Monday, July 25, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 8)

(Hebrews 4:16) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

This verse contains what is arguably the simplest, sweetest and yet most profound invitation in all of scripture. God has appointed a way for us to secure that which we need the most: Mercy, and help in our time of need. And that way is prayer. Bold, outspoken, confident approach to the throne of grace, coupled with simple petitions made in the name of our perfect high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Without divine mercy and help, our pathetic strivings will end in nothing but horrific and complete failure. But, in principle, there is infinite grace at our disposal, and we can make it ours in practice by means of prayer. If we could only comprehend the fullness of God's grace that is ours for the asking, its height, depth, length and breadth, we would no doubt give ourselves more earnestly to the work and communion of prayer. For the measure of our apprehension of grace is determined by the measure of our prayers.

Who is there that does not feel the need for more grace? Beloved, it is yours for the asking. So ask, and be constant and persistent in your asking. Be unrelenting and untiring in your asking. God delights to have us hound Him as “shameless beggars” in this regard; for it shows our faith in Him, and nothing pleases Him so much as faith. Oh, what little streams of grace most of us know, when we might know rivers without number, swollen with mercy and support, and overflowing their banks!

So ready yourselves dear saints. The river that gushes forth from the Temple on Mt. Zion runs deep with divine favor and assistance, and prayer is the appointed means to draw them out. So pray as you approach the throne of grace in song, pray as you hear God’s Word read and preached to you, pray as you are led in prayer, pray as you approach the Table to feed on grace, and pray as you receive your weekly benediction and commissioning for service.

Simply put, fill the Lord’s Service with prayer, and the Lord will fill you with His mercy and help…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 7)

(Mark 1:35) And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
(Hebrews 7:25) Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

The words pray and prayer are used at least 25 times in connection with our Lord in the brief record of his life contained in the four Gospels. He rose up early to pray. On at least one occasion he spent the entire night in prayer. He cried out to his Father in joy as his disciples returned from preaching and healing, and he poured out his heart in agony on the eve of his passion. He prayed before meals and miracles, he prayed alone and with others, he prayed in the Temple, he prayed in the tempest and he prayed in the hour of his greatest trial. He was the consummate man of prayer.

And neither did his ministry of intercession end with his ascension to the right hand of the Father. For, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, he [Jesus] lives forever “to make intercession” for us. Jesus as the perfect man, the un-fallen Adam and the first-fruits of redeemed humanity continues steadfastly, earnestly and joyfully in prayer…for us!

This glorious truth has at least two startling implications. First of all, as John wrote in his first epistle, “Whoever claims to live in Christ, must walk as he did.” Our predestination is not mere fire-insurance. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we have been predestined to Christ-likeness, to conformity to his character and conduct. Although we will always fall short of Christ’s perfection in regards to prayer, still the aroma of Christ, and his passion for intercession should be present in us, and discernable to those around us, even as it was to those who observed our Savior in the time of his first advent.

The second implication has to do with fellowship. True fellowship is not mere association or proximity. Everyday we spend time with associates and neighbors with whom we have little or no fellowship. True koinonia fellowship is the by-product of shared beliefs and even more importantly, shared work or common activity. The deepest intimacy and the strongest bonds are forged on the anvil of common experience and communal endeavor. Therefore, if we would know intimate fellowship with our Savior; if we would know, as Paul gushed, “the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings” then we must pray as he is praying at the right hand of the Father. We must enter into his ceaseless activity on behalf of the Church and the world. It is no marvel then that the non-praying saint feels so distant from his Lord. It is no surprise that the prayerless Christian often fails to feel in his soul what his mind assures him is true. Simply put, those who fail to participate in the Lord’s work, deprive themselves of the intimacy of the Lord’s fellowship.

But God has shown us a better way. Let us turn now Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and let us learn how to mingle our prayers together with his here on Zion, so that we may do so all week long on earth…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 6)

(Acts 6:2-4) Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

This passage reminds us of the primacy of prayer. Service was the heart of Christ’s ministry and of the apostles’ ministry after their Lord’s ascension. But Peter rightly discerned the Spirit’s priorities when he insisted that service, as important as it was, should not be allowed to hinder the apostles’ ability to pray.

Peter knew what we are very inclined to forget: that service without prayer is at best wrongheaded and ineffective, and at its worst it is harmful and sometimes even dangerously so. We think, or at the very least act, as if problems are best solved by means of human effort, sweat and busyness. Peter knew that divine graces called down to earth via prayer were the key to any meaningful healing, help or victory. And that whatever service was necessary, was only necessary in the sense of laying hold of the prizes won and secured by means of prayer. As someone once quipped, “Prayer is warfare. Ministry is picking up the spoils.”

