to be. But He loves me, and He gave His son for me, and He says "You're as precious to me as Christ Himself," and, for that reason, God is taking our prayers and using them as the fuel of His own working in the universe.
Dennis: I can just imagine a husband and wife who perhaps have attempted to pray with one another or for one another or for a child, for a family member, or maybe somebody they love at church, and their prayer didn't get answered. They wanted it to get answered.
Now, you actually begin your book with the story of a family who prayed for a grandmother and, frankly, I think this is a great place to begin a book on prayer, because I think this is where most people get stuck, and where they stay because they get paralyzed in unbelief and start really expecting the wrong things out of God.
Bryan: Well, I want to say so much at once, Dennis. Let me begin – this may sound very strange. I think God always answers prayer. I think He's got four alternatives. He can say "Yes," He can say "No," He can say "Not yet," or He can say, "Exceedingly, abundantly, above all that you would ask or even think." God has all those alternatives before Him.
Now, if he says "No," it's because our prayers are amiss, and James tells us some of those reasons you have not because you don't ask, or when you ask, you ask according to your own lusts or self desires. We sometimes forget when we are praying for other people that God may have a plan for them that exceeds our own, and we don't impose our will on them; we are asking God to provide His will for them.
Now, the couple I described, or the family that I described in that opening chapter, who was praying for a godly woman who was dying. They were asking that God would spare her life. That's a wonderful prayer, and I think we can pray for those kinds of things and see the miraculous intervention of God but not always. Even the Apostles died. Even Christ suffered. There can be purposes in God's plan that we cannot understand. What we have to remember is this world is real but, to God, the next world is no less real. So when God says, "I may heal someone now," that's wonderful, that's miraculous. Or "I may take someone to Myself, where the healing is perfect and eternal." Because even healing of today in this world, that person is still going to age and die. It's going to be imperfect and not eternal. But there can be something even more wondrous where God takes someone to Himself, and that healing is perfect and eternal.
And we say, "Oh, well, that's just all that eternal heaven stuff." No, no, listen – that is the real promise of God of a real world, a real universe, that is no less significant than this one. In fact, it's better. And for us to say that for God to heal someone by taking them to Himself is not a miracle, is not as great a blessing, I would say, "No, listen, read the Bible. That is the greater blessing."
You know, the Puritans had a way of talking about faith, and they called it "the walk of faith"; that we are to progress with God in the walk of faith. Now, you think, what does that mean? It means we just kind of, like athletes, you know, pump up more and more faith into us and get more and more belief into our hearts and minds and bodies. Actually, it was the opposite. The walk of faith for the Puritans was a simple, childlike reception of whatever God said in His Word, so that if God said He listened to prayer, you just believe that. If God said that He was good, you just believed that, and therefore you walked through life with the understanding that the Good Shepherd was carrying you and when this life came to its end, you were in God's presence eternally with no more darkness or tears and all healing complete. And that knowledge would be so profound that it would give you strength and joy for this life in every situation that you would face.
And that's – I don't want prayer to be this great mystery. I just want people to be like children coming before God and saying, "Lord, I'm asking you as the Good Shepherd to do what's best in my life." So how do husbands and wives do that? Well, you know what I think is the most profound prayer that my wife and I have made for our children, and we have prayed this night after night after night through our children's lives. We haven't said, "Lord, never let them have a disease." We don't want that, and we certainly have prayed for their health, and we've had children with serious health problems that we've prayed for healing. Sometimes we have seen it; sometimes we have not.
We have always prayed that they would find a Christian spouse, and we have prayed for that for our children. Two are now married, and they are married to Christian spouses. And the fact that we prayed for over 20 years for that to occur does not mean that it was a prayer that God was not honoring quickly or not listening to. No, He wanted to build faith in us. He wanted to have us, over the course of time, to express our confidence in Him, and then He has wonderfully blessed by providing Christian spouses for our children. We've got two more to go, so we'll see how the Lord works in their lives. But we come with confidence.
Now, what does it mean to pray in faith, to pray believing, because what I was taught as a child was you are to cast all doubt out of your mind. Now, I'd think how do you do that? I mean, if I say to you right now, for the next three minutes do not think of pink elephants. Do not think of it, now do not think – are you – wait, wait – how can you tell me not to think of it. I'm going to think of it. So when someone says, "Don't even let any thought come into your brain that somehow this prayer that you are offering might not occur. I don't know how to do that. In fact, I don't see that in the Scriptures that that kind of faith is being offered.
