Asking – The key to answered prayer

From Alan Smith’s Blog

Matthew 7:7-11

    Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

My parents divorced when I was three years old. I lived with my mom and step-dad, but spent Friday nights and Saturdays with my dad when I was a kid. The contrast was significant. My mom had a dynamic conversion experience shortly after the divorce, so on that end of my life I was exposed to church, Bible stories, and the kind of sheltering guaranteed to make any home-school mom proud. My dad was in a rock band called “The Mystics.” They played clubs and college parties, drank too much beer, smoked pot, and got into fights. I must say my dad made some effort to behave during my weekend visits, but the contrast was still pretty clear. The first rock album my dad ever bought me was “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright. My mom made me give it back because it was demonic. My dad thought it actually had a good chance of getting by her because it was somewhat spiritual. I remember one time bringing home some KISS photos torn from a rock magazine, hidden in a notebook in my backpack. My mom couldn’t sleep that night. She prayed and asked God what was up and he told her where to find the pictures. She found them and burned them. God talks to my mom. She’s amazing and I am who and what I am in large part due to the investment she has made in my life. I’m just saying things were very different at dad’s house than at mom’s.

My dad and I took a road trip to Iowa in his yellow Road Runner one time to visit my Aunt Barbara and Uncle John. It was fast, but I’m not sure how fast. The speedometer was broken. We listened to KISS, Journey, and Van Halen the entire trip. Beth, Wheel In The Sky, and Runnin’ With The Devil are guilty pleasures for me to this day. That dates me doesn’t it?

Weekends with my dad during that season of life were fun. He took me to Forest Park to ride the rides. We ate at greasy spoon diners where my dad knew all the waitresses. He flirted with them and they flirted with me. It was cool. We would always stop in to see Grandma and Grandpa Smith. Once, on Grandpa’s birthday, I remember my dad gave him a carton of cigs. It was cool. The Kreamy Kream was a nearby burger joint. We would stop in and have a root beer. He always had quarters for the pinball machine and I always got to play.

My favorite thing was listening to music together. We listened to The Zoo and Q102. My dad knew everything about rock – the bands, the players, the singers, the writers – everything. A song would come on the radio and I would ask, “Who is this, Dad?” He would answer “The Allman Brothers” or “The Rolling Stones”. It’s cool to have a dad that knows everything. He was a big fan of the Beatles. He had all their albums and we listened to them at his apartment all the time. He would make me unlabeled recordings on cassette tapes to take home. God never told mom about them, I guess. My dad hated disco.

I remember riding around in my dad’s sky blue conversion van (he sold his Road Runner and bought a van to haul equipment for The Mystics) and listening to the radio. My favorite band was ZZ Top. I liked Tush, La Grange, Cheap Sunglasses, and Jesus Just Left Chicago. I always wanted to change radio stations to see if ZZ Top might be playing on another station. I was afraid to ask though. Sitting there next to my dad, I would stare at the radio, and try to gather my courage to ask if we could change the station. Looking back, this seems silly. My dad was very happy to comply with my request. I think my interest in music made him happy. There was absolutely no reason to hesitate or fear. Isn’t that strange? I didn’t ask because I completely misunderstood his heart.

I think I have the same tendencies when it comes to prayer. I sometimes find myself hesitant to approach God with boldness and ask for something. I think in some ways God is a lot like my dad. The stuff I’m interested in delights him. He always has a quarter for the pinball machine. I can always have root beer. Changing the radio station is no big deal. It’s not that God never says “no.” He does a lot because I ask for stupid stuff so often. It’s just his heart is to say “yes.” There’s never any reason to hesitate or be afraid. Ask. It’s ok.

Romans 8:31-32

    What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

The issue here is one of understanding God’s heart. Faith, however sincere, that is not aimed at an accessible God with a generous heart is faith misaimed. God is accessible. God is generous. He’s responsive. He’s looking for opportunities to say “yes” to us. If the god we believe in isn’t like that, then the god we believe in isn’t the true God, as he really is. God has revealed himself to us, primarily in the incarnation. When we see Jesus in the gospels, we have the clearest possible view of God, because Jesus is God in the flesh.

