“The inner action of prayer takes precedence over the outer action of proclamation. The implication of this for pastoral work is plain: it begins in prayer. Anything creative, anything powerful, anything biblical, insofar as we are participants in it, originates in prayer. Pastors who imitate the preaching and moral action of the prophets without also imitating the prophets’ deep praying and worship so evident in the Psalms are an embarrassment to the faith and an encumbrance to the church.” (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)
“Let us thoroughly understand ourselves and understand, also, this great business of prayer. Our one great business is prayer, and we will never do it well without we fasten to it by all binding force. We will never do it well without arranging the best conditions of doing it well. Satan has suffered so much by good praying that all his wily, shrewd and ensnaring devices will be used to cripple its performances.
We must, by all the fastenings we can find, cable ourselves to prayer. To be loose in time and place is to open the door to Satan. To be exact, prompt, unswerving, and careful in even the little things, is to buttress ourselves against the Evil One.” (E. M. Bounds in The Reality of Prayer)
“If we believe with our minds that God is holy, we must also come to find his holiness enjoyable and satisfying just to praise it. If we believe the great God of the universe really loves us, it should make us emotionally unshakable in the face of criticism, suffering, and death. In short, we must be able to existentially access our doctrinal convictions. If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity – that is, in name only – and eventually to nonbelief. The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
“Meditation is likened to tree roots taking in water. That means not merely knowing a truth but taking it inside and making it part of yourself. Meditation is spiritually ‘tasting’ the Scripture – delighting in it, sensing the sweetness of the teaching, feeling the conviction of what it tells us about ourselves, and thanking God and praising God for what it shows us about him. Meditation is also spiritually ‘digesting’ the Scripture – applying it, thinking out how it affects you, describes you, guides you in the most practical way. It is drawing strength from the Scripture, letting it give you hope, using it to remember how loved you are. To shift metaphors, meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
“All prayer is responding to God. In all cases God is the initiator – ‘hearing’ always precedes asking. God comes to us first or we would never reach out to him. Yet all prayers are not alike or equally effective in relating to God. The clearer our understanding of who God is, the better our prayers. Instinctive prayer is like an emergency flare in reaction to a general sense of God’s reality. Prayer as a spiritual gift is a genuine, personal conversation in reply to God’s specific, verbal revelation.
Yet prayer can be even more than that. Many or perhaps most of our conversations are relatively superficial. Persons can exchange information without much self-disclosure. Some conversations, however, go deep and we sense that both of us are revealing not just information but our very selves. The conversation then becomes a personal encounter, a true connection.” (Tim Keller in Prayer)
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus uttered this prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. The stakes could not have been higher. In fact, Luke tells us that Jesus was sweating drops of blood as he prayed this prayer. The cross loomed large in his mind. He would soon bear the weight of sin. But, his prayer was simple.
1. He acknowledged that his Heavenly Father was all powerful.
2. He requested that the cup be removed.
3. He submitted to his Father’s will.
Eugene Peterson summed it up this way in the Message: “Papa, Father, you can – can’t you? – get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want – what do you want?”
Jesus prayed in intimate relationship with his Heavenly Father. He acknowledged the Father’s power to do “all things.” The thing, in this moment, he requested was that the cup of suffering would be taken away. Yet, he finished his prayer asking his Father to fulfill his plan. William Lane, in his commentary on Mark, wrote that Jesus demonstrated “obedient surrender and unconditional faith” in this prayer.
Are we willing to pray like this?
Do we really believe that God can do all things? Will we lay out our requests before him believing he wants to hear from us? Are we willing to submit to his plan?
The focus of prayer is not to get something we want from God. Prayer is primarily about spiritual formation. We pray in faith believing God can do all things. We pray transparently knowing God wants to hear our cares and concerns. We pray submitting to what God wants. Praying like this forms us and makes us useful in the hands of a good and sovereign Heavenly Father.
5 Types of Prayer
It is essential to understand and practice each prayer type on a regular basis. Each type of prayer has a unique and vital role in the believer’s relationship with God. For this reason, no prayer type is more or less important than the others.
1. Praise & Thanksgiving: Praise and thanksgiving are the primary ways we give daily adoration and worship to God.
2. Confession: Consistent confession is the primary way we receive God’s forgiveness and maintain a Spirit-filled life.
3. Petition: Petition is the type of prayer in which we present our individual needs and desires to God.
4. Intercession: Intercession is the type of prayer that focuses on the needs of others.
5. Meditation: The act of reflecting on God’s Word and quietly listening for His still small voice.
(Gregory Frizzell, How To Develop A Powerful Prayer Life)
I’m frustrated. I’m discouraged. I wish I could read ministry blogs and twitter feeds without encountering harsh rhetoric and personal attacks. You may have no idea what I am talking about (if so that is good) but I fear many of you have witnessed this divisive obnoxiousness. Christian leaders are being tarred and lit on fire in front of our eyes on twitter and various blogs. This should not be so! When did it become ok to shoot our own, especially when they are already wounded? How can we justify launching grenades into the barracks of our comrades?
