In The School of Prayer with Jesus
When a baby is born, it’s as fully human as it will ever be.
However, it is not yet all that a human is fully meant to be.
Its nature is to grow.
If it remains as a baby, something is dreadfully wrong.
But growth and maturity require a number of essential elements.
Continual cleaning to prevent infection and disease.
Physical exercise and the development of those capacities – hand to eye coordination, walking, etc.
Communication beyond merely crying – language.
Mental and intellectual development – learning.
Relationships. Babies cannot survive alone. Someone must sustain them.
And each of these essentials has its spiritual corollary.
When Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that he “must be born again” or he would not be able see the Kingdom of God – He draws us into the use of this parallel between physical and spiritual growth which the other NT writers employ and develop further.
A parallel intended by God in how He established creation.
GROWTH: Ephesians 4:11–16 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
1 Peter 2:2 “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation”
2 Peter 3:17–18 “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
What does that look like then?
Sustenance. Word of God
Rest. Faith, trust in God’s character
Cleansing. Daily forgiveness (Matt. 6)
Physicality. Walking in holiness
Communication. Worship & Edification – PRAYER!
Intellect. Knowledge of Christ (2 Peter)
Relationships. The Church
Today, I want to focus on the aspect of communication – PRAYER.
One of the interesting features of Jesus’ own incarnation, was that in His incarnate state – He too had to grow.
So we read in Luke 2:40 “And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
If Jesus would demonstrate such growth, as our supreme example – how much more ought we to pursue the same?
Coupled with that then, is also the record in the Gospels both of Jesus’ teaching on the subject of prayer, and His own practice of prayer.
In Matt. 6, we have Jesus’ key teaching on prayer, and in Matt. 26 we have the key example He sets in His own prayer life.
Between these two, I want to make a number of observations central as to how we ought to think about and approach prayer in the Christian life.
When the Writer to the Hebrews is in the midst of opening up some of the immense privileges that belong to the Believer as a result of Christ’s work on our behalf, he writes: Hebrews 10:19–22 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
And what is this entering “the holy places” and “drawing near” to God in full assurance and faith, other than prayer?
In teasing these out, I will confine myself almost exclusively to the 2 passages we had read – though you can see those ideas scattered throughout the Word.
1. Prayer is both assumed and commanded in Scripture. Matthew 6:1–4 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.
1 5 “And when you pray”
16 “And when you fast”
As I’ve mentioned any number of times previously – these 3, Prayer, Alms and Fasting form 3 assumptions in the mind of Jesus regarding the normal Christian life.
In each case it is not: IF you pray, fast or give, but WHEN.
When this is coupled with a great number of other passages, we cannot escape the reality that prayer is an assumed central reality of the Christ life as given to us by God Himself. Not as a mere religious construct.
2. Prayer brings us into private, personal communion with God.
Matthew 6:5–6 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
This is the private aspect of prayer which is so essential.
“No public ordinances can make amends for the neglect of secret prayer; nor will the most diligent attendance upon them justify us in the neglect of those duties, which, by the command and appointment of God, we owe to society.” Newton, John, Richard Cecil. 1824. The works of the John Newton. . Vol. 1. London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.
Christian lives never grow dynamically beyond the level of time we spend alone with God.
That’s where we draw our life. That’s where we draw our vitality. If you want to constantly live in discouragement, and constantly live in panic, and constantly live going from crisis to crisis without stability in your life, continue to believe you can live without being alone with Him on a daily basis. And enjoy your crisis.
The only way you’ll come to the stability is to spend time with Him.
Just as exposure to the Sun leaves you with a tan, exposure to the presence of God in prayer leaves its mark on the soul and in the mind. It changes our spiritual complexion.
NOTE: The core of what true prayer is all about, is not to be found in protracted dialog, but in the pleasure of being in the presence of God, without fear of any kind because of Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
3. Prayer is the submission of our will to His; not the imposition of our will upon His.
I take this both from Matthew 6:9–10 “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And Jesus’ living this out in Matthew 26 where 3 times on the night of His passion He prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Let me read you something by Thomas Aquinas: “It is clear that he does not pray who, far from uplifting himself to God, requires that God shall lower Himself to him, and who resorts to prayer, not to stir the man in us to will what God wills, but only to persuade God to will what the man in us wills.”
If you’re spending all your time in prayer convincing God, He’s doing the wrong thing, something’s amiss.
Because that isn’t what Jesus did. He said, “I will tell you what my natural will is, but the reality is, I’m willing to submit that to you. You do what You know is best.”
I’m convinced that the source of much, if not all, of the frustration in our prayer lives, is that we think that God just isn’t coming around to our way of thinking.
That’s precisely what prayer is designed to combat in us.
Prayer is designed to get our hands off the driver’s wheel, and to commit the course to His keeping.
It’s the humbling and surrendering of our wills, not trying to yank His around. That’s hard.
I’ll tell you, you’ll be able to find out very quickly for yourself where you are in your prayer life: just mark out what it is you’re petitioning for.
How much time are you spending saying, “God, do this,” more than saying, “God, do this in me, because I’m the one who needs to change.
Show me how to meet this situation for your glory.
Show me how to bear up under this temptation so that you might be exalted.
Teach me how to grow in wisdom during this thing so that I might magnify your name, so that I might be equipped to minister to others.”
Instead, we’re constantly saying, “God, make it stop. God, make them stop. God, change them.”
Isn’t that a big one? We’re always praying, “God, change them.” Very little of our prayer is, “God, change us.” And yet that’s the key, because it’s the submission of our will, not the twisting of His. But we miss this in prayer! And because we do, we walk around frustrated.
“I’ve been praying about this for six months, and God isn’t doing anything.” Oh yes He is! He’s teaching you how to submit. You’ve been walking around for six months saying, “God isn’t doing anything,” because you’re the one who hasn’t submitted yet. What He’s doing is breaking you.
