As my lovely wife celebrates a special birthday, the best gift I can give her is outlined here by Jonathan Parnell:
Our hunger for God will not be confined to our closets. As we know him and delight in all that he is for us in Jesus, our joy in him reaches beyond personal experience on a quest to be reproduced in others. One of the simplest ways we realize this is by taking serious how we pray — by wanting and asking for others the same things we want and ask for ourselves.
It is a beautiful thing — a miracle — when we become as invested in the sanctification of others as we are in our own. And, of course, the best place to start is with our spouses.
So men, here are ten things to want from God (and ask from him) for your wife:
- God, be her God — her all-satisfying treasure and all. Make her jealous for your exclusive supremacy over all her affections (Psalm 73:24–25).
- Increase her faith — give her a rock-solid confidence that your incomparable power is only always wielded for her absolute good in Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
- Intensify her joy — a joy in you that abandons all to the riches of your grace in Jesus and that says firmly, clearly, gladly: “I’ll go anywhere and do anything if you are there” (Exodus 33:14–15).
- Soften her heart — rescue her from cynicism and make her tender to your presence in the most complicated details of dirty diapers and a multitude of other needs you’ve called her to meet (Hebrews 1:3).
- Make her cherish your church — build relationships into her life that challenge and encourage her to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, and cause her to love corporate gatherings, the Lord’s Table, and the everyday life of the body (Mark 3:35).
- Give her wisdom — make her see dimensions of reality that I would overlook and accompany her vision with a gentle, quiet spirit that feels safe and celebrated (1 Peter 3:4).
- Sustain her health — continue to speak your gift of health and keep us from presumption; it is by blood-bought grace (Psalm 139:14).
- Multiply her influence — encourage and deepen the impact she has on our children. Give her sweet glimpses of it. Pour her out in love for our neighbors and spark creative ways to engage them for Jesus’s sake (John 12:24).
- Make her hear your voice — to read the Bible and accept it as it really is, your word… your very word to her where she lives, full of grace and power and everything she needs pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
- Overcome her with Jesus — that she is united to him, that she is a new creature in him, that she is your daughter in him. . . No longer in Adam and dead in sin; now in Christ and alive to you, forever (Romans 6:11).
And then a thousand other things. Amen.
From the 9Marks 2013 report:
1. Expositional Preaching: pray that more pastors will commit to preaching the whole counsel of God, making the point of the passage the point of their sermons.
2. Biblical Theology: pray that more pastors will preach about the big God from the big Story of the Bible, protecting the church from false teaching.
3. The Gospel: pray that pastors will faithfully proclaim the gospel every chance they have. Pray their churches will ask for nothing more than the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
4. Conversion: pray that more churches would grasp the doctrine of conversion rightly, and shape their practices to promote born-again believers, not nominal believers.
5. Evangelism: pray that churches will be bold and faithful in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.
6. Church Membership: pray that churches will take the biblical call to church membership seriously, and encourage the whole body of Christ toward holiness and active participation.
7. Church Discipline: pray that churches will grow in purity and holiness as they seek to warn, rebuke, and admonish lost sheep.
8. Discipleship and Growth: pray that Christians will grow in their knowledge of the Word, and their commitment to discipling one another.
9. Biblical Leadership: pray that God will raise up many faithful shepherds to guard, teach, and encourage his flock.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
The Gospel Coalition Council members Kevin DeYoung, Bryan Chapell, and Richard Phillips recently sat down to tackle this knotty topic. ”In a true revival, you’re not adding human manipulative techniques to a biblical ministry,” Phillips explains. Rather, you’re “doing biblical ministry, fortified by prayer, and the Holy Spirit is giving you a great harvest.”
Moreover, Chapell points out, “True revival is often very disruptive to the traditional church.” As a result, many churches “want revival until it comes.” On the other hand, DeYoung adds, some don’t desire to see revival unless it occurs in their church.
To be sure, the history of revivalism is shot through with examples of well-meaning people seeking to engineer what only God can do. As Lloyd-Jones warned:
“Pray for revival? Yes, go on, but do not try to create it, do not attempt to produce it; it is only given by Christ himself. The last church to be visited by a revival is the church trying to make it.”
Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these pastors discuss the temptation to manufacture, the danger of giving up, the problem with measuring success in revival terms, and more.
God loved the Apostle Paul. Yet God sovereignly orchestrated Paul’s painful thorn in the flesh and then declined to remove it, notwithstanding Paul’s passionate prayer that he be healed (2 Cor. 12:8-9).
We are not apostles. Yet, God loves us as his children no less than he loved Paul. We don’t know the nature of Paul’s thorn, but each of us has undoubtedly suffered in a similar way, and some considerably worse.
We, like Paul, have prayed incessantly to be healed. Or perhaps knowing of a loved one’s “thorn,” we have prayed for him or her. And again, as with Paul, God declined to remove it.
It’s hard to imagine a more difficult, confusing, and controversial topic than why God chooses not to heal in response to the intercessory pleas of his people. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I think I’ve got a few.
Occasionally healing does not occur because of the absence of that sort of faith that God delights to honor. This does not mean that every time a person isn’t healed, it is because of a defective faith, as if healing inevitably follows a robust and doubt-free faith. But it does mean that faith is very important.
How can we conclude otherwise in view of the many texts that closely link healing to someone’s faith? I hope you’ll take the time to pause and read these passages: Matthew 9:22, 28–29; 15:28; Mark 2:5, 11; 5:34; 9:17–24; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19; Acts 3:16; 14:8–10; James 5:14–16.
2. UNCONFESSED SIN
Sometimes healing does not occur because of the presence of sin for which there has been no confession or repentance. James 5:15–16 clearly instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed.
Again, please do not conclude from this that each time a person isn’t healed it is because he or she has committed but not repented of some specific sin. But in some cases (not necessarily all) this is undoubtedly true.
3. LACK OF DESIRE
Odd as it may sound to hear it, healing may not happen because the sick don’t want it to happen. Jesus asked the paralyzed man in John 5:6, “Do you want to be healed?” What on the surface may appear to be a ridiculous question is, on further examination, found to be profoundly insightful.
Some people who suffer from a chronic affliction become accustomed to their illness and to the pattern of life it requires. Their identity is to a large extent wrapped up in their physical disability.
4. LACK OF PRAYER
We must also consider the principle articulated in James 4:2, where we are told, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” The simple fact is that some are not healed because they do not pray. Perhaps they pray once or twice, and then allow discouragement to paralyze their petitions. Prayer for healing often must be prolonged, sustained, persevering, and combined with fasting.
5. DEMONIC INFLUENCES NOT ADDRESSED
Some are not healed because the demonic cause of the affliction has not been addressed. Please do not jump to unwarranted conclusions. I am not suggesting that all physical disease is demonically induced.
It is interesting, is it not, that in Paul’s case God used “a messenger of Satan” to inflict the thorn? There is also the case of the woman in Luke 13, who had “a disabling spirit [or, a spirit of infirmity] for 18 years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself” (Luke 13:11). According to Jesus, “Satan” had “bound” her (Luke 13:16; see also Acts 10:38).
6. DIVINE PROVIDENCE
We must also consider the mystery of divine providence. There are undoubtedly times and seasons in the purposes of God during which his healing power is withdrawn or at least largely diminished. God may have any number of reasons for this to which we are not privy, whether to discipline a wayward and rebellious church or to create a greater desperation for his power or to wean us off excessive dependence on physical comfort and convenience or any number of other possibilities. If this leaves you confused, that’s why it’s called a mystery!
7. A BETTER THING
Oftentimes there are dimensions of spiritual growth and moral development and increase in the knowledge of God in us that he desires more than our physical health, experiences that in his wisdom God has determined can only be attained by means or in the midst of or in response to less-than-perfect physical health. In other words, healing the sick is a good thing (and we should never cease to pray for it), but often there is a better thing that can be attained only by means of physical weakness.
PERSEVERE IN PRAYER
We may never know why a person isn’t healed. What, then, ought to be our response?
In the first place, don’t stop praying! Some people find this difficult to swallow. Many times I’ve been asked, why should Paul bother to pray for release from something that God wills to inflict? The answer is that Paul didn’t know what God’s will was in this particular case until such time as God chose to make it known. And neither do you or I with regard to any particular illness we may suffer.
