I hope you all enjoyed the first installment of my prayer blog series called “Prayer: Rules of Engagement”. Ultimately prayer is having an interaction with God, however, I shared that there are many “kinds” of prayer to be used under different circumstances.  Whether it be the prayer of petition or the prayer of thanksgiving, each prayer is directed towards our heavenly Father.

The most common prayer is the prayer of petition.  A common definition of petition is, a request made for something desired, especially a respectful or humble request, as to a superior or to one of those in authority; a supplication or prayer: a petition for aid; a petition to God for courage and strength. something that is sought by request or entreaty: to receive one’s full petition.

It is this type of prayer that believers in Jesus, as well as practitioners of other faiths, consider the most common definition of “prayer”. A petition can be summed up in one simple action: asking. It seems like such a simple thing to do.  The frame of mind for asking is necessary to consider.

Matthew 6:7-8  (NASB) And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

shutterstock_394893160Think about that last phrase.  Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  I remember as a young child, hearing this scripture as the lead in for what most Christians call the “Lord’s Prayer” or Jesus’ teaching on how we should approach prayer.  The first key point is to know ahead of time that you are praying to a person that knows your needs before you ask. The second point is to understand that you are praying to your Father.

We have to ask. Asking may seem obvious, however, it becomes less obvious when you find out the person you are asking from already knows what you need before you ask!

1 John 5:14-15 (NASB) This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

It should be of great comfort to pray to a God who already knows what you need before you ask him.  As a dad myself, when I anticipate a need for one of my children, I start planning ahead of time to get what they need.  With that in mind, I believe we can be confident that God is already working out how to get our needs met before we ask. At least, that is what a good father would do.    

I believe it was Jesus’ intent was to give us the confidence to pray because we know that God knows our needs before we ask AND God is our Father.  However, if you live in this world of broken families long enough, you quickly come to find out that telling someone that you are praying to a “father” doesn’t necessarily instill confidence in the children.  

Most Christians take for granted the Bible’s revelation that God is our Father.  What we do not always grasp is that he is always a good Father. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. (James 1:17) To be told to pray to their Father would have been new and different for people in Jesus’ era. Their opinion of God was that he was a stern being who kept track of all of the things that they did wrong. To consider God as their father would have been too familiar and disrespectful. Their learned version of God didn’t make him approachable and when they did approach Him, they were very aware of their previous wrongdoings.

One day I pondered what in my own faith experience gave me confidence in my Father. I realized that it was knowing that I am forgiven and that I have what I’ll call, for the sake of this post, “eternal forgiveness”.

It was my original intention to talk about the rule of engagement for “asking”, but I thought I would be getting a little ahead of myself if I didn’t take the time to address how we should ask.  What I mean by ‘how’ is the state of mind that allows us to ask.  God wants you to come to him asking with confidence! Have you ever whispered a prayer but you were nervous and you asked with little confidence and a lot of fear?  

Here are a few scriptures that will help explain what I mean to convey.

James 5:13-15  Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

What I love about this passage is that there are clear commandments.  If you are suffering…pray. If you are cheerful…sing praises. If you are sick..call the elders and get anointed with oil. All of that is very exciting. Then there is the little tag on the end.  If the person who is sick has committed any sins, they will be forgiven!! If I were the leader of a church and I was having a class on how to minister to those who are sick, I would have to include the fact that the person who is sick needs to know that their sins are forgiven. It doesn’t say, if the sick person asks for the forgiveness of sins, let him know he is forgiven. It says to let the sick person who asks for prayer know first that his sins are forgiven.   

This reminds me of when Jesus was ministering healing to the paralyzed man.  Before he declares healing to the man he says “your sins are forgiven”. (Matthew 9:5; Mark 2:5) Guess what? The paralyzed man never asked for forgiveness!  He just wanted to be healed. Why would Jesus tell him that his sins are forgiven?  Why would Jesus forgive without someone asking for forgiveness? I personally believe it is for the sake of the receiver.  I believe the paralyzed man needed to know that he was forgiven in order to receive the manifestation of his healing. One famous example of “eternal forgiveness” came on the cross of Calvary.  Just before Jesus died on the cross, he prays these fantastic words:

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)  Again, no one was asking for forgiveness from Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. He gave it freely and willingly.  Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can be one-sided. It’s very different from reconciliation. Reconciliation is: the restoration of friendly relations. Synonyms for reconciliation are reuniting or bringing together.

Why does God forgive?  Have you ever thought of that?  He is the standard. He doesn’t HAVE to forgive. Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.

God forgives sins FOR HIS OWN sake?  What?! God has never sinned. What does it mean for God to forgive for his own sake?

Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull. That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

Our sins separate us from God.  Therefore if God forgives our sins then no longer can anything separate us from God.  That is HUGE! I think as Christians we often misunderstand how God feels about a person who sins.  We somehow believe from the Isaiah 59 scripture, that God is repulsed by the sinner, but Biblical history says that is not the case.   

When Adam and Eve bit the fruit from the forbidden tree and caused all of humankind, plants, and animals to be cursed, what did God do?   He looked for them. Yes, he pronounced the consequences of their disobedience but he also gave mankind a promise that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpent’s heel, speaking of Jesus’ eventual defeat of Satan. Mankind is propelled to leave God because of sin; not the other way around. Since the time of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God has been reaching out to mankind. God forgave our sins for his own sake so that he can win our back our hearts.  The separation is on our end and not his. God’s love for us and his forgiveness is never-ending.

We find a telling story of a time when Jesus is meeting with the religious leaders of the community.  Without warning, they have an uninvited guest who is a woman who is known by the community as a “sinner”.   She then proceeds to wipe Jesus feet with her tears. Here is what the religious leaders say about Jesus. “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”  The religious leaders wanted Jesus to shun this woman, who was a sinner.   In fact, he does just the opposite. He tells a story.

Luke 7:41-42; 47-48  “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty and when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”….Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

These religious leaders had no awareness of their great need of forgiveness.  This woman approached Jesus and loved him. Jesus said to her in her sinful state,  ‘Your sins are forgiven”. Again, there isn’t any indication that she asked for forgiveness.  He gave it willingly. That is God’s heart toward mankind.

Therefore the next time you pray and you are worried about “your sinfulness”, I want you to remember that God is already wanting to forgive you. You can have confidence.  Here are two scriptures for you meditate upon:

Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

While we were God’s enemies and sinners God demonstrated his love for us so that we would never have to fear His wrath again.  God loves his enemies! But he didn’t want us to remain enemies. He reconciled us and saved us. If you are God’s child, you have nothing to fear.

Hebrews 4:14-16 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

When you pray and ask, you are coming to a throne of grace not the throne of condemnation. When you are feeling least confident when you say a prayer of petition,  remember God has forgiveness waiting for you before you ask. He understands our weakness. Ask what you need from your kind heavenly Father who is planning answers to your needs before you ask.