Friday, May 02, 2008

Joy of Prayer

"You fill me with joy in your presence." Psalm 16:11

Childish Joy
This week I had a somewhat unsettling experience. Later this month I'm scheduled for some routine surgery and will be relying on the rest of the family to take on some of my responsibilities while I recuperate. My 10 year-old son is eager to be helpful and has asked to be taught how to use the washing machine.

Always keen to encourage my children to learn new life skills, I talked him through doing a basic load of laundry which he accomplished successfully. He went straight to his elder brother and told him, "I'm going to do all the laundry while Mom's in hospital." When I reminded him I expected only to be away for one night he looked desperately disappointed. I added quickly that I would still need help for a couple of weeks after that and his face lit up. It's sobering when you realise that your child is more interested in a kitchen appliance than in you.

Are You Really Happy?
Does God sometimes feel like that about the way we pray? Do we come into our prayer time full of our own needs and desires, asking Him for what we want, without making our relationship with Him our top priority? Do we express our love to our heavenly Parent or do we just want the opportunity to ask Him to do things?

Human beings tend to think it's "stuff" which makes us happy. We expect that the bigger house, the new car, the promotion, the relationship, or the holiday will bring us happiness. We see the world running after these things all the time. But Christians do this too.

Look at your own prayer life. How much of it is asking God for things you believe will make you happier? Are your prayers motivated by thoughts that you will be happier when God has healed you, when a family member is saved, or when the church has grown?

Filled With Joy
David said, "you will fill me with joy in your presence." He also said, "apart from you I have no good thing" (Ps 16:2). He had learned the secret of true happiness - being with God. If we are looking for happiness we have to look to the Lord, to seek His face for who He is and not for what He can do for us.

When we do this we begin to understand that joy is not dependent on our circumstances but on the degree of intimacy we have with Jesus. Whatever is going on in our lives we will be able to say with David, "the boundary lines for me have fallen in pleasant places" (Ps 16:6). We will learn, as Paul did, that even in a dungeon it is possible to rejoice because, "the Lord is near" (Phil 4:4-5).

Captive Joy
Paul was in a physical prison. Some of us are kept captive by our past and feel we can never truly have happiness because of what we've suffered at the hands of others. But there is nothing so powerful that it can separate us from the overwhelming love of the Lord Jesus. There is a spiritual dimension to our lives which cannot be constrained by any prison bars, physical or mental. It is possible, in the presence of the Lord Jesus, to find a true joy which takes us beyond our cell and into another world where we can begin to live above our circumstances.

Released to Joy
This week five year-old Felix saw the moon for the first time in his life. With his mother and brother he was rescued from their basement prison under an apparently ordinary house in Austria. We are not surprised to hear that he gazed up into the night sky in complete awe and wonder. This is a powerful illustration of the change we can experience if we take our eyes off the material things that crowd our lives and fix them on Jesus. We too can step into a new world, leaving our prison cells behind us, and discover a joy unimaginable to those whose hearts are set on finding happiness in "stuff".

Prayer College Assignment
David said, "I have set the Lord always before me" (Ps 16:8). Think about your own prayer life. To what extent are you waiting for answers to prayer to make you happy? Or do you know the joy of simply gazing on Jesus? If you want to be happy, do as David did and make the Lord your priority.

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