If, like Paul, you are able to discern, through some prophetic disclosure or other legitimate biblical means, that it is not God’s will now or ever to heal you, you may cease asking him to do so. Otherwise, short of death itself, you must persevere in prayer.
I’m sure there are other ways to account for why God chooses not to heal, but I trust that these have proved helpful. There is much I do not know about this matter, but of this I’m quite certain: God’s grace is sufficient in all circumstances so that we, “for the sake of Christ” (2 Cor.12:10), might learn that in our weakness his power is made perfect!
What we mean when we say amen:
The word amen is not Christianese for “prayer over.” It means something much more beautiful and significant.
I had a friend in college who thought because of our freedom in Christ we shouldn’t say “amen” to conclude our prayers. So he started ending his prayers with “groovy” (you would have thought I was in college in the 1970s). He thought it was pretty cool, a little bit of needed rebellion against tired old Christian cliches. But amen is not the same as groovy. Amen means “let it be, “so be it,” “verily,” “truly.” When you finish your prayer with “Amen” you are saying, “Yes Lord, let it be so. According to your will, may it be.” It’s a final note of confirmation at the end of our prayers.
More than that, the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that “amen” is also an expression of confidence. “Amen” means “This is sure to be!” It reminds me of this good news: “It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for” (Question and Answer 129). God is gracious to hear our prayers much better than we pray them. “Amen” bears witness to our desire for God’s purposes to be done and to God’s promise that they will. Your style may be groovy, but your prayers deserve an “amen.”
Jonathan Edwards saw a direct cause and effect relationship between the faithful and fervent prayers of God’s people and the authenticity of heaven-sent revival.
“When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, ’tis his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people; as is manifest byEzek. 36:37, ‘I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them’; . . . And ’tis revealed that when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out ‘the spirit of grace and supplication,’ Zech. 12:10” (Some Thoughts, 516).
“When God is about to bestow some great blessing on his church, it is often his manner, in the first place, so to order things in his providence as to shew [sic] his church their great need of it, and to bring ‘em into distress for want of it, and so put ‘em upon crying earnestly to him for it” (517).
So just how important is prayer in the lives of those who long for revival?
“There is no way that Christians in a private capacity can do so much to promote the work of God, and advance the kingdom of Christ, as by prayer. By this even women, children and servants may have a public influence. Let persons be never so weak, and never so mean, and under never so poor advantages to do much for Christ and the souls of men otherwise; yet, if they have much of the spirit of grace and supplication, in this way they may have power with him that is infinite in power, and has the government of the whole world: and so a poor man in his cottage may have a blessed influence all over the world. God is, if I may so say, at the command of the prayer of faith; and in this respect is, as it were, under the power of his people; as princes, they have power with God, and prevail [cf. Gen. 32:28]. Though they may be private persons their prayers are put up in the name of a Mediator, that is a public person, being the Head of the whole church and the Lord of the universe: and if they have a great sense of the importance of eternal things and concern for the precious souls of men, yet they need not regret it that they are not preachers; they may go in their earnestness and agonies of soul, and pour out their souls before One that is able to do all things; before him they may speak as freely as ministers; they have a great High Priest, through whom they may come boldly at all times [Heb. 4:14-16], and may vent themselves before a prayer-hearing Father, without any restraint.” (518)
Genesis 32 contains the fascinating story of Jacob wrestling all night with God. The whole wrestling match comes about in the midst of Jacob praying, and his physical struggle teaches us 5 lessons about prayer.
1. The blessings of God are released into our lives through prayer.
Before Jacob was even born God had prophesied that the blessing would be his and not his brother’s (Gen 25:23). But it was not until Jacob took it in a prayer-wrestling match with God that it really became his. He laid hold of the promise of God through a night of prayer.
The Bible is a book full of promises—3,000 of them! And while many of them apply to specific and unique situations, Paul calls all the promises of God “Yes” in Jesus (2 Cor 1:20). So in a Christ-centered way, every one of them is Yes for me and for you.
