The place of prayer

To Follow Jesus

My notes on Every Day with Jesus, written by Selwyn Hughes; revised and updated by Mick Brooks, published by CWR.

May/June 2014 Issue – ‘Revive us again’

Today’s text for reading and meditation:

Zechariah 10:1-8 (NIV-UK): Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.

The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. ‘My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.
From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle-bow, from him every ruler. Together they will be like warriors in battle trampling their enemy into the mud of the streets. They will fight because the Lord is with them, and they will put the enemy horsemen to shame.

‘I will strengthen Judah and save the tribes of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them.

The Ephraimites will become like warriors, and their hearts will be glad as with wine. Their children will see it and be joyful; their hearts will rejoice in the Lord. I will signal for them and gather them in. Surely I will redeem them; they will be as numerous as before.”

[Even now and then, a part of the text will go ‘missing’, sometimes I notice it and fix it – but there must be times when I miss this type of error. Sorry about that.]

Selwyn starts today’s discussion with: “We continue looking at the question: how do revivals happen?” He then looks at two different schools of though: one, that it is entirely an act of God, and man has nothing to do with the time and place of a revival. The second view is that: ‘Revival can happen any time the church wants it – providing she is willing to pay the price.

He then offers this third option: “The truth, so I believe, lies somewhere between these opposing views. Revival is a sovereign act of God in the sense that He alone originates it, but I also believe myself that God deigns to hand over to His people the responsibility of bringing it down from heaven to earth, on the wings of faith-filled, inspired prayer.”

On thinking about this for the past hour or so; my position is that I tend to agree with Selwyn. To use an imperfect analogy; God is the manager and conductor of an orchestra, he decides what to play and when to play a particular piece of music; each of us has a particular talent (God-given) for playing a specific instrument, we can either play the music as provided by God to the best of our abilities, or, we can sit there and do nothing (with the idea that later, a piece of music might be chosen, which we would prefer to play.)

God presents the gift to us, of being involved in His work – I believe that He will often prompt people through His Spirit to prayer for a specific outcome that He is planning (for example, a revival), and those who respond to His prompting can enjoy participating in His work.

I believe, that God’s relationship with us is very personal – He is actively transforming us into the likeness of Jesus. This transformation is on-going, it is in progress every day. And, the main communication between our Lord and us – is through prayer. Do you agree?

 

Good advice

Selwyn writes the following in today’s study: “One day, as I talked over my prayer life with one of my spiritual mentors, he said: ‘You have the wrong focus. When Jesus told us to begin our prayer times by first focusing on God, He did so for a good reason. If we focus first on God then everything else falls into perspective.’ I followed this advice and made the opening moments of my regular prayer session a time of reverential worship – and what a difference!”

In this world of celebrity worship, together with the advertising push which panders to our desires by claiming that we need the latest ‘toy’, because we deserve it. Consequently, there is often an over-emphasis on our wants, which may lead to our prayer-life becoming self-focused. Prayer should always start with the recognition of God’s glory, honour and power; indeed, if our prayers are mainly focused on the heartfelt worship of God, we really don’t need to go into much deatil about what we need – God already knows.

In Revelation 4:8-11 (NIV), we read: ‘Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:  “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

After this life has ended – we will continue to worship the Lord, our God – it’s natural reaction, by His people, to His grace.  Therefore, it’s only natural that the words which make up our prayers, be in our native language – a language of worship and love.

Why worship?

We worship God because He is our Creator and we are the created – worship is the natural expression of our relationship with God. In the act of worship we are recognising God’s position, and where we stand in the overall picture of creation.

As Selwyn says: “God encourages us to focus first on Him because He knows that in contemplating Him we complete ourselves, and make every part of our personality healthy.” God is complete in every way – and He has no need whatsoever, for our worship.

I liked the quote from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Problem of Pain: “It is the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to us.” Selwyn continues the theme of this quote, and writes: “When we open in our hearts the door of worship, God comes through that door and gives Himself to us. We are the beneficiaries of true worship, not Him.”

Converstaions with God which start with us recognising God’s position as author of all creation – our God who deserves our worship – puts us in a right position to enter into an honest dialogue. In this type of loving, honest and realistic relationship – we can start to experience more of His power in our lives. Do you agree?

First focus

Selwyn tells us in today’s study that the first thing we must do when we approach God – is to recognise His sovereignty – His kingship over all.

The introduction, is as follows: “What biblical grounds do I have for saying, as I did yesterday, that we first thing we should do when drawing near to God is to worship Him and give Him the honour due to His name? I refer you to Jesus’ opening words in what we call the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name … ‘ Matthew 6:9).

… To venerate God is to give Him the recognition He deserves, to acknowledge His transcendence, and to treat Him with the respect that is due to Him. … ‘the glory of God’s great name is the ultimate end of all things.’ ”

I fully support what Selwyn is saying – if, we don’t put God in His rightful place it often means that we have an incorrect view of our own position; and, an equally incorrect view of our relationship with God.  Jesus, made this point clear when he placed at the start of the Lord’s Prayer  – the most important aspect of prayer; that God comes first in all things, and this is reflected in the priority we give His work in our lives – and, our prayers should reflect this priority. Do you agree?

