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Praying for the lost to get saved. Praying for the Gospel to be spread throughout the whole world. Praying down that bad ole devil and praying for revival. It all sounds so right, doesn’t it? But what does God think about us praying for these kinds of things? It turns out that He doesn’t like any of them. In fact, He finds these kinds of requests downright insulting. Of course He understands when we’re not trying to insult Him, and when He sees that we’re trying to please Him by praying for these things, He graciously credits us for our good intentions. But the day must come when we stop letting other humans and the Church define who God is and give Him the chance to speak for Himself. When we do this, we’re going to start getting hit with one shocking revelation after another because it turns out that these teachers we’ve been counting on to explain God to us don’t really understand who He is. In fact, trying to find folks who are well-acquainted with God is quite a challenging task because there just aren’t that many of them. Why not? Because humans have always done a lousy job of sincerely seeking God. When they do seek Him, they’re usually so caught up in their own agendas that they simply aren’t interested in really learning about God’s perspective of things. So while we claim to really know God, the reality is that we’re just recycling a bunch of manmade theories about Him which no one is bothering to ask God to authenticate. It’s like you reading a bunch of articles about your favorite actor in the gossip rags and then saying that you really know the guy. No, you don’t know him at all. All you really know is what other people say about him, but what is that worth? Until you actually sit down with the man himself and do some focused listening, you’re never going to know if any of the stories you’ve read about him have any truth to them.
In this post, we’re going to explain why you are insulting God by praying for revival. If you’re serious about pleasing God, then you need to ask Him to show you if any of the principles we discuss are true. If He says that they are, then you’re going to have to make some major changes to the way you pray, and He will be glad to help you with that process. God enjoys teaching us how we can improve our treatment of Him, and we should be enthusiastic to improve in this area if we are serious about pleasing Him. So now let’s get into it.
RESPECTING ABILITIES & PREFERENCES
Your relationship with God is a very personal thing. So forget about the existence of other Christians for a moment and think about what God has personally taught you so far about who He is. In His relationship with you, God is introducing you to His vastly complex Self one step at a time. When you want to know Him better for the right reasons—and that means that you want to please Him, not just use Him—then God will thoroughly enjoy dropping new insights about who He is into your soul. For the longest time, you’ll be struggling to understand some aspect of God, only to suddenly have an aha moment that helps you to get Him on a whole new level. Big or small, new revelations about God are thrilling to receive. It is an awesome privilege to have the Creator of all things talk to us at all, and if you cherish the insights He gives, He’ll gladly give you more.
Now God is an incredibly complex Being, and you’ll never come to the end of learning more about who He is. But when it comes to improving the way that you pray, you want to zone in on two categories of insights that God has shown you: insights about His abilities, and insights about His preferences.
God’s abilities are infinitely greater than yours in every area. He also has a boatload of abilities that you’ll never have, such as His ability to be everywhere at once and to handle billions of humans talking to Him at once without going crazy. So what has God taught you about His abilities so far? Make a list. Because your theology is currently a mix of truth and lies, your list might have some false assumptions on it—things that you’ve picked up from other humans who didn’t know what they were talking about. But that’s alright, because God will sort out the lies for you as you continue to grow closer to Him. The point of this exercise is to get you to stop and really think about Who it is that you’re addressing when you pray. Christians are very bad at doing this—we tend to just focus on ourselves when we pray and we forget that prayer is a two way street. A critical step in treating God with more respect is to stop treating Him like a mere concept and start treating Him as the living, opinionated, passionate Being that He is.