So do not simply read through your Bible. Pray through it! The Bible is our primary prayer book, so read through it and lay hold of the promises of God!
2. Sometimes the blessings of God are released in our lives through persistent prayer.
Martin Luther pointed out that the story of Jacob wrestling with God gives us a picture of wrestling with a seemingly hostile God in prayer. As another example of this, he mentions the story of the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus to get healing for her daughter (Mark 7). Jesus’ tells her that “it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Does Jesus actually want to send the woman away? No. He is going to heal her, but at first he appears hostile and indifferent.
What is going on here? God is not actually hostile and indifferent: the cross shows us loving and engaged he is! But Jesus is showing us that praying often feels like that. Why? God often appears hostile to test the strength of our faith in his goodness: “Like a child trying to push against the hand of a parent, the parent gives only enough resistance to test the resolve of the child. So God resists us in prayer, to see our resolve in his goodness.”
3. The blessings of God are not obtained by our contriving.
At the end of this wrestling match, God asks Jacob for his name. He already knows the name, but he wants Jacob to admit it. When Jacob had stolen the blessing, his daddy had asked for his name, and he lied: “My name is Esau.” But now he tells the truth: “My name is Jacob. I’m a deceiver. I’ve tried all my life to obtain these blessings for myself by my own manipulation. Now I am repenting.”
So God gives him a new name, Israel, which speaks of God giving the blessing, not Jacob wresting it for himself. The blessing you are searching for is not going to come from more striving or deceiving. It comes by submitting. Winning the blessing only comes by losing to God.
4. God is himself the blessing that we seek.
God does not end the encounter with Jacob by assuring him that everything would be fine. He simply says, “Go to Esau. I am with you.” There is no promise that he will live through the next day. In fact, God has made Jacob limp, so he cannot even try to run away.
But Jacob got a blessing that was greater than earthly blessing: the restoration of relationship. Whatever you are searching for, I can guarantee you that it cannot replace God. Sometimes God withholds blessing you are seeking in order to teach you that, because a relationship with God is better than any of his blessings.
God may not promise you that you will get the job or the boyfriend or the healing you desire. But he promises himself. God does not always change your situation; sometimes he changes your identity. He changes you from a “Jacob” to an “Israel.” So you can say, even in the midst of the shadow of death, that God is with you, and that is enough.
The result of a night of prayer is not the resolution of all of your problems, but the restoration of your most desperately needed relationship.
5. We know that God hears us because he became weak for us.
Jacob should have been crushed, which means that God voluntarily held himself back. God became voluntarily weak.God feigned weakness to bring Jacob salvation, but centuries later, the full weight that Jacob deserved came down on Christ. As Tim Keller says, “Jacob held on at the risk of his life to get the blessing for him; but Jesus held on at the cost of his life to get the blessing for us.”
So we can be sure that he hears us. It may seem like God is not listening. But he is. The cross assures you he is. God cared enough to come down to Jacob and wrestle with him. God cared enough for us that he came down and took on our flesh, wrestling with our sin until it squeezed the life out of him. And now he has united himself to us forever and said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So press into him in prayer, and never, ever give up.
 Martin Luther, as quoted by David Steinmetz, prof of OT at Duke Divinity School, sermon given at Beeson Divinity School in 1996, “Calving and Luther on Interpreting Genesis.” Beeson Divinity School podcast, 10/9/12.
Many of us and people in our churches will have been praying about Tuesday’s vote on so-called gay marriage in the House of Commons. The Government’s success in the vote, and the sometimes empty arguments advanced, will have left many of us feeling a little cold, low and disappointed – not just physically, but spiritually too. As preachers, we will have the pulpit on Sunday, so what must we say? Plenty. But I would like specifically to suggest five things we must not say, despite the temptation.
1. Our God is not sovereign
None of us would say this, of course, but might some of our people think it? How can the God we worship and adore possibly be sovereign and allow this vote to have gone through? If ever there were a time for a Mount Carmel type intervention, wasn’t this it? Surely the only reasonable deduction (and one that opponents might well make) is that God is not sovereign? The answer to this regular struggle is always the same. Look to the cross. For at the cross, God wonderfully and sovereignly shows that he is in control of the most wicked and evil events (Acts 2.23). Pastorally, the answer to those struggling with the sovereignty of God is always to take them to Calvary.
