It was good for me to hear this today.
Archives For Prayer
When you listen to believers talk about the Christian life there is a common theme: prayer is important and difficult. This is not a new phenomenon, even the earliest disciples requested some classes on prayer (Luke 11:1). Therefore, it is encouraging and instructive to hear Jesus’ teaching on how to pray from what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”
What is interesting to me is the way he begins: “Our Father…” (Matthew 6:9). In this Jesus calls us to the family room for a conversation with our heavenly Father. Before we go further, however, it is important, even imperative to acknowledge and overcome a major obstacle that this opening presents.
As we in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, this prayer from Valley of Vision will doubtlessly bless you:
O My God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;
I bless thee for body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;
I bless thee for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness;
I bless thee for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.
It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.
In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.
Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.
So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?
As people we know that it is often wise to resist various urges that we have. We can keep ourselves out of trouble by resisting the urge to say something when we are offended. We can prevent various health issues by resisting urges to overeat or (routinely) eat unhealthy foods. We can steer clear from financial debt by resisting the urge to buy something on impulse. We can almost develop a reflex of resistance in this fallen world. This can be good for us (and others).
However, there is one urge that you should never resist. This area is prayer. I believe it was Martyn Lloyd-Jones whom I first read who said, “Never resist any urge to pray.” That is great advice without much need for explanation. But let me point out a couple of reasons why.
The urge to pray does not come from your flesh or the devil, but from God. It is God who is urging and drawing his children to pray. He desires communion with his people. We can be confident that the urge to pray is an urgent call from God to lay our pride down and come to him with the sweet joys of communion with the Triune God. In prayer we come to confess our sin, claim God’s promises, bath in Christ’s blood, and refresh our souls. As Calvin said, prayer is climbing up into the lap of our Father. Why should we ever resist such an urge?
Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.
In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them. In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
How does he begin?
May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3
The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!
Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!
Whether you are stepping into the pulpit tomorrow or will be in the pews tomorrow, this is they type of prayer that you can pray for the sermon: “May this teaching drop as the rain…may the name of the Lord be proclaimed, may he ascribe greatness to our God!
The best part about this: God answered the prayer. Read the sermon; it drips with God-centeredness.
There always seems to be some sort of news of a scandal or shameful practices concerning professing Christians. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. As a result, we all (rightly) lose our collective breaths and our stomaches turn.
Then questions come. Why? How did this happen?
I remember hearing John MacArthur say,
“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”
His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.
The door flings open and a wide-eyed, curly-haired little girl hastens into the center of the room. She comes right up to me without a second thought. She is my daughter, the fact that I am in a meeting is of no consequence to her at the tender age of 3. She has something to say.
One of the things that I learned in pastoral ministry is that children are often a very good illustration of the truth that we are trying to communicate. This is no different. The scene described above have been happened multiple times over the years. One of my kids would run in, jump up on my lap and ask if they could eat a piece of candy or to inform me of something that was very important to them at the moment. As parents we had to work with them on manners but not confidence. They understood that they had free access to Daddy. Come and plead, talk, make your requests known to me. I think of their little faces, resolving to come and then running down the hall to get there, and then with wide-eyes they march in. It’s instructive for us.
This truth of Christ’s high priestly care for us provokes a most amazing response. It is the response of coming to God’s throne with confidence.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus felt the full force of all temptations. The ones that we feel and cave upon he felt to the highest level–and prevailed victoriously.
You might be saying, “It was different for Jesus–he is the Son of God! How can he really understand me?”
“giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” (Col. 1:12)
Paul here takes a biopsy of the prayerful heart of the Christian. What is to be found? The believer is to be filled with gratitude to our infinitely kind Father and his love towards us. He is demonstrating that the Christian’s thanksgiving is rooted in their Father’s action. In other words, this thankful walk is a gospel-informed walk.
Our kind Father has ‘qualified the unqualified’ to share in his glorious inheritance. This inheritance is sin proof, death proof, and time proof. It is laid up in heaven for Christ’s followers. It has been graciously purchased, lovingly applied, and sovereignly protected. And so we are…thankful and continue to be thankful.
