Friday, August 25, 2006

Prayer

I write on spiritual disciplines because we face a tough reality in the world, as Christians surrounded by temptation, sin and death. In this Christian faith, our spirit is willing, Matthew 24:26 says, but our body is weak. We are threatened daily by arrogance, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lasciviousness, which is why the spiritual disciplines, supported by the full grace of God, must be central to our lives in order to become the “person who should emerge from following Him.” (Willard). Prayer, more than any discipline, is absolutely essential to the Christ-life transformation.

There are so many things in our society called prayer, that it makes it necessary to define the term. As it turns out, prayer may be less about us than we might at first think. Could it be that we are mostly prayer vessels, through which the Holy Spirit works to transform our hearts? I once read that prayer is “the Father, prompting the Holy Spirit, to pray to the Son, who petitions the Father.” Read that again, slowly. In other words, true prayer is God prompting the Holy Spirit in us to pray to Christ, who is our high priest to God. It’s all about God! We, in the process, are transformed and conformed to God’s will through our open communication with Him. Not only are we shaped and changed by this type of prayer, but are given perspective on what is truly God’s nature. When we take part in the work of Trinitarian prayer, all that is not of God falls away and is no longer offered up to the Son. All that remains is true to the nature of the holy God we serve. I believe this is why so often in the Psalms we see the Psalmist begin with petitions and end with praise. He lays his desires, his hurts, his fears and his angers plainly before a mighty God that takes them into His bosom and returns His own heart to His children through the Holy Spirit. Through prayer, the heart of man is transformed to the nature of God.

The implications of the reality of true prayer are far-reaching to the Christian and non-Christian alike. Does this mean that I must follow and respond to God, rather than demand? Yes. Does this mean I shouldn’t ask God for things I want? No. In our society, prayer is most commonly thought of as a means to “get something” from God. “Ask whatever in my name, and you shall have it,” is a commonly quoted saying of Jesus to justify this belief. I do encourage you to ask God for things you need, and as a Father would not give a stone to a son that asks for bread, God will not ignore your requests. However, be careful not to hear what you want to hear instead of what Jesus actually said. Jesus said, “Ask whatever ’in my name’,” which literally means “in my character” or “according to my nature.” He did not mean, “say the name ‘Jesus’ at the end of your prayer and I’ll give you that million dollars you asked for.” He meant, “listen to my voice. My sheep know my voice and obey.” He meant know Him, listen to Him and ask for what you need. God can not, by His nature, answer any prayer that is not consistent with His nature and purpose (of and from Him). He made that law and sticks to it, because a core value of God is remaining true to His holy nature. However, when we ask things that are of God’s nature and He responds, what better builder of our faith?

So, does this mean God can’t hear a non-Christian’s prayer? First, let me narrow the term Christian (as we must do) to someone who has been washed by the Blood of Christ, made into a new creation and given the Holy Spirit (God) to reside inside them. Now, let me answer the question: can God hear the prayers of non-Christians? Yes, of course He can! He can hear me talking right now! But, will he answer them? No. He won’t, because if they did not originate from Him, they are not in His will or His plan and are therefore disregarded. That statement is offensive, I believe, for one reason: we think this life is about pleasing ourselves. It is not – it is about worshipping God. Being obedient to God, through transformation in prayer, is worship and it pleases God tremendously. That said, obedience is also a basic duty of a follower of Christ (Luke 17:7-10). Besides, it is false to believe that we can know, apart from God, what is best for our lives. God can see much further than we can and can therefore lead us down a path that brings Him honor and us great Joy.

Does it matter what position I’m in or what words I use? Jewish tradition says that a man’s heart will often follow his physical body. You can see this in the mood changes you experience when you go from laying down to standing to kneeling. When you lay prostrate before your Lord, many times your stubborn heart has no choice but to follow. However, this is not to say you can not pray as you walk or swim or lay in bed. In fact, Paul encouraged believers to “pray without ceasing.” This is, in fact, what makes prayer a discipline rather than just an activity. It is a constant communication with God, which positions you to hear and receive Him. Pray all the time, about everything – and as far as words go, be honest! God already knows your heart, you can speak plainly!

So, why doesn’t God heal sick people every time someone prays? There are a lot of factors. First, is it true prayer – or are you conducting some strange experiment to test God? Although your non-Spirit-led prayer may be equivalent to the power of a lucky horseshoe, God is not a lucky horseshoe. He is alive, very powerful and will not be tested. Second, God performs miracles in proportion to your faith and the patient’s willingness and desire to be healed. Do you really believe God can heal? Does the patient? There are many more factors, but I don’t understand them well enough to write about them here.

Finally, let’s look at how Jesus taught us to pray (The Message):

“Holy Father,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Forgive us and keep us forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil."

This prayer is rich in meaning, but I will only point out the major themes: a) knowing God b) enacting God’s will on earth c) providing for our most basic needs d) living in a right relationship with God and others e) guarding us against evil. Notice, no Ferraris or Game Boy’s in that prayer?

As Christ fell on His face, prostrate in prayer at Gethsemane, he demonstrated true prayer when he gave up His own fleshly desires in response to God’s will for Him to die a horrific death on the Cross. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Lord, may my heart be like Christ’s, completely transformed and obedient to Your will. Teach me to listen and obey the Holy Spirit’s convictions on my life.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Neal said...

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11:11 AM  

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