2. Our prayers have not worked
“Worked?” What do you mean by that? No doubt some people will be feeling that their prayers (and efforts) have been in vain. We prayed a lot. But our prayers did not work. The idea of prayers “working” is not unbiblical (see James 5.16). But neither it is the whole Bible picture on prayer, nor even the main focus. Prayer is not about getting things primarily. Prayer is an expression of dependence on a sovereign God and humbly submitting to his will. I would suggest that the sentiment, “our prayers have not worked” probably means we and our churches have the wrong view of prayer.
3. Our nation will be judged
So, the rubicon has been crossed. Our nation is now ripe for judgement and surely judgement will come. This is easy to express, but harder to justify biblically. First of all, I don’t think we – as New Covenant Ministers – have the same authority as the Old Testament prophets to call down judgement. Second, everything God does is judgement. He is the Judge and all his sovereign acts are judgements. He is already judging. Third, our nation (if that is the right category) has been ripe for judgement for many centuries. But God, in his good grace, has held back. Despite Tuesday’s vote, that may still continue. Fourth, it depends upon your view of kingdom, but there is certainly a compelling argument to say that this side of the cross, there are only two nations – “my people” and “not my people”. Nations, as we understand them, may be less significant than we think (I realise not everyone will have this view, but you must admit that the whole situation is rather nuanced). So, announcements of national judgement from the pulpit are definitely out. Rather, we should announce judgement in the apostolic way: judgement is coming and everyone should be prepared – Heb 9.27.
4. Our teaching on marriage is rendered impotent
Now marriage looks like being redefined in unbiblical terms, it will be impossible for the church to say anything about it. Nonsense. Proper marriage is and always will be a continued picture of Christ and the church. At its best, biblically understood, it is and always will be a foundational building block of church life and, in God’s grace, non-Christian society. True, it’s going to be harder to make those points now we have to caveat what we say. But I still think marriage is a remarkably positive thing for the church to be speaking about, not least to our own people.
5. Our vote cannot go to anyone who voted for gay marriage
Tempting though this response is, I think it is also wrong. Not only is it legally dubious for ministers to tell church members how to vote, politics is a whole lot more complicated than one issue, however important the issue is. The chances are Christians may well be faced at the next election with candidates from all parties who would have voted the same way. Do we just abstain? I don’t think so. I don’t have a candidate who agrees with everything I do, so voting is a judgement about prioritising and choosing which issues are the most important. Significant though the vote was, nothing that happened on Tuesday changes that.
More positively, as plenty of online Christians have expressed, the whole debate has shown how needy the country is when it comes to the gospel. The ground may be hard, but those who are called to sow must sow. We must pray. We must cast ourselves on God for gospel work and gospel success because truly, if you did not see it before, you must see now that transformed and redeemed lives are the only hope for our nation and our communities.
So, brother, preach the gospel – in season and out of season.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference. For many years I’ve used the 3 R’s I learned from Ben Patterson to pray through Scripture. This simple tool has helped me pray the Bible more than any other single strategy. I’ve used in my devotional times and have employed it often in leading others in prayer.
With every verse in the Bible we can do one (or more likely, all three) of these things. We can rejoice and thank God for his character and blessings. We can repent of our mistakes and sins. We can request new mercies and help.
Right now I just flipped opened my Bible and landed at Psalm 104. Verse 1 says “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty.” How might you pray through this verse? Well, at first blush you might see nothing more to do than praise God. “Dear Lord, you are very great. You are clothed with splendor and majesty. Amen.” But try that again with the 3 R’s.
Rejoice – O Lord, you have richly blessed me more than I deserve. What a privilege that I can call you my God. Thank you for making me a little lower than the angels and crowing me with glory and honour too.
Repent – Forgive me for being blind to your splendour and majesty. Though you are very great, my circumstances and disappointments often feel greater. I’m sorry for being so ungrateful and taking your blessings for granted.
Request – Give me eyes to see as you are. Tune my heart to sing your praise. Help me see your glory in the world you’ve created, in the people around me, and in the face of Christ.
