(November 11, 2020) Robert and Maureen McQuillan challenge:
Recently we heard an outstanding declaration by CS Lewis (portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins) in that great, heart-touching 1993 movie Shadowlands –
- ‘Prayer doesn’t change God – it changes me!’
Prayer is so important in the Christian’s life, a daily must as far as we’re concerned, something we’re into each morning over breakfast before we’re into the ‘whatevers’ the day brings forth. We’ll also find ourselves praying at different times during the day… about something arising in our own circumstances or about a request from someone (either known or unknown Christian, or a non-Christian stranger)… or in response to a leading by the Holy Spirit.
Wigram’s Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament lists over 100 scriptures on prayer and praying. Jesus’ own prayer life is mentioned around 30 times in scripture (Jesus-Praying).
- One key scripture is Luke 18:1 – Jesus urging that his disciples ‘should always pray and not give up.’
Musician/singer Brain Bell reminded us recently of Mary Ann Kidder’s challenging early morning praying1875 hymn. It begins…
Ere you left your room this morning,
Did you think to pray?
In the name of Christ our Saviour,
Did you sue for loving favour
As a shield today?
As do other writers, Edmund M Bounds (Prayer and Praying) regards Paul as ‘The Teacher of Prayer’ and ‘the chiefest of the apostles as he was chief in prayer.’
In his letters to various churches Paul strenuously urges prayer (over 40 scriptures). Some highlights…
- Dedication – ‘Be faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).
- Determination – ‘Never stop praying!’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- Devotion – ‘Give yourselves more completely to prayer’ (1 Corinthians 7:5NLT).
- Direction – Urging assistance in Romans 15:13, ‘join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.’
- Deliberation – Challenging Christians ‘to always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people’ (Ephesians 6:18).
- Declaration – Assuring the church that he had ‘not stopped praying for you’ (Colossians 1:9).
Obviously Christians praying was one of many things uppermost in Paul’s thinking. He wrote to the Ephesians about knowing and putting on our weapons of spiritual warfare.
One direction is great encouragement in these ongoing days of worldwide pandemic troubles and insecurity for we should be ‘… asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads’ (Ephesians 6:18NLT).
In John 14:16-17 Jesus had promised that the Spirit would not only be our friend but our powerful helper and here Paul is encouraging us to let the Holy Spirit lead our prayer life.
We talk these days about moving ahead and forgetting about the past… and that’s good. But here’s an insightful ‘blast from the past’ that should resonate with our hearts reminding us that even in prayer we can be directed by the blessed Holy Spirit…
18th century vicar of Madeley, Shropshire, theologian John Fletcher, after lecturing to young theological students on, for example, the Holy Spirit or on the power and blessing that he meant his people to have, would close the lecture announcing, ‘That is the theory; now will those who want the practice come along up to my room!’ Repeatedly students would go to his room, where the hour’s theory would be followed by one or two hours of prayer!
How natural is prayer? Firstly understand what praying is…
Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary states, ‘Prayer implies a personal God, who is our Father… who governs, controls and guides all the forces of the universe material and spiritual… the fatherhood of God makes prayer a natural resource of his children.’
Dr Francis Peloubet writes, ‘The very act of praying brings us into communion with God… we realise God is a person, with love and will and mind, to whom we can be drawn by a companionship closer than that of David and Jonathan, whose “hearts were knit together”.’
Wow! What a privilege, what an honour! In fact, it’s a humbling experience! We, inferior humans, have the pleasure of conversing with Almighty God, the superior being! Prayer is talking with Father God, as natural as children with their dad.
No wonder Alistair Begg (Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle) wrote regarding kneeling, ‘The posture of our hearts and not our bodies is the issue. Are we coming to God in dependence?… What matters most is a dependent heart, not a particular posture… The “prayingest prayer” – real prayer – is a prayer of a dependent person to a divine person.’
Admittedly, there are different aspects to prayer but let’s not get involved here and complicate prayer’s simplicity. Rather let’s go for the KISS formula, that acronym first noted by the U.S. navy in 1860 – Keep It Simple, Stupid. This doesn’t imply stupidity, but that most things work best if they’re kept simple rather than made complicated.
We blow some people away by explaining prayer this way… the Bible word for ‘prayer’ simply means to talk to God! Or, in Aussie dictum, ‘to yak.’
Now you can’t get simpler than that, can you… yakking to Father God. But, of course, by ‘yakking’ we mean meaningful, respectful conversations – firstly honouring God for who he is and thanking him for his goodness, then mentioning our requests. A Joyce Meyer quote echoes our thoughts here…
Years ago we came across a troubled lady who had experienced a harsh wrong Sunday school upbringing: ‘You have to pray, or you won’t please God.’ Sadly, she wasn’t given an explanation on praying. Her eyes light up when we explained how simple prayer is and peace immediately relaxed her troubled mind. Burdens left as realisation came that it is possible to have a meaningful relationship with a caring, loving God by talking with him in relaxed simple terms and then trusting him for answers!