Once you’ve made a list of God’s abilities, set it aside and get out another piece of paper. This second list is going to be about God’s preferences. What He likes, what He doesn’t like—what has He taught you so far? Don’t just write down what you think your pastor would want you to say. Your pastor doesn’t have anything to do with your personal relationship with God. God doesn’t just talk to other people, He talks to you as well. So stop and think about the subject of God’s preferences and write down anything that sounds right to you. For example, God hates idolatry, but He loves sincere worship. God hates it when we try to boss Him around, but He loves it when we embrace our place as His servants. What has God taught you about Himself so far? What things do you feel sure about and what things are you unsure about? An exercise like this helps you get in touch with the fact that you are not just some lump who God is ignoring. God is the One who gives us understanding about who He is and what He cares about, and God has been whispering insights into your soul for quite some time. So make out your list and put little question marks by theories you’ve heard about God which you’re not totally sure about yet. Taking the time to recognize that your confidence about various aspects of God is varied helps you see that you’re in the process of learning more about Him. You don’t know Him inside and out—you’re just getting started, and you have a lot of questions. Questions are great. Questions are how God whets our appetite to want to know more about who He is and how He operates.
Once you have both of your lists made, look them over and ask yourself, “How well am I respecting God’s abilities and preferences in my prayers?” For example, perhaps on your list of God’s abilities, you wrote, “God is all-powerful.” Yes, He is. But are you respecting this fact when you try to pray down demons? If God is so powerful, how can His own creatures ever pin Him into a crisis? When you start fretting about the rise of evil in the world, isn’t it true that you’re viewing God as less than all-powerful? If you were to start respecting God as the supremely powerful Being that He is, how would that change the way you respond to things like terrorist attacks, health problems, and economic strife?
Do you believe that God is all-knowing? If so, then why would you ever try to confess someone else’s sins to Him? In fact, why would you ever try to advise Him about what’s going on with another soul? “God, my neighbor doesn’t know You,” becomes a pretty insulting prayer once you face the fact that God knows your neighbor far better than you do. “God, my spouse needs guidance,” is a pretty lousy prayer as well. It simply doesn’t work for creatures as blind and ignorant as we humans are to sit around telling God where other people are at and what they need. “Please have mercy on my friend. She didn’t know better,” you pray. But God is all-knowing, so it simply doesn’t work for you to ever take the position of His instructor.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH REVIVAL
God-honoring prayers are ones which respect His abilities and preferences. Does praying for revival pass this test? Well, what exactly are we asking for when we pray for revival? Let’s break it down. First we look around us and decide that things are in a mess. We decide that spiritual rebellion is everywhere, and we decide that this is some kind of crisis. But wait—what happened to God being all-powerful and totally in control? Crises can’t happen unless God is causing them because He is the Supreme Authority over all things. Here’s the first place we go wrong: we stop respecting God’s control over this world that He is sustaining and we decide that things are in a mess. Then we decide that we need to spur God into action by instructing Him on both the problem and the solution. We point out to Him that people are rebelling against Him—so much for respecting the fact that He is all-knowing. Then we ask Him to start a revival. But what exactly does that mean?
Spiritual rebellion is when souls who have been informed about who God is and what He wants willfully refuse to submit to His Authority. Spiritual rebellion is always an intentional choice of the soul, not some mess that we accidentally stumble into. When we pray for revival, we are essentially asking God to force rebellious souls to submit to His Authority. We’re saying, “A bunch of people hate You, God. Force them to care about You and want to obey You.” Well, since when is God interested in forcing people to submit to Him in this life? God’s desire for humans to have some degree of free choice is a major theme throughout the entire Bible. Read through the Old Testament prophetic books and you’ll find Yahweh urging rebels to repent over and over again. Urging is a whole different deal than forcing. Yahweh doesn’t force people to repent. He certainly gives them reasons to want to repent by heaping all kinds of misery on their defiant little heads. But in most cases, we find souls deciding that they’d rather endure miserable suffering than submit to God. The desire to be in control is very strong in humans, and we loathe the idea of submitting to a God who will not take orders from us.
In the Bible, both Yahweh and Jesus emphasize that humans voluntarily choosing to submit to Them in this world is high on Their priority list. If we refuse to do so, then we end up in Hell. In other words, our Creators would rather torture us forever than force us to bow to Them in this world. If choice was not important to our Gods, then there would be no concept of eternal damnation, we would never be given laws to abide by, and Jesus wouldn’t have fired off so many parables in which someone’s refusal to submit to a God character landed them in such a grave situation (see The Parable of the Talents). Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit want humans to have the option of defying Them, and yet this is the very option we are trying to take away when we pray for revival.
