Prayer, Hope, and Repentance
Prayer and hope are essential in the Christian life, whether you’re talking about becoming like Jesus, evangelism, healing, or justice. Hope in the Lord sustains us in prayer, and prayer to the Lord strengthens our hope. This pattern is revealed many times in Scripture (see Psalms 42 and 43), but especially in the life of Jesus.
But what if you’re experiencing a negative cycle? Weak hope that suppresses prayer, further weakening hope? What can you do to break out of a soul-crushing rut like that? The Lord has given us three powerful tools: Repentance, Encouragement, and Participation. Let’s look at the first of these and apply it to prayer and hope for transformation and evangelism.
Repent daily of your desire for instant and easy success.
Paul Miller writes that one of the greatest dangers to hope and prayer is a naive optimism – one that expects victory quickly and with relatively little pain. When this optimism is crushed by reality (and it usually is), the disappointment can lead to cynicism, which then strangles hope and suffocates prayer.
Naive optimism is not a sign of faith, but of immaturity and impatience – the desire for a kingdom without a cross. We must move past this desire in order to advance in faith and hope. More than that – we must even learn to despise this desire, for if it were ever granted, then we would be settling for something less the life and character of Jesus!
My own repentance in this area has been aided by Hebrews 5:7-8
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
Loud cries – tears – suffering: These were the hallmarks of Jesus’ prayer life! Since Jesus demonstrates “the good life” in every way, we should adjust our expectations so that they track with his experience.
Applying This To Transformation
Pray those verses from Hebrews (or similar verses) back to the Father. Confess that they are true, and ask him to form in you, through the Holy Spirit, the same hope of deliverance that Jesus possessed – not just deliverance from physical death, but from the spiritual and relational death that is spread by sin.
Here’s one way you can practice this: When you reach the end of the day, spend a few minutes in reflection, picking out one instance in the day when you felt sharply tempted. Whether or not you withstood that temptation, thank the Lord for his promise to forgive you and change you. Cry out to him about how you wish to become like Jesus in this area. Ask him for the strength to keep fighting, confessing, and praying. Keep this up day -by-day. Persistence is key, because persistence in asking for transformation is transformation itself – and it’s the gateway to all other victories over sin. He will hear you!
Applying This to Evangelism
Repent first by remembering what Jesus says about evangelism:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44)
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38)
Jesus taught that we are to pray earnestly for evangelism to the one who is sovereign over evangelism.
As with transformation, the biggest obstacle to hope and prayer for evangelism is a naive optimism that desires success faster than the Lord chooses to grant it. We can approach evangelism with foolish confidence, as if it were our work and not the Lord’s. We can put our faith in arguments or our abilities to persuade people, only to become proud or embittered when we experience their rejection. Likewise, seeing people we love persist in unbelief despite our prayers can overwhelm optimism that is not deeply rooted in God’s power and desire to save.
If any of those conditions applies to you, set aside a time of prayer just once a week where you work through these steps:
1. Meditate on a verse that reveals the Lord’s love for sinners, such as:
I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7)
2. Meditate on a verse or passage that calls you to hopeful and persistent prayer, such as Luke 18:1-7 – a story Jesus told “to the effect that we might always pray and never lose heart”
3. Focus your thoughts on one or two people. Confess any unbelief you have about the Lord’s willingness or power to save them. Confess the reasons for that unbelief – perhaps it’s because you’ve been waiting long without seeing the Lord at work, or maybe this person or persons show such hardness of heart that you can’t envision them coming to faith.
4. Pray for faith all around – for the persons you’re concerned about to believe in the Lord, and for you to wait on the Lord for their salvation.