Some Thoughts on Prayer

Kay, over at Musings of an English Muffin, wrote this the other day:

I struggle with prayer. When you’re a mother of young children, it’s quite difficult to carve devotional time out of the day. Early mornings don’t work because as soon as my mattress creaks because of me sitting up, at least one, maybe two of the little ones hears it and comes in.

I’ve settled into a habit of evening prayers, and that’s no bad thing, but I find myself afflicted with a reluctance to pray, and it happens every single time. Yet without fail, once I start to pray, I carry on for a reasonable amount of time and it’s a great blessing.

Prayer being a blessing is no surprise, of course. But am I alone in the wrestle beforehand, be it shopping lists springing to mind or sudden doubts about my standing before God?

No, Kay, you’re not the only one. You are joined by many, many brothers and sisters who struggle in “focusing” our minds during a time of prayer.

I have no doubt that we ought to be able to focus our minds some of the time, But I don’t think it’s always going to be possible. First, our minds are often prone to wander in their thoughts, even when praying. You start praying about work and that reminds you of the project that’s due and your part of it isn’t ready yet and if only your co-worker would have gotten his part done earlier and then there was that special staff meeting they called and o-o-h that manager, he makes me so mad sometimes. Oh, sorry Lord, I forgot where I was.

Second, there are just so many distractions: radios, TVs, iPhones, cell phones, home phones, chat rooms, Facebook and Twitter and the newspaper and … well, you get the hint. And I didn’t even mention spouses or children or other people.

Third, the devil knows what we’re up to and he will try to nail us to the wall while we pray. He’ll whisper in your ear how unworthy you are to be trying to approach God. Why you can’t even let your mind focus for 60 seconds; who do you think you are? And what must God think of you? Pathetic!

I’ve been reading, A Praying Life, by Paul E. Miller. It’s a wonderful book and is helping me a great deal. In the opening portion, Miller teaches that when we pray, we should become like a child. This means, that in our prayers, we ought to remember how to play. Little children, when they play don’t sit for hours with just one toy. More often, they’re here, there and everywhere, playing with all kinds of toys. When we pray, we should come, but not fret if our mind wanders. Instead, we should follow our minds, letting those “distractions” and other thoughts become our prayer requests before the Lord.

This isn’t easy for me. I like organization. I like to focus. I’m not good at multi-tasking. However, I’m learning that it’s okay, from time to time, to take a long, wandering prayer walk.

How about you? What “style” works better for you when you pray?


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Wednesday Wanderings

I’ve two pressing matters uppermost on my mind today. The first derives from a book I’m reading. I posted earlier that I was enjoying this book. Now, all of a sudden, I’m not enjoying it anywhere near as much. The problem? Carnal Christianity versus Spiritual Christianity.

The passage of Scripture usually cited regarding this dilemma is 1 Corinthians 2.14–3.4, more specifically, verse 1-3 of chapter 3.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1Corinthians 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1Corinthians 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 1Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4 ESV)

The author of the book takes these verse to imply that there are three types of people: non-Christians, carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Obviously, the non-Christians are the ones more accurately described in 2.14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to undestand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This one is relatively easy: a person without the Spirit of God is an unbeliever. No debate here.

The problem arises in 3.1-3, where Paul speaks of those who are fleshly, or “of the flesh.” Clearly, they are believers. Paul addresses them as “brothers” and he never does this for non-believers. Yet his concern for these “believers” is that they are acting like babies, “infants in Christ.” They’re not ready for solid teaching, but still “drinking milk,” even thought by now they should be well past that (that’s the tone of his remarks in 3.2).
My question for Mr. Baker (who is very clearly a student of L. S. Chafer and his “He Who Is Spiritual” teaching is this: how long can one be considered a “carnal Christian”? Does he ever “grow up?” And what if he doesn’t? What if a “carnal Christian” dies in this state of “carnality?”

In order to preserve your attention on this matter and not get lengthy here, I’ll keep a running post on this matter. I’ll also be posting a review of the book, Spiritual Maturity early next week (most likely on Monday; that’s my book review day).

