We set out to understand prayer in a much fuller light. Prayer is one of those ‘practices’ within the religious world that is often misunderstood – even by those who generally claim to hold to a fundamental tenant of their religion. We spent time during our first lesson to identify what prayer is and what it isn’t. In short, we saw that prayer can serve a variety of functions from offering praise to service to labor to requests to venting…and so on.
We also noted that prayer is not a means by which God determines the spirituality of the believer, nor is it a means by which believers establish spirituality in the eyes of other believers. Likewise, prayer is not a ritual to ‘satisfy’ in order to be close to God or to please Him for the day. It should go without saying at this point, but as Hebrews 11:6 states, without FAITH, it is impossible to please Him. Regardless of how we dress it up, there is no amount of religious activity that will cause us to get close to Him or will please Him. The relieving reality is that as a believer, we are already joined in perfect union with Christ, so much so that Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are already seated with Him in heavenly places, in Christ. You can’t get any closer to Him than that! You likewise can’t get any further away from Him than that – He made you acceptable in His sight – He determined that NOTHING would SEPARATE you from His love and regardless of how much we fail, He is never not faithful to His promise.
Prayer is simply a means to rejoice in this very reality. Prayer is not a ritual to check off for the day; prayer is not a ‘practice’; prayer is the sure refuge for the believer as the believer allows his/her focus to be on Christ.
We first determined that who we are, in Christ, is not only very important, but actually has an impact on our prayers. We took some time to demonstrate the stark contrast between the two men of the Bible – Adam and Christ. Being born into this world, we are born in sin and ruled by death. However, being born again, in Christ, we are born into a world of righteousness, ruled by Life.
However, what many believers fail to realize is that there is no mixture of these two men. 1Corinthians 15:22 states that in Adam, all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive. It is one or the other. Who we are is either identified by the associations of Adam (i.e. sin, death, condemnation, etc.) or it is identified by Christ and His associations (i.e. Life, Righteousness, Justification, etc.) Therefore, not realizing that there is no middle ground, many believers attempt to create a Christian life out of their own performance (otherwise known as, religion), where they claim the name of Christ yet bind themselves to their fleshly deeds, in Adam. I’m not suggesting they are not justified in Christ (having been right with God by faith), but that they received a bad transmission along the way which has led them to believe it is their job to get close to God – while completely missing the fact they are as close to God as they could ever be – seated with His Son! So, their religious struggle has a form of godliness, but denies the power thereof.
However, according to Paul in the book of Romans, they that are in the flesh cannot please God because the fleshly (carnal) mind is enmity (opposition) to God. You can’t make the flesh behave according to the law of God because the flesh only ‘behaves’ according to the law of sin – this is why we mortify our flesh by yielding to the Spirit and then it is the Spirit that animates our existence, not us.
Understand that God has made us to be the very righteousness of Himself, in the person of His Son. We are not in Adam any longer. What do you suppose that intel would do to influence your prayers?
Also, we learned that a believer, while still at home in the body of flesh, will experience suffering in this life.
Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
In Acts 9, God declares how many great things Paul must suffer for His name’s sake.
To the Thessalonians, Paul writes that they should not be moved by the afflictions they are facing because they were appointed unto them.
In Philippians 3, Paul says that his superior desire is to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings.
In 2Corinthians 11, Paul lists the various forms of affliction he suffered and as he roles into Chapter 12, he speaks of a thorn in the flesh that was given him so that he should not be exalted above measure. This thorn is symbolic for some kind of impact on Paul that produced humility in his life. People argue over what this thorn is, but what it is apparently isn’t that important since we are never told – but what is important is what it taught Paul and what Paul learned thereof.
Paul asked (prayed) 3 times for this thorn to be removed and God did not remove it, yet told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” Paul learned that the grace of God is not limited to see him out of his circumstances, but is sufficient enough to see Paul through his circumstances. Realizing this, Paul then says that he is going (and would rather glory) in his infirmities so that the power of God would rest upon him. In other words, Paul, stop praying for this thorn to be removed, understand that my grace is sufficient despite your circumstances, and allow God to show Himself strong through your weakness.
As believers, we are going to suffer. It will happen–the degree and frequency will vary, but it will happen. Do we attempt to pray it away? Do we rush to God to make Him aware of what He is already aware of? Or, do we rest assured that God’s grace is indeed sufficient and allow our eyes to be opened to the wonderful work that God is busy doing all around us, even in the midst of our troubling circumstances? See how our prayer flavor might change?
By this, the believer maintains the stability he/she needs while facing life in a world cursed by sin and death. Paul says that he learned to be content in whatsoever state he found himself in (Philippians 4:10-11) because he can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth him. This isn’t a blank check of power that Christ gives to each believer. Philippians 4:13 is one of the most misunderstood verses in scripture because it is often used apart from its context.
Philippians 4:10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity.
Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
Philippians 4:12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
The ‘all things’ of verse 13 has to do with the contentment Paul has learned to have. While being hungry and while suffering need, Paul is instructed that he will experience both IN ALL THINGS. Verse 13 is not the blank check of power or ability to the believer, as in, “I can do all things through Christ, therefore, I’m going to jump off this cliff and fly!” Rather, verse 13 is in the context of suffering and despite the circumstance, I can face the circumstance because it is Christ giving me the strength to do so – for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Prayer allows us to be stabilized through our circumstances because prayer brings our circumstances into perspective when compared to His grace.
Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
That is solid assurance that not only is His grace sufficient for us, but His peace will keep or guard our hearts and minds through Christ. Would this change the flavor of your prayers?
Hopefully you can see that I am not discounting prayer at all, but that what we often experience in prayer is far from what our prayers could/should be. Instead of a time to focus on our pesky wants, it should be nothing less than turning one’s mind to Him, from whom all blessings flow. Does it mean that God won’t intervene in our lives? No, not at all. But, what it does mean, is that prayer quiets the believer to be sensitive to His grace, receptive to His peace, and stabilized in His Son.
In the next lesson, we looked at a topic within the prayer discussion and that is the so-called, Sinner’s Prayer. We’ll look at this in more detail in the next post.