Posts Tagged ‘prayer’
So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’
For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:24–31)
Here Luke depicts the response of the righteous when the God-appointed authorities set out to play God. The context is one that goes well beyond background antagonism—it is one of outright opposition and persecution. The Sanhedrin “called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18–20). Again, as in Acts 5:29, God’s authority is ultimate, man’s authority is subordinate, and the church is now facing a human civil and religious authority that is requiring her to disobey God.
In the verses that follow we see the response of the church as a church, the people of God gathered together in a particular place. It may be that some of them in this place were converted priests, perhaps Roman soldiers or officials, members of Herod’s or Caesar’s households, or women with extensive circles of contacts or the wives of men with particular influence. There may have been some or many who might have had personal opportunities to do good in the circumstances. Doubtless such sincere believers, given the chance in the days following, might have used whatever legitimate influence they had or whatever means lay lawfully at their disposal to protect the apostles or to divert the march of persecution. But notice what the saints do as a church: They do not begin to organize and orchestrate a plan of civic resistance. They do not plan marches and establish alliances and coalitions and institutes to carry their voices to the upper echelons of society. They do not reach out to other oppressed and concerned parties to establish campaigns of co-belligerency. They do not make contact with lobbyists nor print leaflets and redesign their websites, working up a more effective advertising campaign. They do not draw up petitions, design banners with catchy titles, print T-shirts with telling slogans, and work up posters with vivid images. They do not conclude that they need to engage the world on the world’s terms. They do not seek to obtain a voice on the political and cultural stage. They do not pursue larger numbers, greater prominence, cutting-edge websites, pithier sound bites, all the while whipping up publicity campaigns to sweep the floor with the opposition. None of that is remotely what you find in Jerusalem (allowing for a little modernization).
Rather, they get on their faces before God Most High and pour out their hearts to the One who governs, appoints, ordains, and judges—the Lord to whom all in heaven and earth are ultimately accountable. They raise their voices not to men but to God. This is most assuredly not mere mindless quiescence or fawning, grovelling submission to human authorities. If you read their prayer, you will see that they first recognized the divine authority and government, ascribing honor to God as the King enthroned over all, the Creator of all things, the Governor of all things, and the Revealer of Himself to men. They also reckoned with the human opposition as it really was, fierce and united against the Christ and all those who named His name. Natural enemies found a common cause in opposing Christ and His kingdom. Like Hezekiah reading Sennacherib’s letter (Isa. 37:14–20), they spread the whole matter out before the Lord. Therefore, faced with such a challenge, they requested divine equipment from God’s hands. But note the specific requests. They do not pray against the government, but rather for the gospel. They do not ask to be made able to avoid the threat, but rather to be given grace to meet it as true and steadfast believers: “In the face of opposition, make us yet more distinctive as those who live for and proclaim Jesus the Christ. Take away our fear, and give us courage to declare the truth.” And so they received specific answers to their prayers, being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the word of God with boldness.
The church’s response to the assaults made on her is not a rallying cry to civic resistance or even civic engagement, but to get on her knees before the living Lord and to seek His face, crying for heavenly power to declare divine truth faithfully and fruitfully even in the face of opposition and persecution.
In the course of his marvellous treatment of the theme, Christ Precious to Those Who Believe, John Fawcett occasionally breaks out into prayer on the pages of his book. Sometimes those prayers seem to rise from his own heart, at other times he puts into words the kinds of expressions he hopes might rise from other hearts as they read. At the end of the second chapter, which deals with the character of the people to whom Christ is precious – that is, those who believe – he offers a model of the awakened sinner’s address to God, as his own soul is moved with the truths he is handling. This is his petition:
Almighty and everlasting God, my Creator, my Preserver, and my Judge, before whose awful tribunal I must shortly make my appearance:
I am a poor individual of the fallen race of mankind, brought forth in iniquity, conceived in sin, and chargeable with actual transgressions almost without number. I have brought myself under the condemning sentence of your righteous law, and made myself deserving of your everlasting displeasure. It is high time for me to awake out of sleep, and to inquire, with the utmost seriousness and the deepest concern, whether there is any possible way of escaping from that wrath which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
I feel a ray of hope spring up in my soul, since you have said, in your holy word, “you are destroyed, but your help is from Me.” Jesus Christ, your only begotten Son, came into the world to save sinners, such as I am. This is no delusive supposition, no uncertain report. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance. But I learn from the sacred Scriptures, that he who disregards this testimony, who does not receive it in the love of the truth, who does not believe in the Son of God, the appointed Saviour, must everlastingly perish. I learn from your word that pardon of sin, deliverance from condemnation, and the enjoyment of eternal happiness, are inseparably connected with true faith in his name.