Let me return to my opening: I stated that I had two problems that were uppermost on my mind. The second is a more pragmatic matter – How does the leadership of a church motivate said church to pray together? On the one hand, I’m sure some would simply say, “Lay out the commands that we should pray. Let them feel and sense their disobedience.”

I could do that, but my elders and I knew we’d appear like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai, with tablets in hand and a new 11th commandment inscribed upon them, “Thou Shalt Pray Together or your prayers won’t count.” That might work for a few people and it might work for a short time, but it hardly creates genuine pray-ers with a heart’s passion for seeking God.

On the other hand, we could just let grace rule and hope for the best. However, the struggle I have with that approach is this: that’s where we’re at now and I don’t think it’s biblical or helpful.

So there must be another hand here somewhere. I’ll leave you with this quote and address this issue at another time very soon:

Francis Schaeffer once asked his wife:

“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.

—Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco: Word, 1981), 356.

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We ought always to give thanks to God for you…

Last evening, Thanksgiving Eve, saw a small handful of the faithful gather at Cornerstone EFC to give thanks to God. We gather every Wednesday to pray, but this night was different. I had taken every household’s name and put it on a small slip of paper. Included on these slips were also every missionary family we support, every leader of our congregation, others in teaching positions, as well as service positions at Cornerstone. All these slips of paper were placed in a basket and stirred around a bit. Then, after I began leading us in prayer, we’d just pass the basket, take a slip and pray. Our prayers were short and concise – we simply wanted to thank God for each person/family/leader represented there. As we went on, it seemed the Spirit was pleased to work in us to produce such a sweet harmony of praying these notes of thanksgiving that no one was aware of the passage of time (a rare thing these days within the church). When we finished, we gave thanks to God for His many blessings upon us and our little church and headed off to our homes, in order that we might prepare to do the same again today.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Giving Us Cause To Be Thankful… And Prayerful

Tim Challies had a link to the Sacramento Bee’s website on Monday. The article, along with the pictures were stunning… and not in a good way. You may wonder why I’d post this on the day before Thanksgiving. Well, I link to this so that tomorrow, when most of us will be sitting around a table over-laden with the bountiful blessings of food, rejoicing with family and friends, we would remember to be truly thankful for the incredibly rich blessings God has lavished upon us. At the same time, I hope that we’ll be moved to pray for the world around us:

• that God would extend His hand into these situations, touch lives there and preserve these little ones

• that God would work in such a way among His people in places, like ours (that are so well off that we throw away enough food to feed such children for months at a time), that we would rise up out of our abundance and find ways to help

• that Christ’s name would be exalted through the work of the gospel because Christians are doing work that no one else will

Enjoy your day tomorrow. I don’t want to take away from that. Yet be really thankful, won’t you?

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Some Thoughts on Prayer

93E6B3F5-AE77-4AA0-8ECE-89AC94E794B2.jpgI’m reading a wonderful book entitled, A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. I’m not reading this book because a publisher asked me to review it (although I’d be glad to do so). I’m not reading this book because a group of pastors is reading it together and going to discuss it in so many days (although this would be a very worthwhile exercise and a wise use of time). I’m reading this book because I need to.

My prayer life isn’t very good right now. This is due, in part, to my pouty behavior (yes, I pout; when things don’t go well or someone says something that crushes a large part of my spirit, I pout; it’s sinful, I know and believe me, it’s been confessed repeatedly… I need to fully repent, however; God give me the grace to do so). A few weeks ago, someone, right after finishing a time of prayer together, said that our times were in need of something. To use his exact words, he said “We just don’t seem to pray ‘in the Spirit’.”

Now, I think I know what it means to pray in the Spirit. This past Sunday, in preaching my next to the last message in a lengthy series from Ephesians, I was dealing with prayer. Ephesians 6.18 says, “…praying at all times in the Spirit…” I think I did the passage justice in expounding what that phrase means. Yet, I’m still haunted by the statement, “We just don’t seem to pray in the Spirit.”

