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Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

Live Like an Atheist

A prayerless life is one of practical atheism.

Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, p149

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A Biblical Vision for Prayer

Brothers and sisters in Christ, at the heart of all our praying must be a biblical vision.  That vision embraces who God is, what he has done, who we are, where we are going, what we must value and cherish.  That vision drives us toward increasing conformity with Jesus, toward lives lived in the light of eternity, toward hearty echoing of the church’s ongoing cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”  That vision must shape our prayers, so that the things that most concern us in prayer are those that concern the heart of God.  Then we will persevere in our praying, until we reach the goal God himself has set for us.

– D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers

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On Praying Well

Many years ago, a friend told me that it is impossible to pray incorrectly.  From God knowing our requests before we request them (Mt. 6:8), to the Holy Spirit’s intercession (Rom. 8:26-27), it is a valid point.  We might also note that, by definition, prayer is fundamentally an attempt to communicate with God.  In this way, I can’t pray incorrectly any more than I can communicate  incorrectly to another person.  There are, of course, a multitude of ways we might refine this thought.  For example, while I cannot express myself incorrectly, I can express myself inappropriately.  “Hey daddy-o, howz about wording up some mad blessings on this grub, dig?”  would not be an appropriate prayer to bless a meal, because it is not how we should address our Creator and Savior.  Reverence, respect, and humility should characterize our prayers.  We should also bring to bear texts like Jas. 1:5-8; 4:3, Mt. 6:5-15, Php. 4:6, and 1 Thess. 5:17, to name a few.   The Bible is filled with examples and commands regarding prayer; indeed, its largest book (Psalms) is a collection of prayers!

During a recent bout of late night introspection, I started to read through older entries in my journal.  Said journal is often neglected, but when it is put to use, its primary function is to hold my written prayers to God (side note: this is an excellent help for those of us who struggle with a wandering mind during prayer).  I was struck by how much my prayers revealed about my walk with God.  It gave me solid evidence for evaluating what I think of Him, how I relate to Him, and what the priorities are in my life.

From time to time it may be helpful to examine our own prayers.  After all, if I were to reflect on my relationship with my wife, one of the first places I’d look is at our communication.  How do I talk to her?  How often?  What’s my tone?  Do I speak to her respectfully and lovingly?  What do I usually talk about?  Do I spend most of my words on requests – or demands! – or do I frequently praise her for the blessing she is in my life?  Do I speak to her only when something important comes up, or do I also share my thoughts on smaller matters?  Are all of our conversations focussed on me?  How often do I listen?  How important is it to me?  Do I miss it when we don’t talk to each other?  Is my speech filled with vague platitudes, or clear sincerity?

Honest answers to these types of questions can show us aspects of our walk with the Lord that we might not otherwise see.  An examination of our prayers might reveal attitudes, patterns and behaviors that require repentance, and are no help to our relationship with God.

While it may not be possible to pray incorrectly, I do believe it is possible to pray well.  I do not mean this in the sense that we can learn to say the right words with the right inflection at the right times, but rather in the sense that prayers are a crucial component to our walk with God.  Praying well is tantamount to following God well.  The former is really little more than an evidence of the latter.  I would even go so far as to take a cue from James, and adapt his (in?)famous words on faith and works:  Do you love God?  Then show me your prayers (c.f., Jas. 2:14-18).

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Prayer is a rather large topic, one I’ve intentionally avoided writing about simply because there’s so much to say.  How in the world do you narrow down the Bible’s teachings on prayer into one post?  Or even a few posts?  That’s a lot to ask.  But last year as I was teaching on the Sermon on the Mount at church, I realized that I could at least narrow it down to cover this particular section of Jesus’ teachings.

 

In Matthew 7:7-11, we read these words of Jesus (TNIV):

 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened.

 

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good fits to those who ask him!”

 

I’ve often heard these words used by those in the “prosperity gospel” sector of the church to claim that we can pray for financial blessings and expect that God will grant us our requests.  After all, He loves to give good gifts!

