Prayer is how we as Christians draw close to God as well as a necessary condition for us to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened and illuminated by God. If we genuinely pray to God, and understand the principles and practices of prayer, when we encounter difficulties or dilemmas in our life, we’ll be able to face them in a relaxed way.
How can Christians gain the work of the Holy Spirit and face life’s challenges with ease? Through prayer and seeking, reading God’s words, and consulting relevant scripture passages, I’ve recently found some ways.
1. Sincere Prayers Can Bring a Turnaround
Jehovah God said, “Then shall you call on Me, and you shall go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12). God has clearly told us that as long as we genuinely call out to Him in prayer, He will help us through difficult times. There are many stories recorded in the Bible of situations turning around and problems being resolved through prayer. For example, when Joshua led the Israelites into war with the Amorites, he prayed to Jehovah God and God heard his prayer and fought for the Israelites. Ultimately, the Amorites were defeated (See Joshua 10:1–14). And there were the Ninevites, who became corrupt and wicked to a point that offended God’s disposition, but when the prophet Jonah communicated God’s warning to them, they put on sackcloth and ashes, and fasted and prayed for 40 days, as well as fully gave up their evil ways within their hearts. When God saw the Ninevites truly repent, He showed them compassion and allowed them to continue to live (See Jonah 3). Another story takes place after the nation of Israel collapsed; Jews in foreign lands were framed by an evil nobleman and were in danger of being killed. In this crisis Esther guided her fellow Jewish people to fast and pray for three days and three nights and willingly risked death to go see the king. Jehovah heard their prayers and ultimately the evil man was put to death. The Jewish people avoided a major catastrophe. In that foreign land they also escaped becoming slaves and gained others’ respect and kindness (See Esther 3–8). We can see from these events that when we genuinely look to God and offer up sincere prayers to Him, unimaginable things can occur.
2. Reasons We Can’t Gain the Holy Spirit’s Work Through Our Prayers
Perhaps some brothers and sisters will say, “We also pray to God when we’re faced with difficulties, but after praying for a while there’s still no resolution. It just seems like God doesn’t hear our prayers.” God is a faithful God, and as long as we sincerely pray to Him, He will listen. If our prayers are not accepted by God it is certain that there is a problem with our prayers. At times like that we should immediately come before God and reflect upon the reason our prayers were not in line with God’s will, then seek out the proper path. Below we’ve concisely shared a few reasons we can’t gain the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
a. When We Pray Are We Genuinely Calling Out to God?
Much of the time, because we lack genuine knowledge of God’s almighty rule, when we encounter difficulties in life in our hearts, we are relying on ourselves and those around us even though we’re paying lip service to prayer and entrusting things to God. That kind of prayer is just doing things for the sake of appearance, and that’s why God’s unlikely to hear it. For example, there’s a sister in a church—there was a loan her family had taken out that had to be paid back soon, and the principal and interest totaled more than $70,250.00. They had just three days to pay it back, otherwise they’d be taken to court. In the face of this difficulty, even though she prayed to God she never felt totally sure within her heart. She and her husband rushed around making use of their connections, borrowing money anywhere they could, but they couldn’t collect enough. In her anxiety and helplessness, this sister came before God and genuinely prayed and called out to God, plus she sought out God’s will within His words. By reading God’s words she understood that everything is in His hands, God had His time for when the loan would be repaid, and that she should leave it in God’s hands and obey His rule and arrangements. Once she shifted her attitude and genuinely relied on God, becoming willing to obey His rule and arrangements, a tenant staying in her house took the initiative to seek her out and pay a year’s worth of rent as well as lend her some money. In the end, that family crisis was miraculously averted. She understood God’s will from that and saw that although she believed in God, she had never understood Him. When trouble was on the horizon, even though she had prayed to God, that was just going through the motions. The reality was that she was still trying to rely on her own thinking and capabilities to deal with it. She hadn’t been able to feel and experience God’s rule in that kind of environment, and as a result she became someone who claimed to believe in God, but didn’t have a place for God in her heart. God had allowed that environment to come upon her so that she would learn to truly rely on God and experience His work in a very real way. It was so that she could gain true understanding of God’s almighty rule, and really trust Him in future challenges.
