Effective Prayer

It is difficult not to drift into a fatalistic view of prayer, where we no longer bother to pray since God has already determined everything that is going to happen. However, the following passage indicates that God acts upon the requests of his children, especially for those whose hands are clean and who are open and honest about their struggles.

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. – James 5:13-18

Hezekiah (one of Judah’s good kings) had an extra fifteen years added to his life as a result of prayer. How we live can help influence God’s answer to prayer. None of us are perfect though. Thankfully, we don’t need to rely on our own ability to live right to gain an audience with God. God attributes us with Jesus’ spotless righteousness when we put our trust in Christ, otherwise God would be deaf to our pleas because of our sins. The prayers of the saints will even somehow contribute to initiating God’s judgment on the great and final day.

Father, without Christ You would not hear us. Thanks that, in Jesus, we can approach You. Sorry for our rebellion against You. Give us the humility to make ourselves accountable to one another so You can return us to health. Even though You may not always heal us the way we want You have saved us, and we trust that You will raise us up as You did Christ. As we make efforts to reduce the impurity of our hearts, increase Your responsiveness to our requests.

Uninterrupted Prayer

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (ESV)

Paul encourages us to maintain continual conversation with God, punctuated with joy and thanksgiving. God is ever present, in any situation we find ourselves in, only He desires for us live in constant, grateful awareness of Him and the Messiah opened up the lines of communication. It is easier said than done though, especially when our circumstances are anything but favourable, added to the fact that our counterpart is invisible. One wonders how well Paul followed his own advice. His letters, however, are littered with examples of Paul seamlessly drifting in and out of prayer. Also, near the beginning of this very letter to the Thessalonians, we have this statement:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers — 1 Thessalonians 1:2 (ESV)

So it would seem Paul strove to live out what he preached and he was even bold enough to call on us to imitate him. Life certainly wasn’t easy for Paul—not by any stretch of the imagination—and yet, despite this, he always managed to find reasons to rejoice and give thanks, especially for what Jesus achieved by the cross and also for each and every brother and sister in Christ.

It also appears that failure to talk to our loving Father at all times in tones of gratitude is tantamount to throwing a wet blanket over the flame of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Father, sorry for ignoring You for much of life. Remaining in unbroken and appreciative conversation with You seems so unattainable, so we ask You to bolster us by the power of Your Spirit to make it our life’s aim, and so please You. Thanks for Your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Who alone makes it possible to live in Your presence now and for all eternity. Thanks also for the precious faith family You have placed us in. Help us not to douse Your Spirit, but let Him ignite us.

God’s Peace Accompanies Joyful Prayer

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Philippians 4:4-7

Even when everything else in life feels oppressive, God is right there, inclining His ear to us, and we still have grounds for a double dose of indomitable joy in God because of what Jesus has achieved for us at the cross. We have no reason to fret about anything since Jesus has purchased our salvation at the cost of His blood. So, no matter what difficult circumstances we face, we owe Jesus a continual, irrepressible debt of gratitude. This is our reasonable response. As we arm ourselves with this attitude when talking to God, God’s unrivalled peace descends upon us, safeguarding our feelings and our thoughts in Christ.

Lord Jesus, I can never thank You enough for all that You accomplished for me at the cross. Keep me in perpetual appreciation for releasing me from my bondage to sin, which put me in conflict with Your Father. Your blood purchased a truce between Your Father and me, which is beyond my comprehension. Thanks.

Sticking at Prayer

We all face the temptation to give up praying for all sorts of reasons. Here, among a string of other things, Paul encourages us to never let up praying, especially when we face life’s difficulties:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. — Romans 12:9-13 (ESV)

If only prayer would become as natural and as constant as breathing. But how do we get there? A good start is to make prayer a habit by setting aside time devoted to prayer, morning, afternoon and evening. If we are stuck for something to say to our Loving Father, the Psalms lay out ready-made prayers, as does the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever hardships befall us in life, we need to meet them with prayer, not impatience, knowing that nothing can rob us of the eternal future we have to look forward to.

Father, make us eager to talk to You in our affliction, instead of being petulant, and may we never lose sight of the hope set aside for us by the blood of the Lamb. Help us embrace prayer as essential as each breath.

 

Will God Hear Us?

The following passage captures God’s response to the inaugural opening service for the temple, the symbol of His dwelling among His people Israel:

Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. – 2 Chronicles 7:12-15 (ESV)

God requires four things of His children in order for Him to give heed to their prayers and stave off His judgment. As Christians, identified by His name, first, we must embrace our lowly position in regard to God. Sometimes we can think too highly of ourselves and our requests, wanting God to submit to our will, and so usurp the heavenly throne. We must submit to God’s rule if we expect Him to bend His ear to us.

Secondly, we must converse with God. Pour out the hopes and desires of your heart before Him. Sure, He already knows every word before it is on our lips but He likes to hear from us anyway. Reading God’s Word alone is to receive monologue, responding to it in prayer transforms it into dialogue.

Thirdly, we must bask in the radiance of God’s glory, not merely looking to what we might gain from His hand but desiring, as a priority, to gaze upon His face. Jesus gave God a face and I, for one, can’t wait to look upon our Saviour’s face, no longer inhibited by my sins which He has taken away. Which brings us to our fourth requirement. We must repent, forsaking our wickedness. Sin is a major hindrance to prayer. If together we enact these four requirements we can be assured that God will hear us.