Brothers and sisters, our mission to make disciples is too urgent to waste time on such trivial matters. Before we are tempted to write scathing blog posts about various Christian leaders or attack them on twitter, may we heed these admonitions:
1. Speak the truth in love.
We must speak the truth. We need to call out error. But we must do it in love. If we call out sin in a believer it must be in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We must get this! Too much of what I have seen and heard lacks even the hint of gentleness.
The Internet has made it possible for people to do and say things online that they would never do or say in person. In situations like these, that is a curse. Speak the truth but do it in love. Expose error with gentleness and genuine concern for a fellow brother or sister in Christ.
May the words of Paul in Philippians 4:8 guide us as we think and write: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are too many true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things that we can think and blog about without thrashing about in the gutter of contemptuousness.
2. Remember the world is watching.
It saddens me to consider that the world is watching us castigate our own. We often demonize those in Washington for backbiting and viciousness but have no problem imitating that behavior in our own little Christian ghetto. This is not what we want to be known for!
We should be known for our love for one another. We should be known for our humility. It is impossible for us to be salt and light in the world when we have forfeited our saltiness in favor of harsh rhetoric and snuffed out our light in favor of self-promotion. It is no wonder that a lost world looks at us inquisitively, wondering why we say one thing and live another.
3. Consider the depravity of our own hearts & magnify God’s grace.
We are way worse than we ever imagined! It is amazing to me how I can easily spot sin in someone else’s life without seeing my own. Jesus warned us of this very thing in Matthew 7:3-5 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” When was the last time you read a blog post attacking a Christian leader that began with the author of that post confessing his or her own personal sin?
Every believer has experienced amazing grace. We have all been saved out of depravity and darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3) and yet we often forget that reality. I am not advocating morbid introspection of our sin (Jesus’ grace delivered us from a life characterized by sin) but it is helpful to remember exactly where we were when God saved us. We can and should boast of nothing except the cross of Christ and God’s amazing grace!
Pray before you write. Pray before you speak. If a Christian leader is in error, pray for them. Pray for God’s convicting truth to pierce their hearts as the Holy Spirit works. Pray that God would raise up leaders in their life to guide them to truth. Pray, pray, pray.
Then pray for yourself. Pray that God would help you remain true to His mission of making disciples instead of focusing your attention on someone else’s failure. Ask God to give you a passion for encouraging others and lifting them up when they are down. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for areas of unexposed sin and bitterness.
I’m convinced that if we spent half as much time praying for Christian leaders as we have spent discrediting and disparaging them, we would realize very little good comes from personal attacks. The last thing the blog world needs is another critic – be an encourager. Be an intercessor.
The reality is that God has not called us to be “Holy Spirit Jr.” When we take on this role in someone else’s life we elevate ourselves as gods and it was that exact promise (“you will be like God, knowing good and evil”) that Satan used to deceive Eve in the garden. May we trust God to work his process of sanctification in the life of every believer (especially Christian leaders) to conform him or her into the image of His Son. There is no doubt he will accomplish this mission (Romans 8:29-30)!
This weekend I finished reading James L. Snyder’s biography of A. W. Tozer entitled, The Life of A. W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God. I couldn’t put the book down and I would encourage every pastor to pick it up and soak in the life of this great man of God. Tozer said that he wanted to know God more deeply than any other person in his generation. The result of this pursuit can be seen in several of Tozer’s books, which are still being read today: The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God.
Even though his writing and speaking ministry would carry him all over the country, Tozer was, first and foremost, a pastor. Immediately following his ordination to the gospel ministry, Tozer slipped away by himself and spent time in prayer. He recorded this prayer and I have included part of it here. It challenged me as I consider my calling and I hope it will be an encouragement to other pastors.
Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, or professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offerings. Help me to remember that I am prophet – not a promoter, not a religious manager, but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from over-eating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
If in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.
And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me that position or riches or fame. I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.
As Christians, we know that we should pray. Most of us want to pray. Yet, the vast majority of us struggle to develop a meaningful prayer life. We crave deep and authentic communication with our Heavenly Father but much of what we experience in prayer seems rote and impersonal.
