Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Prayer and the Full Armor of God

At the conclusion of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul teaches us concerning the primary tactic God’s people should use in doing battle against the enemy and the forces of evil he seeks to energize (6.10-20). Paul coaches us with these imperatives,
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power …
Put on the full armor of God …
Stand firm …
Take up the shield of faith …
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit …
Having obeyed Paul’s instructions, we are now prepared to receive his final and climactic exhortation.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (6.18-20, NIV).
It seems as if the paragraph concerning the Full Armor of God (6.10-17), is designed by Paul to prepare us to go to battle in prayer as we obey the encouraging words that follow (6.18-20). Prayer is the context in which the Armor of God is designed to be effective. Prayer is the way we take our stand against the devil’s schemes. Prayer is the way we struggle against the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Please consider enlisting in the battle against evil that will occur through the prayers of God’s people. Gathering to Pray happens at SBC on Wednesday evening at 6:30PM! We will sing, pray, receive communion, and pray some more.  Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests (Ephesians 6.18a, NIV).

For further encouragement to spend time in prayer with our gracious Abba in heaven, view this short video.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nothing Other Than Prayer

“We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means we must self-consciously set aside to do nothing but pray” (D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 19). These words from Don Carson, encouraging us to set aside specific time for nothing but prayer have the weight of Scripture behind them. The Psalmist practiced the discipline of scheduled prayer.

Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous ordinances (Psalm 119.164, NASB)

Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice (Psalm 55.17, NIV).

As leaders in the first-century church, the Apostles continued the Old Testament pattern of regular times of prayer with God’s people. 

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon (Acts 3.1, NIV).

The Apostle Paul devoted himself to what the first century church called, “the prayers.”

… always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you (Romans 1.10, NASB).

… [I} do not cease giving thanks for you in my prayers (Ephesians 1.16, NASB)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 1.2, NASB).

In each of these instances Paul is referring to a disciplined and specific time that he, along with others, prayed.

Jesus himself understood the necessity of regular times of prayer.

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5.16, NIV).

This list of Scriptural proofs could go on and on about how God’s people, during times of desperate need pursued God in prayer as individuals and as a group (cf. Daniel 6). When is your regular disciplined time of doing nothing else aside from prayer? As a church family we have set aside Wednesdays at 6:30pm for corporate prayer. Nothing more. Nothing less. Wednesday evening is for prayer. Nothing can replace the power of God that is only experienced when we gather together to pray. What could be more important? Please join us in the sanctuary, this Wednesday at 6:30pm for our weekly Gathering to Pray. We will sing. We will pray. We will receive communion. We will pray some more. Please come enjoy the presence and grace of God with us. If you need even more encouragement, please watch this testimony from Pastor Jim Cymbala about the Tuesday Night Prayer Meetings at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. His testimonies about this crucial evening in the life of their Church, have encouraged me to move our Wednesday evenings in this direction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Listening to the Prayers of Our Ancestors

We learn to pray by listening to others pray. When Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he simply prayed in their presence. We learn to pray by praying in each other's presence - by hearing how each of us prays and by praying ourselves with our brothers and sisters. It is also important to allow our brothers and sisters from Christian history to teach us to pray. Speaking of the vital importance of tradition, G.K. Chesterton wrote: 
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.
Similarly, we must not only allow our living brothers and sisters in Christ to teach us to pray, but those who "have gone one before us" have much wisdom to offer and a vital ministry to perform. This is the role of prayer books and collections of written prayers in shaping our understanding of the prayer tradition. Within our tradition The Valley of Vision offers a stimulating collection of prayers and devotions from the Puritans. This collection is intended by Arthur Bennett to stimulate our own prayers. So may this following prayer of confession and petition teach us and stimulate us to pray. 

I have sinned times without number,
    and been guilty of pride and unbelief,
of failure to find thy mind in thy Word,
of neglect to seek thee in my daily life. 

My transgressions and short-comings
present me with a list of accusations,
But I bless thee that they will not stand against me,
for all have been laid on Christ;

Go on to subdue my corruptions,
and grant me grace to live above them.
Let not the passions of the flesh nor lustings of the mind
bring my spirit into subjection,
but do thou rule over me in liberty and power.

I thank thee that many of my prayers have been refused--
I have asked amiss and do not have,
I have prayed from lusts and been rejected,
I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness.

Go on with thy patient work,
answering 'no' to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it.
Purge me from every false desire, every base aspiration,
everything contrary to thy rule.

I thank thee for thy wisdom and thy love,
for all the acts of discipline to which I am subject,
for sometimes putting me into the furnace
to refine my gold and remove my dross.

No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin.
If thou shouldst give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins,
or to have them burnt away with trial,
give me sanctified affliction.

Deliver me from every evil habit, every accretion of former sins.
everything that dims the brightness of thy grace in me,
everything that prevents me taking delight in thee.
Then I shall bless thee, God of Jeshurun, for helping me to be upright.
(Valley of Vision, 77)

This prayer should awaken a spirit of repentance within us, as should these words from Ezekiel. 
Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declared the sovereign LORD. Repent and live (Ezekiel 18. 30-32, NIV).