O Lord, please mercifully grant to me that divine illumination without which I shall neither know the way of peace nor believe the truth to the saving of my soul. O teach me to know myself, the deep depravity of my nature, the guiltiness of my whole life, the purity of that law which I have violated, the inflexibility of that holiness and justice which I have offended, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and my own utter inability to do anything towards delivering my own soul out of that state of sin and misery into which I have brought myself. Bring me to an acquaintance with you, the only true God, and with Jesus Christ, whom you have sent to redeem and save the lost and the undone, whom to know is life eternal. May your Holy Spirit set before me, in the most powerful and engaging manner, the glory of his person, the sufficiency of his sacrifice, the efficacy of his blood to cleanse from all sin, the perfection of his righteousness to clothe the naked soul, the fulness of his grace to supply every need, and his ability in every respect to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.
May that precious gospel, of which Christ crucified is the sum and substance, appear to me, in all its truth, as the testimony of God; in all its sacred importance, as the word of life; in all its fulness, its suitableness to my case, its preciousness, and its glory, that I may be enabled to receive it with full and entire approval, as a system most honourable to God and safe for man, and that I may believe it with my whole heart.
Let me be a partaker of that faith which is connected with unfeigned repentance of sin, a sincere attachment to Jesus Christ, a subjection of heart and life to his will and government, a holy indifference to all that this present world can offer, and a sincere and constant endeavour to obey your commands. May I receive and embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, so that it may dwell and abide in me, in all its sacred energy and sanctifying power, working effectually in me, as it does in all those who believe. So let my heart be purified by faith, and give me an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith which is in you. Nor let me be a stranger to the joy of faith, but fill me with all that joy and peace in believing, which arise from the view and manifestation of pardoning mercy, through the precious blood of your dear Son – to whom, with yourself, and the blessed Spirit, the one eternal God, be equal and endless praises. Amen.
[The introductory paragraph was originally posted in an unfinished form. Mea culpa. I have not changed the sentiment and substance, but have adapted and I hope improved the tone and the direction. I do not have the original piece, but what follows is close to the original intention. Other clarifications are here.]
At this time of year, we may see provided a variety of what I shall call scripted prayers. Some of them are entirely personal productions and some are woven together from other sources. Some are occasional pieces and some are habitual constructions. Such offerings and collections may have some value, when used and not abused. I stand pretty much with Bunyan on the matter of formally scripted and read prayers. I consider them close to an abomination. I appreciate the personal reading of thoughtful and careful prayers that were offered extemporaneously and recorded as they came (such as Spurgeon’s pulpit prayers [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster] or those which conclude many of Calvin’s sermons [e.g. Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). I value prayers that were written as part of a longer project and were not intended to be recited as some kind of intercessory ritual, but into the spirit of which we might enter as a means of priming the pump of the soul (e.g. The Valley of Vision [Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Westminster]). But such reading does not and cannot replace our own praying. The idea of taking those words, reciting the script, and calling it heart prayer is not something I can countenance. I do not doubt the sincerity of some who pursue such a course, but the thing is so dangerous in its practice (inviting us to a mere performance) and deadly in its tendency (replacing the form for the substance) that I would advise anyone to steer well clear (and I am fully aware that more extemporaneous prayer can fall into the same traps, but I do not think it has the same measure of inherent weakness at this point). Do not misunderstand me, it is a rare privilege to listen – either really or at a distance – to a true man of God pleading with his heavenly Father, and there is much to learn from so doing. But the mere recitation or repetition of such words – even if they are our own – is not, in itself, prayer. Carefully used, such examples can be, in measure, spiritual springboards. Carelessly abused, they become spiritual shackles and militate against a true spirit of prayer.
So, by all means use some of these examples, but do not abuse them. Employ them, if need be, to prime the pump. And then, pray! The new year provides one of those natural turning points that gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect. The instinct to pray is entirely right and proper, but we must ourselves bow the knee and engage the heart, however carefully we ponder and prepare beforehand. With that in mind, let me suggest that we should pray in four directions.
