I went for a walk last night. Cold. Clear. Bright stars. Didn’t say much to the Lord. Mostly looked up. Up past the stars. Thought about God. Wondered how I can go days, sometimes, and not really look up, why I get so locked up in my duties and deadlines that I forget Him. The Bible says that “two are better than one”, which was certainly true for me last night. Somehow, I felt reconnected and strenghtened by just looking up for a while and being quiet. Is it possible to pray with your eyes and not your lips? I think so. Sometimes it may be the most important kind of all. What I say is only as important as Who I see. “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help”. (Psalm 121:1)
“But I have prayed for you. . .and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) When Jesus teaches us to forgive , it includes prayer for recovery. Knowing that Peter would fall away was motivation for Jesus. Despite His disappointment, He desired God’s best for His friend, and expressed it in prayer. Full forgiveness (what I need from God and what others need from me) requires that I move from resentment all the way to love, from distance to honest advocacy. “Pray for those who despitefully use you” said Jesus in Matthew 5:44. Perhaps we would all forgive others more completely if we followed His command and example to pray for them as well.
“Does it bother you that the Lord doesn’t say please or thank you in His prayer?” The question came last week from a friend. Honestly, I had never thought about it. The answer is that the Lord’s Prayer is not all that the Lord believed about prayer. In John 6 Jesus says thank you. Before feeding the 5000, he took the bread and the fish and gave thanks. Did He thank God that he had 5 loaves? Did He thank God that the people were gathered and that He had the opportunity to help them? Was He thankful for the goodness of God that answers such prayers and provides what we need? Probably all of the above. This morning(the Sesquicentennial Celebration of First Baptist Church), I will step outside the words of the Lord’s prayer and “thank my God in every remembrance of you”. I will thank Him for the people and the moments in the past when He has met our needs. I will thank Him for the privilege to be your pastor. This, too, will be a prayer I learned from Him.
Prayer for Christians is a means and moment of daily renewal. It is a kind of spiritual “recharging” that in the long run is more important than any of the other things that insist on our immediate attention. Paul describes the experience, “though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day“. (2 Corinthians 4:16) When we pray, we remember the subjects that ought to be foremost in our minds. ( Our Father, His kingdom, His help, His forgiveness etc). When we pray we regain an eternal perspective on life and, as a consequence of this renewed mind, the inflowing power of God that is necessary for living. My prayer for you today is that you will seek the Lord in prayer. Do not rush this time! If we need daily bread, we also need daily renewal.
“He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7). The most convincing answer to the question “Why pray?” is Jesus did. Despite my unresolved questions (If God already knows my needs, why do I need to express them? If God is wise, why should I ask Him to change His plan?) the example of the Lord at prayer convinces me that I am to follow Him into this conversation with the Father. It isn’t magic. It is mercy. It is a friendship that offers to let me stand with Him and look at people and problems from God’s point of view. Jesus knew that there is power in prayer. When I ask myself, “Why pray?”, the best answer is “because Jesus did”.
The most compelling answers to the question, “Why should we pray?” are: 1) Jesus did and 2) The Holy Spirit does. So familiar we almost miss the point, the words of Romans 8 declare that, “the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings too deep for words”. I don’t know whether this means that He prays for me ( in my place, when I cannot because I am so confused or discouraged), or that he prays for me (for God’s will and my benefit). Either way the fact that the Holy Spirit prays is significant. With an infinite number of things that He could do, it is amazing to me that His ministry is prayer. He cries out! No wonder that we who are “filled” with His life learn to do the same.
One of the things that I cannot do is to generate LIFE. I woke yesterday to find that the nagging and negative parts of my soul were “already up”. These parts of me are not strangers, but not friends, either. As I prayed, I remembered that God has power. He has LIFE. Infinite. Clean. Flowing from His heart into mine. Ezekiel pictures a river that gets wider and deeper as it goes. Jesus promised the woman at the well “a fountain springing up” within her. When Jesus taught us to pray “Thine is the power”, He was insisting that I look at God rather than self, think about His plan rather than my circumstances. How grateful I am that prayer is part of His new path for me. “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength”.
“Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Part of God’s wisdom in having me pray daily about sin and temptation is to remind me of my weakness. The Israelites at Ai thought that the victory at Jericho would make the next battle easier, that somehow they would get stronger and stronger as they went along. Christians, sometime, think that years of faithfulness to God will take away the danger of real failure toward God. The truth is that all of us are still vulnerable and always will be. The longer I follow, the more I realize that “no good thing dwells in me” and that I can never grow overconfident about my desperate weakness and daily need for his guidance and protection. Lord, lead me not into temptation!
Christians are very aware of a battle within ourselves. “The Spirit wars with the flesh and the flesh wars with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17). The child of God is caught in the conflict. When we pray, “lead us not into temptation” we bring the things that tempt us “out into the open”. Rather than waiting until we have failed again, we speak in advance, honestly, sincerely about the “sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 11:1). Doing so fortifies us! It involves Him in the equation and leads to a victory that was impossible when we relied on our own strength. Friend, are you being open and honest with yourself and with your Father on this subject? How wise of God to teach us to talk about temptation.
When Jesus said, “lead us not into temptation”, He was teaching a healthy fear of sin. “Not only are we sinners, but we are desperately afraid that we should be even more sinful”–Alan Redpath. Today, ask God for His leadership! Confess your attraction to things and people that are contrary to His will. Ask Him to guide you in a path that avoids contact with the things that drag you down. “Make NO allowance for the flesh” Roman 13:14. Don’t “get as close as you can without stepping over the line”. If sin is the enemy, treat it as such! This prayer teaches us to be honest with the Father (and with ourselves) about the need for a new intentionally innocent path. Lead me, Lord! I will follow.