Series: Don’t waste your waiting! (Part 2)

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry. (Ps 40:1).

At this moment I am praying for several situations and people that I care about deeply. Like the Psalmist, I am waiting for the Lord and asking Him to intervene. I am not certain of the outcomes, but I do know that God does not want me to waste my waiting by becoming fretful, fearful, or impatient. Godly waiting involves persistent, expectant prayer, as well as trusting God’s answer when it isn’t the answer we long for. Even if delay appears senseless or painful, God has a purpose for everything that he allows in our lives. Waiting for the Lord is good!

In last week’s devotion, Don’t waste your waiting, we ended with three practical steps we can take in the waiting room. Today we will camp on the first step:

Pray expectantly.

Prayer is a peculiar privilege and gift that God gives to every Christian. By ‘peculiar’, I don’t mean strange, but rather distinctive and special. Some view prayer as a formal or mystical experience, whereas the Bible describes it as speaking sincerely to God, through Christ who has given us access. It is one of the wonderful blessings of our adoption into God’s family. As Jesus said, our Father is ready to give good gifts “to those who ask him” (Matt 7:11; Luke 11:11-13).

When the Lord taught his disciples to pray to God, he told them to address him saying, “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6:9). Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matt 6:6). Prayer is not babbling or mindless repetition (Matt 6:7). We do not have to rehearse our prayers before they are perfect enough for God and others to hear, because prayer and pretentiousness do not belong in the same sentence (Matt 6:5).

God has designed prayer as an everyday “means of intimate and joyous fellowship between God and man,” a sweet communion every Christian can enjoy whether we are outgoing or shy, eloquent or faltering with words. Prayer is simply opening our hearts and speaking sincerely to God. “Prayer is the breath of the soul, the organ by which we receive Christ into our parched and withered hearts” (O’ Hallesby).

Because of the relationship with our heavenly Father, we have no need to become anxious about our daily needs, for “your Father knows that you need them” (Luke 12:29-30). What wonderful words of comfort Jesus spoke immediately afterwards: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Since God eagerly delights to share the fullness of the kingdom itself with us, it makes perfect sense to pray expectant, hopeful prayers. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence that the Creator of the universe is our heavenly Father, eager to hear our requests and bless us from his generous provision. We can pray patiently, as we wait on our powerful, wise Father to act for our ultimate good and his glory.

Devoted to prayer.

One of the most striking features of the book of Acts is the early church’s devotion to prayer (Acts 2:42). These first century believers recognised that they could not survive a single day without God’s wisdom and help (James 1:5). Hence, believers were marked by a persistent commitment to pray corporately, throwing themselves on the providential care and power of God (Acts 1:14, 24; 4:24-31).

Our needs are no different today. If a church congregation or life group does not commune with the Lord through prayer, both individually and corporately, we will be spiritually weak and apathetic. That’s why the Bible calls us to pray fervently, expectantly, constantly and without doubting (Luke 18:1; Eph 6:18; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17; James 1:6-8).

Constant in prayer.

In Romans 12:12, Paul summarizes the Christian life in the soil of this troubled world: “Rejoicing in hope, patient in affliction, constant in prayer.” This is a powerful triad to orientate us in the waiting room of life.

In the context of chapter 12, the joy, hope, and patient prayers of a believer are rooted in our union with Jesus. It is only because Christ carried our sin on the cross that a believer can be constant in prayer, knowing that God hears and cares for us (Matthew 6:6-13).

Jesus himself was constant in prayer. His own dying words were prayers to his Father, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Christ prayed to his Father until his final breath.

You may be relieved to know that the Greek word translated as “constant” does not mean a 24/7 prayer marathon! Being constant simply means being faithful, persistent and persevering in prayer. Paul is calling us to be devoted and habitual in talking to God, not random or occasional.

We cannot be constant in prayer if we are a prisoner to our emotions, praying only when we feel like it. If we choose to pray to God regularly, our feelings eventually follow. Prayer will always be crowded out by noisier demands and distractions unless we plan our time and place to pray.

John Piper fleshes out Romans 12:2:

“God is, of course, available any time. And he loves to help any time. But he is dishonoured when we do not make time in our day to give him focused attention. All relationships suffer without regular focused attention. Paul is calling all of us to a life of regular, planned meetings with God in prayer in which we praise him for who he is, and thank him for what he has done, and ask him for help, and plead the cause of those we love, including the peoples of the world.”

I love the ACTS acronym I was taught as a teenager by Youth for Christ, as it guards against me-centred prayers:

A–Acknowledge God.

C–Confess your sin.

T–Thanksgiving.

S–Supplication (Ask).

When we ask, we can expect that God will answer.

Habakkuk’s expectant prayers.

In around 600BC, a prophet called Habakkuk poured out his heart to God in prayer about the intensifying evils he saw in the southern kingdom of Judah. He could not understand why a just and powerful God would allow evil people to get away with their unjust and violent crimes for so long. He was waiting for God to act and bring about justice in his nation.

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

And you will not hear?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

And you will not save?” (Hab 1:2)

Habakkuk prayed to the Lord for the whole of chapter 1. Then he headed for the lookout tower to watch for an answer to his questions.

I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (Hab 2:1).

A lookout tower is a powerful image of expectancy. It is the place where a watchman would peer into the distance, waiting and watching for whoever was approaching the city. Habakkuk knew that God alone had the answers and he wanted to be prepared to listen to His message.

In his book, Fear to Faith, Martin Lloyd Jones writes: “If we pray to God, we must expect answers to our prayers. Do we in fact, after we have prayed, continue to look to God and eagerly await the answer? Are we like this man, Habakkuk, on his watchtower, expecting it to come at any moment?”

But God’s answers to Habakkuk were not exactly what he had hoped for. The Lord says that He is raising up Babylon, an even more cruel and wicked nation, to take the faithless Israelites into captivity (Hab 1:5-6). After three long chapters of wrestling in prayer, Habakkuk chooses to rejoice in God and wait for Him to act, no matter what. He ends with a powerful prayer of surrender to a sovereign, faithful God. This is a prayer worth memorizing! It is a patient and expectant prayer.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines…
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Wait patiently for the Lord.

In an age of distraction and instant gratification, we can learn from Habakkuk’s expectant and steadfast prayers, especially when God’s answers were different from what he hoped for.

Do we watch and wait for our prayers to be answered, or forget prayer requests at the back of a journal?

Do we trust in the wisdom of God’s answer, whether it is Yes, no, or wait?

Are we sceptical that God can and does bring good out of difficulties? We can’t receive what we don’t even believe (James 1:6-8).

When we pray, God is doing a good work within us. We may not always like or understand his answers. We may not see his answer immediately, often not for a long time. But let us remain “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, constant in prayer” even when God’s answers seem delayed. God’s timing might be slower than we’d like, but He is powerfully at work even when things seem completely out of control or hopeless.

Prayer from Psalm 40.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Listen to “As the Deer”, a prayer inspired by Psalm 42.

Helpful Books on Prayer:

O’ Hallesby, Prayer. 1948, IVP.

Sarah Ivill, The God who Hears: How the story of the Bible shapes our prayers. Reformation Heritage books

Phillip Yancey, Prayer: Does it make any difference?

J.C Ryle, Do you pray? Banner of Truth booklet.

James and Joel Beeke, Developing a Healthy Prayer Life. Reformation Heritage Books.

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