Key aspects of prayer

In the first part of today’s study, Selwyn goes over the points he has made over the last few days.  He then writes: “There are, certain matters that are also essential if we are to have an effective prayer life … the first of these is reverential worship … in prayer, the very first thing is to approach God in an attitude of worship.”

Selwyn makes the point: “It’s surprising how many Christians regard worship as being secondary to petition, that is, asking God for things.”

It’s hard, I think – to get the balance right between our confidence in approaching – our God of love, who would carry a lost lamb back to His flock; and, the God of all creation , who will judge us and determine who has eternal life.

It’s part of our being, our nature – to worship God; it is what we have been designed to do – it is being true to ourselves, when we worship the one and only, God.

I can’t stress this point enough – when Jesus returns – everyone will bend their knees in submission; no one – not even Satan will be able to avoid the obvious on that day- God’s rule and authority will be seen to extend to all of creation. Consequently, we should live our lives in the eager expection of that final day – as we worship God now, we can get a glimpse of the joy which is being stored up for us.

The prayer for today is a good summary of today’s study: “Father, forgive me that so often when I pray I am more concerned about getting things for myself than with giving You the worship and honour that is due to Your name. Help me to put first ‘facts’, first. Amen.”

The blight of formalism

Selwyn is mild in his criticism of formal prayers – that is, set prayers that are repeated so often that the words slip off our tongue without our mind giving a moment’s thought to their meaning. One of the greatest example of prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, often falls victim to mindless and heartless formalism.  As Selwyn writes in his conclusion: “There is nothing wrong with liturgical prayer, but how sad it is when prayer is merely a formal exercise and no attention is paid to the meaning of the words.”

Prayers, which are said – as a matter of routine, without thought – are just a waste  of time; prayer, which comes from the heart carries its message to God’s throne. In Matthew 6:7-8 (NIV), we hear Jesus say: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I’m not sure if Selwyn will tackle the following issue over the coming weeks; the issue I’m referring to, are those circular  email message which contain a so-called ‘special’ prayer that the sender claims will deliver what’s asked for, if the prayer is said ‘x’ times a day, and the email message is forwarded onto ‘n’ number of people. God is not a genie , who is captive to some type of promise that if something is done in a certain way then the person’s wish must be granted.  It’s a wonder to me, that people who pursue such nonsense are not immediately dealt with most severly by God. What are your views?

Conversing with God

Selwyn has picked an interesting text for today’s reading and meditation; on first reading there appears to be a contradiction, but on a closer look – the contradiction can be explained.

Exodus 33:7-23 (NIV): “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent.

The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” God said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” … “

In verse Exodus 33:11, we are told that the Lord would speak to Moses, face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend. This verse is saying, in a general sense, that there was nothing hidden in their conversations, that is, God spoke clearly to Moses – as you would to a friend. There was nothing veiled or hidden by God, when He was talking to Moses.

However, Moses never saw God’s face –  we can be certain of this because Scripture tells us that it is impossible to see God’s spiritual face (God is Spirit), in all its glory. Where God does have encounters with people (Joshua)  – it is usually in some form which does not reflect His full glory.  Going back to the Exodus verses, God does allow Moses to see His ‘back’, and He covers Moses with His hand (power), until He has passed by. This is an act of kindness – it’s God’s intention to allow Moses to see as much as possible without risking his life.

John 1:18 (NIV), clearly states:No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

As Selwyn says, in today’s study: “Prayer first and foremost is conversation with God. … When we talk to God we need to express ourselves in the same kind of language we use when talking to our closest friends.”

In Moses’ conversation with God, we noticed in the verses from Exodus that the conversation was natural, transparent and nothing was held back – all the ideas, feelings and worries that Moses had were placed ‘on-the-table’; likewise – God answered Moses is a clear and concise way. We too, can have this style of conversion with God – we just need to be our honest self – prayer is a time when we remove all our masks.

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I received an interesting comment on the verse which contained the words (above); ‘the … Son, who is himself God’. I respond by saying that I looked at early Jewish  and Christian writings for about ten years, plus, I’ve been to Israel a couple of times. I have a lot of empathy for Jewish people searching for the truth; after all — they are the original olive tree, we (Christians) have been grafted into this Abrahamic tree. (Paul writes about this in one of his letters.) The best outline on the status of the old covenant can be found in the letter to the Hebrews.

An argument could be put forward that New Testament writings were modified by writers influenced by Greek philosophy (for want of a better word), and don’t reflect what Jesus actually taught. However, the document trail is so rich in the first, few centuries of early church history that such an argument can be safely discounted.

A strong case for Jesus being the one, and only God,  can be found in the Old Testament – His fulfillment of prophecy is simply amazing; but it’s by the power of His Spirit that these truths are revealed.

For me, personally – I know Jesus is God – I discovered & witnessed this truth in 1991 (see my introduction to this blog for more details).

I’ll respond in greater detail after I check into the links provided in the comment.

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