So, where is the disconnect? I think we don’t talk about prayer rightly. Prayer is conversation. It is a two-way dialog between God and us. God speaks… we listen and respond; we speak… God listens and responds. Let’s unpack that for just a minute:
God speaks. I think our greatest problem with prayer is that we assume we must initiate the conversation. That is simply not true. God initiates the conversation. He first spoke to us through His Word and He continues to speak to us through his Word. That means that our prayer life must be grounded in the Scriptures. This may come as a shock to you but there is absolutely no way you can have a meaningful life of prayer apart from devoted time in God’s Word. Consider these verses:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
God, through the power of his Holy Spirit, works like a skilled surgeon as he slices through the layers of our life and exposes the true motives of our heart. He does this not to harm us but to make us useful for the ministry to which he has called us. In a very real sense, reading and meditating on God’s Word is just like sitting and listening to a friend talk to us over a cup of coffee. It is transforming, refreshing, and at times painful. But if we desire to know God intimately through prayer, we must tune our hearts and our minds to his Word.
We listen and respond. Are you a good listener? Most of us are not. We hear but we do not listen. Listening involves more that just hearing the words someone is saying; it means that we allow those words to find a resting place in our minds and hearts. Like a diamond reflects and refracts light as it is held up to the sun, we take the words we hear and allow time for them to reach the very depth of our souls. Are the words true? What do they mean for my life? Do they expose pride? Are they comforting? What will happen if I allow them to transform me? As we consider God’s Word we are reminded by Him, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). What is God’s Word accomplishing? We have seen that it “discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” and enables believers to “be complete, equipped for every good work.” As we soak in the Scriptures, we are assured that these things will happen in our life. It will be painful and beautiful at the same time.
Listening to God is not the end of this journey; we must respond. As we encounter his glory in the Scriptures, we erupt in praise. As we come face to face with our sin, we cry out in repentance. As we see his faithfulness to his people, we rejoice. One of the best ways to do this is to consciously and consistently respond to God as you read his Word. For example, if you are reading about God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel (Exodus), praise him for his faithfulness in your life. If you are reading about David’s repentance (Psalm 51), confess your own sin to the Lord with a contrite heart. If you are reading his Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), ask God to give you a passion to make disciples.
There are specific passages of Scripture that I pray on a daily basis and I have found that this is very helpful in my own prayer life. Also, as I follow a yearly Bible reading plan (Robert Murray McCheyne plan) I encounter passages of Scripture that become prayers each day.
We speak. This is probably the most common thing we think about when discussing prayer. After all prayer is telling God what we need, want, and desire. Right? Not really! We see clearly, in Matthew 6:9-13 (The Lord’s Prayer), Jesus doing something quite different as he teaches his followers to pray. His primary concern in prayer is that God be glorified and his will be accomplished in this world. You see, when God’s Word saturates our hearts and minds (the beginning of prayer) we desire to see God work powerfully in the world around us more than serve as our cosmic bellhop.
If you were to pause for a moment and take inventory of the prayers that you often pray, how many of those prayers are about you and your needs? How many of them are about God’s will and work in this world? It is easy to justify our lack of kingdom-focused prayers. We have problems and circumstances that we need God to take care of and fix. We have needs that are not met and wants that are not satisfied. This is why it is so essential to be a Word saturated people. As we are reminded who God is and what he is doing, we begin to recognize we are not the center of the universe. When this occurs we begin to pray kingdom-minded prayers. We are less concerned about our immediate circumstances and more focused on God’s glory.
This may sound difficult but I find it difficult to pray kingdom-focused prayers without a script. I recognize there needs to be a spontaneity to our prayer life (we are to “pray without ceasing”) but I also have experienced the value of a scripted prayer life. Not only do I pray through the Scriptures but I also pray through a list. I will share my list with you if you are really interested but basically I pray for my wife and kids (daily concerning different things), various family members (one for each day of the week), our church family (daily concerning different things), ministry partners (other pastors, professors, etc.) and missions (institutions, ministries, personnel). I also pray through our membership directory each month. This has allowed me to focus on others instead of myself. My spontaneous prayers throughout the day are usually focused on my circumstances and personal concerns.
God listens and responds. The fact that the God of the universe listens to our prayers is mind blowing. He is not obligated to listen but, like a loving father, he hears the cries of our heart. He also responds! His response is not always what we would expect but he does answer our prayers. God answers our prayers in three primary ways: (1) yes, (2) no, (3) wait. Most of us like the first answer, hate the second, and would rather have a root canal than be told the third. Yet, God responds for our good and his glory.
Throughout Scripture we see God answer people in these three ways. He said, “yes,” when Hezekiah asked for his life to be spared (2 Kings 20:1-11). He said, “no,” when Paul asked for the thorn in his flesh to be removed (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). He said, “wait,” when Habakkuk asked him to move quickly (Habakkuk 1:2-11). He responds to us with those same answers when we pray. We should expect God to respond and be willing to accept that his response is best regardless of whether or not that is the specific answer we want.