This posture of thankful prayer is to continue as long as God is worthy of our praise. The same Spirit that God has sent into our hearts and causes us to cry “Abba Father” is the one that sings joyfully to heaven with intimate thanksgiving for his great work of love towards us in Christ Jesus.
In Jonathan Edwards’ book Religious Affections, he lobbies for the premise that Christians operate chiefly as pilgrims here on earth, with our hearts passionately enflamed from heaven (i.e. Religious Affections). Even further, Edwards argues that God supernaturally keeps “making up the difference” of our earthliness and his heavenliness. In speaking of this grace Edwards writes: “their grace is the dawn of glory; and God fits them for that world by conforming them to it.”
One of the ways in which Edwards suggests that God does this conforming is through the privilege of prayer. When we pray we are not to think that we are somehow informing God of his perfections, as if he was not aware of his prevailing holiness, goodness, justice, love, mercy, & all sufficiency! Nor are we telling God something he does not know in terms of our finiteness, dependence, and unworthiness that we might somehow convince God to do the things that we ask. But rather, prayer is used by God in the lives of believers to mold, prepare and affect the hearts of his children “with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask.”
Edwards is connecting a pivotal dot here for us. So often we see in the Psalms, the Psalmists bemoaning their respective plights, only to meditate and extol God’s attributes, with the result being a worshipful recognition of divine goodness upon the receipt of answered prayer, whether or not the answer is ‘favorable’ to the petitioner (cf. Ps. 116; 118; 121; 123; etc..).
I love thinking about prayer in this way, as a spiritual cardio workout. When we pray we are massaging our hearts with the pressure of God’s eternal perfections and subsequently producing in us the enduring praise to the glory of his grace. Prayer both prepares and sustains affections. In preparing our hearts it works to mold our imperfections closer to the perfect image of Christ and in sustaining it ignites within us an enduring passionate appreciation and pursuit of the glory of God.
So then one might rightly say prayer is for us, but prayer is for God.
Enjoy prayer today, knowing that it is producing in you an affectionate longing for heaven, where heaven’s King reigns, and where one day all of his saints will be joined together before his indescribable throne to ascribe glory, honor and praise to the Lamb who sits exalted.
God is sovereign over all things. This is quite a statement. It is a biblical statement (Ps. 115.3, 135.6). We know that God has decreed whatever comes to pass to actually come to pass. He is in charge of everthing from molecules to miracles, his soveriegnty rules over all.
Part of this truth is the fact that God ordains the means to bring about his will. I have been reminded of this on multiple occassions recently.
Nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther served his barber providing him with a simple way to pray. A hand-written letter outlining how to pray using the Bible and the creeds. I seem to always need prayer to be simplified for me. Therefore, I always come back to Luther’s little pamphlet. Here is a link to the .pdf of it and an introductory quote.
I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I! Amen.
First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.
It is said that author J.R.R. Tolkien created over 14 languages for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been observed that for Tolkien language presupposed a story. The language he created served to communicate his story in a particularly compelling way. But it was the story that brought the language alive. It gave it texture.
In the Scriptures we also find that language gives way to the drama. Think about the early chapters of the Bible as if you have never read them before. You have themes and concepts like mercy, grace, covenant, blessing, inheritance, promise, rest, etc. It is here, early on in the story, that God begins to show us the budding flowers redemption and restoration. This is the gospel language. God created it to serve his ends in communicating the most fascinating, soul-arresting, hear-stirring, joy-producing drama in history.
From one of my favorite books, The Lord’s Prayer, by Thomas Watson:
If God be our Father, we may go with cheerfulness to the throne of grace.
Were a man to petition his enemy, there were little hope; but when a child petitions his father, he may hope with confidence to succeed. The word ‘Father’ works upon God; it toucheth his very bowels. What can a father deny his child? ‘If his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?’ Matt 7: 9.
