Sunday, June 26, 2011

Prayer: Reflections on the Way

Prayer is multi-faceted gem within the Christian life.  Think of all the different aspects of prayer: thanksgiving, confession, intercession, and praise--just for starters.  In light of this there are any number of issues to bring up in teaching about and engaging in prayer.  I was reflecting recently upon some of the themes that I've been praying and then tried to self-consciously engage these themes with particularized focus.  I wanted to list out some of these themes here but it needs to be stressed that this is not some idealized prayer program or legalistic list to check off.  These are biblical truths that I've felt I need to reflect on and pray.  In the hopes that this list might help others, here it is:
1.  The "big-ness" of God.  We tend to have small thoughts of God.  We can approach God and begin to think he is some small deity.  Sometimes in our quest to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus we can subtly begin to think of him as revolving his life around our own as if we are the center of the universe.  Or, conversely, we can have small thoughts in a different direction.  We may begin to think or feel that God is not big enough to handle all of life.  We watch the evening news and see the nations roiling in turmoil and we may wonder if God is involved.  Bringing to mind the biblical truths of God's utter and majestic "big-ness"(Isaiah 40)--his omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience--can be both faith enhancing as well as God-glorifying.  Confessing these truths in praise glorifies God and places us in a place of dependence as well as protection.
2.  The shortness of life.  It is good to remember that we are creatures and our God is the Creator.  It is good to remember that we are short-lived creatures--vapor, as the Bible says.  Paradoxically, as we focus on the shortness of our life there is a corresponding meaning that flows into each moment.  Each day--each moment--becomes profoundly important and laden with meaning.  When eternity spreads before you courage is emboldened.  What matters is most is the thought of him who reigns forever and before whom we will stand.  Jesus is eternal--the praise of men is fleeting and fickle.
3.  The depth of my sin.  We are forever tempted to under-value our sins before the face of a holy God.  We grow use to our "foibles" and refuse to see them as rebellion.  To take but one example, think of humility.  This is a virtue which God values and he hates the corresponding lack of humility--pride.  C. J. Mahaney has written on this issue in his book Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah, 2005): 
For purposes of personal confession, I began adopting this definition of pride a few years ago after I came to realize that, to some degree, I'd grown unaffected by pride in my life.  Though I was still confessing pride, I knew I wasn't sufficiently convicted of it.  So rather than just confessing to God that "I was proud in that situation" and appealing for his forgiveness, I learned to say instead, "Lord, in that moment, with that attitude and that action, I was contending for supremacy with You.  That's what it was all about.  Forgive me."   (pp. 31-32)
Pride is no small sin--it seeks to de-throne God!  How often do we refuse to see this sin in all its ugliness.  Confession flows easier when we recognize the seriousness of our sin.  We are not tempted to "sweep them under the rug" and ignore our sins.  We know we need to be rid of this toxic element of the soul. 
4.  The majesty (or fulness) of the Savior.  Here is where the preaching of the gospel to oneself comes in and takes hold.  Having recently finished a sermon series on the cross of Christ a number of scripture texts easily come to mind.  The challenge is to believe them.  Faith must lay hold of the word of God spoken to us in his Son and believe that he is for us and not against us (Romans 8.31).  I confess that I have to fight to believe that Jesus is for me; he is my Advocate with the Father (1 John 2.1).  I have to fight to believe that his blood takes away all my sin and guilt (Ephesians 1.7).  I have to fight to believe that he loves me and because of his death and resurrection I am declared "righteous" in his sight with no condemnation clinging to me (Romans 5.1-2; 8.1).  I bring to my mind specific passages and promises that serve to focus my gaze on Jesus and his completed work.  This is the fight of faith and I find time and again that his Spirit is faithful to testify to this gospel word.  This gospel word continues to bring peace, joy, and comfort. 
5.  The nearness of the Holy Spirit.  Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6.19-20) and this implies a nearness.  Jesus told us that he would not leave us as orphans but would come to us (John 14.18) and this is by the Spirit.  It is the Spirit that powerfully that allows the presence of Jesus Christ to dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3.16-17).  Of course, we are always in the presence of God because of his majestic omnipresence (Acts 17.28) but the presence of his Spirit is something more.  It is the presence of the living God interacting with us and for us (Romans 8.15-16, 26-27).