Monday, November 18, 2013

Answering the how questions of prayer

Luke 11:1 "Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

Review from Friday November 15th post
We noted Revelation 8:1-5 and how God's power is shown through prayer in the midst of life's storms. We observed the following thoughts:

1. God's power is perceived through prayer. Revelation 8:1

2. God grants power to live for Him through prayer. Revelation 8:2-4

3. God powerfully affects things here on earth through prayer. Revelation 8:5

Revelation 8:1-5 is undoubtedly an amazing passage of scripture in that it proves that not one prayer prayed  by Christians in accordance to God's will is wasted.  W.A Criswell notes the following great insight: "Why interpose this passage? For two reasons. First the great and final judgment of the earth is in answer to the prayers of God's people. What is the high and holy intercession, what is the spiritual appeal  of God's saints through all the ages? It is the prayer that Christ placed on the lips and in the hearts of His people, 'Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.' 1

Standing as a little child at the base of the great tree called prayer
The greatness of prayer is due to the Great God who has assigned it.  However I also know too we often feel that we could be far greater than we are in our prayer lives.  The impulse to pray can be in us, however we too many times may not know how to begin or how to proceed forward in prayer. God has so planted the great tree of prayer in His word and in every Christian's life as a sapling He desires to grow in the soil of faith. 

To look at this "tree" analogy in a slightly different fashion, I feel like a little child standing at the base of the great tree of prayer. Whenever I study scriptures on prayer, God through His word causes me to want to grab hold of the lowest branch of that tree and begin to climb onward and upward. 

We must be careful not to over-think prayer, since the easiest advice you can ever receive about prayer is to pray.  Nevertheless I do think in light of Friday's post you and I need some vital "how-to's" when it comes to prayer. In today's post we will consider a few key passages in the Bible that answer the following "how-to" questions about prayer that can aid us in growing greatly in prayer:

1. How do we pray?  Luke 11:1-13
This is the only time in the 3 1/2 years of the ministry of Jesus where His disciples request of Him to teach them something. Think of all the things they could have asked: "How do you walk on the water?" or "How do you multiply loaves and fishes" or "how do you raise someone from the dead?" Yet the one thing that struck them more than the miracles of the Master was the Master's prayer life. Jesus lays out in this passage three ingredients for informing us on how we ought to pray:

a. Begin and end with an exalted view of God the Father.  Luke 11:1-2

b. Base your prayer on God's promises through His Son.  Luke 11:3-12

c. Bridge your prayer and practical life by submitting yourself to the Spirit's leading in the scriptures. Luke 11:13          

2. How does prayer work?  
The Bible gives us enough of an outline of the inner workings of prayer to acquire the confidence needed to begin prayer and stay consistent in our prayer life.  We may not comprehend the mystery that is prayer, however we can discern enough about how God works in and through it to increase our willingness to pray. Just as the first question centered around the activity of the Triune God in our prayer lives, this second question is answered in much the same manner.  

a. Prayer is aimed at the Father. 
1 John 5:14 "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us."

b. Prayer's advocate on earth is the Spirit.
Romans 8:26-27 "In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." 

c. Prayer's advocate in heaven is the Son
Hebrews 7:25 "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." 1 John 2:1 "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."

Whenever you consider those three above thoughts, the Holy Spirit is the one by whom we pray.  He is the One Who burdens us and presses us to pray. As we pray, He in turn takes our less than perfect prayers to the Son, Who in turn represents us before the Father.  All three Persons are One God, ever in unity and union with One another as One God.  The Father sends the answer worked out between He and the Son by the Spirit back down here to us on earth.  As Ephesians 2:18 reminds us - "for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father." To pray is an extraordinary event when you think about it. 

3. How to pray effectively?
So far we have answered the questions: How do we pray? and How does prayer work? There is one last "how-to question": How do we pray effectively? The answer is found by combining prayer with the scriptures. James 5:11-19 teaches us two reasons why effective prayer goes hand-in-hand with scripture:

a). Enduring in prayer requires the scriptures. James 5:11-15
James utilizes the account of Job in demonstrating how God's grace enabled Job to endure the hardships he underwent and how God raised him up at the end. Job's endurance in faith and in prayer is used as an example throughout scripture.

b). Empowering prayer requires scripture. James 5:16-19
James then switches from Job to the example of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet of Israel who was known for the miracles God wrought through him and the prayers he prayed.  Who can forget his intercession on top of Mount Caramel when his servant saw a cloud the size of a man's hand and Elijah running ahead of Ahab's chariot in 1 Kings 18:41-46. 

James uses both of these men to demonstrate how prayer hitched to God's Word can make for effective prayer that is both enduring and empowering.  To pray the scriptures simply means to take a passage in context and apply it to your situation.  So we can pray something like: "Lord, just as you enabled Job to endure his trial, enable me to endure mine" or "Lord, just as you assured Elijah that You were going to see Him through, would you grant me the same." Scripture is God's Word and so it is through those sacred words the Spirit speaks, for they are His words. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

1. W.A Criswell. Expository Sermons on Revelation - Volume 3. Zondervan. 1964. Page 167.  
Dr. Criswell continues the quote on the same page - The time has now come for that prayer uttered by God's people through millenniums to be answered by God.  That is why at this point when those prayers are finally to be answered, God has brought before Him the remembrance of those intercessions through the ages. The time has come when God will cast out Satan, will dethrone the usurper, will judge sin. The time has come when iniquity and death and hell and the grace will be destroyed forever. The time has come when God's kingdom shall be established in the earth. At that time God has brought before Him the remembrance of those intercessions through the ages."

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