That’s so hard to come to. And it’s so contrary to the way we approach prayer, because we want to just lift up hands on high and say the magic words, and have God change the situation to suit us. He says, “No, I’ve crafted the situation to change you. I don’t want to change the situation; I want to change you!”
4. We pray in order to obtain forgiveness. Matthew 6:11–12 “Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
We are to pray in order that we may obtain forgiveness. But what do I mean by that when I say “obtain forgiveness?”
We have a theological construct to deal with.
We understand that God, when He crucified Christ on our behalf, made an atonement for all of our sin, past, present, and future. Yet we don’t live in a state of the eternal past, present, and future. We live in space and time. We live in the midst of things that unfold sequentially. We live in the dynamic of a regular relationship.
In the dynamic of our ongoing relationship with Him, we can injure our intimacy with Him by virtue of our sins in the present. And those sins need to be dealt with.
5. We pray because in prayer is an act of worship.
We worship God when we look to Him for our needs in right relationship to Him.
This, I take from the overall circumstance in both passages, not a specific verse. Psalm 116:16–19 “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. 18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!”
Seeking the Father in prayer gives worshipful honor as the One we go to with our needs and cast our cares upon.
He LOVES to be trusted!
Without faith it is impossible to please God. And nothing shows distrust of God more than prayerlessness.
Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving.”
The first reason why we grow dull in prayer is when we lack in bringing thanksgiving to Him for what He’s done. It never fails.
One of the reasons why prayer becomes such drudgery, such difficulty -why it’s only a laundry list- is because you’ve stopped giving thanks.
You’ve stopped being grateful for what He has done, and you’re only focusing on what you think He hasn’t done in response to some other prayer.
Nothing will kill a relationship quicker. It kills it on your side, not His. He’s standing there waiting. But you lose the joy of His presence. It’s in prayer that we express our thanksgiving – our gratitude for all that He’s done, for all that He’s doing, for all that He’s promised He’s going to do. Face to face!
But how often does our prayer, instead, revolve around a series of complaints dressed up as concerns? That’s really the attitude. “I’ve got a concern over this. I’ve got a concern over that.” And what you’re saying is, “God, you haven’t done this yet.”
I know nothing that’s more effective at guarding the soul against bitterness and hardness than cultivating a habit of thanksgiving in prayer. If that’s all you do when you go to prayer, you’ve prayed well. And I’ll tell you why, on the basis of His Word: so when you come and you pray, don’t pray like the heathen do with all these vain repetitions [Matthew 6:7]. Don’t pray with sweat coming off like God isn’t going to answer unless you sweat bullets. Pray with this confidence: that He knows your need better than you know it. And it’s in the “coming” that He delights. He’s already going to meet the need. Oh, that we knew that! If we just knew how tender His heart was toward our needs: that He’s never left a single thing undone for us! It’s only our dissatisfaction with His perfection. He brings us alive when our hearts are thankful. And how rare it is (I mean this is truly rare) to find someone who is truly contented in this life. But true contentment can only happen on our knees. And it can only happen in the posture of a thankful heart filled with gratitude. No other place. If prayer for you is like pulling teeth, I guarantee you’re not a very thankful individual. That’s always a problem.
6. We pray in order to deal with anxiety. Matthew 6:25 & 31-33 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?..31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Let me give you my own personal definition of anxiety: Anxiety is the powerless feeling we get when our pride is confronted with an impossibility.
We are anxious because we can’t change the impossible situation.
And it wounds our pride. We can’t handle that conflict.
The cure then, only comes in one place: humbling yourself before God. That’s what prayer does. It humbles us.
7. We pray that we might receive. In Matthew 7 [v.7], Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
I don’t understand the dynamic, but this I do know by the teaching of the Scripture: God has ordained to meet our needs, and to answer even our daily things, by virtue of prayer.
How He weaves together our petitions with His sovereign will, I don’t know.
I don’t think we can explain that, and I know I can’t. Let me jump over to somebody who’s far better than I’ll ever hope to be, that grand genius of another age, Robert Haldane. “This teaches us that God, by His providence, regulates all that takes place. There is nothing with which Christians should be more habitually impressed than that God is the disposer of all events. They should look to His will in the smallest concerns of life, as well as in affairs of the greatest moment. Even a prosperous journey is from the Lord. In this way they glorify God by acknowledging His providence in all things and have the greatest confidence and happiness in walking before Him. Here we also learn that while the will of God concerning any event is not ascertained, we have liberty to desire and pray for what we wish, provided our prayers and desires are conformed to His holiness. But will our prayers be agreeable to God if they be contrary to His decrees? Yes, provided they be offered in submission to Him and not opposed to any known command. For it is the revealed and not the secret will of God that must be the rule of our prayers. We also learn in this place that since all events depend upon the will of God, we ought to acquiesce in them however contrary they may be to our wishes. And likewise, that in those things in which the will of God is not apparent, we should always accompany our prayers and our desires with this condition: ‘if it be pleasing to God,’ and be ready to renounce our desires as soon as they appear not to be conformed to His will. Oh how sweet a thing, as one has well observed, were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law.”
What a mystery that is! But He designs to answer and to meet our needs, and to fill our requests, by prayer.
1. Prayer is both assumed and commanded in Scripture.
- Prayer brings us into private, personal communion with God.
- Prayer is the submission of our will to His; not the imposition of our will upon His.
- We pray in order to obtain forgiveness.
- We pray because in prayer is an act of worship.
- We pray in order to deal with anxiety.
- We pray that we might receive.
Prayer is the supreme privilege given to the Believer at the cost of Jesus’ death on the cross, and as a direct result of the power of His resurrection.