Father, aid us by Your Spirit to humble ourselves, talk to You, seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways. Once You help us to do these things, have mercy on us in response to our prayers: forgive our wickedness and heal our land of drought, pests and viruses. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Forsaken

Ever suffer the acute sensation of being abandoned by God? Does God seem somewhat distant because life is conspiring against you? Are your circumstances just so bleak that you can no longer detect God at all? Have you been pushed so close to the brink that you could scream at God? Ever desired an audience with God so you can demand He explain why? If so, you are not alone. Jesus can relate; you are in good company. Hear Jesus’ cry of desperation as He hung on a Roman cross:

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

— Matthew 27:45-46 ESV

Importantly, in the midst of His distress, Jesus refuses to bail on the God Who appears to have deserted Him. Instead, Jesus lays claim to God, raising His complaint by repeating the words, “My God,” an invocation of Psalm 22. On this occasion there was no booming voice from on high. No word of explanation. Only silence. And no divine intervention, despite legions of angels being at Jesus’ disposal. Why wasn’t Jesus vindicated by God since He was completely innocent? In order to save us.

Trials will come that will cause us to question God. Like Jesus, hopefully we can keep a firm grasp upon our God when, for a period, the sun refuses to shine on us. If the cross could be wrangled by God so that it became the instrument of salvation, then God is more than able to incorporate our momentary troubles in accomplishing His purposes for us too, though what He is trying to achieve may not be immediately obvious to us.

My loving Father, when darkness closes in thick all around me, and my earthly experiences give me no reason to suspect You are there, help me to continue to trust in You regardless, knowing that You never really abandon me. After all, You have said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Peace In Tribulation

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

Here is a perplexing phrase from Jesus, directed towards His closest companions. In this life they, and by extension we, can bank on suffering through trials, and all this on the planet which Jesus not only  brought into being but subsequently subdued after humanity’s rebellion made it unruly. Jesus triumphed over it by living a life of complete purity (despite being tempted in every way) and conquering it once and for all by His death and resurrection. And yet Jesus tells us that not even the cross undoes the trouble we experience presently, “In the world you will have tribulation.”

While tribulation is guaranteed (even for believers)—bushfires still devastate and Christians are still martyred—Jesus unlocks for us the means to meet it head on by making a deep-seated peace available to us in Himself and through what He taught.

Lord Jesus, equip us, by Your Word, so that we may mimic You, being courageous in the face of suffering and overcoming this world. Help us remain in You that we may know Your peace amidst this world’s tribulations.

Wash Me, Saviour, Or I Die

And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.” — Leviticus 17:15-16

Here is just one of many laws, imposed by God upon His recently liberated people, outlining circumstances which rendered the Israelites unfit to share in the nation’s sacrifices or the feasts commemorating God’s goodness and mercy (especially in setting them free from the tyranny of the Egyptians). In this instance, they are temporarily sullied if they put roadkill on their plates. But, what I find particularly interesting is the correlation between the outward requirement to wash their clothes and bodies and the resultant inward release from the burden of their guilt. This brings to mind the words of Jesus who, in response to Peter’s ill-informed refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet, said (John 13:8):

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Lord Jesus, if You don’t scrub me clean I remain burdened under the tyranny of my moral failings. Please wash away everything that makes me unclean in our Father’s sight and allow me to share in the salvation You have wrought, by the cross, for all Your people.

Jesus’ Legacy

Jesus, far more than any other person, has bequeathed to us the greatest legacy known to mankind: grace. It has transformed the world we live in. Jesus, by His life, death and resurrection, paved the way for His Father to treat  us far better than we deserve. Jesus set us free from an endless cycle of retaliatory behaviour, releasing us from the just law of: ‘An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.’ Instead, Jesus advocated the surprising response of blessing those who would harm us:

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. – Luke 6:27-31 (ESV)

Jesus embodied this advice, leaving us an example to follow. Even as He hung God-forsaken on the cross, Jesus made intercession for the authors of His demise (in Luke 23:34):

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Lord Jesus, You have established a new way for the world to operate: grace. By Your unjust suffering and death You have shielded us from Your Father’s just retribution. At Your request, He forgives our ignorance. In appropriate response, enable us to overcome the desire to seek revenge. By Your Spirit, help us to live up to Your example of treating others better than they deserve.

Elusive Satisfaction

Everything in this world is volatile, its pleasures are fleeting. What the world has to offer is only ever temporary. We repetitively thirst and hunger, never quite attaining true and lasting satisfaction. We slake our thirst only to have our thirst return. Over and over again we eat, but no matter how much we may savour our food—or gorge ourselves—we eventually hanker for more. Music brings pleasure to our ears, with the ability to touch even the very soul, but only so long as the song lasts. I could go on but I think you catch my drift. We can be tantalised on the very verge of ecstasy yet always remain ultimately unfulfilled. Striking, then, is Jesus’ offer (in John 6:35):

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (ESV)

Lord Jesus, apart from You, reaching satisfaction for our deepest cravings escapes us. So we turn to You to fulfill our inner yearnings. Teach us that, when we have You, we have all that we need. We believe in You, the elixir, the staple of life.