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Prayer: Standing on “Praying Ground”

January 20th, 2017

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4 ESV)

Prayer is the expression of our dependence upon and our faith in God. To recognize our weakness is a significant step in praying, but we must go beyond simply a feeling of our own impotence. We must also possess a deep confidence in the power and help of God. We cannot but He can!

Our confidence in God: Prayer generates no power in and of itself alone. Energy does not emanate from our hands, our heads, or our minds when we pray. Rather all the power and energy of prayer comes from God. We ask Him to act. But our prayer is important for God does things when we pray that He will not do unless we pray.

Some Christians pray like pagans, assuming that God is uninterested in our affairs, and uninformed of how to help us - so we must rouse Him and inform Him and cajole Him to help. A misguided perspective puts more reliance on human effort to convince God to do what we want Him to do, than confidence in Him and His power.

But true biblical prayer relies on God, is confident of His love and His wisdom, and rests in Him and in His promises to answer.

Our confession of sin: It is not just the insistent heart that prompts God to answer, rather it is the humble and submissive heart that He looks for. We do not gain more power with God by repeating prayers, by shouting them, or by chanting them over and over. That is a pagan idea. Our power with God is seen in our submission to His will, in our confession of our sin, in our repentance and turning away from sin and turning toward Him in obedience.

Christ said: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them…” (Matt. 6:7-8 NIV). If we say a prayer again and again, but still harbor sin in our heart, God sees the sin before He hears the prayer. In fact, as we learn clearly in the Bible, when there is “sin in the camp” God withholds His greatest works from the people.

I know some who think, “Well, I have many weaknesses but at least I pray.” But this is spiritual folly! If we have a compromised area of our life, and we know it, that particular sin prevents God from answering our prayers and from blessing our church. We are simply being blinded by pride and have reduced God Almighty in our own minds to the level of some minor deity of another religion.

God said to Joshua when Israel failed in the battle of Ai:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” (Joshua 7:10-13 ESV)

The circumstances were that some of the people of Israel had sinned and presumed that it would not matter. Rather than rejecting the pagan gods of the people they had conquered, as God told them to, they instead coveted and kept them. Then they pretended that these things would not matter to God, that He would still go out with their armies as before. Then they were routed at Ai by the Canaanites and called them to repent and change their behavior, and said that until that happened that He would not out with their armies.

Repeatedly in God’s Word He makes this point - that when there is compromise and sin in the camp of God, especially among the leaders, we cannot expect the blessings of God. So the first obligation to be fit for prayer is for us to confess our sins, to repent of all that God convicts us of. The Bible says:

When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
(Isaiah 1:15)

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8 ESV)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1 ESV)

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 ESV)

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted. (Jude 1:12 ESV)

The Bible continually insists on this principle. Until our sins are confessed and forsaken, we cannot say that we are on praying ground with God. We will misunderstand what prayer is. We will put on the hypocrite’s mask and pretend to be one thing outwardly while being something else within our hearts.

The first obligation of prayer is to confess our sins, and not just to “confess” them while not intending to do anything about them. But to confess them in the attitude of true repentance, that agrees with God and seeks to be holy. God is there to help us live holy lives, and we bring to Him not just our sins but our weaknesses as well. But there must be a genuine, sincere spirit of repentance in our hearts. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

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A Psalm for Everyday

January 18th, 2017

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day. (Psalm 86:1-3 ESV)

Psalm 86 is a simple prayer of David to His God. It seems not to be borne out of harsh difficulty or dramatic circumstances, but rather it came from David’s heart on what we might call a normal day. Pressures were still there in his life, for in it he says in it, “A band of ruthless men seek my life” (v. 14), but that could have come from any number of sources. It appears at least to me that that was just another day in the life of David. Ruthless men were always seeking his life.

But whether in the midst of difficulty or not, the prayer in its essence was about David and his God - he prayed from the assurance of his relationship with God. The trouble he mentioned did not dominate the prayer. David called out to his God constantly. His thoughts in the midst of any circumstance reached out to God. He lived his life in faith and with the awareness of God.

We may establish the habit of thinking about God regularly and it being poor thoughts about Him. We may forget how merciful and gracious and faithful God is, and focus mostly on His sternness and holiness or judging qualities. But David knew that God was best understood by His “steadfast love” (vs. 13), or chesed, toward David. So this was the thought of God that he treasured in his heart all the day long.

We find an insight into David’s life by the mentioning of his mother and her faith:

Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant. (vs. 16)

The scripture never mentions the name of David’s mother. His father Jesse was the grandson of Ruth, the widowed Moabite and woman of faith whom Boaz redeemed. Perhaps it was Ruth that David had in mind, for the word ben in Hebrew could also mean grandson. But it speaks not merely of genetics or lineage but of the tender conveyance of faith that was passed down to David.

The account of David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16, suggests at least that David’s father Jesse did not think much of David. He was the youngest of his sons and Jesse left him to tend to the sheep when Samuel came to his home to anoint the next king. And his brothers also had a problem with him, as revealed in the account of David and Goliath. It does not appear to be anything more than typical family rankings, and the normal squabbling that happens between brothers, but, nevertheless, it was there. I tend to think that here David is speaking about his mother who was a woman of devout faith He called her the “maidservant” of God - someone devoted, ready to serve her God. Often the unnamed people of history, even of sacred history, have done more to shape its outcome than the famous ones. There is no disgrace in obscurity, no indignity in being unknown by mankind, so long as we are known by God and have sway and power with heaven.

Great meaning and profound strength are discovered very often in the simple truths and simple realities of life. These thoughts are worth being in our minds and in our prayers everyday, as they are here in the prayer of David.

  • The steadfast love of God
  • The example of piety and faith - “Frömmigkeit” auf Deutsch - that is seen in those close to us
  • The privilege of prayer and the closeness of God to us at all times
  • The assurance of relationship with God

These truths ought to surround our hearts at all times and in every circumstance.

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