Series - Struggle of Prayer

The Struggle of Prayer - Part 6

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“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

This petition, especially when coupled with the addendum in v. 14-15 (“if you do not forgive others the Lord will not forgive you”) has caused concern for some of God’s people. Let me say first that this passage is not concerned with forgiveness of sins and justification on the basis of the cross and resurrection. Certainly, that is not how the disciples would have understood Jesus.

Rather, what is in view here is our unfettered approach to God. How can we think of asking God to forgive us our debts and our sins (Luke 11:4) if we hypocritically refuse to forgive the debts and sins of others against us? Just as unconfessed sin stops our prayers from being effective, so an unforgiving heart will damage our fellowship with our Father, and hence our prayer life.

This petition requires us to look within ourselves for any traces of hypocrisy in our dealings with our fellow man. How many of God’s children harbor secret enmities, prejudices, envies and bitterness toward others? In some sense they must be to us as we would be to God.

Thus, as Andrew Murray says,

In each prayer to the Father I must be able to say that I know of no one whom I do not heartily love. (With Christ in the School of Prayer, 30.)

A prayer life that fails to include thorough self-examination is always going to be deficient. Although no man can know himself so well as to exclude all suspicion of his heart-motive, yet he must search his memory for sins still unconfessed and people yet unforgiven.

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 5

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“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

One of the greatest difficulties for believers when they are praying is perspective. By this I have in mind particularly the perspective of time. God’s time-table is stretched out and often overruns the short span of our brief lives. Like the stride of a giant overtakes the scurrying of an ant, it can appear that God is hardly “in” our situation, because He has the vista of the whole future in front of Him. As Longfellow put it, “the mills of God grind slowly!”

Most of us struggle through life snatching only glimpses of the outworking of God’s plan. We expect this, for we are instructed to walk by faith and not by sight. So we trust that the plan is truly coming together. Indeed, this part of the “Lord’s Prayer” teaches us that anticipation plays a large part in daily prayers. We are to anticipate the culmination of present realities—as harsh as they so often are—foreseeing an era when God’s perfect shall indeed be done on earth as it is right now in heaven.

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 4

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In the last post I cited what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.” It would be good to have a brief exposition of it. Let us begin by dividing it up (Matt. 6:9-13):

“Pray, then, in this way…”

Introduction and First Petition: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come
Second Petition: Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Third Petition: Give us this day our daily bread.
Fourth Petition: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Fifth Petition: And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Doxology: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

As a matter of fact, and as most of you know, this isn’t an actual prayer to be prayed (although it can be put to that use), but a model or outline of how to pray. Since it comes from the One who hears the prayers we send up, this little outline is full of interest.

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 3

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In the last book he wrote, C.S. Lewis made this observation:

To confess our sins before God is certainly to tell Him what He knows much better than we. And also, any petition is a kind of telling. If it does not strictly exclude the principle that God knows our need, it at least seems to elicit His attention. Some traditional formulae make that implication very clear: “Hear us, good Lord” – … As if, though God does not need to be informed, He does need, and even rather frequently, to be reminded. But we cannot really believe that degrees of attention, and therefore of inattention, and therefore of something like forgetfulness, exist in the Divine mind. I assume that only God’s attention keeps me (or anything else) in existence at all.” (C. S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 20.)

The question being posed by Lewis is the seeming contradiction between God’s attribute of omniscience, His knowledge of all conceivable things, and our praying to Him. After all, why do we have to inform God of what He already knows? I think this question rears its head often in Christians’ minds. Why “go through the motions?”  What is God up to?

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 2

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The first voice of the creature

The first thing that prayer is is communication with God. If language is a gift of God then prayer is, or ought to be, the first or primary use of language. As such it is the first voice of the creature—whether audible or in silence—speaking to the Creator. As such it is never speaking to some “god,” but is always speaking to the God. If in no other way (and I do not say there are not other ways) this is what sets true prayer apart from false prayer. False prayer is a counterfeit because the god to whom it is offered is a counterfeit. Do we offer up pleas and praise to a divinity who smiles sedately upon all our trivial worship styles and our romanticized views of the Christian Life? That is not God. Do we pray to a cold, distant, offended deity, who moodily withholds answers because he is upset with us even after we have repented? Then our prayers are directed to a false god—one of our imagining.

In either of these scenarios it is ignorance which is the problem. And here I am addressing people with a Bible and a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I say it again, true prayer can only be given to the true God, the God who reveals Himself in His holy Word.

We have already seen from Exodus 34 how God, even on Mount Sinai on the day the Tablets of the Law were cut, first proclaims those qualities of His essential goodness which promote our sanguine hope:

compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.

This is a God to whom we can come with eyes open and hopes raised. Let us be encouraged. This is the covenant God of hesed—of steadfast devotion to us; sinners in a fallen world.

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The Struggle of Prayer, Part 1

My title is taken from Donald Bloesch’s book, which is one of the best books on the subject. I want to mention here that in my view the best book on prayer is either Prayer by John Bunyan, or How to Pray by R. A. Torrey. Both books get to the heart of what it is to pray, though Torrey hits the nail on the head more quickly than the great Puritan.

Just what is prayer?

Prayer is the most important aspect of the Christian’s daily life. Above all else we should be praying Christians. I do not pretend to know all its mysteries, nor indeed do I think we need such information in order to pray. I do not understand how my computer works, but that does not stop me from typing out this meditation on it! God has not whisked us off to heaven the moment He saved us. He has left us to represent Him in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:2); at least for a time.

Since we remain here and are not immediately in God’s heavenly presence, our communication with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be like our communications with other people. When conversing with others we can hear their voice or read their words directed to us. There is a clear sense of reciprocation based upon sight and sound. But God has not called us to walk by sight, but by faith. Faith does not have five senses to tell us we’re in contact. Rather, faith trusts, and prayer articulates that trust in its constant reaching out to the God who is there.

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