(Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash)
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer...
1 Peter 3:12
The New Year is often a time to recommit to doing what you used to do but for one reason or another have stopped. You’ve meant to, and the beginning of a new year is the motivating factor you need. Take advantage of it!
We all know that the motivation and excitement of starting something new or recommitting to something old just because it's a new year quickly wear off though. Life returns to normal after the holidays, and the kids go back to school. You fall back into old patterns of behavior you had just decided to change. The cold weather and lack of sunshine give you cabin fever, and you begin to dream about mowing the lawn again. Well, maybe not mowing the lawn, but at least being outdoors. The re-commitment you made in January seems like a distant memory.
Life is like that! Full of ups and downs, and beginning agains. Embrace it! Instead of feeling shame as often happens, accept that you will start some things and then fail to follow through. Guilt is a tool of the enemy intended to take you out of the game. Don't let the enemy win! As a believer, you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, and that is more awesome than you realize. Rely on His strength and power!
I used to live in shame a lot. I would stay away from God and often blame Him. I would go as far as to tell Him I was angry and didn't want to be with Him. Several days or weeks would go by, and I would keep my distance. I kept going to church and saying the right things, but inside I was broken. Eventually, I would return to God because I missed Him. Not once did I feel like I couldn't. Not once did God strike me as angry or distant. He was always there waiting. He was always ready to let me back in!
The difference between me and our prodigals is I always returned, and they still haven't. Instead, they broke up with God. They convinced themselves they didn't need Him. The enemy used shame, disappointment, rebellion, anger, fear, pride, or some other sin to take them away and has succeeded in keeping them away. Down deep, they may still blame God for something, or maybe they just can't see past their own logic. The good news is God has not broken up with them. He is not angry, and He isn't holding a grudge. The day they return, God will be like the father in the story of the prodigal son. He will see them while they are still far off and come running. He will embrace them and throw them a party. God, their Father, will accept them back easily and completely. They will not be asked to give an account of all the wrong things they did nor will they have to grovel. The act of returning involves humility and repentance and that is what God is waiting for. His love is pure and unselfish.
If that is the way God sees our prodigals, and it's the way He sees us when we distant ourselves, then we have nothing to fear. If we have gotten away from praying for our prodigals, forget about feeling guilty or ashamed. Just return and start again. Don't explain yourself or excuse yourself, just start praying again. And then again the next time it happens. Know that God is waiting lovingly and expectantly saying, "Welcome back, child!" If you do not feel the discouragement that comes from waiting, or the drudgery of praying for the same thing again and again, praise God. You are blessed! Encourage others and understand that not everyone feels the way you do.
I just wrote a blog on Anna, the prophetess. She was a widow who spent all her time worshiping God, praying and fasting. The more time you spend living this way, the easier it will be to persist and wait. God can also give you the grace to persevere under trial. Anna had a singleness of devotion to God that not many have. Most people can't live that type of life because their attention is divided by many things. And there is nothing wrong with that. Paul said if one can live single, they can focus on the affairs of God, and even though he thought it was better to live like that, he knew it wasn't realistic for most people (1 Cor 7:32-35).
So, you can't live the life Anna lived? No problem! But that doesn't excuse you from praying for your prodigal. Decide in your heart the difficulty of persisting is worth it; that when discouragement sets in, you will push through. When you wonder what difference your prayers make, you will challenge your thinking with what God's Word says in James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." You will remind yourself that the reason the parable of the persistent widow is told is to show believers they should always pray and never give up (Luke 18:1) and you will think about the love you have for your prodigal and that love itself perseveres (1 Cor 13:7).
Next, find what works for you. Does praying while you are driving work? Or a more extended time while out for a walk? Or as a part of your daily quiet time with God? How about while you are laying in bed waiting to fall asleep? These are a few of the ways that work for me. You may have other ways that work better for you. Find them and do them! Some people have more time to set aside for an extended time in prayer for prodigals. That's wonderful! We will only persist in prayer if we stay engaged with what is important to us. Once we let feelings of defeat or discouragement set in, our ability to keep praying will fizzle. Our motivation will be gone. Know this is going to be a tactic of the enemy and take your stand. How will you fight against the devil and win? By being ready! Remember, you have the Holy Spirit, and He is more powerful than your negative thoughts and the enemy's schemes. You have all the power you need at your disposal at all times. Take advantage of what is yours!
Know I am praying for you because I understand the temptation to give up or live in feelings of discouragement. I am right there with you. I can be full of confidence one day and the next, feeling like what's the use? But I will not let the enemy win this year! I am recommitting to praying more intentionally in 2019!