Pray back. As you ponder where you have come from, remember who has brought you to where you are. Every child of God, whatever the gloom that seems presently to surround us, has the gospel light shining in our soul. Whatever your heavenly Father has seen fit to give you, it is as your Father in heaven that he gave it. Wherever the good Shepherd has led you, it is as the Shepherd that he led you there and through there. If you are Christ’s, and Christ is yours, then all things are yours. Every step of the past year, let alone every day of every year of your life, have been governed by divine love and gracious compassion. All has been intended to bring you to God and keep you with God, and to develop likeness to Christ in you, in accordance with God’s design. So look back, and lift up your Ebenezer, for till now, the Lord has helped us (1Sam 7:12).
Pray around. Remember your present circumstances and blessings, frailties and responsibilities. On the one hand, the Christian is the most privileged and the richest person on earth:
“All things are ours;” the gift of God,
And purchas’d with our Saviour’s blood;
While the good Spirit shows us how
To use and to improve them too.
Like the Kingswood colliers of whom Wesley wrote, on all the kings of earth, with pity we look down, and claim – in virtue of our birth – a never-fading crown. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, and for that we should sing with joy and gladness. We stand in grace, and yet the world moves on around us. Week by week I prepare a sheet for the church where I serve, each one numbered as the year turns. It is often very unsettling to see the speed at which the weeks pass by, those days swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. It is not morbid or maudlin to consider that we do not know how many more of those days we shall be granted, to remember that you may not see another new year, that you are a creature of the dust, and to assess how we shall live in the days allotted to us. So we look around, and pray, asking the Lord to “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). It is what we need for every moment as we wrestle with the demands of this day, and then the next, each day having enough trouble of its own, and supplies of grace to meet every trouble that comes.
Pray forwards. There are before each one of God’s children countless opportunities and responsibilities, many of which we have not yet seen. They may come with minutes or it may take months. For the days to come we need wisdom, and it is wisdom which the Lord himself has undertaken to provide, and commanded us to seek: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas 1:5). This, and every other good thing, is promised to those who ask, seek and knock. It is the Father’s delight to provide those needful things for kingdom life that his beloved children request. We never need to be ashamed of our asking, if we are asking in accordance with his will and our character as trusting children. We do not need to twist his arm, bargain with him, or fear a harsh response. He is ready to provide every needful blessing, through his Spirit, that we need to secure his certain glory and enjoy his promised good.
And so, pray upwards. Every prayer must be directed to heaven. The greatest abominations in prayer are those self-referential or performed prayers that have more regard for the approval of men than concern to be heard by God. Far too many prayers are like damp fireworks; they may splutter a little with a few sparks, but they barely get off the ground. True prayer is, in essence, an expression of dependence upon God. If we do not pray, it is a practical atheism. But the saints pray to the Lord for what we can only receive from the Lord. We look to him, and – anxious for nothing – in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, we let our requests be made known to God. Thus the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil 3.6-7). May the new year, in its beginning, continuing and ending, prove that so.
We need tools to help us, but we need the Holy Spirit to illumine, convict, and empower. And much of the Spirit’s work in us will be done in conjunction with prayer.
Joe Thorn presses it painfully home.
According to Gary Brady, this sober and earnest prayer was lifted to God 350 years ago today on the Lord’s day before the Great Ejection:
To thee, O Lord Jesus, we commend ourselves: To thee who judgeth rightly, thy poor Servant resigneth, and committeth this Congregation. The Lord pardon unto me wherein I have been wanting unto them: The Lord pardon unto them, wherein they have been wanting in the hearing of thy Word, that we may not part with sin in our hearts. Unto thee who judgest uprightly I commend them. The Bishop of Souls take care of them: Preserve them from the love of the World: teach them to wait on thee, and to receive from thee whatever any one or Family may stand in need of.
Provide them a Pastor according unto thine own will, only in the mean time give us that Anointing [that] shall lead us out of our own wills and ways, that we may walk in the ways of Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus say now amongst them, I am your Shepherd, you shall not want. Say to them as thou didst to thy Disciples, Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in the Father, believe also in me. So far as we are able we put thy Name upon them: we name the Name of the Lord Jesus over them. The Lord Jesus bless them; teach them to follow Holiness, Peace, and a Heavenly Conversation. The Lord make them useful to each other. The Lord Jesus be a blessing to them, and me and all ours. The God of Peace and Consolation fill them with blessings according as thou seest every one stand in need of. To thee, O Lord, we commend them, do thou receive them, that under thy counsel they may be preserved blameless, until the day [of] Jesus, where we may all meet crowned with Glory. Amen.