 

However, when you look at these words in light of what precedes it in the Sermon, you’ll find that what we are expected to pray for is narrowed a bit more than many realize. 

 

Consider Jesus’ words in 6:25-34.  Here, Jesus instructs us not to concern ourselves with food and clothing, God will provide those as He sees fit.  In fact, worrying about these things is in line with the pagans, “for the pagans run after all these things…” (v32).  Instead, we are instructed to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (v33). 

 

Immediately preceding these words, Jesus instructs us not to “store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v19).  I would think this would directly contradict the idea of praying for wealth.  And you can’t take “treasures” to be solely metaphorical, since Jesus in v24 goes on to say that you can only serve God or Money, not both. 

 

In the “Lord’s Prayer” (v9-13), we see the type of physical need that we are to pray for.  In v11, we’re encouraged to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”  Instead of praying for riches, and all the comforts that come with it, we’re instructed to pray for enough to get through today.  This is a call to trust God to provide us with what we need, not necessarily what makes us comfortable and at ease.

 

But you’ll also notice an alternative focus that is given here, praying for God’s name to be hallowed (the NET Bible translates it “may your name be honored”) and for His kingdom to come here on earth.  Rather than riches, or even a “comfortable living”, we are to pray for God’s kingdom to be made manifest on this earth.

 

So, notice the juxtaposition throughout chapter 6 on what our focus is to be. 

 

1. Pray only for enough “bread” to get through the day.  Pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth.

 

2. Do not store up treasures on earth, because it will one day be destroyed.  Instead, have a mindset that seeks to serve God, rather than Money.

 

3. Do not worry about food and clothing, because providing those is God’s job.  Instead, we are to seek the kingdom of heaven and the righteousness of God.

 

So, when we reach Jesus’ words in 7:7-11, given above, we ought to have it in our minds already that Jesus isn’t talking about money and the luxuries this world offers.  The “good gifts” we are to seek can hardly be said to be wealth, fame, etc.  He just spent most of chapter 6 telling us not to seek those things! 

 

So what are we to pray for?  How about that God’s righteousness and justice be revealed?  How about for His Name to be honored in all that we do?  How about praying for enough to get through the day, so we can have the strength and resources necessary to live these things out?  Even stepping back a chapter earlier, how about we pray for our enemies and for those who persecute God’s people (5:44)?

 

There is, of course, so much more to be said about prayer, even within the Sermon on the Mount, but I hope this quick look gives us some perspective as we pray.  We cannot forget Jesus’ words in chapter 6 when we reach His words in chapter 7.  Jesus had already laid out limits for His followers in terms of their focus, and had already demonstrated the proper way to pray.  When we keep that context in mind, we should find it intolerable to misuse His words in Matthew 7:7-11.

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Wanted: Prayer

At the risk of overposting this week (if there is such a thing), I found it convincting running across two different posts regarding prayer in the church this week.  As someone who is not a pastor or elder, but is in a leadership position consisting mostly of Bible teaching, I needed to hear (or read) both of these encouragements.

Thabiti Anyabwile encourages people to pray for their pastors and elders (HT: JT), reminding us of the reality of pastors burning out and leaving the ministry.

On the flip side, over at Koinonia, Dr Clinton Arnold (I’ve previously reviewed his book How We Got the Bible) encourages teachers (I’ll extend it to pastors and other leaders) to follow Paul’s example in Ephesians to pray for their students that they do not fall into the trap of spiritual dryness as they study the Word. 

It’s necessary to remember that both groups are susceptible to burning out and becoming spiritually dry.  Those not in a leadership position cannot assume their pastors and elders exist in a consistent state of on-fireness, in fact the challenges to maintain a consistent yearning for the Lord may be even greater.  Pastors and teachers need to know that their biblically sound teaching and passionate preaching of the Word are no guarantee that those under them will somehow avoid the dry desert periods of life- if Paul’s disciples weren’t guaranteed this, then we shouldn’t expect to be either.

So I find myself burdened (in a good way) to pray even harder for my pastors and for those I teach, and I encourage everyone to do the same.  And I hope that someone out there is praying for me, too.

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