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Don’t know about you, but I’ve found too many times that beg for prayer recently. Whether personally, or for family, friends, country or for the world, I can’t remember a more necessary time to quietly approach the Love of God in prayer for all. Call it pressure or stress or just plain old fallen world, so many things are in need of repair/salvation that it’s a daily effort to stay on top of all the occurrences of need. I remember studying prayer in a Bible study years ago. I was certain that I knew what prayer was not, but struggled to express a definition shared in the Gospel message of Christ as to what prayer was. I found help over the years having read and re-read E. W. Bullinger’s statement about prayer. In fact, I thought so much of it I have it printed on the wall of our WBVN studio.
What is prayer?… “Prayer is the breath of the new nature.” Just as the natural breath is the sign and evidence of physical life, so prayer is the mark and sign of the possession of spiritual life… Natural life commences with breathing and the breathing produces a cry. It is so with the New Birth… From that moment, breathing continues as the spontaneous outcome of the New Life.
No knowledge of Physiology is required for the one (breath), and no knowledge of Theology is necessary for the other (prayer)… The moment it becomes the subject of discussion—its essence is gone…The moment we reason about prayer we make it artificial. But true prayer is spontaneous. Our business in natural life is to breathe and not to think about it. Our business in spiritual life is to breathe (to pray) and not to think about it. The moment we begin to think about our prayer we are occupied with the means and lose the end…
I’ve read each Bible scripture where Jesus prayed; 25 incidents are cited in Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. My favorite prayer is the most lengthy one found in John 17, more about that later. 1Thes. 5:17 encourages us to pray always, finding Grace and Help for all our needs. In the 25 times recorded of Jesus’ prayers, He prayed alone, in public, before meals, after meals, before healings and after healings. He prayed for guidance and even showed us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer. (Matt. 18, Luke 11) And of course we all grew up with the example of the 23rd Psalm as a Messianic Prophecy prayer about a future Lord. I do think there’s a difference to be noted in the Old Testament prayer teachings contrasted with the New. There’s a victory in the New Testament prayers that are only hoped for in the Old. Something happened in the prayers of Jesus and Paul that confirmed the presence of a new way of praying and relating to the Father, a new confidence in the relationship between the Creator and the human heart.
In John 17, Jesus prayed for himself, his disciples and all believers in a way that’s the perfect place for us to see the heart of God for praying today. Simply, it’s a prayer of hope established upon Jesus’ unique knowledge of the compassion of God for Him and for us. To paraphrase: Father be with me (on the way to Gethsemane)…what We set out to do before there was time, that is finished. Be with Your people, keep them, be One with them as We are One that they may know that You Love them as You Love Me. … (know) that the Love I have with You may be in them and I in them… It was a prayer from a heart of hope and confidence in the One to whom he is praying. Jesus knew the Father fully, intimately, and knew that His purpose was to do all that He asked from before the foundation of the world. Jesus knew full well that the Father could be trusted in all things.
One thing Jane and I were privileged to experience during her Chicago hospitalization, during her recovery months later, and even today, every day, is the wonderful position that we’ve been placed in because of the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It’s a free Gift of God to be trusting and able to put our lives in His hands. We’ve been placed in a position (as a gift) by One who has accomplished something for us that we are not capable of purchasing with just our own efforts and our prayers. That gift, to Jane and me in that moment, was a comfort to our hearts, a confirmation to the Father that we get it, we receive it and we know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was, as Jane keeps reminding me, simply that ‘Christ is enough! That’s really our prayer. A thanksgiving for Him being enough no matter what. It can be as natural as that breath written about in Bullinger’s definition of prayer.
The Apostle Paul teaches: confess Him with your words, say the same thing about you as the Father says about you, be the same in little and in much. What we pray in some sense doesn’t have to change much with our earthly circumstances. What is true about God, what was accomplished by Jesus, what Victory He grabbed for us, is true even in times where they don’t look so true. I discovered a whole new truth about the scripture that refers to not living by sight while on the 5th floor of that Chicago hospital….no matter what I was seeing in Jane’s health, no matter what was said about her condition, I knew that God was with us. God was present. God was her Father, loved her more than even a husband can, and He had said and confirmed with that Love to be with her, to hold her, and have great compassion for her. Our prayers were prayers of thanksgiving for a God that did not, would not, leave or forsake either of us even in that moment of near death, not even in this time of walking through the valley of shadow of death that we were experiencing. Our prayers and our hopes were braided together with our trusting in the God that we knew and a Christ that had paid a very dear price to be with us mingled in the middle of our lives, even in the very moment that threatened to extinguish this life itself.
Well, I still don’t know that I know very much about prayer. I try not to do things described as taking thought in order to pray. Prayer should be very much a natural conversation with the Father and not labor anymore than our breathing is labor. The idea of praying without ceasing brings to mind the ease of a continual conversation between believers and The Believed. That’s part of our gift from God. It’s an Abba relationship that has been granted to us just like a son or daughter communicating with their mother or father. One of the real challenges of our Faith is to have the grace and peace to do as Jesus said to do: pray like this, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name, Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done…..’ That relationship with God got him crucified; it was a price he was willing to pay for your opportunity to pray that same way!
“…pray without ceasing…”