How does he know? How can he tell? How can I tell? It’s stuck in my theological craw right now. I’m working on it. But am I letting God work on it within me? That’s probably the better, yet more difficult question. I’m holding out hope that God will just send me a letter, an email or a text message saying, “Here’s what it’s all about.” But that would be way too much like Gideon and his polar fleece jacket testing of God in Judges 6 (even if I’m not actually asking for this kind of sign, I’m still expecting it).

So, I’m reading a book on prayer and praying. I’m hoping it will answer my question, “How do I know if I’m praying ‘in the Spirit’?” So far it has not answered my question. What it has done is stir up lots of other, different thoughts. It’s also very humbling.

In the section on praying like a child, Miller shares anecdotes from his own life with a daughter who is autistic. From these experiences, he’s learned what it is to be helpless – both as a parent and as a child. This is how we’re to come to God in prayer: helpless and needy. I must confess that too often I want to come in my own strength, on my own terms and in my own way. In other words, I want to talk to me, not to God. So now, in my acts of repentance, I must embrace weakness. I must grab on to my helpless state and come running immediately to God. He’s not asking me to clean myself up before I come to Him. How could I do that and to whom else could I go?

You’d think I’d know this by now, but somehow, in the sinful stubbornness of my heart, weakness is not something I want to glam onto. I’d rather avoid it. No one else should know that I have them (ha! that’s laughable; when I think about it, it’s really all too apparent to them that I have glaring weaknesses). So, I’ll keep reading. I’ll seek to understand and learn experimentally what it means to come as a helpless but trusting little child to my heavenly Father. Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all this, God will show me what praying ‘in the Spirit’ is really all about.

I want you to go here and read Stephen’s post on weakness. No, go. Don’t tell me you’ll do it later. Go now and read it. It won’t take you more than five minutes.

Then come back (just hit the ‘return’ button) and read this.

Selah.

Cornerstone Prayer Time Meditations

True Prayer

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8.26-27 (ESV)

In prayer, it is not only important how we pray, but what we pray for. We’re told in verse 26 that we do not know what to pray for as we ought. So, we’ve seen that we are not to pray with arrogance; that we are to come humbly, yet boldly. Now, let us see what we’re to pray, especially when we don’t know for what we’re to pray.

Sometimes we think we pray well. This is almost dangerous, for we will never master the art of prayer. Read of those masters of prayer from the past and you’ll see this is true. Even they, like George Mueller, believed they had so much to learn of prayer.

There is also evidence in Scripture of this. Moses, when the Israelites were about to enter into Canaan, did not know what to pray. Elijah, didn’t know what he was parying for when he prayed, “O Lord, take my life.” The disciples didn’t either, when they asked for fire from heaven to come down and consume a village. The apostle Paul, even in asking three times for a thorn to be removed, didn’t know to pray as he ought. We’re in good company when we recognize this.

It’s also a good thing that some prayers are answered in the negative. God does not grant all we request of Him. Like the country song says, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.” Just look at Israel: God gave them what they asked for – a king; and not just a king, Saul. Now God told them He would give this to them, but they really didn’t know what they were asking for when they made this request.

So, how shall we pray? And what shall we pray for? We should ask for God’s grace, for His will to be done. Along with these, we should pray for temporal and eternal matters.

Scripture tells us that two intercessors are needed when we pray, and for this, we should give thanks. First, we need a pleading Christ. it is only for His sa that God the Father hears us. Second, we need a purifying intercessor through whom our prayers are cleansed – the Holy Spirit. Christ prays for us, His people. The Spirit prayer within His people: He helps us in our weakness.

In our own strength, we cannot offer up any prayer that will be acceptable to the Father. We’re too feeble, too powerless, too full of sin and sinful motives, too full of foolishness, ignorance, shortsightedness to offer up a sweet-smelling sacrifice of prayer to the Father. We need a helper – the Spirit who intercedes for us.

