In the midst of the modern world, with nonstop connectivity, it’s easy to feel overcome by constant national and international crises: people senselessly attacking each other on social media, sufferings of humanity and daily struggles of home and work. It’s a common, convenient response to feel down, weak and hopeless. Turning off bad news is one option to survive. Jesus taught another way. His methods provide tools to withstand daily troubles and experience true joy, even when calamity strikes your own front door.
Joy is uniquely Christian; the opposite of happiness. Happiness is tied to external circumstances—you fill in the blank. We all have a list of what makes us happy. When the boxes get checked, happiness soars. Every day happiness may come only if: people like my post; everyone treats me fairly; my boss gives me kudos; or I don't have to wait for a red light. At times, long-term goals hold happiness hostage until we get what we want. I’ll be happy when: I get my dream home; I find the right spouse; or when I lose weight.
Joy, on the other hand, is an internal quality that resides deep inside, springing from a well that never runs dry, undisturbed by external events. Toast burns? I’m joyful. Rain washes away my home? I may experience sorrow at the loss, but I’m still joyful. Where does this joy come from? The Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
When you choose to accept God’s most precious gift, His Son, Jesus Christ, as your salvation from sin and death, you receive everlasting life. In that moment, Jesus becomes part of your life. He is available at the core of your being to empower all you do. He is your brother, and God becomes your Father. You’re part of the heavenly family.
The other member of the heavenly family is the Holy Spirit. Just like you invite Jesus to come into your heart and be your Savior, you also need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you. Jesus says that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to unveil Jesus to you day by day (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus to you as you read the Bible or look at the world.
When the Holy Spirit is working in your life and leading you day by day, your life will demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Joy is one of these fruits. The reason that joy is so important to a believer in Jesus is because “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 ESV). We all need strength to live in this crisis-filled world. If we’re honest, most of us need strength to get through each day, even when all that’s on the agenda is a typical day of carpool, work, laundry, online bill-paying and bedtime routines.
Jesus promises us that joy is available through prayer. When we tap into that prayer-fueled joy, we also plug into His strength. We become like the famous battery-powered bunny, running on strength that’s released when we pray, receive answers and experience joy.
As a believer in Jesus, prayer is your key to unlock the door to joy. Jesus taught this to His disciples the night before He was crucified. He was speaking about praying, telling His disciples that they could ask God, our heavenly Father, for anything in Jesus’ name and that God would not only hear but answer their prayers (John 16:23). Then He revealed the link between prayer and joy. He said, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). When you pray and ask for God’s help, answers will come, and you will experience joy. In essence, Jesus is teaching that as His followers, we can have joy-filled lives if we have prayer-filled lives.
The reason that prayer results in joy is found in the words Jesus shared with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. These words come before the instruction to “ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Look at the verses preceding this teaching (John 16:20-22). Jesus is plainly telling His disciples that He is going to die. He tells them that they will be sad when He dies, but they will have joy again when they see Him, when He is resurrected from the dead.
Read these words from John 16:20, 22 NASB: “truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy…therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”
Jesus tells his disciples that they will have joy when they see him again, when they are physically in his presence. As believers in Jesus, we, too, experience joy when we are in the presence of Jesus. When we pray, we are in Jesus’ presence, talking with him, listening to his thoughts as written in the bible and whispered to our hearts. This type of prayer is central to our relationship with Jesus—it’s how our relationship grows, by spending time together. When we spend time with Jesus in prayer, we will experience joy. As Jesus said, it is a joy that no one can take from us.
When we pray we tap into the power of God. We express dependence on God. We are saying, “I long to do this, God, but I lack power. You have all power. Do this thing for me.” This type of asking prayer is a time when we are childlike in our faith, coming to God as coming to our loving, caring father who longs to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:11-13).
This process of asking and receiving answers to prayer releases joy into our lives, filling that spring of joy within our spirits until it bubbles and overflows. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24 ESV).
So, what should you ask for when you pray? This is where the rubber of Christian belief meets the road of faith. Jesus is our model in all aspects of the Christian life. He teaches his disciples how to pray with what we know today as “The Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). In this prayer, he covers basic needs like food, forgiveness and protection. That tells you it’s okay to pray for your needs, right down to your most basic necessities.
We also know that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). A blessing comes from giving to others, including giving to others through your prayers. In other words, you can pray for the well-being of others and effect change in their lives. Others might be the people in your family, workplace, city, state or nation. Or it might be someone in a place you’ve never visited whose home has been wiped out by earthquake, famine or war.
The miracle of prayer is that it can cross borders without a passport. It can overcome language barriers and speak to the need in someone’s life whose very language you do not understand. Prayer lets you stand in front of the Lord on behalf of people like kings and presidents, individuals you may never hope to meet on this earth. Prayer is the ultimate tool of social justice because it levels the playing field in the presence of almighty God, sovereign King of the universe. In His presence, every knee bows.
The skill to powerful prayer is your relationship with Jesus. The better you know him, the bigger your asking will be. When Jesus met the woman of Samaria at the well (John 4:1-42), he tells her plainly in verse 10: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
In other words, He says to her, if you only knew who I am (the Son of God), you would pray to me. In that moment, He’s teaching us that if we know Him, truly know Him well by cultivating a life of prayerful fellowship with Him, we will know what He is capable of and we will ask big things, because He is God. Put simply, knowing Jesus is the secret to a successful prayer life.
Prayer Changes the World Around You
Throughout history, endless examples are known of times when prayer changed events. In the 16th century, when the Scottish reformation unfolded, the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” John Knox was a pastor and a man of prayer. He was a man who knew Jesus and asked big. He prayed, “give me Scotland, or I die.” His prayer was for the salvation of every living soul in a nation. That is a big ask.
In the Bible, barren Hannah prayed for a son, and the Lord God answered her prayer (1 Samuel 1). Her son, Samuel, grew up to become the greatest prophet in Israel’s history. God didn’t stop there. He also gave Hannah three more sons and two daughters. She asked big—and God answered.
In the book of acts, the Apostle Peter is put in prison for preaching about Jesus. While in prison, the church prayed for God to help him (Acts 12:5). An angel appears to Peter and releases him from his chains, unlocks the prison doors, and sets him free. He shows up at the same house where people are praying for him. Those believers asked big—and God answered.
During the battle of the Bulge in World War II, prayer opened the way for 12,000 men under siege at Bastogne in Belgium to receive rescue. A month of terrible weather kept general George Patton from staging the rescue. All he needed was 24 hours of clear weather. So, he ordered the third army chaplain Colonel James O’Neill to write a prayer for a break in the weather. The prayer was printed on hundreds of thousands of wallet-size cards and distributed to the third army.
The prayer read: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”
The army asked big—and God answered. The weather cleared, and what history would call Patton’s “finest hour” unfolded as he moved forces into Bastogne to rescue and reinforce the troops there. Chaplain O’Neill received the bronze star for “writing a prayer.”
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