John 14:9-11

    Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father. This is what Jesus is asking us to believe. In the gospels, how accessible is Jesus? How loving? How generous? How powerful? That is what God is like. In looking at Jesus, we find out exactly what kind of person God is. It is faith in this reality that leads to answered prayer. Receiving from God requires faith in God as he is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Watch Jesus tie the two ideas together as the passage continues.

John 14:11-14

    Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Is it possible we have presuppositions about God that are incorrect, and these misguided ideas are a hindrance to effective faith? Do we see God as distant, punitive, and unresponsive? Then our faith is in a god that doesn’t exist. No wonder it seems ineffective. Faith is only powerful because its object is powerful. Faith in a distant, punitive, and unresponsive god is faith in the wind. There is no substance to it.I hesitated to ask my dad to change the radio station because I misunderstood his heart. Prayer is sometimes less than it could be in my life for the same reason.

Words and thinking

Form BobHamp.com

By the time we are 3, many of our neurological pathways are already firmly in place. Ways of processing sensory input are all but locked in. So as we grow and start learning language, we must realize that words connect to these pathways and ways of processing data. It only takes one session of marriage counseling to realize that two different people can assign radically different meanings to the same word. While husband and wife may share the same definition of a word, the emotional charge attached to it can be 180 degrees different.

Words are the bits that program our minds, as they connect to real objects and experiences. The word “dog” can create physiological reactions in someone who has been bit by one. It does not necessarily matter if an actual dog is present, the word is sufficient to create experience. For another person the same word, “dog” can produce peace and calm.

So as we try to learn about the central and anchoring issues of living life, as we pursue God, and His plan for us, the words we use have incredible power. Words that are healing to one, may frighten another, while words that bring life to one, may produce guilt in another. Is it any wonder God found it necessary to make “The Word” a person.

Is it any wonder The Person spoke in stories and said things like, “you have heard it said… (religious tradition) but I say to you… (the heart issue)”. He had a lot of neurological pathways to re-route. Even the word “repent” which refers to the change of these ways of processing, has come to mean something completely different to many. Many people are put off by the word, because of what it has come to mean.

I might say, “you have heard it said that ‘repent’ means to feel bad and clean up your life, but I say to you, repentance is a way of opening your mind to a whole new way of seeing the world”.

Today open your eyes, slow down, breathe. If you were still and peaceful how would you see the world differently. Consider that some words contain life but they have seemed undesirable to you. Like green beans.

Replacing lies with truth

From Alan Smith’s Blog

Luke 4:18-19

    The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me
    Because He has anointed Me
    To preach the gospel to the poor;
    He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
    To proclaim liberty to the captives
    And recovery of sight to the blind,
    To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
    To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.

Freedom is not defined by what is absent but by Who is present. But this in no way minimizes the reality that in many ways we might still be poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed. Jesus brings good news, healing, liberty, and sight. God is in the process of transforming us by revealing to us by the Spirit who he is and who we are in him. Often this process is hindered by things in our life which need to be removed and then replaced with his truth. These hindrances fall broadly into three categories: the flesh, the world, and the devil.

The world is the environment in which we’ve lived all our lives, including our culture, families, church experiences, media, and many other aspects related to living on planet earth. The devil, along with a host of demonic beings, is at war against God’s purposes within our world and our lives. My flesh is simply the physical body in which I live, including the amazingly complex computer known as my central nervous system. This computer has been largely programmed by my sin nature, previous life experiences, and the deception of the enemy regarding what those experiences mean about who God is and who I am.

Bondage in our lives does not result directly from what we have experienced. The computer of our flesh is deeply programmed, not by what we’ve experienced within the world, but by our agreement with what the devil has told us regarding what those experiences mean. What happened to us (the world) is not our problem What we believe (the flesh) about what happened to us is our problem. Our enemy (the devil) is the father of those lies.

So, spiritual warfare is essentially a war between light and darkness, between truth and deception. I empower one or the other by my agreement. To the degree I agree with the enemy’s deception regarding the events of my life, I empower the enemy in my life. These false beliefs are the primary hindrance to God’s purpose and freedom. As I learn to hear God’s voice, and discover the truth about who God is and who I am, the core lies I have believed about God and myself are identified and replaced with truth.

