Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

If and only if… part 4

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Jesus makes bold and audacious promises about the power and effectiveness of prayer.  If we ask, we will receive. But in the process of making claims Jesus also connects specific conditions to these promises.  Here’s one final dangerous “if/then.”

 

Special access: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you ask whatever you wish and it will be given you” John 15:7.  Here is a controversy.  Christian prayer is discriminatory.  When Christians pray they do so wielding a special password: the name of Jesus, who they believe to be the Son of God. 

 

This narrow, and narrowing condition has cost Christians dearly.  Down through history many cultures of reacted vehemently to the explicit exclusiveness this condition claims. That is, those who pray in Jesus’ name have access, and those who pray without Jesus’ name do not.  The Romans of the first and second centuries would not mind an additional deity added to their pantheon. But when Christians insisted their path was the only true course, all hell broke loose, literally. Followers of Jesus in India today suffer under similar persecution.  Some Hindus who worship many gods do not object to anyone adding Jesus to the list.  What they do not tolerate his soul allegiance to Jesus alone.  Hundreds of Christians in recent years have lost their lives because of such allegiance.

 

Pluralism is a simpler course. But like it or not Christian prayer is narrow.  Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” John 14:14.  That tag line “in my name” means through my access. Having Jesus’ name prefacing a prayer guarantees an audience with God. The right to leverage Jesus’ name in prayer is literally the power of attorney to assign his identity to our intercession.  And this, Christians believe is the key to the release of restorative spiritual power into this broken world.  “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 13:6.  As hard as it is for pluralists to swallow, Christian prayer is not generic. 

 

This is not to say that God only answers Christians’ prayers. There are many examples of God acting in response to non-Christians’ requests. It is a claim that a Christian’s prayer is given special access because of the relationship Christians have with God through Jesus. Family matters. I will listen and respond when my neighbor’s child asks me to untangle his kite from my tree. I will listen and respond with a higher level of commitment if my son makes the same request. Family matters and Jesus is family. When I use his name I get special insider treatment.

 

What do you think? Does God grant Christians special access because of their association with Jesus?  

If and only if… part 3

posted by Mark Herringshaw

There’s a third Biblical condition to answered prayer. Jesus lays down amazing promises about the power of asking things from God. He promises to answer. You can check out Thursday’s post if you’d like to see a few of those commitments. Bottom line: God puts himself on the line to deliver what we pray for!

 

Yet as bold as these promises are, they come with specific conditions: “If and only if…” God honor his promises to answer prayer when conditions he’s set are met. Here’s another one of those conditions:

 

Agreement: “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).  While prayer is a gift that God gives to every individual, Jesus adds a kind of check and balance to what can easily become a very subjective process.  In this conditional promise Jesus makes prayer a corporate matter.  Effective requests come to God as petitions with more than one signature attached.  Why? Perhaps God is as concerned with our human-to-human relationships as he is with our God-to-human relationship.  Six of the ten commands in Exodus 20 direct us how to relate with other people. Human beings are not made for isolation.  In fact Paul suggests at several points in his letters to early Christians that individual people cannot find their true identity outside of healthy relationships with other people who have connected their own lives to Jesus.

 

According to Jesus, God has built into the prayer-response process a requirement of human cooperation. Prayer like everything else in human experience must be a social experience.  Beyond this there is a simple practical concern answered by this stipulation: when two or more people jointly submit a request there is at least some protection against unchecked self-interest. The requirement of agreement is a simple accountability tool. 

 

Do you have anyone to pray with, to agree with on the things you are bringing to God. A prayer partner is one of the most powerful relationships you can cultivate. People in this prayer blog community can become a kind of agreement team. And if you can find someone face to face, that’s great too. Either way, get someone to agree with you, and ask, together.

When the Goin’ Gets Tough… Pray Like Jesus

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Weariness can kill the practice of prayer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to get up early in the morning or stay up a bit later at night to spend time talking with God. All the best laid plans… thwarted by sleepiness. Actually I’ve found that if I have trouble sleeping, I only need to start praying and just like that I drift off.

 

Jesus taught his followers a lesson about battling weariness. When we’re tired and spent and feel like giving up in a quest, we can borrow Jesus’ words. He’s another piece from Mark’s Gospel about the wonder words of Jesus and perseverance.

 

“Be alert” (Mark 13:33)

 

“Are you weary?”

 

It’s been a long wait. And the wait may continue. In the meantime, your enemy lulls you. Apathy is the poison. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands, and wham! You never wake up! So while you can, arise, and finish strong!

 

Urgency compelled Jesus on toward Jerusalem. He was going on purpose. His followers straggled behind. Along the way he warned them, “Be alert! It could be a long haul. You can never predict the hour when history will reach its climax. Stay on your guard. Keep watch. Keep the pace. Be alert.”

 

His two-word reveille: “Be alert!” By “Be alert!” Jesus meant, “Pay attention.” Pay, or pay with your life! Your enemy stalks like a lion. He devours sluggards who let down their guard. In the meantime it’s do, or die. So do be alert!”

 

Alertness is rest on a mission. In deliberate stillness, you focus and observe variations in the world. You evaluate these variations and discriminate between chance and design. Then you can decide how to act. With two borrowed words you call yourself and others to attention.

 

Answer boredom: “Be alert!” Answer impatience: “Be alert!” Answer tedium: “Be alert!” Answer exhaustion: “Be alert!” Answer distractions: “Be alert!” It is getting late.

 

Your mission: Find sleepiness, sloppiness, weariness, and uncertainty inside your own slacking soul, or in the lagging eyes of a friend. Wherever, blast a trumpet warning loud and strong: “Be alert!” You’ve come this far. Finish strong!

 

Question: “Are you weary?” Answer: “Be alert!”

If and only if… part 2

posted by Mark Herringshaw

There’s a second Biblical condition to answered prayer. Jesus makes some amazing promises about the power of intercession, then attaches some contingencies. You can check out Thursday’s post if you’d like to explore this more. Bottom line: God has put himself on the line with audacious promises!

 

Yet as bold as these promises are, they come with specific conditions – if/then. Jesus includes some lines of fine print at the bottom of the contract: “If and only if…” God will honor his promise to answer prayer… when certain conditions are met. Asking is the first. Here’s a second:

 

Faith: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).  Jesus places “faith” as a condition for response.  What does he mean?  Faith as the Bible defines it is an action based on a conviction that something promised with be delivered, even before any evidence appears that it will be so.  Faith in God means a Christian is to begin prayer from a posture of confidence, knowing ahead of time that God listens and keeps his word.  Jesus invites his followers to pray to God knowing that he already knows what they truly need.  But God enjoys the relationship that grows from the asking and responding process.  Prayer is not a broadcast shot into the skies, but a direct and focused communiqué that will be received. 

 

How can foster this kind of faith when it’s hard for me to trust anyone I can see let alone God who I can’t see? There’s a simple answer: the first condition – ask. If I don’t have faith I can ask for it as a gift. I may not be able to manufacture it myself, but God can give it. If you need faith, ask for it… It’s all a kind of circular experience, I admit, but this seems to be the process. I can’t have an answer to prayer without faith, but I can’t get faith without prayer. One man who Jesus addressed answered this problem by saying to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” That’s a good prayer. Take the little sliver of faith you and spend it asking for more faith.

 

God always answers the prayer for more faith… Try it.

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