This may embolden us to go to God for pardon of sin, and further degrees of sanctity. We pray to a Father of mercy sitting upon a throne of grace. ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’ Luke 11: 13. This quickens the church, and adds wing to prayer. ‘Look down from heaven.’ Isa 63: 15. ‘Doubtless thou art our Father’; ver 16. For whom does God keep his mercies but for his children? Three things may give boldness in prayer.
We have a Father to pray to, and the Spirit to help us to pray, and an Advocate to present our prayers.
God’s children should in all their troubles run to their heavenly Father, as the sick child in 2 Kings 4: 19: ‘He said unto his father, My head, my head.’ So pour out thy complaint to God in prayer. ‘Father, my heart, my heart; my dead heart, quicken it; my hard heart, soften it in Christ’s blood. Father, my heart, my heart.’ Surely God, who hears the cry of ravens, will hear the cry of his children!
–Thomas Watson (The Lord’s Prayer), p.21
There is something beautiful about the simplicity of kids. I remember after planting our first garden our little girls woke up early in the morning to run outside and see if anything had grown. After all, we had just put seeds in the ground 20 hours prior!
Their eager expectation is instructive.
In the 5th Psalm we read of a believer exercising highly developed prayer reflexes. He is crying out to God. His heart is overcome with weightiness. It is the type of thing that is first on his mind as he awakens in the morning (Ps. 5.1-2). The concern, burden, anxiety, and desperation of the soul continue to bubble up within him.
In retrospect, prayer meetings are romantic. After all, what seems to be common to every revival and season of gospel renewal? People praying. God moves a few people to begin praying and then he powerfully answers them. Consider Charles Spurgeon, arguably one of the most influential preachers in church history, when asked about the secret to his success, he reportedly said, “My people pray for me.” God uses prayers. God uses prayer meetings.
If they are romantic in retrospection then prayer meetings are also intimidating in planning and seemingly complicated in execution. Several months ago I wrote a post arguing why prayer meetings were important and why pastors should lead their churches by insisting on regular meetings of prayer (Why You Should Attend a Prayer Meeting). I received a lot of feedback, none negative but most discouraged. People universally agree on the need for the meetings but get discouraged by the tone or the direction of the time.
In this post I want to highlight a few areas that I believe are important to helping get a meeting off the ground. These are items that grew organically out of our own context as we wrestled together with what we are trying to build. I sat down with another one of our pastors and we analyzed why our meeting was not being well attended and thriving. We had to ask and answer some hard questions. A lot of it came back to us as leaders. In the last year we have seen our group steadily increase and become a vibrant band of men who regularly sacrifice time to meet early in the morning for the purpose of frontline prayer. It is awesome. God is using it greatly!
Often times Christians struggle with prayer because they forget the wonderful intimacy that comes from their relationship to God. We forget the access and we forget his love.
Jesus taught us to call God our Father (Mt. 6.9) and the Holy Spirit compels our hearts to cry out to God calling him Father (Rm. 8.14-17). This new relationship of being God’s child brings a new heart cry. It is the cry of intimacy, expectation, familiarity, and love.
When you are a little kid you are very aware of your parent’s presence. As a Dad I see this when my two little toddlers sense me tiptoeing out of the room and then proceed to chase me down. At this stage in their lives they have weighed the cost of me doing a load of laundry or fetching something out of the basement against them being alone. And they have sided with the latter in every case. They are aware of and cherish their parents’ nearness.
There are many ways to apply Jesus’ teaching that we must become like a child in order to enter the kingdom (Mt. 18.1-6). The picture of a child fully trusting in and enjoying their parents with admirable simplicity comes to mind. Along with this a child’s awareness and cherishing their parent’s closeness and care. More to my point, another implication of becoming like a child is being aware of and cherishing God’s nearness to us.
We take a lot for granted. Advances that once seemed like life-changers are now staples. It’s hard for us to imagine but there was a first day with electricity, running water, and the Internet. Now these privileges are expected.
In the Christian’s life the same could be said of prayer. Prayer is not an unalienable right of all people, like voting in America when you turn 18. Instead, prayer is a blood-bought privilege for those who trust and treasure Jesus.