I respond to the Holy Spirit first of all by confessing and renouncing the lies he is helping me identify and secondly, confessing and embracing the truth he reveals to me about who he is and who I am.

Ways to think – contact lenses and sausage machines

From BobHamp.com

Ways to think… processes… how things get into our mind and what we do with them once they get in. Most of the time we don’t even think about… well… how we think. Yet nothing could affect us more than those two processes. We so often want change in our lives, but generally consider only changing the content of our thoughts. How did those thoughts get there? How did they get to have such a powerful effect on us?

Ways to think #1: Contact Lenses: How things get in.

Contact Lenses sit right in front of our eyes. Anything that comes in must pass through the lenses, and the lenses affect what comes in. After a while we don’t even realize these lenses are present. When this happens the effect they have simply becomes our new reality. Below are two examples of Cognitive Contact Lenses.

Belief and doubt. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to doubt the truth? Why is it so difficult to doubt lies? Belief and doubt are filters that either let things into our minds or keep things out of our minds. Someone makes a statement, or describes for us how they perceive us. If we already believe the thoughts they’ve shared; they gain instant entrance; the thoughts enter in and join up with similar thoughts we have already harbored. If their opinions don’t match our own, they bounce off our mind, as if the door is locked… no entrance. Many life changing truths remain locked outside our mind because we are pre-disposed to doubt. For one day, try doubting something besides true stuff.

Exception vs. Rule: All of us have a filter I call the exception or the rule. Because we are convinced that certain experiences are normal and certain experiences may happen occasionally our mind automatically categorizes experiences. When people say they like us, we are sure that is the exception. When we screw something up, surely that is the rule. Again, we give no credit to anything we consider the “exception” When we picture ourselves as fearful, any courageous behavior is immediately discounted. What if we have our wires crossed? What if we are wrong about the exceptions and rules of our lives? We lose valuable credit when we act in accordance with our nature, if we are wrong about our true nature. Often we are.

Ways to Think #2: Sausage Machines: What happens to thoughts once they get in.

A sausage machine makes sausage. That’s what it always does. Put in beef, it makes beef sausage. Put in venison, it makes deer sausage. The processes of a sausage machine simply make the same thing out of anything that you put into it. Put in aluminum foil, it will make aluminum sausage. The machine does exactly the same thing with any input. Our mind processes data: if we want things to change we must learn to do new things with the data that comes into our minds. Here are a few examples of ways our minds process stuff.

Meditation: It sounds so spiritual to meditate. Meditate simply means to hold something constantly in your thoughts. We use the term “dwell on”, to describe meditating. Interesting phrase. Dwell means to inhabit or reside. So to meditate means to inhabit a particular thought. Bill Johnson, a teacher I admire, says if you know how to worry you know how to meditate. Decide on purpose what you will meditate on.

Passivity: We often assume that our minds run on auto pilot. We simply allow pictures, imaginations etc. to run around loose in our minds as if we cannot give orders to them. Try for one day to tell the thoughts in your mind what to do. It is a little like parenting. If we are going to be hands off, we should expect the thoughts to misbehave.

Focus: I have heard it said that if you have difficulty remembering the names of people you meet, the problem is not your memory, it is your focus. When someone introduces themselves, if you are thinking several things at the same time, their name will not stick. Not because of memory but because of focus. Focus, as a cognitive process, is harder than ever in the days we live in. Texting, email, cell phones, iPods… our current methods of communication lend us to unfocused communication, because we increasingly communicate on multiple channels simultaneously. Focus and choose wisely what you focus on. You may have to let a few things go.

Surrender: This word can mean many things. For the purpose of this conversation, I mean that you can surrender your thoughts to someone else. There are many ways we can give our thoughts away and give other people control or at least strong influence of our thoughts. Jealousy, or wishing we were someone else, gives away a few acres of our minds. Fantasy, in many forms, allows others to hold deeds to plots in our minds. Resentment, or unresolved bitterness also allows people to hold territory in our minds.