It’s clear that what we as humans invest and work hard on does not determine a matter’s outcome, but everything is decided by God’s rule. It’s just as Jehovah God said in the Bible, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). God says, “Sometimes, looking to God doesn’t mean asking God to do something using specific words, or asking Him for specific guidance or protection. Rather, it is that when people encounter some issue, they are able to call on Him sincerely. So, what is God doing there when people call on Him? When someone’s heart stirs and they have this thought: ‘Oh God, I can’t do this myself, I don’t know how to do it, and I feel weak and negative,’ when these thoughts arise in them, does God not know about it? When these thoughts arise in people, are their hearts sincere? When they call on God sincerely in this way, does God assent to help them? Despite the fact that they may not have spoken a word, they show sincerity, and so God assents to help them. When someone encounters an especially thorny difficulty, when they have no one to turn to, and when they feel particularly helpless, they put their only hope in God. What are their prayers like? What is their state of mind? Are they sincere? Is there any adulteration at that time? It is only when you trust God as though He were the last straw that you clutch onto to save your life, hoping that He will help you, that your heart is sincere. Though you may not have said much, your heart has already stirred. That is, you give your sincere heart to God, and God listens. When God listens, He sees your difficulties, and He will enlighten you, guide you, and help you” (“Believers First Need to See Through the Evil Trends of the World”).
By carefully reading God’s words we can see that a turnaround in an event is a true embodiment of God’s almighty rule. Because God is the Creator, and He rules over all things and has everything in His grasp, with Him, all things are possible. Just like when Joshua went to war with the five Amorite kings (the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon), he was facing a great enemy army, so he genuinely prayed and called out to Jehovah God. God heard his prayer and was with the Israelites, causing the Amorite army to collapse and descend into chaos in the face of the Israelites. Ultimately, Joshua led his people to victory over the Amorites. We can see from this that when we encounter difficulties, we must pray and call out to God with a genuine heart and a sincere attitude, telling Him what our deficiencies and difficulties are and seeking His will, enlightenment, and guidance. God’s Spirit can see into all things; if He sees that we are genuine, He will give us faith and strength, and guide us to resolve our difficulties and problems.
b. Are Our Prayers Reasonable and Obedient?
We all think that since we believe in God, no matter what we’re lacking, what we need, or what hardships we encounter, as long as we pray and call out to God, He will agree to our requests. We think of God as a cornucopia, as a treasure chest; whatever our requests, they will be met. For example, when we’re in school, we ask for God to grant us with intelligence and wisdom so that we can do well on our tests and get good grades; when looking for work, we ask God to arrange for us to get a good position and allow us to earn a good income without too much effort; when looking for a partner, we ask God to help us find a good second half so that we can have a happy family; when someone in our family falls ill or something unexpected happens, we ask God even more for God’s care and protection, and that He may do away with that hardship as soon as possible. We ask God to protect our family from illness and disaster so that everything at home is peaceful and goes smoothly. We always pray to God this way, but are our prayers in line with His will?
God’s words say, “Some people take the wrong position when they pray, and regardless of whether it conforms with God’s will or not, they demand God to bestow what they ask for upon them. As a result, the more they pray the duller it becomes. When praying, whatever your heart asks for and desires, or when you wish to take care of some matters that you don’t fully understand you ask God for wisdom, strength, or enlightenment, you must be reasonable in the way you speak. If you are unreasonable, and you kneel and say: ‘God, give me power and let me see my nature; I ask You to do it. I ask You to give me this or that, I ask You to let me be like this or like that….’ this word ‘ask’ carries an element of force, and is like exerting pressure on God to make Him do it. Moreover, you predetermine your own matters. The Holy Spirit sees such prayers as: Since you have predetermined it yourself, and you want to do it that way, what will be the outcome of this kind of prayer? … When you come to the presence of God to pray, you must think about how to speak reasonably and think about what to say to be able to turn your inner condition into piety. Humble yourself, then say a prayer and you will feel something” (“The Significance and Practice of Prayer”).
God is the Lord of creation—He is the Creator and the Ruler of all things in the entire universe, while we human beings are just miniscule little created beings. Although we’ve been elevated by God and have come before Him, receiving His watering and shepherding, our status is still that of corrupt humanity. So when we pray, we should stand in the position of a created being and simply share our difficulties with God, asking Him to take care of it as He wills. We can’t just blindly make demands of God, ask Him to act according to our own will, to satisfy our extravagant fleshly desires. If we don’t know our own place but instead always make unreasonable demands of Him, constantly demanding grace and blessings from Him, and when He does grant us what we ask for, we thank and praise God, but the moment conditions aren’t as we wish, we blame God or even try to reason with Him, then isn’t that incredibly arrogant and unreasonable? It’s just like a child who never cares for or is considerate of their parents, never fulfills the duties and responsibilities of a child, but just always demands items from them. The moment their parents don’t totally meet their demands they blame and rebuke them. Their parents would certainly say that that child is lacking a conscience, and they wouldn’t be pleased with them. Likewise, when we come before the Creator, if we lack an attitude of piety, always asking God for this, demanding that, we certainly won’t bring God joy, and He will not accept our prayers.