We didn’t create this world. We didn’t invent humans. Certainly our personal lives would be a lot more pleasant if a lot more people in the world cared about pleasing God, but since when does the universe revolve around us and what we want? Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit created humans for Their own reasons, and They have expressed some very strong preferences about the kind of dynamic They want to have with us. Some degree of choice on our part is a critical part of that dynamic, and this is why we are always out of line to be trying to take choices away from other humans. When we pray for the lost to be saved, we’re praying for God to force unbelievers to become believers. Well, no, He’s simply not going to do this. He will certainly educate souls about who He is and what He wants—but only when He’s good and ready to do so. It is totally inappropriate for us to try and instruct God on who He should reveal Himself to when. It is very disrespectful of us to imply that God has lost control over His own Creation. There is no way that demons and humans could ever obstruct God’s plans unless they were able to overpower God, and such an assumption is a total denial of what God says about Himself.
Christians have been pleading for revival for thousands of years and the world is as dark as ever. Before the revelation of Christ, we read about Old Covenant believers begging for revival as well, yet they didn’t see it. No one’s prayers on this subject have ever been honored because God has no interest in forcing spiritual rebels to repent. When God fearing rulers pass moral laws, tear down idol temples, and ban occult practices, it appears like revival is happening, but is it really? Of course not.
The famous Jesus Movement in America was nothing more than a bunch of folks joining in a feel good fad. True repentance does not result in packed out worship concerts and a bunch of people coming forward at evangelistic conferences. True repentance is when a rebellious soul decides to re-submit to God’s Authority. It is a private, sober decision which takes one nanosecond to make. When repentance is sincere, it does not result in a bunch of boasting and a renewed lusting after a bunch of religious sensuality. When we get serious about pleasing God, we sincerely seek His guidance in the privacy of our own souls, and we are receptive to His instruction. We want to actually mature, not just keep hyping ourselves up on meaningless adrenaline rushes. True repentance is simply not trend material. You can’t market it, you can’t force it, and you can’t even accurately assess when it is needed because as a human, your knowledge of what another soul is doing with God is far too limited.
If you’re going to encourage souls to repent, then you should be encouraging the sober contemplation of God’s truths, not hyping souls up into emotional frenzies. The things we declare to God in the midst of intense worship sets are rarely sincere. If you aren’t willing to say certain things to God when you’re by yourself in a sober, calm state of mind, then you being willing to say those things in front of an audience is utterly meaningless. We all know that there is an enormous difference between how people portray their lives on Facebook and how their lives actually are. In the same way, we Christians are very good at pretending to care far more about God than we actually do. The world is a mess, and so is the Church, but you personally can’t change any of this. Your own soul is the only one you can choose to change, and it is only your own repentance that God will accept from you—not your attempts to repent on behalf of other people.
If we care about God, then we will want to improve the way that we treat Him. If we don’t want to improve, then the root issue is a lack of caring about Him. If this is where you’re at today, does it mean you’re hopeless? Certainly not. When you find yourself getting all huffy at the suggestion that you’re not treating God as well as you should, it’s time to ask Him to increase your desire to please Him. God invites you to make requests like this for yourself—just not for other people. Each soul is accountable to God for their own decisions, and He is not going to let other humans dictate how many choices and chances other souls have with Him. He alone makes that call, and He treats us all differently. We need to stop trying to control the way He is interacting with other souls and instead focus our energy on improving our own dynamic with Him. Your own soul attitudes are the only ones you should be talking to God about changing. And if you personally care enough about God to want to learn how to improve your treatment of Him, then clearly there’s no need for you to be asking Him to revive you.
2 Chronicles 6-7: Why We Shouldn’t Ask God to Heal Our Land
Growing Close to God: The Critical Role of Choice (The Mountain Metaphor)
Improving Our Treatment of God: Why We Shouldn’t Pray for the Lost
Christian Prayer Groups: Why God Isn’t a Fan
Treating God Like God: Simple Steps to Improving the Way that We Pray
Understanding Divine Election: Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated (Malachi 1 & Romans 9)