Obviously, some verses lend themselves to prayer more easily than others. The Psalms are particularly prayer-worthy. But with the simple strategy of Rejoice, Repent, Request there shouldn’t be a verse in the Bible that can’t be used as a prompt to pray.
But the hard truth is that most Christians don’t pray very much. They pray at meals—unless they’re still stuck in the adolescent stage of calling good habits legalism. They whisper prayers before tough meetings. They say something brief as they crawl into bed. But very few set aside set times to pray alone—and fewer still think it is worth it to meet with others to pray. And we wonder why our faith is weak. And our hope is feeble. And our passion for Christ is small.
The Duty of Prayer
And meanwhile the devil is whispering all over this room: “The pastor is getting legalistic now. He’s starting to use guilt now. He’s getting out the law now.” To which I say, “To hell with the devil and all of his destructive lies. Be free!” Is it true that intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer is a duty? Do I go to pray with many of you on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., and Wednesday at 5:45 p.m., and Friday at 6:30 a.m., and Saturday at 4:45 p.m., and Sunday at 8:15 a.m. out of duty? Is it a discipline?
You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.
Means of Grace: Gift of God
I hate the devil, and the way he is killing some of you by persuading you it is legalistic to be as regular in your prayers as you are in your eating and sleeping and Internet use. Do you not see what a sucker he his making out of you? He is laughing up his sleeve at how easy it is to deceive Christians about the importance of prayer.
God has given us means of grace. If we do not use them to their fullest advantage, our complaints against him will not stick. If we don’t eat, we starve. If we don’t drink, we get dehydrated. If we don’t exercise a muscle, it atrophies. If we don’t breathe, we suffocate. And just as there are physical means of life, there are spiritual means of grace.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
From Joel Beeke:
For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.
1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.
In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”
2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.
We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”
3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.
True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal,56 always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.
4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.
The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6,KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”
These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”
This excerpt is adapted from Joel Beeke’s contribution in John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
In his new book, Kevin DeYoung writes, “It may sound boring or out-of-date, but it just happens to be true: the way to grow in your relationship with Jesus is to pray, read your Bible, and go to a church where you’ll get good preaching, good fellowship, and receive the sacraments” (134). It sounds ordinary, and it is, as Kevin explains in the following clip (4 minutes):
By Nancy Guthrie:
It is one thing to be asked to pray for another person. I’m happy to do it. I want to do it. I must admit, though, I am not always faithful to do it. However, it is another thing to be told what to ask God for in the situation. I’ve noticed that often requests for prayer come with specific instructions on how to pray. I call it a “please pray for my predetermined positive outcome” request.
And while I’m questioning our accepted methods of requesting prayer, I’ve got to ask, why do we seem to make it our goal to get as many people as possible praying toward our predetermined positive outcome? Is it that we think God is resistant to doing what is good and right but can be pressured by a large number of people to relent and deliver? Do we think that the more people we recruit to pray for the same thing will prove our sincerity or improve our odds?
Praying for a Miracle?
I suppose I really began to think about these things during the season in which we were caring for our daughter, Hope, who was born with a fatal genetic disorder. I remember getting a call from the secretary at our church. “We’ve put you on the prayer list,” she said, “and we’re asking people to pray that God will do a miracle and heal Hope.” Honestly it was a little awkward to tell her that while that was fine, it wasn’t the way we were praying. Our reluctance to pray in this way had nothing to do with whether or not we thought God is powerful enough to do that kind of miracle. This is the God who spoke the world into being. No question he could do it.
So how were praying for Hope? I wish I could tell you that I was a great woman of prayer in those difficult days. Truth is, I wasn’t. I was really grateful that so many people were praying for us, no matter what they were praying, because I didn’t have many words, mostly just groans and tears. I was grateful to know that the Holy Spirit was interceding for us with “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:36). When I was able to sputter out a prayer, it was shaped most profoundly by something a friend said to me on the phone a couple of days after Hope was born. She said that I could be confident that God would accomplish the purpose he had for Hope’s life in the number of days that he gave to her. So in my prayers I began to welcome him to accomplish that purpose. I prayed that my own sin and selfishness and small agendas would not hinder his purpose. I prayed that that his purpose for Hope’s life would be enough for me, even a joy to me.
