devos from the hill

Prayer – The Last Resort, or the First?!

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.

The Lung Surgery that Wasn’t Needed
by Fred Carpenter

You’ve no doubt heard this before. Someone facing a challenge or a crisis has done all they can do. And then it is said (often with some resign), “Well, it’s in God’s hands now; all we can do is pray.” But, what does the Bible teach us about prayer? Is prayer our last line of defense?

Late in 1998, I was experiencing some respiratory issues and my doctor said I should get a chest X-ray. The X-ray revealed a very small spot on one lung, but the doctor was not overly concerned at that point. He recommended we should check it again in a year, which is exactly what we did.

The next time they did a CT chest scan, and the results took a more serious turn. The spot had grown. The doctor told me wanted to remove the affected area and get the appropriate tests run to see if it was malignant. He even talked about the possibility of needing to remove an entire lobe of my right lung.

Being faced with such sobering results, I now saw this as a situation that needed serious prayer. In James 5:15, the Bible cites two prayers of the prophet Elijah as examples of effective prayer. In the first of these (1 Kings 17:1), Elijah prays that it would not rain in Israel until he prayed for rain. And then, 3 ½ years later, when Elijah prayed for rain (1Kings 18:42-46), it rained. The interesting thing about these prayers is that they don’t sound like prayer. When he utters them, he is not asking God, he is simply proclaiming what is going to happen. Upon closer examination of 1 Kings 17-18, we understand that Elijah is simply speaking what God told him to speak (see 18:1). 

I see a parallel between the “effective” prayer of Elijah in 1 Kings and the definition of faith we find in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  There are times I have known that kind of assurance and conviction in my prayer life, but the situation with the spot on my lung was not one of them. And that is why I am so glad for Elijah’s prayer that is found in between the two prayers cited as effective prayers in James 5:15.

In 1 Kings 17:20-21, Elijah is praying for a boy who is near death. This prayer is not cited in James 5:15 as an effective prayer. Reading this prayer, there was no indication that God had given Elijah a conviction about what He was going to do. It reads more like a prayer of desperation as Elijah cries out to God. My prayer was more like this one. I had no assurance of the outcome I was hoping for, but I did have confidence in the One who would determine the outcome. And so I prayed, sometimes in desperation; “Father, I need your help!” And others joined me.

On 12/20/1999, I underwent a surgery to remove the nodule in my lung. After waking from the anesthesia, my doctor came to check on me. I asked him if they were able to get all the growth and he said no. “Why not?” I asked. His answer: “Because there was nothing there!” When they opened me up there was no growth to remove…it was gone!

The lung surgery wasn’t needed… except to teach a lesson and to glorify God!

Lessons Learned

1. Make prayer your first resort, not your last.

I was convicted by my initial response of feeling like the little spot was no big deal. God is at the center of every part of our lives, big or small. Everything we encounter has a purpose to it, and small things can become bigger things. Everything in our lives serves to draw our affections towards God and to ultimately glorify Him. The sooner we engage with Him, the sooner we get to participate in what He is doing.

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.” – Ephesians 6:18 NLT

2. It is good to ask God to give you a conviction regarding what to pray for. But if He doesn’t give you a conviction, you should still pray!

Much like Elijah’s prayer for the widow’s son who suddenly died in 1 Kings 17:17-24, there are times when God brings situations into our lives where we simply must call out to Him with the utmost confidence in Him!

And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”  Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” – 1 Kings 17:20-21

One More Verse to Consider

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

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