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.”

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.

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.

Prayer and Fellowship

I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. 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 15:29-33 (ESV)

Perhaps you attend Church week after week, and you find yourself dependant on your minister. (Perhaps this has something to do with the setup of many Churches? how we all, more or less, face the front and watch a select few do ministry?) What you might not be aware of is that, owing to prayer and fellowship, your minister also relies on you. More importantly, we all depend on Jesus. Do you pray? That’s a great start. Do you strive in prayer? Even better. Don’t be afraid to work hard at prayer. Exert yourself on behalf of those who serve you. And join with others, together in prayer. There is no need to go it alone. Your minister would love you to pray for them and the work they do. Prayer is no second rate ministry.

There are no bit parts in God’s kingdom, everyone has an important role to play. Just turning up to Church week to week can be an immeasurable encouragement to others who gather in the name of Jesus. Imagine how deflating it would be to rock up one week, only to find no one else could be bothered gathering. If you pray and show up, you’re paving the way for the attendance of the fullness of the blessing of Christ at your gatherings. How else will anyone be able to experience joy or be refreshed in your company? Everyone has the capacity to pray and show up. In doing so you serve the risen Saviour.

I spent a year studying full-time at Moore College. I’ll never forget what one of the lecturers was careful to point out as many of us faced the prospect of a lifetime in paid ministry. He had us ponder what difference exists between ministers and the flock they care for. Then he laid out the only valid point of difference, and it’s not even a significant one: ministers get paid to serve Jesus. They are just like any of us except, because of our generosity, they don’t have to worry about finding an income. This frees them to devote their lives to serving us. Even Paul was just an ordinary guy who had an extraordinary encounter with the risen Jesus. There isn’t a person among us that God couldn’t use to serve in any way He chooses, the only question is, will you be obedient, will you allow Him?

Father, You call on us, Your humble servants, to strive together in prayer on behalf of our leaders. We ask that no harm may come to them and that their labour will not be in vain but that Your people would find their service acceptable. By Your Spirit, help us pray and show up and, as a result, may we experience the fullness of the blessing of the Christ.