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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More Effective Prayer

Sometimes you search for years for the thing you need and then one day you find that you have been stepping over it, moving it to one side and even sitting stuff on it all the time. I am always amazed when I realize that that is exactly what I have been doing with the truth and plain instruction in the Word of God. Someone may have read my article about my “Life Changing Experience” where I pointed out the tremendous benefit of memorizing and meditating on the “Beatitudes”.

For years I have sought for help to know how to pray more effectively. And once again there was the answer in plain sight.

Many years ago, when I was a student at Ozark Bible College, there was a local evangelist whose motto on all of his literature and banners was II Chronicles 7:14. Many of you and myself as well have always thought of this as a prescription for political action. Today as I was especially aware of the need for effective prayer this verse came into my mind and happily I didn’t push it aside but rather took some time to look at it. What I have seen is an amazing insight into effective prayer.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

So often when I think of prayer, I think of verses like Philippians 4:6

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Of course this is a fine and instructive verse. I have for some time realized because of this and other verses (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20) that all of my prayer needs to include thanksgiving. But in the Chronicles verse today I have seen a tremendous application of how I ought to pray.

I have mentioned before that this verse is specifically addressed to those who are ‘called by my name’. I don’t believe that prayer is necessarily the exclusive privilege of “Christians.” Otherwise no one could become a Christian. But I do think that this level of effective prayer is limited to those who are “called by my name.”

If I have written this before, it bears repeating often. When we are dealing with the activity of prayer there is no such thing as taking it too seriously. If I were going to be handling high explosives or radioactive material I am pretty sure that I would be careful to take the proper precautions. But we routinely bow our heads and say our prayers as casually as asking a stranger for the time. I need to realize that I am the most unworthy of creatures approaching the Living God who is always maintaining all things by his very word.

Sometimes it seems that the whole idea of something or someone being holy or sanctified is completely foreign in the protestant church especially in America. So when Jesus, teaching us how to pray, says we should pray like this “Our Father which art in heaven hollowed be thy name.” we just rattle it off with no thought for what it means. When the apostle Peter tells us to “sanctify the Lord God in your heart and be ready to give an answer,” we begin by thinking what our answer should be. And I have been in meetings where communion was treated more like the snack between the song service and the preaching than like the divine ordinance given to us by Jesus. Which, by the way, has extremely serious warnings attached to it by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-30.

And so, after accepting Solomon’s Temple as a dwelling place (II Chronicles 7:14) the Lord says to Solomon, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves”; He calls them “my people” and yet requires them to first humble themselves. In all of our spiritual development this is the starting place and the very pavement upon which we travel. If we overlook this principle we can make NO progress with God. Consider these verses.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: (1 Peter 5:6)

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5)

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:1-14)

Once I have seen my own poverty of spirit and acknowledged it to myself, then and only then am I truly ready to pray and seek the face of the Lord.

I am very aware of Philippians 4:6 which speaks of letting our requests be made known to God. I am also very aware that Jesus tells us our Father knows what we need before we ask him (Matthew 6:8). In the passage we are considering it simply says to pray and seek the face of the Lord.

What does that mean? Where would I look? How could I look?

This takes us back to becoming a disciple. In the 70’s Tim LA Hay wrote a book titled “The Becomers”. It put forward the idea that no matter where we are as Christians, we are always in the process of becoming more of a Christian. We should always be in the process of becoming disciples. The first disciple that I should always be making is myself. A disciple of Jesus is someone who wants to become as much like Jesus as possible. I do this by placing myself as close to him as much as possible. Reading his story and imagining myself there listening and watching. Learning his answers in situations; rehearsing what he taught about in this or that situation.

Many of you, myself as well, are or have been members of Christian groups or churches. When you first join that group you noticed peculiar ways that they say things. As time goes by, you began using the same ways of speech. You and I became like them. In the same way as we spend time with Jesus, in the Gospels, we begin to see the sense and logic of the things he says and we begin to sound like him. We begin to think in those terms.

I believe that part of seeking the face of God is seeking to know Jesus intimately.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you such a long time and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father. And how do you say, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9)

Surprisingly this makes reading God’s Word a form of prayer if we take it properly. In the same way as we memorize God’s Word and meditate, or repeat it to ourselves, this also becomes a form of prayer. His thoughts become our thoughts and we become like him, little by little.

Most people are as good as they know how to be. Often people who we would consider terrible sinners are simply doing the best that they can with what they know and have no idea about any fault in themselves. They see no better way to live.

At one time along my discipleship journey I memorized 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter). And as I meditated on this chapter I came across the phrase “love does not behave itself unseemly” (or rudely). Up to this time it was pretty common for me to speak of bodily functions in crude terms, for shock value or sometimes to get a point across. After I read this I realized that this was not the way that God would have me live. Now I had something to repent of. I needed to change my behavior.

There are many areas of each of our lives where we need to repent and change how we live and behave. That is why The Lord said, “and turn from their wicked ways.” We need to see our smallest inconsistency with God’s pattern as our “wicked ways.” This is very serious.

Someone is bound to think that, “We are under grace” or “When God looks at me he sees Jesus.” If that is so, why are the churches, in Revelation, told several times, “repent?” apparently God could see their sin. Repentance is a vital part of being a disciple of Jesus that seems to be written in very small letters in most of “Christian teaching” these days. Being changed is the WORK of discipleship. If I try to change myself I will only change some of my outward behavior. But, if I seek God’s face I will be able to find grace to be changed into his image. Grace is the POWER OF GOD that he will give so that I can be changed.

Then when God speaks of ‘healing the land’, I see that he means more than the political application of the context. I believe he is also interested in healing my life so that all of the promises can be realized for His glory.

It’s something to think about.

  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)