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The Metrics of faith…

January 31, 2009

I’ve been giving some thought to prayer lately, especially after what felt like rambling last night. I talked about intercessory prayer, and how if you pray that God will raise up someone to love those seemingly forgotten ones, someone to intercede for them, you are the answer to your own prayer. I really believe that, but I had a hard time expressing why I believe that, coming up with Biblical support for it. But as I lay in bed, talking it over with John, I think I found the answer I was looking for.

You see, being an answer to your own prayer is a matter of metrics, just as works are a matter of metrics. No, I’m not talking meters versus feet, here, but rather a means of measuring and quantifying your faith. I bet you didn’t think you could measure or quantify your faith, did you? We tend to think of measuring as belonging to the scientific world, and as faith as its own thing, completely separate and divorced from science. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think God wants it that way. Still… I’m in danger of going off on this whole faith versus science tangent, and that’s not what I want for today, so let me get back on track.

There’s this entire discussion of faith versus works, as if the two are diametrically opposed, as if they are polar opposites. I think instead one is the measure of the other. That faith is proved by works. I don’t do good things in a desperate attempt to earn my way into heaven, or as a means of proving that I’m somehow adequate to receive what I’ve been given. That’s the “works” philosophy of salvation. Instead, we are given an extravagant gift, something so exceedingly beyond anything we could ever possibly earn. Faith says that we accept that somehow, the God who created the universe, condescended to His creation. Faith says that we accept that God wants a relationship with His creation, and that He wants it enough that He would condescend to provide the way to make it happen Himself.

OK, so if God does all the work of salvation, then how do our works come back into it? How can our works prove our faith if faith gives us a gift far beyond anything we could earn? Works are a measurement of our faith. Our gratitude for what we’ve been given is demonstrated by the good things we do. We don’t do them to earn our way into heaven or to prove our merit… rather, they are a demonstration, a measurement of our faith in God and what He’s provided for us.

Have you wrapped your brain around that? Great. (If not, chew on it for a bit, and then try this next bit out). If works serve as a measurement of our faith, then the same could be said of being the answer to our own prayers and praying in the will of God. (Stay with me here, folks. I promise, I’ll make sense in a minute). You see, prayer is just a discussion between us and God. Any discussion… whether that’s a rant in anger at Him, a desperate plea for help, a wordless cry of pain, or a long involved discussion. Those are all prayers. And just as in discussions between people on earth, folks you can see and touch more easily than you can God, some conversations make more sense than others… they go more “smoothly” than others. Have you ever thought of measuring the success of a conversation? How would you do that? Maybe… maybe you could know that a conversation had been successful if the other person did something you were asking of them. That might be a good measurement. For instance, if I asked someone to raise their arm, and they didn’t, I might judge the conversation as a failure. If they did raise their arm, I’d know I’d succeeded in communicating what I was trying to say. Makes sense, right?

OK, so prayer is a conversation. So what about the times it seems we get no answer? Does that mean that the prayer wasn’t heard? Does that mean that my prayers were ignored? Not necessarily.  For instance, going back to examples we can hear and see and touch, a four year old can ask for an ice-cream sundae before supper, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. His mother understood the request, the conversation was a success, even though the child doesn’t think so. But Mom knows something the child doesn’t, and is over-ruling the child for the greater good of the child. The child wasn’t asking for something in the will of the parent, and in this case, the will of the parent is going to win. So maybe it’s a case of bad timing. What if the child’s younger sibling sees something shiny and pretty and wants it now? He asks his mother, but Mom says no. Again, the child might view the conversation a failure (assuming the child were capable of such rationalizations)… but because he doesn’t know what a knife is, or that it can hurt him, he doesn’t know that Mom was just protecting him. Sometimes, God says no to our requests because there’s something He knows that we don’t, and if we knew what He did, it would all make sense. I also know that not all unanswered prayers fit into these simple illustrations… but they’re a good starting point, and it’s enough to lead me to the next point I want to make. Prayer is a discussion, and part of judging the success of the conversation is if what you ask for is in the will of the one who can grant it.

Which brings me to this last point: when I pray and I ask for God to do things that He desires to do, He’s more likely to do them. My prayers are more likely to be successful when I’m praying His will. So how do I know I’m praying His will? Well, I can make it a point to build a relationship with Him, with His word, and learn about Him that way, and that will help. There’s another way, though: when you can see your prayers being answered AS YOU PRAY THEM, you know your prayer is successful. You must have been praying into the will of God. You must have been asking Him to do something He wanted to do anyway. Just as doing good things become a measure of your faith in God, being an answer to your own prayer becomes a measure of your ability to abide and pray in His will.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. It’s easy for Him to give you the desires of your heart… when what your heart desires is what He desires for you.

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