Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

To the Father

Sunday March 18, 2007

As the CU committee meets up to pray together we also want to learn more about prayer so that we can lead the CU in praying better. As part of that, I’m hoping to go through a short series over the next three months looking at what Ephesians 2:18 (in context) means by praying to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. First up, then, is praying “to the Father”. This is roughly what I’m hoping to say on Wednesday – it’s a huge subject so we have to skim over it, but if anything is unclear or I’ve missed anything important do comment!

Say what Ephesians 2:18 says and introduce what we’re going to do over the next three prayer meetings.

If you open up Matthew 6 that’d be helpful. While you’re going there, I should say that this doesn’t mean that praying to Jesus is wrong – in 1 Timothy 1 Paul says that he thanks Jesus – but the vast majority of prayers in the Bible, and the message of the teaching on prayer, is that we pray to the Father. What does that mean? I think Matthew 6:5-8 give us two lessons to learn about this.

Firstly, in verses 5 and 6, don’t be like the hypocrites, pray to the Father who sees. Religious people want everyone to know that they’re praying, so they pray where everyone can see them. And they are rewarded for it, but the only reward they receive is the praise of other men. By contrast, we should pray in our rooms – in private – to the Father. The Bible commends praying together, but coming to prayer meetings should be the tip of the iceberg of our prayer, and most of it is hidden where nobody sees except the Father, who sees what is done in private. It also means that when we pray together we still pray to the Father, not to each other – if the reason you don’t want to say anything out loud is that you’re worried what the rest of us will think about it then your heart may be more concerned with the praise of other people than the approval of God. Don’t be like the hypocrites, pray to the Father who sees.

Secondly, in verses 7 and 8, don’t be like the pagans, pray to the Father who knows. If your God is a distant God rather than a Father, you will think that you need to impress him with your theology or your endurance in prayer. But our God is our Father so we don’t need to twist his arm, we just pray to him. Moreover, God already knows what we need and what’s best for us, so we don’t need to lay out every detail of what we want him to do. Theology is good as it allows us to relate to God more appropriately, but you’ll never convince God by babbling about it. So while we’re praying together, if someone says a really “good” prayer don’t be afraid to follow it with something very simple, even “Father, please would the CU serve you better”. And don’t measure someone else by the length of their prayer – God doesn’t. Don’t be like the pagans, pray to the Father who knows.

Once he’s explained what it means to pray to the Father, Jesus begins his model prayer with: “Our Father in heaven”. Know that your God is your Father, who loves you and knows what you need. Know that your God is the awesome God in heaven so do fear and respect him appropriately. Let’s pray to our Father…

Spiritual Reformation 2 & 3

Saturday January 20, 2007

The first of Paul’s prayers that Carson looks at is in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12. There’s a lot in there, but I’ve come away with three big things to chew over and try to improve (there’s a lot of room to do better!) with regard to how to pray for other people – namely: view, aims and content.

Paul’s view in this prayer is through a wide angled lens. Everything is set in the context of the grace of God which saved the Thessalonians and is the only means of their ongoing sanctification. Furthermore, the end of this world seems to be always in Paul’s mind, with many references to judgement and the new creation. I too often focus on what people want today or – if I’m really good – tomorrow.

Paul has two aims for his prayer – that “Jesus Christ will be glorified in us on account of what we have become by his grace, and we will be glorified in him on account of what he has done for us” (p59). He doesn’t aim for comfort or happiness for the Thessalonians, but for what is actually best.

It is hardly surprising when Paul is looking at the big picture and is praying for the glory of Jesus and Christians that he doesn’t pray for temporal, material things. The content of his prayer is largely concerned with thanking God for evidence of grace in the lives of the Thessalonians (specifically faith, love and steadfastness, v3-4) and asking God to continue with their sanctification (“that our God may make you worthy of his calling”, v11). There is also prayer that the godly agendas of the Thessalonians would be fulfilled (v12) – not, that is, exams, competitions or social events but “every resolve for good and every work of faith”.

Honestly, my response? Despondancy. Not only does Paul pray all the time, but he’s really good at it! When I do manage to pray, I so rarely have the view, aim or content that Paul manages. What’s more, my earlier resolve to have a list of 12 people to pray for every time I prayed has gone completely splat and I’m tempted to give up on the whole thing. But I know that that’s Satan’s tactic and not the council of my King. I know that what I must do is get up off the mat, then get back down on the mat on my knees (see what I did there?!). I need to admit I’ve failed, and that I could never do anything other than fail. I need to admit that I’ve given in to the temptation to revel in self pity. I need to ask forgiveness. I need to praise God for his grace that there are so many fresh starts and a promise that one day it won’t be a battle but I’ll be perfected. I need to ask that God would teach me to pray. Then I need to take a smaller slice of the elephant that is learning to pray better and – relying fully on God – start chewing.