It is difficult to recognize your own lenses. Let God and others gently show you the ways you may have filtered input. You will be amazed that as you take control of the processes of your thinking, how quickly you will find yourself thinking differently.

Why doesn’t everyone who asks receive healing?

From Alan Smith’s Blog

Have you ever wondered why many who ask for healing don’t receive it? This is a common question and I’ve heard it voiced in a variety of ways. Very often this question is more than simply theological or conceptual. Many times a great deal of disappointment and hurt lies underneath.

We often don’t have answers to the “why?” question. Even when we do, while faced with particular and personal instances of suffering and disappointment, those answers are sometimes unhelpful. Answers to why questions are generally informational. God’s answer to human need and suffering is rarely informational, but rather incarnational. God enters into our suffering. He is with us in it. He carries it. This reality and experience is what is needed when faced with particular and personal loss or grief.
As I have personally wrestled with this issue, there are a few theological realities which I have found to be helpful. I share these today hoping they might also be helpful to others.

1) There is a difference between my position and my condition. What Christ has provided (my position) must be appropriated by faith in order to impact my experience (my condition). For example: The land of Israel was theirs positionally long before it was theirs conditionally. It was their inheritance long before it was their possession. To lay hold of their possession, they had to enter in and possess it by faith. An entire generation failed to do so, according to Hebrews 4, because of disobedience and unbelief. I believe Jesus has fully provided for all healing through his atoning work. The healing of sickness is part of our Kingdom inheritance inaugurated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Many of us believe this, acknowledge this, affirm this, but few have learned to enter in and possess it. It belongs to us positionally, but we have yet to appropriate it experientially in a manner that affects our condition. I believe God is today stirring up his people to contend for and lay hold of more of the inheritance that is ours in Christ. My hope and expectation is that as we learn to contend for this we will begin to experience increasing victory in this area.

2) Faith and Unbelief operate both corporately and individually. Jesus himself was limited in what he could do in Nazareth (Matt 13:57-58). This limitation wasn’t due to the unbelief of one individual. There was, in that community, an atmosphere of unbelief which limited his ability to meet the needs of individuals. I believe the secularism and materialism of our culture, combined with the widespread unbelief of the church in our culture concerning the miraculous, has served to create an atmosphere of unbelief which stands as an obstacle. In the West, when we hear about something supernatural, our gut instinct is often that there must be a natural explanation. In other parts of the world, when they witness something natural, their first instinct is that there must be a supernatural explanation. Is it any wonder that it is easier to expereience that which truly is supernatural in those cultures?

3) Sickness is often only a symptom of a deeper root problem. Contemporary medical wisdom tells us that 80% or more of illness is psychosomatic. This means that a great deal of sickness has its root in problems of the soul. It is possible in some cases that we experience limited success in ministering physical healing because we have yet to deal with the underlying, fears, un-forgiveness, bitterness, stress, etc. that lie at the root of the illnesses we face.

4) We have not because we ask not. Very simply, it appears that healing is something we receive by asking. I know when John Wimber (founder of the Vineyard) began to contend for God’s healing power, he prayed for more than 250 people before he saw his first miracle. He prayed for 200+ more before he saw his second. As he began to contend, to ask – consistently, proactively, and faithfully – he began to see more and more people healed. I think sometimes we fail to see breakthrough because particular disappointments and losses discourage us and we simply back away from the issue. The giants are just too big. As Bill Johnson teaches, we easily get our focus on what hasn’t happened and enter into discouragement and unbelief instead of focusing on what God has done and is doing with thankfulness and moving forward in obedience and faith.

5) We are in a war. Satan is actively engaged in warfare against God’s purposes in our lives. He opposes and hinders at every turn. In Daniel 10 we see a specific example of how an unseen spiritual battle delayed Daniel’s answer to prayer.

I’m sure much more could and should be said. This isn’t at all intended to be an exhaustive answer to a complex dilemma. I do not know which of the above factors (if any) have specific relevance to your situation. I’m simply sharing some of the thoughts that have been personally challenging to me as I’ve wrestled through this same issue. I hope these ideas might serve simply as a starting place for you to pursue all the inheritance that God has provided you in Christ.

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