When I was about 4 or 5 years old, my dad still farmed. He had an old John Deere Model A. One day, he took me with him to head out to the far end of the pasture. When I asked if he would let me drive the tractor, he didn’t just jump off the tractor, look at me as I rolled away and say, “Best to you! Do your best!” No, he kept me on his lap, placed my hands on the steering wheel, throttled the tractor down and “let me drive.” Now, if I started to drift off the path, he didn’t knock me off the tractor to the ground and shout, “Foolish boy. Stay away and let me do this for you.” No, once again, if I was going astray of the path, he would simply reach his strong arms around my small, child’s body, place his hands upon mine on the wheel and “help” me straighten the tractor out. I think this illustrates what the Spirit does when we dont’ know what to pray for as we ought. He comes alongside us, places His mind in the Father’s and utters those groanings that only He knows to utter.

There are times when we fail in our prayers. This is due to sin. We’re still filled with selfishness, pride, greed, etc. But the Spirit doesn’t thrust us aside; He comes alongside, stoops to our needs and helps us in our weakness.

What are these groanings? I think they’re our deepest needs which are too difficult to express. We we find we can’t explain ourselves to God adequately, He prays in this way. When we can’t find the right words to pray, He’s right there, praying within us and for us. The Spirit, who is one with the Living Word, has all the words we need.

The more childlike we are in this, the better. It is when we find ourselves praying like a child – small, weak, simple, stammering with our words – this is when the Spirit is most strong to help us. He puts our concerns and needs before the Father on our behalf. And our prayers are truest when the Spirit is praying them for us.

Intercession, helping us in our weakness – this is what the Spirit is so good at. At times, our hearts are cold and distant, even though we keep on trying to pray. Our heart cries out to God, even about our praylessness. And the Spirit is at work, the new life within us still cries out, through the Spirit. It is htis new life, the Spirit of God, groaning out loud for us.

At times, the Spirit may pray “against us”, as it were. We pray, with short-sightedness, without full knowledge. Paul, in praying for the thorn to be removed, is an example of this. So, the Spirit intercedes “against” us, for He knows the will of God for us and prays that perfectly. At times, we’ll pray for things we think we need and yet the Spirit, who knows the mind of God, realizes we will be better without it. So He prays: “Father, don’t give this to her. Keep that from him. You know perfectly that this is out of selfish motive or only for his own glory, not Yours.”

This is not to aggravate us. It is for our well-being, for our best interest. The Spirit is preparing us for eternity and for our eternal joy in Christ Jesus. If we would rest in this truth, then we will be blessed indeed.

“He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” He who searches hearts… this would be God the Father. He knows us, inside and out. And the Spirit dwelling within us, is seen and known by God the Father. God’s will is being prayed within us, even when we don’t realize it. This means our prayers are being purified in order that God would be pleased.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. When we recognize our failures and our weaknesses, we’re never in a position to pray more truly. The Spirit works mightily in us during these times. And the more the Spirit works, the more we learn to pray according to the will of God. The more we learn to pray according to the will fo God, the more trust, the more peace and the more instruction we’ll have.

The Spirit also works in our hearts and in our prayers to sanctify us. He makes us and our prayers more holy, which is God-pleasing. More and more we’ll find ourselves cut off from self. More and more we’ll find ourselves turned toward heaven. More and more we’ll be made into the image of Christ. We seldom abide in Him better than when we are in prayer.

Give thanks that the Spirit prays against our flesh. Once, Brother Lawrence prayed, “O Lord, this is what you may expect of me if you leave me to myself.” Praise be to God, we are born of the Spirit. Thanks be to God that we laern to will what He wills. These will be true prayers and they will be heard.

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Cornerstone Prayer Time Meditations