So, new resolve. I’ve just nicked the student prayer list from my church and added the the twelve names from before and a few others. Now each day there are four people – three Christians and one non-Christian. Each morning, immediately after the Bible (or I’ll never get round to it) I will, at the least, go through the Lord’s prayer, pray for the appropriate four people and read a prayer from Valley of Vision. I believe that, by grace, this is an achievable target. If not, I just need to learn to carve a thinner slice. I really should get some specific accountability on this, but until I manage to set that up (and once I have!) here’s trusting in God.

Heavenly Father, I long for Jesus to be glorified in me. I do also long for the day when I will see him and will be sanctified and glorified. For now, Father, I cling to your grace. I thank you that my motivation to improve has come from your grace. I pray that your grace would sustain me and allow me to pray at least this much each day and that soon I would outgrow this and seek more time in your presence. Please keep me from legalism and from apathy – please keep me in grace. I thank you that you have given us teaching on how to pray. I thank you that the Spirit prays in my weakness, and he knows the deep things of you. I thank you that my salvation isn’t based on being able to maintain discipline, but I thank you that I can please you by doing so. Please teach me to pray, please conform the amount, the view, the aims and the content of my prayers to your will. Amen.

I love praying!

Wednesday December 6, 2006

With being quite busy organising the CU carol service (and trying to vaguely understand whatever it is my lecturers are talking about) blogging’s been a bit thin lately. I do have some posts on 2 Timothy ready, and some prayer related things I want to think and write about, but that’s all probably going to have to wait until Christmas. I did just want to share this bombshell though which I’ve sadly only just had. I love praying!

The first thing I should say is that this doesn’t mean that I’m good at it or that I do it anything like often enough. In the last week I haven’t spent a serious amount of time praying any morning, and I haven’t brought my list of 12 (now 13) guys to the Lord in prayer. That really saddens me as I see my own faithlessness pretty clearly, especially in the lead up to a major event, so please do pray for my discipline in this. But what I wanted to say is that the times I have prayed have been great. Praying in groups, or pairs and having the encouragement of seeing other people praying with me – and often for me. A quick prayer for illumination before I read the Bible that turns into natural praise and thanks to God for revealing himself in his word. These times have been great.

But what to do practically if (like me most of the time) that isn’t your experience? I don’t really know. Talk to someone older and wiser than me! But it might help to go to group prayer events so you’re forced to pray and see if you don’t love it! And pray that you’ll pray, that praying will become more natural. That might sound stupid, but it’s helped me. I’ll leave you this quote (though the whole post is great) from a post that Dave Bish wrote on a similar subject:

And remember, permission to fail, grace for all our past and future failings in prayer… if you reach the end of the day prayerless, humble yourself, confess it and seek God’s grace and then admit you need to sleep because you’re not God after all.

Prayer does change things!

Monday November 20, 2006

This post title will probably get me in a little less trouble than the previous one. It seems obvious, but I often act like I don’t really believe that prayer will change things – so I have to ask whether I really do believe it. I just wanted to remind myself of some examples of obviously answered prayer from the last couple of weeks. If they encourage someone else as well then praise God. I fear that the reason that more don’t spring to mind isn’t that God isn’t faithful to answer, but because I’m not faithful to ask. As a teacher I respect said to me when I shared some of these things with him – “so be zealous for prayer!” Why wouldn’t I be? It clearly works:

  1. A church I visited one year ago and a couple of weeks ago has made huge progress in that time. They are so much more gospel- and Jesus-centred, have far better participation and are doing great things in their area. When one of my friends asked what they put the change down to the answer was “well, I think really we just prayed about it”.
  2. A pair doing evangelism on campus met someone they’d met a few months ago. Back then he’d been really uninterested so we’d prayed for him and then forgotten him. Now, it seems a lot of his blocks have been removed and he’s much more open.
  3. As a CU we prayed that 5 people would volunteer to help out with the carol service. 6 turned up. There are also many other providences in the planning of this event which I won’t bore you with.
  4. Feeling completely dead on morning I prayed that God would give me joy so I could face the day in a godly manner. Within minutes I had Christian songs stuck in my head and they stayed there for a couple of days. Singing about Jesus is an amazing antidepressant!
  5. One evening I was feeling stressed about everything that was going on. I asked God that he would help me to leave that behind and find peace and comfort as I read the Bible. He did!

