Because we are united to Christ by faith, when we are adopted into God’s family we not only join the international people of God scattered around the world, wee are even brought right into the triune family of God himself! When we pray, we are not shouting to our Father from a distance .We can whisper in our hearts to our Father, for as members of the body of the Son we have ‘access to the Father by one Spirit’ (Ephesians 2:18). In Christ by faith, we are praying from within the Trinity of God!
Richard Coekin, Our Father, p34
In the wake of a huge earthquake and resultant tsunami, the hashtag #prayforjapan is trending, even in UK. For those not familiar with the lingo, that means people on twitter are talking lots about praying for Japan. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor and author, was good enough to tweet against the flow.
Is this how Christians are meant to pray? Is prayer our plan A, with practical aid as plan B? Are the two mutually exclusive?
My guess is that this view comes from thinking that answers to prayer must be miraculous, breaking laws of nature. In this case, an answer to prayer would presumably be considered to consist of the miraculous appearance of food and shelter, without any aid agency involvement. Answers to prayer may be miraculous, of course, but the simple fact remains they often aren’t.
The Bible never speaks about God being constrained by external forces. The laws of nature are not laws external to God which He may choose to keep or break. They are a normative description of the way in which God usually maintains the universe. A miracle isn’t so much God breaking the laws of nature as God choosing to uphold the world differently on a single occasion. By definition, therefore, we should expect miracles to be rare.
So what should we expect to see resulting from prayer for Japan? God may answer prayers for Japan miraculously, but by definition it is more likely He will provide for them through non-miraculous means. These means may well include aid from other governments or from individuals. If we pray for God to provide physical aid to the Japanese, we should not be trying to twist an unwilling God’s arm. We should be willing to use the resources God has given us to bless others. That prayer should be prayed not so much in a spirit of trying to change God, but a willingness to see Him change us.
Of course, this all assumes that Christians are praying for God to provide shelter, food and other material blessings for Japan. We are assuming our prayers are answerable by an aid agency. Not all prayers fit this category though. No amount of financial giving will provide wisdom to Japan’s politicians, energy to their emergency services or spiritual comfort to suffering families. John Piper’s prayer for Japan is not one material aid agencies have the ability to answer.
Please do pray for Japan. Please do contribute money to those less fortunate than yourself. But please don’t view those actions as diametrically opposed to each other.
A friend is a push when you have stopped, a word when you are lonely, a guide when you are searching, a smile when you are sad and a song when you are glad; a friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Praying
I came across this quote earlier and it made me think about our culture of having many facebook friends. How many friends do I have who match this description? More importantly, to how many people am I this sort of friend? Therein lies the challenge.
If you were wondering about the connection to praying, the quote came in the context of God (and specifically Jesus) being our friend.
What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, quoted by Don Carson in ‘A call to spiritual reformation’
When I posted my new year’s resolution on this blog I vaguely intended to review it every 3 months, as per some advice I came across somewhere online. I evidently haven’t done that, because I don’t recall mentioning it once in the 5 months since I posted it.
My resolution was to consistently go to bed by around 11pm, which is much earlier than was usual for me. I’ve made good progress with this, and although I don’t treat 11pm as a strict bedtime, it has been a helpful guide for me. The aim wasn’t to create an arbitrary rule in my life, but to change my habits so I could be more productive. It seems to be working well, with some housemates still apparently unable to understand what has happened to me. All the outcomes I hoped this resolution would produce do seem to be in evidence to some degree or another, so while I intend to keep going with early bedtimes I think it may now be useful to focus on a different resolution.
My new resolution is that I resolve to spend quality time in prayer every day. I’m a fan of being specific in goals, as it helps us to reach them and to know we’ve reached them, but I’m not going to include any quantitative measures in this resolution (other than the phrase ‘every day’, which is suppose is inherently quantitative). This resolution is really all about quality. Each day I want not only to pray, but to ‘pray until I pray’, to borrow a phrase. I want to wrestle in prayer, to pray persistently, to be joyful in prayer. Those are all things I suppose are present in all Christians’ prayer lives at some point, but I want to develop the habit of setting aside serious time for serious prayer, with the expectation of the quality increasing. I crave your prayers while I undertake this resolution!
The hymnwriter Philip Bliss wrote a lovely hymn which he called “My prayer”. What a prayer it is!
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of His care,
More joy in His service,
More purpose in prayer.
More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More pride in His glory,
More hope in His word,
More tears for His sorrows,
More pain at His grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.
More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longings for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy,
More, Savior, like Thee.
Every great movement of God can be traced to a kneeling figure.
D. L. Moody
Today, Friday the 6th of November, marks the IFES World Student Day, a 48 hour period of solid prayer around the globe for the work of Christian students as they aim to live for God in their universities. RUCU‘s termly prayer week is this coming week, the 9th to the 13th of November, after which we head off for a weekend of fellowship and teaching at our houseparty. Some of my (few) readers are Reading students, some are not, but if you are a Christian why not join us in prayer this week? We will be praying for salvation on Reading campus and for God to make great movements in the lives of individuals, and through them great movements which impact throughout the whole world. Be part of it. Pray to God.
According to yesterday’s preacher,
“prayer is an expression of our own personal inadequacies and dependence upon God”.
I’m sure it’s not a perfect definition, but I think it’s certainly a good aim. I’m not sure how well my prayers compare to it, but it’s the sort of humility I should be aiming for.
Do we, as Christians, set our sights too low when asking for God’s blessings? I want to suggest that we do.
Sometime I pray that God will give me an opportunity to share the gospel with one person. It seems like a commendable aim, and it probably is, but wouldn’t it be better to ask for chances to share the gospel with more people? Maybe we pray God will protect us from a specific sin which is troubling us, but why do we not ask for perfection? Do we aim to be more patient, but forget to ask for gentleness and other virtues?
Am I being too harsh? Don’t we have to be realistic? I don’t think we do.
Okay, we do need to be realistic, but not if it means limiting God’s power. There’s no point asking God for something ludicrous we know He won’t give us, but if we want something for His glory why not ask for it? We may think that sharing the gospel with every person we talk to one day is unrealistic – I know I don’t have the faith to pray such a prayer – but does that mean I shouldn’t?
One of my favourite verses of the Bible is Psalm 81:10 which is above my bed at home. It tells me three things .
- “I am the Lord your God“. The Lord, who is all-powerful, wise and good, is my God. He has chosen me as one of His children, and He loves to do good for me.
- “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt“. The Israelites were brought out of slavery to their Egyptian masters by a series of miraculous events by God which culminated in the destruction of the entire Egyptian army. Similarly, I have been brought out of slavery to sin by a series of miracles culminating in my heart being transformed and the destruction of sin’s power over me.
- “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it“. God wants us to ask for big things. There is no command in the Bible that I know of instructing us to part our lips slightly to receive blessing. We are to open our mouths wide. We are to be expectant of something big! God will put as much in our mouths as possible, and the wider we open the more He will provide.
Of course this doesn’t give us licence to ask for the ridiculous, but if we are praying for something we know is glorifying to God then we should be thinking big not small. My personal evangelism is atrocious, and it’s rare I have the guts to share Jesus’ amazing love with my friends. I know I’m a massive failure in the evangelism department, but I also know my failures are forgotten by God and that His power is sufficient to embolden me to reverse them. So why should I pray for a single chance to talk about the precious faith I have been given by God? Why not five chances? Why not ten? Why not every person I talk to? The Bible is littered with commands to ask God for great things, so that is exactly what we should do.