Prayer Knows No Boundaries

Many thoughtful people feel a quiet alarm concerning recent social trends. For example, over the past six decades marriage and the family have been severely diminished in favor of greater personal freedom; the historic understanding of gender is under attack; and this past week infanticide came back into view as a legitimate procedure under the term, third trimester abortion.

All of this prompts me to remember the saying John Bunyan is credited with — that you can do more than pray but you cannot do more until you have prayed. We have ample instruction on prayer in the Bible. Consider the Apostle Paul’s instruction.

From his cell in Rome, he writes to the Ephesian believers as “an ambassador in chains.” Beginning at verse 18 of chapter 6 he includes a detailed paragraph calling believers to constant and effectual prayer. He believed prayer had a reach that could not be limited by shackles.

Having used the Roman soldier’s armor as an analogy earlier in the chapter, he makes a strong appeal for the fuller use of the Christian’s ultimate spiritual weapon — prayer. Consider what he commends.

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions (6:18a). Paul would say, for example, we should pray when we get up in the morning, when we retire at night, when we sit down for a meal, when we leave for work or school, or when we meet in a committee. The Spirit makes our prayers living communications.

Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests (18b). What does Paul mean by this? He suggests that our prayers can take many forms. We can extrapolate that they may be private or public prayers; or prayers of petition, prayers of thanksgiving, intercessory prayers, prayers of penitence. They can be prescribed prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 4, or impromptu ones. There is a kind of prayer for every situation.

Be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people . . . (18c). The implication here is that we are to be attached to a company of believers. Paul would know nothing of lone ranger Christians. Our attachment may be to a rural congregation, a city church, or a prayer cell.

Beyond these specific fellowships, however, we belong to all the Lord’s people throughout the globe — the persecuted in one locale, the hungry in another, the war-scattered in yet another. These are set before us as subjects the Spirit would remind us to remember.

Pray also for me, he adds, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel . . . Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should (19). The single-mindedness of the Apostle and his focus on making the mystery of the Gospel known is always evident when he writes.

To be sure, looking at just two of his other epistles, we know he wants the infant believers in the city of Corinth to mature in the faith and live like adults. And he wants the Galatian Christians to turn from their legalism and re-embrace the Gospel as they first knew it. He is pastoral toward existing churches.

But at the same time he was also looking for new situations in which he could fearlessly make the mystery of the Gospel known to people who had not yet heard. He knew that collective prayer by many believers would be the mightiest energy to soften hearts to the reception of the Gospel.

And so when alarmed by social trends, let us take the advice of John Bunyan and the instruction of the Apostle Paul to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers, for all God’s people, that we might be fearless in sharing the saving truth of the Gospel to those new to it.

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Why Must Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

13712688913_80b64ee497_mAttend a Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, or Interdenominational church service in your community and you may notice some differences in forms of worship or theological emphases. But, in every case, you will observe a common likeness in the conclusion of prayers offered — the prayers will end with words like these: We pray all this in the name of Jesus, our Lord.

The practice of praying in Jesus’ name can be traced through history to the final and intimate words of Jesus, spoken to his distraught followers hours before his trial and crucifixion, as recorded in John 14-16.

John tells us that seven times Jesus instructed his followers to energize their continuing work through prayer. In five of those references he told them (and us) to offer prayers in his name (John 14:13a; 14:14; 15:7; 15:21: 16:23). In the other two, Jesus does not mention using his name, but it can be assumed (14:6; 15:7).

In 14:6 Jesus says to his followers, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” This is comprehensive. It refers primarily to the eternal destiny of believers, but it seems to me to also support the additional truth that in all our prayers we come to the Father through Jesus.

Frequent approaches to God through prayer in Jesus’ name during our lives on earth can be seen as preludes to how we will experience our eternal destiny in heaven.

Only one of these references is a promise without limitations: “You may ask me for anything in my name” (John 14:13b). The absence of limits to what we can ask here has been troubling to some. It’s as though prayer gives us access to a candy shop.

In the instruction that precedes, however, Jesus tells his followers to ask in his name so that the Father will be glorified in the Son. Our prayers in his name are in this promise first and foremost to bring glory to God.

In another of the promises of abundant resources through prayers offered in his name there is the expectation of constancy or faithfulness: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Intimacy with Jesus through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit appears to be a prerequisite to effective Christian prayer.

Such promises of fruitfulness, however, do not assure smooth sailing in the life of a disciple. Jesus tells his followers that the world will hate and treat them roughly because of his name: and “If they persecuted me they will persecute you also” (15:21).

As an aside, it is interesting to note that in our fading Judeo-Christian culture, when ministers or laypersons are asked to offer a prayer at the start of a community function, the protest heard most commonly is not against the act of prayer itself but against its being offered in Jesus’ name.

Returning to John’s account, Jesus gives a final assurance of results from the effect of praying in His name. “My Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be full” (John 16:23b-24).