Prayer doesn’t change things!

Sunday November 19, 2006

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Calvinism (in particular, that God is completely sovereign over every aspect of everything) is that it encourages people not to pray. God’s already decided what’s going to happen – why pray? I’ve heard it said that one of the means God uses to achieve his will is the prayers of Christians. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I wonder if the following is an example of it. The birth of John the Baptist had been planned and prophecied long in advance (Malachi 3:1, 4:5, Isaiah 40:3-5). Yet the reason that he was born was the prayer of Zechariah and Elizabeth that they might have a child (Luke 1:13). God used their prayer to bring about a key step in salvation history. (See also Matthew 24:20, the “abomination of desolation” is set in stone, but they could pray about when it would be.)

That makes me impressed by God’s cleverness, but there are more dramatic examples – cases where people pray for things that they know for certain will happen. When the people of Israel prayed to be set free from Egypt (Exodus 2:23) and God answered (3:7-10) they knew that he had promised they would only be in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13-14). When Daniel learned from Jeremiah 25:12 that the end of the exile was near (Daniel 9:2), he prayed for the end of the exile! We know that at the end of time, every knee will bow before Jesus “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11), yet we pray that the Father’s name would be hallowed (Luke 11:2).

In a sense, prayer won’t stop God’s eternally planned plan from happening. Surely nothing could stop that. Yet we should still pray for things which God has decided in advance and which we know are going to happen (such as the examples above). So surely we would also pray for things which God has decided in advance but we don’t know are going to happen. That logic may make no sense to anyone apart from me (and only barely make sense to me) but I’m not going to stop praising God that he is sovereign over every miniscule detail of life, and I’m not going to stop praying for my family, my friends, my church, my world or my God.

Prayer lists

Wednesday November 15, 2006

The thought that most stuck in my mind from chapter 1 of A Call to Spiritual Reformationwas the idea of prayer lists. I have dabbled with them but all these attempts have been short lived, largely because whenever I try to write one the list of names I think of to include quickly becomes unmanageable. There’s everyone in my extended family, course-mates who I want to accept the gospel, those in leadership in the CU and at my churches at home and at uni, my Christian friends, Christian friends I’ve lost touch with, non-Christian friends I’ve lost touch with. I feel like I should pray for all of these so inevitably end up discouraged by the size of the task and pray for non. The paragraph in D.A. Carson’s section on prayer models included the following on Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones:

“I recall how shamed I was when one of Lloyd-Jones’s daughters told me some months before he died that her father had asked her to tell me that he prayed for me regularly. It was not as if I were within his inner circle of friends – and so I suddenly realised how extensive his prayer ministry must be and how deep his commitment to intercede for ministers of the gospel.”

That is truly impressive, but it’s not long before I think that really I should pray for D.A. Carson. He is an influential Christian leader, so his maturity and growth are hugely important. The list of names I could pray for becomes huge and I quickly buckle under the weight. Really, though, that’s quite stupid. Because I want to pray for so many people I pray for none. Hm. So I’ve set a realistic target of having 12 people (it just seemed an appropriate number!) that I would commit to pray for regularly.

So, where to start? Which 12 to pick? I’m sure I could have made a better selection, but the point is to avoid the search for perfection and just start praying! I’ve gone for 3 members of my family, 2 guys I’m accountable with, 1 close friend at church, 1 friend from home, 1 Bible teacher over me who I know well enough to ask how I can pray for him, 2 in CU leadership and 2 non-Christian friends. It’s a start, and it’s manageable. I hope that with time and God’s grace I can extend the list, but for now I can commit to “with out ceasing mention [these guys] always in my prayers” (Romans 1:9-10) – that is that whenever I spend time praying I will include thanks and intercession for this group.

The second problem I’ve had was how to be relevant and varied. How to pray things that would actually help people out without resorting to the same petitions every day (which, apart from simply becoming routine, would drive me to boredom and to give up). Two answers have come to mind over the last couple of days – both of which are pretty obvious. The first is simply to ask them what I can pray for. This is obviously easier with Christians, though it does require developing a habit of doing so. With non-Christians it can sometimes be appropriate to promise to pray for some situation they’re in, but often we will have to go with our best guess. Thank God that the Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness (Romans 8:26)!