Not Meaningless or Random
If we really believe that God is purposeful in suffering, that our suffering is not meaningless or random, shouldn’t that affect how we pray about the suffering in our lives and in the lives of others? As it is, we pretty much only know how to pray for suffering to be removed—for there to be healing, relief, restoration. Praying for anything less seems less than compassionate. But shouldn’t the purposes for suffering we find in Scripture guide our prayers more than our predetermined positive outcomes? We could make a very long list of purposes for which God intends to use suffering according to the Scripture. But here are just a few:
- To put God’s glory on display (John 9:3)
- To make the life of Jesus evident (2 Cor. 4:10-11)
- To live out genuine faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
- To cause us to depend on him more fully (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
- To reveal hidden sin or keep us from sin (2 Cor. 12:7)
- To experience that Christ is enough (2 Cor. 12:9)
- To discipline us for holiness (Hebrews 12:10-11)
- To equip us to comfort others (1 Cor. 1:3)
- To make us spiritually mature (James 1:2-5)
- To make us fruitful (John 15:2)
- To shape us into Christ’s likeness (Romans 8:29)
- To share in the suffering of Christ (Philippians 3:10)
What would happen if we allowed Scripture to provide the outcomes we prayed toward? What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture? Scripture provides us with a vocabulary for expanding our prayers for hurting people far beyond our predetermined positive outcomes. Instead of praying only for relief, we begin to pray that the glory of God’s character would be on display in our lives and the lives of those for whom we are praying. We pray for the joy of discovering that the faith we have given lip service to over a lifetime is the real deal. We ask God to use the difficulty to make us less self-reliant and more God-reliant. Rather than only begging him to remove the suffering in our loved ones’ lives, we ask him to make them spiritually fruitful in the midst of suffering he chooses not to remove.
What Is Prayer?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Young Children asks the question, what is prayer? The answer: “Prayer is asking God for things which he has promised to give.” Are we praying for things God has promised to give—like his presence with us, his Word guiding us, his power working in us, his purpose accomplished through us? Or are we limited to praying only for what he has not promised to give—complete physical healing and wholeness in the here and now?
To go deeper than praying only for deliverance means that we approach prayer not as a tool to manipulate God to get what we want, but as a way to submit to what he wants. Through prayer we draw close to him in our need. We tell him that we will not insist on our predetermined positive outcome but want to welcome him to have his way, accomplish his purpose.
“The first two petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are perhaps the clearest statement of all in the teachings of Jesus that missions is driven by the passion of God to be glorified among the nations. ‘Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come’ (Matthew 6:9–10). Here Jesus teaches us to ask God to hallow his name and to make his kingdom come. This is a missionary prayer. Its aim is to engage the passion of God for his name among those who forget or revile the name of God (Psalm 9:17; 74:18). To hallow God’s name means to put it in a class by itself and to cherish and honor it above every claim to our allegiance and affection. Jesus’ primary concern — the very first petition of the prayer he teaches — is that more and more people, and more and more peoples, come to hallow God’s name. This is the reason the universe exists. Missions exist because this hallowing doesn’t.”
— John Piper Let the Nations Be Glad (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Books, 1993), 35
(HT: Of First Importance)
Adapted from the first 21 of Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions:
Lord God Almighty,
I understand that I am unable to do anything without your help,
so I ask you to enable me by your grace to fulfill your will.
Give me grace to do whatever brings most glory and honor to you,
pleasure and profit to me,
and life and love to others.
Help me to number my days,
spending my time wisely,
living my life with all my might while I still have breath.
Humble me in the knowledge that I am chief of sinners;
when I hear of the sins of others,
help me to not look upon them with pride,
but to look upon myself with shame,
confessing my own sins to you.
When I go through difficulties and trials,
remind me of the pains of hell
from which you have already delivered me.
Place people in my path who need my help,
and give me a compassionate and generous spirit.
Fill my heart with such love
that I would never do anything out of a spirit of revenge,
nor lose my temper with those around me.
Hold my tongue when I am tempted to speak evil of others.