Our faith is not in the correctness of our prayer, our faith is in the wisdom of our God, and He has told me that when I do not know what to pray, He is going to provide what is lacking in my wisdom out of His own. So I will pray for healing, but I will know it may be God's will at time to take someone to Himself. I will pray for a better job, but I know God may need to build faith in me by not giving me the job I think I want to provide what is better for me.
Now, listen, both of you have been down paths in life that you thought the Lord wanted you to go in a certain direction, but it didn't work out, and you found out He had a better direction for you. I think of all these accounts of the September 11 tragedy; of the people who were going to work that day and, you know, a child got sick so they didn't get to work on time, or a flat tire occurred, and people who were Christians, who were praying, "Oh, Lord, please don't let me have this problem today," but what God meant was for them not to get to that building, the World Trade Center that day. And God had a better plan than their prayer. Their confidence was not in the correctness of their prayer, their confidence was in the goodness of their God, and that's what takes the mystery out of prayer – thinking somehow I've got to have this magical view into the will of God and pray according to it so He'll answer.
Instead saying no, no, God is saying when you pray with faith in Him, that you do pray according to His will. He will bring His will into your prayer.
Dennis: And so as we apply this to marriage and families, I just want to summarize here and encourage husbands and wives to not lose heart in praying. Prayer, as you've said, is an opportunity to engage God around what is happening in His plan, in His kingdom, as He is at work. And we can either be a part of that through prayer, or we can be observers. And, personally, I've played basketball, and I've also been in the stands watching basketball, and I would much prefer, if I had the body again, to play basketball and be on the court engaging in the game. And I think when God commands us to pray, He knows our weakness. He knows we're going to run into dead-end streets where we don't get the answer we thought or that we deserved or that we wanted, and we are left to look through the eyes of faith in Scripture and to the character of God saying, you know what? Did God stop being good? The answer is "no." Is God still in charge? The answer is "yes."
Now, I may not feel like it, the circumstances may not look like it, but the reality is He is God; we're not, and we've got to trust Him.
Bob: And, ultimately, I think, if our prayers are going to be different then our thinking has to be different. We have to have our thinking about prayer shaped by what God's Word has to say to us about that discipline of prayer and how God wants to use it in our lives, and, Bryan, I think you've done us all a service in that regard with the book you've written called "Praying Backwards." Again, the subtitle of the book is "Transforming Your Prayer Life by Beginning Your Prayers 'In Jesus' Name.'"
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center along with a book that you and Barbara wrote, Dennis, for couples on praying together called "Two Hearts Praying as One," and other resources that are available on the subject of prayer. Let me encourage you to go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen, and that will take you to a page where there is more information about all of the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife about prayer including Bryan Chapell's book and the book I mentioned by Dennis and Barbara. And if you order both of those books together this week, we will send you at no additional cost the CD of our conversation with Bryan Chapell.
Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the "Go" button at the bottom of the screen. That will take you right to a page where you can get more information about these resources or order online, if you'd like. Or if it's simpler, just call us at 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY and mention that you'd like the resources you heard us talking about on prayer, and someone can help get your order all set up and get these resources out to you.
Just a few days ago, we had a chance to feature on FamilyLife Today some of the programs that our listeners told us were some of their favorites during the year 2005, and one of the programs we featured was from a series that we did with Emerson Eggerich. He wrote the book, "Love and Respect," and our week-long conversation with him on that subject really resonated with our listeners.
During the month of January, for those listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we would like to send you, as a thank-you gift, the two-CD set that features our week-long series of programs with Emerson Eggerich on the subject of his book, "Love and Respect," and I've talked to some couples who have said this material is something that God used to unlock some things in their marriage.
You can make a donation online at FamilyLife.com. If you do that, when you get to the keycode box, we need you to enter a word, and you can take your pick – either "Love" or "Respect," enter either one, just so that we know that you'd like a copy of the CDs featuring Dr. Eggerich. Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation and, when you do, mention that you'd like the CDs, and we'll get those sent out to you as well. And thanks, again, for your financial support of this ministry. We appreciate you standing with us and partnering with us in the work of FamilyLife Today.
Well, tomorrow we're going to talk about something very difficult, something very courageous, something very bold that a husband can invite his wife to do, and that is to join him in prayer. We'll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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