The second is something that Carson mentioned a couple of times: to pray over the Scriptures. For example, from my Bible reading today (I’m using the McCheyne Bible reading calendar, which I find great) I can thank God for evidences of faith, love and hope in the Christians on my list (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3) – and pray that they will increase. I can pray that they will rejoice in the LORD and their meditation will be pleasing to him (Psalm 104:34). For non-Christians, I can pray that they will hear the gospel “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5) and so they will see that “the LORD, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39). This doesn’t require me to be really smart – I have no idea what I would pray from Ezekiel 48 – but it means that I get ideas of what to pray for, and what I pray is hopefully in line with God’s word.

In all this, I don’t want to add another legalist tick-box to my life. It’s a fair bet there are days when I won’t pray for any of these 12 at all. It’s a fair bet I’ll pray things which would actually be bad for them. It’s a fair bet I’ll sometimes feel proud when I pray and sub-Christian when I don’t. But I pray that God will transform my heart to depend on prayer, and view it as the most useful thing I can do for my friends and family and – most of all – that through my prayers he will move in the situations I’m praying for and so show his glory by achieving things I never could on my own. Surely that’s what it’s all about.

Spiritual Reformation 1

Monday November 13, 2006

Lessons from the School of Prayer 

Carson’s first chapter is about prayer lessons he has learned from “more mature Christians”, before he turns to the “more important and more authoritative” source – the Bible. Throughout he is keen to avoid legalism and to emphasise that we must all learn to pray, we can’t just follow a recipe, but he gives 8 lessons to help us (italics are my own thoughts, everything else is a quote – including the headings – or a paraphrase):

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray: we need regular times when we know we are going to pray, or we will simply never get around to it.
  2. Adopt practical ways to avoid mental drift: it can be helpful to pray out loud (or at least move the lips), to allow your daily Bible reading to control your prayer topics, to use biblical prayers as models or to keep a journal.
  3.  At various periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer-partner relationship: (if this is going to be with someone of the opposite sex it must be your spouse!) we can learn much from more mature Christians, or from those with a similar level of maturity to us. Also, “Such clusters of prayer partners have been used by God again and again to spearhead powerful ministry and extravagant blessing.”
  4. Choose models – but choose them well: I couldn’t choose which parts of one paragraph in this section to cut!
    1. “Not every good model provides us with exactly the same prescription for good praying, exactly the same balance. All of them pray with great seriousness; all of them use arguments and seek goals that are already portrayed in Scripture. Some of them seem to carry you with them into the very throne room of the Almighty; others are particularly faithful in intercession, despite the most difficult circumstances in life and ministry; still others are noteworthy because of the breadth of their vision. All are characterised by a wonderful mixture of contrition and boldness in prayer.”
  5. Develop a system for your prayer lists: “Whatever the system, use prayer lists”. I want to come back to this in my next post.
  6. Mingle praise, confesion, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture: “we must remember that the Bible simultaneously pictures God as utterly sovereign, and as a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God” (more on this in chapters 9 and 10). A good relationship to balance these two is that of a boy with his father. How do we know what God wants us to pray for? We look in the Bible and when we can’t work it out, the spirit “intercedes for all the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Romans 8:26-27)
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers: public prayers are, of course, to God but others are overhearing. Jesus prayed for the benefit of those around him at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:41-42). Charles Spurgeon would allow other men to deliver sermons in his church while he was there, but would always reserve the “pastoral prayer” for himself because he felt it was such an important was to “instruct and edify and encourage the saints”.
  8. Pray until you pray: “That is Puritan advice”, meaning that we should pray in one sitting for long enough that we get past the “feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying”.

Next up from D.A. Carson: “The Framework of Prayer” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-12)

“Our Son in heaven?”

Monday November 13, 2006

Hopefully I’ll have time to put together some thoughts on the first chapter of Spiritual Reformation this afternoon, but now I can sneak in some quick musings on which person of the Trinity we should be praying to.
I was listening a series of talks by Justin Mote on Leviticus (available here) and it turns out that it really is all about Jesus! He made a point about prayer towards the end of the first talk which I have reproduce below. He was talking about how Jesus has replaced the entire Old Testament Aaronic priesthood and said:

“Can I encourage you when you pray to pray to the Father and not to Jesus? It’s an odd thing isn’t it – I think Christians all the time pray to Jesus, but the New Testament – there’s one reference where Paul says he thanks Jesus [presumably referring to 1 Timothy 1:12] – but the New Testament exclusively prays to God the Father because the death of Jesus has brought us so that we can have access to God ourselves – God the Father.”