Thank you for the gospel and for the hope of glory.
Help me to live in light of these truths every day of my life,
so that when the time of my death arrives,
I will rest assuredly in you,
and you will be most glorified in me.
In Christ’s name…
(HT: Trevin Wax)
I like this from Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How to Get the Most Out of Your Pastor’s Preaching. Can’t help but think that this active (as opposed to passive, or non-preparation) preparation would yield far greater fruit in discipleship, and conversions, week by week.
My thanks to Colin Adams for this.
Here’s the abbreviated outline:
Before the service
1. Pray for your pastor as he prepares for Sunday.
2. Take time during the week to read ahead and meditate on the text.
3. Prepare for public worship the night before.
4. Ask God to prepare your heart for the preaching of the Word.
5. Ask God to give you a sense of anticipation.
During the service
1. Participate—you need to be there.
2. Spend a few minutes before the service quietly preparing your heartfor worship.
3. Don’t be a spectator.
4. Open your Bible and follow along.
5. Listen attentively to the reading and the preaching of the Word.
6. Listen humbly to the preaching of the Word.
7. Take notes.
8. Don’t make your pastor a prisoner of unrealistic expectations.
After the service
1. Ask God to give you at least one takeaway from the message.
2. Discuss the message with others.
3. Be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer (James 1:22).
Making It Personal
- Do you highly esteem, respect, and reverence the Word of God (Neh. 8:5; Ps. 138:2)?
- Do you prepare your heart to hear the Word of God (Ps. 119:18)?
- Do you find delight in hearing the Word proclaimed?
- Do you listen attentively when the Word is being read or preached (Neh. 8:3; Ps. 85:8)?
- Do you expect God to speak to you every time you hear His Word proclaimed?
- Do you have a teachable spirit (Ps. 25:9)?
- Do you tremble at the Word of the Lord (Isa. 66:2; Ezra 9:4)?
- Do you pray for those who proclaim the Word to you, that they might be pure, anointed vessels of God (1 Thess. 5:25)?
- When the Word is preached, are you conscious that you are not listening to the words of men but to the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13)?
- Do you have a commitment to obey anything God shows you from His Word (Matt. 7:24; James 1:22–25)?
- Do you respond in faith, that is, acting on the Word you have heard (Heb. 4:2)?
- Is your heart good soil that receives the Word and produces fruit (Luke 8:15)?
- Are you willing to let the message sit in judgment of you rather than you sitting in judgment of the message?
- Do you take the message personally (James 1:22)? Or are you more focused on how it applies to the people sitting near you?
- Do you pass on to others what you’ve learned from the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:2)?
- Do you express appreciation and gratitude for those who minister the Word of God to you (Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12-13)?
Read the entire post with explanations here.
From R.W. Glenn:
About nine years ago I developed the following list of prayer requests that I gave to every willing hand. I haven’t passed them out in at least four years, but I decided to resurrect them. Why? I need prayer…badly! And so does your pastor. As leaders in the church we have unique and often more intense temptations (“Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter”). So will you consider praying for your pastor the way I ask my people to pray for me?
1. That the gospel would be the focal point of my life and identity – not manhood, not being a husband, not being a father, not being a pastor, but who I am in Christ.
2. That I would not fear man by desiring the admiration of people; that the Lord’s “Well done” would be ever before my eyes.
3. That the Lord would not allow me to go long between repentances; that I would keep short accounts with him and be sensitive to and ruthless with my sin.
4. That I would continue to grow in the character qualities of the man of God (1 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 2:22-26; Titus 1:5-9).
5. That I would have a consistent, powerful, diligent life of private prayer; that I would grow in my dependence on the Holy Spirit.
6. That the Lord would give me great diligence in study and sermon preparation, making the most of my time.
7. That my preaching and teaching ministry would be empowered by the Holy Spirit; that the Lord would effect real change in our lives through it; and that by it we would be more endeared to Christ.
8. That I would boldly and faithfully and humbly and joyfully and intentionally share the gospel with the non-Christians in my social orbit.
9. That I would see Jesus as supremely valuable, my greatest treasure, and as my dear friend.
(Via Todd Pruitt)