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.

Prioritise Prayer

Despite the busyness and all of the demands of ministry, Paul did not neglect the discipline of prayer. Instead—after requesting prayer of the Romans—he modelled it, rounding out Romans 15 with prayer:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. – Romans 15:30-33 (ESV)

Paul soon moves to bring the letter to the gathering in Rome to a close, this time with a prayer of praise (Romans 16:25-27):

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (ESV)

It is not sufficient to just give alms or merely talk to people about Jesus, these things need to be accompanied with prayer. Of course there is no guarantee that prayer will sanctify our actions (sometimes our actions are plain sinful), nor will prayer make everything turn out the way we hope. However, if we do things without praying, how can that be in accordance with God’s will? In many instances, the difference between doing what we want and what God wants, will be prayer. If you take nothing else away from what I’ve been saying on Romans, please, soak everything in prayer, absolutely drench it. We need to douse every situation and person we encounter in prayer, and watch God light it all up by His Spirit.

It seems fitting, then, to finish this series of blogs on Romans by casting our cares on our Loving Father:

Magnificent Father, when our lives get busy, one of the first casualties to go is time spent chatting with You. We pray for all those reading these words, don’t let any of us deviate from the privilege of conversing with You. As we seek your face may we know Your peace. Let us embody Your strength as we accept the news about our Messiah, Jesus. As we trust in Jesus and what He achieved for us by the cross, bring about obedience in us. We struggle together on behalf of those who risk their lives for Your gospel, please let their service be warmly received and rescue them from the ranks of stubborn Jesus refusers. Help us see that, through Jesus, you have placed in us the words of eternal life, how tragic to imagine could we ever keep Jesus to ourselves? Don’t let us squander such abundant fruit. Give us hearts that spill out because of what Jesus has done for us. Make our hearts pine for the wellbeing of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, regardless of where they are, or how different they are from us. Give us agony over the eternal destination of those we love most, may our love and care for them match Your care and affection for us. Unite us in the favour and protection of Jesus and in His name cast satan under our feet so we may trample him. Purify us by removing disruption and dissension caused by the unholy trinity of money, sex and power. Remake us with generosity in place of greed, holy wedded union, or satisfied and sexualy pure single-life, in place of godless sex, and deep humility in loving service to Jesus, instead of grasping for power. Replace our reluctance to get involved with a willingness to help others. Raise up willing workers from among us, who desire to tell people all about what Jesus has done, and make us all bold for Jesus. Amen

Haters

Paul was wary (with good reason) of those who had it in for his infectious attitude towards Jesus, the Messiah, and for spreading the good news about Him:

I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. – Romans 15:30-33

As an Aussie, it seems like it’s ok to be passionate for just about anything, except for Jesus. Australian culture is steeped in Christian heritage, since Jesus has had His day in the sun, but we are most certainly a post-Christian nation (not that that lets us off the hook for evangelism). Although most people hold an opinion about Jesus, that hardly qualifies them as biblically literate. In fact, of the many of the non-Christians you know, you may be the only person they are acquainted with who has picked up the Good Book. As such, rightly or wrongly, they will keep a keen eye on your life to see how it measures up (so it matters how we live).

If we haven’t asked them, we should never assume someone isn’t interested in Jesus. There are simple questions any of us could ask. Like, “Have you heard about Jesus?” If they answer yes, you might ask a follow up question like, “What have you heard about Jesus?,” and just see where it leads. On the other hand, they might say, “No, I haven’t heard of Jesus.” Now there is danger here, of rushing headlong into it, “Well then, let me tell you all about Jesus,” when we have skipped a crucial step. They might not want to hear about Jesus yet. That’s their choice and we need to respect that.

However, we could ask a different question, like, “Can I tell you about Jesus?,” or, “Would you like to hear why Jesus is important to me?” Of course, if you are introverted like me, you might not be brave enough to venture there, but here’s an easier option, “I’m going along to hear about Jesus this weekend, would you like to come along?”

Father, help us be passionate about Your dear Son, even when it’s not fashionable. When we a tempted to be afraid of people making life difficult for us, give us courage to pass on what we have heard about Jesus to anyone who is interested.

Bridging a Divide

Another thing Paul demonstrated for us is love and service across a cultural divide. The Roman’s didn’t share the same heritage with Paul plus they had a different religious background, yet Paul still took the time to write to them and even laid (perhaps unfulfilled, at least as a free man) plans to visit them.

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. – Romans 15:22-24, 29

Maybe you feel like God is giving you a heart for mission elsewhere, don’t ignore that, foster it. Do you long to spend time with other Christians? Paul, the bloke who wrote much of the New Testament, looked forward to hanging out with ordinary Christians, regular folk like you and me.

It is also possible to hang out with other Christians but fail to have fellowship with them. The difference is the focus, our reason for meeting. For instance, Christians might attend the movies together, but if their focus isn’t on serving Jesus then there is no distinction between them and anybody else. On the other hand, we could go along with the purpose of loving one another and spurring each other on in Christ, transforming a simple thing like the movies into ‘churching’.

Father, give us Your heart for our sisters and brothers in Christ, give us the desire to spend time with and invest in them so we experience all the benefits of Jesus in full.