Humility & Boldness. What do they have to do with one another? Don’t they contradict each other? In the flesh, yes; but in the Christian’s heart in matters of prayer, no. Humility, for the Christian, is found by looking at ourselves, seeing who we are in light of God’s holiness. Boldness is found by looking to Christ. bold prayerHebrews 4.16 says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (ESV) Do you see it right there? We are bid to come boldly before God, at His throne of grace. Now, I can’t come boldly beofre a governor, a mayor, or the president. I’d be so nervous, my hands would be shaking. And now, Scripture exhorts me to come boldly before the King of kings? In Isaiah 6, the angels had to cover their faces before the awesome glory and holiness of God… and they serve Him night and day! They are way holier than I am. And when Isaiah saw this, he fell at his feet and cried, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…" (ESV) When the Pharisee tried this kind of bold approach in the middle of the synagogue (Luke 18.9–12), his prayers stopped at the rafters. True biblical boldness in prayer arrives when we see our own vileness in light of God’s holiness. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves asking: "Doesn’t God get weary of me and all my sinning and failings?" At other times, it’s as if the more we see of righteousness and holiness the less and less inclined we are to come boldly, if at all. Yet we’re told to come, commanded even, to come boldly to His throne of grace. This boldness is not found in the sinner; so how can I come? We must make sure we see the "therefore" (or the "then" in the ESV). This leads us back to verse 14: "Since then we have a great high priest…" Praise the Lord, we have Christ, not a man, as our high priest. Study this in Hebrews and you will rejoice in this glorious truth. In the Old Testament, the people of God needed a prophet who would side with God and speak to men on His behalf. They also needed a high priest who would be on their side, speaking  – or better yet, sacrificing to God on their behalf. But now, you and I, have Jesus Christ, the perfect prophet, the Son of God who comes to us; and the perfect priest, the Son of Man who saves us. He takes our side as guilty sinners. So, come boldly; it’s a great encouragement for the humble. I hope by now, you’re beginning to see how humility and boldness go together in prayer. We’re to come boldly to the throne of grace and we’re to come humbly before the throne of grace. Satan tries to convince us otherwise. How many times have you heard him whispering in your ear: "You’d better shape up first; you have to get your life straightened out before God will ever listen to you." If this were true, we’d never, ever be able to approach God. We can’t cleanse ourselves enough to ever approach Him. This is the glory of this passage: the boldness isn’t in me, in my works, my good deeds, my fine upstanding motives or even in my praying. All my good deeds can’t open up heaven’s door. No, my boldness is not in me; it’s in Christ Jesus, my Great High Priest. But have you ever found yourself, as a sinner, saying similar things: "It’s just impossible; I can’t pray. Who am I kidding? Certainly not God." And it does appear that the more we see of righteousness and holiness that the less and less we dare to draw near in prayer. Yet God says: "I accept you. I see the blood of Christ My Son, not you and your sin." Our boldness is in Christ and only in Christ. God’s a consuming fire, so if you or I came in our own strength and merit, how could we avoid the deluge? No, we must lean on Christ and receive boldness, courage and strength to draw near to Him. Jesus is the way for sinners. There is no other. When we think we dare not come near, Jesus lets us know: "It’s all about grace, not your worth or works." So we join boldness with humility and say, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner." And in humility with boldness we say, "I come in Christ’s name." The bolder we are in Christ, the more humble we will be in ourselves. And the more humble we are in ourselves, the bolder we will be in Christ. Bold prayer glorifies Christ as well. We use Him as the door, the way. He loves to work for us: "…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…" Bold prayer also glorifies God the Father: He sees the joy of the Son interceding for us, His children and it brings Him great pleasure. And bold prayer also glorifies the Holy Spirit: He is the one who clothes us with humility and He also clothes us with boldness. This glorifying boldness is not a matter of working myself all up into a lathering and some high energy emotional state. No, this true boldness is a matter of simply coming through Christ to God and praying. So come boldly; hold nothing back. That’s what the word literally means: without concealment, freely, openly. That means we come confessing everything: sins, joys, weaknesses and strengths. There is nothing hidden when we come before the One who sees into our very heart. It’s like coming as a little child, with that little child’s faith. We bring a bold request to our Heavenly Father. What glory: this true boldness doesn’t make little ones proud, it makes proud ones little – we become humble. Boldness, humility, child-like faith: they all bear fruit together. "… that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Mercy is God inwardly moved through Christ to work for us. Grace is what we receive, undeservedly so and yet in Christ Jesus for the times we are in need (and tell me, when aren’t you in need?). Mercy and Grace. They’re all-sufficient. One writer said: "One crumb of these is worth more than all the riches of the world." Finally, help in time of need: we’ll find this in God, not in ourselves. We’ll never be able to pull up our own boot straps; God is the one who helps us. So come boldly.

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