Your Prayers Are Too Small
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
People often view prayer in simplistic terms: Prayer is about telling God what you want and waiting for Him to give it to you. Sure, you thank Him when He does what you want, and you give Him praise to make sure He’s listening, but prayer is a magic formula to make your life better and satisfy your desires. This popular conception runs into problems when your prayers aren’t answered the way you expect them to be. The question becomes what went wrong. Was God not listening? Was your faith too weak? Is God punishing you?
The answer is that anyone who thinks prayer works this way is working from a concept of prayer that isn’t found in the Bible. Prayer isn’t about us but about our great God. Prayer isn’t about giving God our lists of what we want but about building a closer relationship with our heavenly Father. Prayer isn’t always answered with a “yes,” but might receive a “no” or a “wait” as an answer.
Perhaps our biggest issue with prayer is that we as Christians pray prayers that are too small. Our focus is on our own needs, the needs of those around us, and gratitude for what God has given us. We miss the truth that prayer is meant to lift us out of a self-centered focus and move us to see God for who He truly is and to see how our prayers can change not only our world but the world. God gave us prayer as our way of connecting to Him as we communicate with Him. When we grasp this, an entire new horizon for effective prayer opens up and enables us to grow ever deeper in our relationship with the Lord.
The prophet Habakkuk learned this as he contemplated the evil he saw in the nation of Judah. As he focused on the corruption and self-absorption of the nation, he asked God why He tolerated it. God answered that He did not accept it, and that he was bringing judgment upon Judah by using the Babylonians as His instrument. Habakkuk quickly changed his mind about Judah, protesting that the Lord was going to use an even more evil nation to judge His own people, whose evil hadn’t reached the same depths. The Lord replied that Babylon was a tool for His use which would receive its own judgment in due time, while the people of God would be restored in the future as they repented of their sin.
This vision was in many ways horrifying to Habakkuk. He could have recoiled and argued that it wasn’t fair for God to let a pagan nation conquer Judah or that his own life would be shaken up if the Babylonians came in. Instead, this dire warning raised Habakkuk’s vision to a higher plane as he contemplated the awesome power of God and His overarching plan for His own people and for the nations of the world. He recognized that his focus only on the problem of Judah’s sin had caused him to lose sight of how great the Lord truly is and how everything is in His hand and under His control.
This led Habukkuk to the song we read above. The Lord’s answer was not designed to soothe his nerves or to make him feel better about himself or his nation. The Lord wanted Habakkuk to see a bigger picture of the way the Lord worked and to find his comfort not in his circumstances but in his God. Habakkuk’s song caught that lesson perfectly. Even when all he saw in his own life was desolation and struggle, he was still in the hands of the Almighty. In God’s care he was able to have joy no matter what would happen, since his strength and his confidence were in the only One who was able to give him assurance that the future was in good hands.
You may in a situation right now in which you see nothing but trouble in your present or even in your future. You may be focused on your own needs and the needs of those around you, with your prayer focus narrowing as you see the immediate concerns around you which need your intercession right now. It is entirely right to lift the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, and even yourself to the Lord. Our prayers can’t stop there, however; there is a bigger world in which God is working, and there are big needs throughout that world.
This may seem to be an overwhelming prospect. How can we lift all the needs of a broken, fallen world to God? If we learn what Habakkuk learned, we find the answer to this. To pray for the world, we need to pray to connect to the God who loved this world so much He sent His Son to die to save it. We can’t touch every need in this world, but we can touch the God meets every need. Once we understand just how big our God is we are able to pray for anything, since nothing is too big for our God to handle.
We won’t always get what we want when we pray, but we will always get what God knows is best for us. He may ask us to go through difficult trials for His purposes, or we may be caught up in troubles that are the result of living in a fallen world. Even in tough and sorrowful times, we can have joy when we know that we are close to the God who loves us and the Savior who gave Himself for us. Like Habakkuk, our watching and waiting will be answered by the promise that God is there, that He hears us, and that He is with us through everything He sends our way. So rejoice and pray big!
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