Prayer, when properly understood, is a power key to touching God’s heart about our concerns. It’s the means of bringing blessings into situations! Many times we’ve seen God heal people, change situations and enrich lives through the power of prayer!
Thinkspot: Been praying respectfully lately… or merely going straight into ‘Oh woe is me’? Do you take everything to God in prayer first thing as Jesus did? (Mark 1:35, ‘ Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed).
Matthew 6:5-15 is the classic scripture to understanding Jesus’ view on praying, that it’s neither longwinded nor all around the ‘me, me’ syndrome.
Two things here…
- Jewish leaders, known for their longwinded prayers, Jesus called hypocrites, a word meaning actors. He shared a meaningful short prayer, suitable for ‘real’ people! One that can be said in under a minute; one honouring our caring God, then covering our three essential needs – food, forgiveness, freedom!
- Followers of religious teachers would ask their leader for a special prayer that they could take on board… and that’s what happened here: ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples’ (Luke 11:1). Traditionally we call Jesus’ teaching ‘the Lord’s prayer’… but in reality we can also call it ‘the disciples’ prayer.’
Now it’s not a difficult prayer to remember. No need for longwinded prayers as some would pray (That old saying: ‘So-and-so prays all around the world and doesn’t give anyone else a chance!’).
Of course, we’re not insisting that one only prays for only 60 seconds regarding personal needs and those of others… but let’s get to the point in our prayers, not be waffling!
Paul said in Romans 12:12, ‘Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.’ The Greek word here indicates to be consistently assiduous in our prayer life and, yes, sometimes one senses a need to pray longer than usual to gain breakthroughs.
Decades ago, back home, when we lead our Abbots Cross Congregational on-fire Youth Alive, prayer came up one night. Two teenage sisters commented quietly that when concentrated prayer was needed, their father Johnny White (as best we can remember a pentecostal pastor, who encouraged them to attend our group), would go to his room to ‘pray hard’ even for days.
Sometimes certain Christians have a calling to pray hard and earnestly for a particular project. For example, missionary to India John Nelson Hyde became known as Praying Hyde for his passionate daily praying for lost souls.
In 1908, he was inspired to pray for at least one Indian convert every day. By the end of that first year, 365 converts had been added to the kingdom! Next year he prayed for two souls a day, resulting in 800 gospel responses! Still he wasn’t satisfied, wanting more souls won to Christ.
The reality is that we’re all different, with different callings, characteristics and abilities. Praise God for prayerers like these two ministers… church history reveals God has always had certain Christians with unique callings on their lives. For most of us, our prayer life is sincere and simple and God honours our praying, short or long, if we’re wholehearted.
Hebrews 5:7NLT tells us that ‘While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.’
A great key for Christian growth is believing in the power of prayer, that God really cares and that we especially know in our hearts how to trust him. Think of Lewis’ quote as prayer changing and charging!
Prayer, when properly understood, is a power key to touching God’s heart and the means of bringing about blessings into situations! Many times we’ve seen God heal people, affect circumstances and enrich lives through the power of prayer!
In these days of ongoing uncertainty – including health and financial future, our advice is this: Know God personally, that is develop a one-on-one relationship with him through talking as friend-with-friend – and know his word! Then pray, believe and trust.
When you know the word, you can claim it…
Addictions – ‘If the Son sets you free you will be’ (John 8:36)
Circumstances – ‘God will meet all your needs’ (Philippians 4:19)
Guilt – ‘No condemnation for those in Christ’ (Romans8:1)
Loneliness – ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20)
Protection – ‘Have no fear of sudden disaster’ (Proverbs 3:25)
Sickness – ‘By his stripes you were healed’ (1 Peter 2:24)
Stress – ‘He gives strength to the weary’ (Isaiah 40:29).
- Most churches have committed prayerers, good people who care for others – we encourage such to remain active! As James wrote: ‘The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results’ (5:16NLT).
The Greek word of prayer is proseuchomai – and as shared above, Jesus expressed the simplicity of meaningful prayer to God… firstly honouring the Father, then requesting food, forgiveness, freedom.
In John 16:26-27 he added another important dimension: ‘In that day you will ask in my name.’ Message Bible reveals this great pronouncement this way… ‘Then you can make your requests directly to him in relation to this life I’ve revealed to you. I won’t continue making requests of the Father on your behalf. I won’t need to. Because you’ve gone out on a limb, committed yourselves to love and trust in me…’
So… remembering Jesus’ assurance about the Holy Spirit being our helper and Paul’s enthusiasm about the Spirit’s involvement, let’s wrap up this trinitarian encouragement this way –
1) Respect God the Father
2) Request in Jesus’ name
3) Rely on the Spirit to act!
Now that makes prayer not only simple but a profound all-inclusive package!
As Ecclesiastes 4:12 points out: ‘A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.’
Dr Robert and Pastor Maureen McQuillan’s links are OnlinerConnect@gmail.com and Facebook (Scripture/other emphases in this Onliner ours. Appreciated images/pics: various general sources). Links: Storms-of-Life / Erica Grace’s Security-Under-God’s-Wings / Brian Bell’s The-Positive-Outlook