There is a connection here between the constancy and depth of our prayers and the joy we experience in the Lord’s service. This explains why Christians who suffer severely for their faith and pray deeply in their suffering may appear to have a joy more abundant than those living untroubled, comfortable lives.

It is clear from these verses that even on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus expected the work of his Kingdom to go on in the world and he gave out the prime resource for expansion of that Kingdom: prayers uttered in faith and in His name.

However much we have yet to learn about prayer, may our prayers offered regularly in Jesus’ name bring depth to Christian living and joy to the Father’s heart.

 
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Re-post: How to Keep Focus When Praying

Photo credit: babasteve (via flickr.com)When you pray, do recent conversations intrude, insisting on being reviewed?  When you attempt to commune with God are you distracted by duties that demand attention?

Wandering thoughts – how exasperating! Most praying people are at times distracted by them.

And, because of the intense nature of modern life, we seem to function in a super-saturated environment with too much happening all the time.  Not to mention that the secularism of our times may seem to push God further to the margins of life.

Against all of this, we remember, however, that prayer is one of the most important things we can do with our time.

That is why I suggest you use the five elements of well-rounded prayer to help you remain focused.

ADORATION. Jesus said when you pray say, Our Father … Repeat until the vision is clear — Our Father; In other words, don’t rush into the heart of prayer. In adoration, we come before God with a keen sense of his majesty, his holiness, his infinite greatness – and his fatherly love.

Take a lesson from sacred history. The Virgin Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord/ and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” What a way to start a prayer.

We may say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Or, “Hallowed be thy name.” Adoration gives us time to focus on God Himself.

CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age he gave this helpful pattern for confession: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (_____), forgive me all my sins (_____).

Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it.

Prayer should always have a place for self-examination, but examination must be made with full confidence in God’s forgiving and sustaining mercy.

PETITION. In petition we bring personal needs before our Father. This may develop naturally out of our confession. The Apostle John spoke to Christians when he said, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Our prayers of petition may naturally follow the confession of our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.” But don’t let prayers bog down in petition.

INTERCESSION. This means “a coming between” or “to pray on behalf of others.” Intercession can be wide-ranging, including family, friends, enemies, associates, neighbors, church ministries, civic leaders. To intercede means we care beyond ourselves.

The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. God’s response to our prayers are sometimes nearly out of sight and sometimes can be perceived and understood only much later. Or, answers on occasion may be immediate and startlingly obvious.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists.

James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

THANKSGIVING. This matches our beginning with adoration. That is, in adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his blessings.

Sometimes our prayers break forth in a burst of thanksgiving and, when they do it is good to let our spirits soar.

In our daily prayers we remember the smallest mercies, and give thanks. We recall the most incredible blessings, and give thanks. We give thanks especially for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ — the greatest blessing of all — our salvation!

Our prayers, once ordered, may both begin and end, lingering at the cross of our Lord.

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Advice about Prayer from Great Men and Women of the Past

Recently, a simple brochure fell out from the pages of a book I wrote many years ago on church membership. This little brochure was intended to help ministers I was mentoring in their practices of prayer.

I had begun and ended my recommendations by quoting some things great Christian leaders of earlier times have said about prayer. I offer some of them here because they may encourage you, too. 

We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties. Oswald Chambers

Prayer is where the action is. John Wesley

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. Oswald Chambers.

A golden thread of heart-prayer must run through the web of the whole Christian life; we must be frequently addressing ourselves to God in short and sudden utterances, by which we must keep our communion with him… Matthew Henry

 Accustom yourself gradually to carry prayer into all your daily occupation. Speak, move, work in peace, as if you were in prayer. Fenelon

Prayer is for Jesus not nearly so much connected with resignation as it is with rebellion… Practically all that is said in the New Testament about prayer is said not in the interest of being reconciled to things as they are but in the interest of getting things changed. John Baillie

Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. [Christians] are powerful on their knees. Corrie Ten Boom

Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings. Chrysostom

You may find among these promptings one or two that especially strengthen your resolve to pray more regularly and intentionally in the days ahead. If so, consider writing one or more of them on the fly leaf of your Bible to encourage you!

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How to Make Our Prayers Seem More Real

Several times I have heard fellow Christians say: I pray, but my prayers seem to lack a sense of reality.

They say: I start with good intentions, but my thoughts are interrupted by something I have to do or they just wander off subject.

Having had the same experience myself, I have a strategy that helps greatly. It is biblical and is in fact taught to us by Jesus, our Lord. I begin by taking time to reflect on who God is.

This is what Jesus intended when he said to his disciples, “This is how you should pray: Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:9). It’s a very short prayer but it begins by sharpening our awareness that God is our Father. And this is how our prayers are to begin.

The Gospel of John uses this title for God at least 111 times. It is often used by Jesus in address to his Father, and is to be used by us, although in a different way, when in prayer we address God as our Heavenly Father (John 20:17).