Although the apostles could not have been aptly described as men of prayer before Pentecost, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit prevailing prayer was the hallmark of true faith in the apostles and the church at large. (Could the same be said of us today?) Continual and fervent prayer was the indication that the first century Christians were indeed filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ who himself deemed it perfectly necessary to rise up early and sometimes spend the entire night in prayer in order to secure the blessing of his heavenly Father’s upon his ministry.

It is time for us now to ascend by faith before the heavenly throne of God on the heights of Zion. And there to worship Him, to receive His revelations, mercies and enabling power; to listen intently to His commands and decrees, to sing joyfully to Him, to place our petitions and offerings before Him mingled together with thanksgiving, and finally to feast with Him, and others who love Him as we do, at His Table of delights.

And following the sermon, mid-way through the Lord’s Prayer, we will make this glorious request together, “Heavenly Father, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, “Lord, take everything that we have done in Your Service on this Your special day and spread it into our lives, our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our community and don’t stop until the whole world is wholly devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to prayer and to the Eucharist, just as we are.” So come brothers and sisters, we have a gladsome task to perform this afternoon. We need to pray here now in heaven, so that we can pray this week on earth, and praying, to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of us. There is no other way, so…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 5)

(James 4:2) Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Given the importance of prayer in our weekly and daily worship regimens, we are continuing to glean wisdom from God’s Word regarding the import, glory and necessity of prayer.

This verse in James’ epistle is striking for at least two reasons. First of all, because although the brother of our Lord mentions lust and desire he does not condemn either one. James saves his strongest reproof for the weakness of our wants. As C. S. Lewis once put it,

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased!”

Lust and strong desire are not necessarily wrong. More information is needed. Lusts and strong desires are perverse and unlawful if they are directed to things unworthy of pure affections and heartfelt devotions. But James addresses the second way that lusts and strong desires can go astray. To desire those things which are pleasing to the Lord, but to strive after them in ways other than prayer.

Note again the specific reproof that James brings, “you don’t have the things you desire because you don’t pray.” This was a favorite theme of Jesus when he walked among us during his first advent. “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you, ask and will be given to you….If you fathers know how to give good gifts to your children, then how much more your Heavenly Father!”

Therefore it is very safe to say that we can trace every unfulfilled desire, every un-remedied situation, every financial, health or family difficulty, every want of wisdom, every weakness of the will and every failing of the flesh back to the very root of the problem: Neglect of prayer. Not praying enough. Failing to pray. Lack of prayer. Prayerlessness. Being distracted from prayer. Forgetting to pray, refusing to pray, being too busy or too tired to pray. Did I mention neglect of prayer?

We do not have, because we do not ask! And instead of starting to ask as we have been invited, indeed even commanded to, we have blustered about, battled and bloodied for that which could have been obtained by simply asking the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is time for us to do so now... So, come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 4)

(Ephesians 6:11, 18) Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil….praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

As Paul reminded the Ephesians, we live out our lives amidst a pitched battle. A battle whose ferocity demands that we daily dress ourselves in the armor of God, determinedly take up the weapons of the Sprit and diligently pray without ceasing lest we fall under the repeated assaults of our enemy. Elsewhere Paul reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, and mighty for the pulling down of strongholds and for bringing the whole world into joyful submission to Christ and his commands. Prayer is one such weapon, and perfectly necessary if we are to “stand against the schemes of the devil.”

As we considered last week, Satan has indeed been cast out of heaven. He has been thrown down to the earth and deprived of his access to the Lord our Judge and thereby deprived of his ability to accuse us. He has been stripped of his power to deceive the nations and to delay the angelic messengers. The devil is a defeated foe, conquered, at least in principle, in the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ, or as John put it in Revelation 12, overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony.

But he is still a “roaring lion” as Peter warns us, still seeking those whom he may devour. And so, while it is true that he has been bound, or greatly curtailed in his ability to harass and deceive us, still he wields enough power to necessitate the daily donning of God’s armor, and a disciplined use of prayer. As Luther put it, “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”

If we would stand, and not fall, in the midst of the fray, then we must learn to pray, and we must actually pray, there is no other way. Our enemy is fierce, but easily enough dispatched by the “one little word” offered up to God in prayer by the most insignificant saint. The church today lacks this sort of victory, not because she lacks a promise of divine protection and provision, but simply because she refuses to claim the same in prayer. We do not have because we do not ask. The devil doesn’t flee from our presence, not because we lack the wherewithal for his defeat, but simply because of our faithless refusal to “resist him” in humble prayers offered up to the Lord of armies in Jesus’ name.

It is time for us to get on our knees, to bow our heads, lift up our hands and fight. For there, in prayer, is the victory of Christ’s kingdom and the vindication of the saints. We pray because there is a devil, but we pray with a promise of victory over him and his minions surely in hand...So, come let us worship the Lord together!