This brings to mind a similar thought by Pete Woodcock at a conference last April , who added that generally it is new, less mature Christians who pray to Jesus. While I don’t doubt that that has been his experience it hasn’t been mine – I know some very mature men, including church leaders, who address their prayers to the Son – but it certainly seems worth pondering. Jesus himself told his disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven”. I agree with these guys that we should be praying to the Father, though I also agree with Justin’s comment at the beginning of the next talk that prayers to Jesus will still get through – I think he got questions from some people who were worried their entire prayer lives had got lost in the post. God loves all our attempts to please him, but it’s still right to find out what does please him and change our lives accordingly (eg Ephesians 5:10).

PS. For a detailed summary of how we should pray to a triune God, Pete Woodcock’s sermon on Ephesians 2:18 is great. It explains what it means to pray to the Father, through the Son, in (or by) the Spirit.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly

Friday November 10, 2006

(James 4:3)

So how are we to ask? How should we pray? Andy Mason was at Imperial CU last night talking about prayer and, in my opinion, he blew the doors off the place (this is one of the things that conspired to get me on my knees). A brief summary of what he said is below – two negatives and three positives:

1. DON’T idolise prayer. Evangelical Christians often talk as though prayer is essential for our relationship with God. As if a week when we do all our quiet times will be one where we’re a good Christian, or one where our relationship with God will be stronger. Our relationship with God is based on Jesus. There is only one mediator between God and man – and that’s Jesus, not prayer. Prayer is important, but if we replace Jesus with it then our faith is no longer grace alone by Christ alone.

2. DON’T think the problem with our prayer lives is just lack of prayer. We often think that if we prayed more our problems would be solved. In fact, we have a poor understanding of prayer and don’t pray well when we do pray. Just adding up the minutes won’t solve the problem – we need to learn how to pray.

3. DO desire God above his gifts. I don’t think I can say it better than Andy: “What good would it be if God gave us everything we could possibly ask for, but didn’t give us himself? If we gained the whole world but lost our souls?” It’s a scary thought how much I desire the former. Our greatest desire in prayer should be to know God’s glory.

4. DO seek after God’s will. As the Lord’s prayer says. If we pray that God’s will will be done, we can know that we’ll get the answer that we want because God will keep all the promises he has made, and he will bring glory to himself. So pray for it! Plus, praying about God’s glory and God’s will is far more interesting that praying about my wants and needs because God’s far more interesting than me!

5. DO see prayer as a way to glorify God. If we pray and then things happen, it brings glory to God.

That’s been a blogging marathon for tonight – I wanted to get these thoughts out so I can start on Spiritual Reformation tomorrow evening. Now, though, it’s time to pray and then get some sleep!

You do not have, because you do not ask.

Friday November 10, 2006

I have heard this sentence from James 4:2 quoted by people who want Christians to pray more, which seems a pretty good aim. (Though having had a quick skim of the surrounding verses, I’m not sure that we can take it as straightforwardly as some would like. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s about asking God but that’s another conversation for another time.) Certainly there are plenty of people who want us to pray more, because we all know that in this culture we don’t pray enough. We would all say that prayer changes things – and indeed that it’s vital to our lives – but few of us would be comfortable when reading Paul talking about his own prayer life.

So I decided a little while ago that my personal project this year would be to learn about prayer. There are some books I want to read (which I’ll talk about in a minute) and I want to talk to other people about it. But something rather odd has happened over the last couple of days. Previously, I wanted to want to pray, I wanted to be good at praying, I wanted to improve my relationship with God (though for that, see the next post), I wanted not to cringe when I read Paul. But something’s happened. I want to pray! A few things happened to bring about this change, and I thank God for their timing. I might even write about some of them here sometime soon.

So, what’s the plan? First, it’s to pray – that God will make me a pray-er, that I will rejoice in this gift he’s given us, that I will pray and that my prayers will glorify him. Then it’s to ask a couple of my friends to keep talking to me about prayer and keep me excited about it. To learn more about prayer, because there are so many verses I don’t understand and time’s I don’t know what I’m meant to do, there are four books I want to read. The first is A Call to Spiritual Reformation by DA Carson which is on my bedside table at the moment. Then the Bible Speaks Today commentary on prayer, FF Bruce’s book on the subject and Valley of Vision, a book of prayers written by the puritans, to guide and encourage me. Fourthly, I’m going to post thoughts here. Much of this will be reflections on what I’m reading to ensure that I do reflect on it. There may also be random thoughts that I have and want to preserve. Please do comment, and share encouragements, advice and grace.