Even if your earthly father has not set before you a good model (an all too common complaint), don’t let that rob you of the reality that God is in every respect an unflawed Almighty Father and he can be fully trusted. Jesus is our authority on that.

After Jesus establishes that God is our Father, he adds, our Father in heaven. This means the God we address dwells in the unseen world that has a reality as great or greater than the world we experience with our human senses.

Our Father is above us as our Sovereign at the same time as he is a caring Father right with us, although unseen. When we give time to this exercise of focusing on God as our Father in heaven, we will experience God’s Holy Spirit intensifying a sense of who God is to us.

Jesus also teaches us to attribute to God, “Hallowed be your name.” John Wesley comments on this, May you be truly honored, loved, feared by all in heaven and in earth, by all angels and all men.” It matters that we take the time to address our Heavenly Father as holy, pure, loving and majestic.

We too easily skip over reflection on the holiness of our God. As a result, we rush into prayer with only a vague sense of God’s holy Fatherhood; thus we fail to identify ourselves as profoundly loved by him. So in reflecting on our God’s holiness and majestic rule we thus see our creaturehood as we should.

You may say: It takes time for such thoughts to sink in. True. So that is why it’s good at the outset of our daily prayers to get in mind the greatness, grandeur and goodness of God, our Father, and to consciously address him as such.

This title for God focuses our attention, clarifies our perspective, and the earthly plane on which we live becomes quiet. It was Jesus Christ, our Messiah, who said, When you pray, first say “Our Father.” That is advice from the highest source, and if we take time to follow it, rewards will be abundant.

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Why Do Christians Pray in Jesus’ Name?

13712688913_80b64ee497_mHave you noticed that Christians regularly close their prayers with such expressions as, “we ask these mercies in Jesus’ name?”

You’ll hear it in church services when pastors offer the pastoral prayer, or in an informal prayer group during the midweek.

It is commonly heard during Christian telecasts. It seems to be a universal feature of Christian prayer.

To understand why, remember first that in John’s Gospel Jesus says of himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6.)

Thus, we already see why Christians might approach the Father “in Jesus’ name.”  We come to God through Christ.

An even more direct explanation comes to us from the account of Jesus’ meeting with his disciples on the night of his betrayal by Judas, just before our Lord’s crucifixion.

How they are to pray is a big part of his instruction that night. He emphasizes that they are to pray: in my name.

In fact, when we read John 14-16 slowly and carefully we hear the throb of that phrase — in my name, in my name, in my name … Six times!

Here’s an example: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13.)

Here’s another: “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16b.) There are other examples in John 15:7; John 16:23b; John 16:24; and John 16:26.

Obviously, Jesus makes clear to them that prayer is accessible to the Father only when offered in Jesus’ name. He is the Mediator.

That truth has lodged itself deeply in the Christian consciousness through the ages. All of this is why we regularly hear prayers that close like this:

These mercies we ask in Jesus’ name.

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Re-post: An Exercise in Prayer

Photo credit: khrawlings (via flickr.com)A minister was counseling a parishioner on how to restore meaning to his dry and discouraged prayers. He told the parishioner that for one month in his daily prayers he was not to offer a single request for himself, or his family, or to bring any of his affairs before God.

Dumbfounded, the parishioner asked, “What then shall I pray for?” The minister was unyielding, “Ask for anything that is in your heart only not once for yourself.”

At first, the man could find nothing to pray for. He would begin a familiar petition, but would then have to drop it because it was asking something for himself.

It was a serious but enlightening month for him and he learned a great lesson. He could see that in praying only for himself and his needs he was praying selfishly, and that kind of self-preoccupied prayer doesn’t awaken in us the larger concerns for God’s kingdom. Before the month was over passion was coming back into his prayers.

The man’s state had been sad because prayer is not only for the satisfaction of our own needs. It also aligns us with God’s will, and then moves us to entreat his favor on the lives of others, even at a distance, who have a pressing need for our prayers.

Such further-reaching prayers can bring joy back into our prayer times. Archbishop Trench wrote, “Lord, what a change within us one short hour / Spent in thy presence will avail to make!”

And the late Ruth Graham had this bigger picture. She wrote. “We cannot pray and remain the same. We cannot pray and have our homes remain the same. We cannot pray and have the world about us remain the same. God has decreed to act in response to prayer. ‘Ask,’ he commands us. And Satan trembles for fear….”

To be a follower of Jesus and to have a prayer life that is dry or even non-existent is very sad because, as George Buttrick wrote. “… if God is in some deep and eternal sense like Jesus, friendship with him is our first concern, worthiest art, best resource, and sublimest joy. Such prayer could brood over our modern disorders, as the Spirit once brooded over the void, to summon a new world.”

The pastor suggested for his parishioner a simple adjustment in prayer but one that refreshed the daily experience of prayer for him — and could work for us too. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” That’s personal. But ahead of that he taught them to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.” That kind of petition extends prayer’s range and increases its joy.

George Buttrick gives us a good tip about prayer: such praying could become our “sublimest joy”.

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