This is why we should come before God in prayer and seeking with a heart of reverence when we’re faced with difficulties. No matter what the final outcome is, we have to stand in the position of a created being and submit to God’s rule and arrangements. We cannot complain to God. This is the only kind of prayer that is accepted by God.
c. Is the Content of Our Prayers in Line With God’s Will?
We often pray to God for things of the flesh, like good food, clothing, and material enjoyment. For example, sometimes we pray for God to bless us so that we earn more money and get rich; sometimes we pray for our children to get into a good university so that they can get ahead in life and bring honor to the family; sometimes we pray for safety and success at work for us and our families. But have we ever thought about whether God approves of these kinds of prayers? The Lord Jesus once taught us, “Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? or, what shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:31–32). We can understand from the Lord Jesus’ words that always making requests of God for things of the flesh—what we eat and what we wear—is meaningless. That’s because God already knows what our physical needs are, and He has already prepared everything for us. Fleshly concerns such as food, clothing, and pleasures are all temporary. No matter how much we enjoy these things, it doesn’t mean that we’ve gained God’s approval, and it particularly doesn’t mean that we have gained life. On the contrary, if we’re always focused on material enjoyments, our heart will move further and further from God, we’ll become more and more depraved, and if it’s serious, we’ll incite God’s disgust. It’s just like Solomon in the Bible—in his twilight years he became wealthier and wealthier and enjoyed boundless prosperity, but the more comfortable he was, the more depraved he became. He was living in nonstop licentiousness, eating and drinking to excess, and he acquired over a thousand concubines and even engaged in idolatry along with a Gentile woman. In the end, he was spurned by God.
So then what should we pray about to gain the work of the Holy Spirit? This is what the Lord Jesus had to teach us about that: “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). “After this manner therefore pray you: Our Father which are in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9–13).
God’s words say, “And what about the content of prayer? Your prayer should proceed step by step, in line with the true state of your heart and the work of the Holy Spirit; you come to commune with God in accordance with His will and with what He requires of man. … You say: ‘O God! I am willing to fulfill my duty. Only to You do I consecrate my whole being, so that You may be glorified in us, so that You may enjoy the testimony borne by this group of us. I beg You to work in us, so that I may become able to truly love You and satisfy You and pursue You as my goal.’ As you take on this burden, God will surely make you perfect. You should not pray only for your own benefit, but you should pray also in order to follow God’s will and to love Him. This is the truest kind of prayer” (“Concerning the Practice of Prayer”).
God’s words are very clear. As Christians, we should pray for God’s gospel to spread to every corner of the universe, for more people to come before God very soon, for God’s will to be carried out in the world. We should also pray that we may seek and understand God’s will through His words and gain true understanding of Him; we should pray that we may someday soon cast off the shackles of sinfulness and no longer live in the cycle of sinning and confessing. Our prayers should be to welcome the Lord’s return, to be considerate of God’s will, to truly love and satisfy God, and to repay His love. All of these sorts of prayers gain God’s approval. For example, David’s greatest lifelong wish was to build a temple for God so that the common people of Israel could come before God and worship Him. He sincerely prayed to God for this and made all sorts of preparations to build the temple. Because his prayers were in line with God’s will, God granted David’s request, and later on David’s son Solomon successfully had the temple erected. Clearly, when our prayers conform to God’s will, when they are genuine, God will grant them. In addition, this will allow us to establish a proper relationship with God, we will gain faith and strength from Him, develop genuine obedience and love for Him, and become someone in accord with God’s will.
Brothers and sisters, I trust that from this fellowship you’ve gained some understanding of the importance of prayer, reasons we can’t gain the Holy Spirit’s work through our prayers, and how to pray in accord with God’s will. When we encounter difficulties in life, as long as we come before God more in seeking, we are certain to reap a harvest we’ve never imagined. And as far as our spiritual lives go, if we consciously pray and make requests in line with God’s will and requirements, He will certainly guide and enlighten us.
May God bless us with the ability to enter into our practice of prayer in a more practical way. Amen!