The Danger of Praying for Holiness

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
(Hebrews 12:6)

Have you ever felt that your prayers were going unanswered?  We come to the Lord, as he has taught us, praying that we might grow in holiness, that we might be more loving, that we might trust in Him, and yet everything in and around us seems to be working against this prayer.  Is God not listening?  Is God not answering?

Recently I’ve come across this hymn by John Newton (most noted for Amazing Grace):

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

This is the anguish of unanswered prayer, or so it would seem.  We read in the next stanza how we often look at prayer.  We come to God with right intentions, we want to overcome our sin, to find rest and peace – and we want God’s power to conquer and kill sin within us.  Give me holiness, give it now!

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

What we find, what Newton teaches in the hymn, is that God often uses means and methods that we would never consider to answer our prayers and to bring us to holiness in Him.  When we would be free from sin, when we begin the journey to mortify sin in our lives, that’s when it seems that sin rears its ugly head even more.  Sin and its power in us assaults us, lays us low, until we cry out to God, “Will you pursue me to death?!”

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

Often this is the way that God answers our prayers for grace and faith, using our inward trials to break our dependence on the joys of this world, and to teach us to find our all in Him.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

When you engage in the war on sin, don’t give up when you find how deeply entrenched the enemy has become.  As you drive the enemy (whom Christ has defeated) from his stronghold – he will kick and scream.  He will accuse and curse.

But even this is from the hand of God.  Don’t kick against the goads, don’t chaff under the Father’s discipline.  As Hebrews 12 teaches, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood… For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

These inward trials, this putting to death of the old life, weaning from the world, from self, from pride is painful – but it is necessary.  If you want to be more like Christ, you will, by necessity, become less like your old self.  The old orientation, the old desire – those things that came natural and easy – they are being replaced with the transforming power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

SDG

Here is a link to listen:

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About reveds

Occupation: Pastor, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Lennox, SD Education: BS - Christian Education, Sterling College; MDiv. - Princeton Theological Seminary Family: Married, with Four children. Hobbies: Running (will someday run a marathon), Sci-Fi (especially Doctor Who and Sherlock), Theater, and anything else my kids will let me do.
This entry was posted in Faith and Practice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Danger of Praying for Holiness

  1. reveds says:

    I guess I should add: The danger of praying that God would make you holy is that He will make you holy.

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