O Soul Are You Weary And Troubled
Perhaps like me, at this time in the year, you're getting rather jaded. Rest and relaxation is usually 'what the doctor ordered'. Even more important you need to recharge your batteries and get spiritually refreshed. So, as I blog tonight, I want to encourage you not just to take a time out, but to spend more time with God, to draw closer in your walk.
A Prompt to Closeness
As providence would have it, I've just been asked this week to write a short series of four articles on prayer. This is one occasion when I can honestly ask 'Why me?'. It is true that a closer walk with God has been on my heart for years. Yes it's been my deep desire for months to devote myself to prayer. I suspect many of us feel mere novices in prayer. I trust that this series will not go directly from head to pen but, en route, will traverse the deep wells of my soul!
Finally Unpacking Book Boxes
About the middle of the week I finally got around to putting up more shelves and unpacking long-boxed books. We moved in the Fall and I'm down to the final thousand or so! As I was transferring some good friends from cardboard onto wood (I wish - it is actually 'El Cheepo Greeko' MDF - no offense Athenian brothers and sisters [clearly a childhood Ulster saying]), I happened to put my hand on a book by Denis Lane, of O.M.F., entitled "God's Powerful Weapon." Having nearly finished it, the book is nothing special, but in the introduction and opening chapter he makes some helpful comments on prayer in the perfect devotional life of Christ.
Refuting A Prayer Myth
He begins by 'doing-down' a false idea on prayer. We must not use this tool to try to bend God's will to ours. Rather, of course, when we really pray, what we actually find is that our will aligns with God's. He then divides the New Testament textual witness on prayer into two key principles: the first aspect deals with '"our own concept of and personal relationship to God", and second, "getting something done that affects our circumstances or the lives and circumstances of others." What then follows both gave me cause to pause and also food for thought!
Note This Interesting Quote!
"The more I study the New Testament, the more I am convinced that the effectiveness of the second kind of praying flows out of the depth of reality in the first kind of praying. Our intercession is directly related to our worship of and communion with God. This means that the effectiveness of our intercession is directly related to our own spiritual life in relation to God and to our own personal prayer life." Denis Lane continues "Dead prayer meetings may indicate poor relationships with the Father, and poorly attended prayer meetings tell us more about the spiritual quality of the life of a church than do extra chairs out on Sunday."
Golden Rays of Dawn
'Well I've known all that stuff for years!' is maybe what you're thinking. I guess what Lane writes is pretty much 'old-hat!' Of course, in the nature of the matter, talk is rather cheap. Yes, I, like you, might like to add a few caveats of my own, to counter any ideas of legalism or meritocracy in prayer. Still, I have to concede, the way Lane put it, gave me a jolt, and was a stimulus to pray. It took on a gracious hue when he wrote about Christ.
"When we look at the life of our Lord, we find these related aspects of prayer perfectly balanced. He was always in perfect communion with His Father, and full of confidence that whatever He asked of the Father He would receive."
His Relationship With God
John's Gospel, then, becomes ripe, fruit-picking, fields for prayer principles. I agree that the primary aim of the 4th Evangelist is to stress the UNIQUENESS of the relationship between the Father and the Son, that we might place our trust in Him and know the life He gives. The Apostle of Love no doubt has one eye on the pre-existence of Christ, and the other eye focused on the Savior's earthly ministry past, present and future. Yet Calvin is surely right as Lane himself agrees:
"We ought always to keep in remembrance that, whenever Christ speaks concerning Himself, He claims only that which belongs to man!"
What then can we learn about the vital ingredient to a closer, more productive, and prayerful walk with God from John 5?
Details in John 5
When Jesus healed the crippled man at Bethesda on the Sabbath, the Jews accused Him of being out of kilter with God. What got them hotter under the collar was His profound, considered retort: that in Word, Will & Walk, the Son was synchronized in perfect tandem with the Father. What Jesus wanted, stated and acted was exactly identical to what God wanted, stated and acted. This was because the Father already had, and in the future would, communicate clearly and precisely, to, and in communion with, the Son. That complete union of mind, heart and soul with the Father was of course what set the Redeemer apart from us. Of course it cannot be replicated by us - but, as Christ was also Man, His obedience to the Father, becomes a model for our own relationship with God. As Calvin notes again:
"We are likewise reminded that the only rule for acting well is to undertake nothing but by the direction and commandment of God. And if the whole world should rise against us, we shall have this invincible defense, that He who follows God cannot go astray."
Learning Communion From Christ
So let me give three principles, drawn from John 5, which we may help revive your flagging hearts and fan into flame any dying embers of fervent, 'hot-coal,' prayers:
Don't decide what you want to do and then pray that God will bless your decisions for "The Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does the Son does likewise," (John 5.19b). How much church policy is decided on a whim and is personality driven! The divine rubber stamp of prayer upon our human plans is a fine way to hinder effective Gospel work.
Don't assume you know what God wants but study the Word with prayer, asking for the illuminating wisdom and discernment of the Spirit, for "the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He Himself is doing," (John 5.20). Of course, totally unlike Jesus, you don't have access God's eternal secret triune counsels! But the principle is sound, when you hold fast to the Word. Once you know God's mind, then be sure to guide your steps in light of Truth.
Don't seek what you want but only what God wants for "I seek not my own will but the will of Him who sent me," (John 5.30). So much of our trouble comes from acting on our own without consulting God, or stubbornly sticking to our own carnal desires. That is a recipe for fruitless living and ministry. Submit your desires to the what the Father wants as revealed in His Word.
Three Other Helpful Observations
Lane concludes the section on the will of God with a few helpful conclusions from the prayer life of Christ, in particular His agony in the Garden, which run as follows:
"The function of prayer as a means of grace, a means of communion with our Father, is much more vital than prayer as asking for things, or intercession. Indeed, intercession without a close relationship to God Himself and a daily walk with Him can degenerate into mere words." How that observation strikes at the heart of much of what passes for normal Christian prayer in churches!
"Without a prayer-cultivated relationship with God we are liable to be doing our own work in our own way and asking God to help and bless, and that fundamentally is an un-Christian way of looking at prayer. True Christian faith is something more radical; it turns the center of our lives from our own desires, even our most spiritual desires, to the will of God." Ouch!
"Prayer is something right at the heart of Christian living, and not something extra added on as a religious duty or a means of getting what we want. Prayer is the means of aligning our will with the will of God, of so communing with Him that we not only know what He wants done but are also open to guidance and responsive in obedience, even at considerable cost." We need light on the text, wisdom in how to apply it, discernment of the problems, people and circumstances that we meet, and deep spiritual understanding of the reality of the cases we have to deal with - and all of these things, and more, depend on being in tune, and line, with God.
I've written much more than I originally intended - I trust you have found the long quotations useful. I pray that this might prompt you to gaze in the mirror of the Word to revive your thirsty soul. None of this, of course, is possible without Christ. Every advance in closeness to our Father is precious, blood-bought ground, and always Jesus-mediated! He is the Perfect Great High Priest who never failed in prayer, and who can cover all your prayer sins with His white, unblemished, robe. He is the Flawless Son who has all needed grace to help - His Spirit supplies strength to bend and keep you on your knees (or standing up with arms held out in case you think I'm too prescriptive!). I pray you'll use this summer to draw close to the Father - may you be refreshed in the Son by the Spirit whose grace He pours out in those who pray.