Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Praying in God’s will

Every year I read through the Bible, but this year I decided to skip the Old Testament and spend more time in the New. As I read, I’m amazed at how much they are connected. For those who say the Old Testament is passe or not necessary for Christians, I say they are simply unaware of the richness of God’s Word.

This morning I read two verses from Hebrews 13. The commentaries say this is “the most beautiful benediction in Scripture” and I agree. It is also a good outline to help me pray for others.

Verses 20-21 say, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews was written to believers from that group, people who knew their Old Testament and had believed and followed it according to tradition and what they knew. When Jesus Christ came, they believed in Him, yet some were in danger of falling back or being pulled back by Judaizers, a group that pushed to include Old Testament works as a requirement for salvation.

Obviously, this (as any other false teaching) caused confusion, discord and division. The author of Hebrews (likely Paul who uses this phrase in many of his other letters), begins this concluding prayer by saying God is the God of peace.

I think of another verse that says, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” This verse, like the one in Hebrews, reminds me that discord is never from God. God will never prod me to be disobedient to my leaders (Hebrews 13:17) or alienated from other Christians. He unites His people, never divides us. Asking Him to produce this peace is a good prayer request.

The next phrase is about His power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. All through this epistle (or letter), Christ is exalted as the final and perfect sacrifice. The old system pointed to Him as this New Testament book points out, but it also says that the blood of animals could never deal with their guilt. They had to make those sacrifices continually, until now. Now, Jesus did it once and for all. He died for all my sins, for all the sins of every person who ever lived. Then, proving that His sacrifice was accepted by God, He rose from the dead.

Jesus is also the great Shepherd of the sheep. The Hebrew readers who knew their Old Testament would recognize that this phrase applies to their LORD and God. The picture it puts in my mind is that of a flock of sheep who move in unison at the leading of their shepherd. Those who stray in confusion or bolt away in fear are gently but firmly restored to the safety of the flock and the sheepfold. Certainly this gives me a foundation as I am praying for other Christians. I can ask God to shepherd His people, and to reach out to those not yet in the fold.

Jesus is the perfect provision from God—a Shepherd who will bring us, His sheep, home to Him. He does it through His shed blood and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not through anything I do or don’t do; salvation is all about Jesus Christ and that new covenant written in His blood.

When I pray, I need to remember that lest my prayers become human-centered. It is so easy to ask God that ______ will do this or that, but it is God who needs to work, to “make ____ complete.” When I pray with this in mind, I am honoring God who is the author and finisher of my faith and is the same for the faith of those on my prayer list.

The everlasting covenant reminds me that I am in this forever, and that God’s goals are eternal, not only for me but for all who belong to Him. I can pray that they are filled with that knowledge and that this assurance will give them hope and encouragement as they allow Him to work in their lives. I know that as God works in me to make me complete and to do His will, I can resist. Being changed to the image of Christ is sometimes horribly uncomfortable, even stressful. Others need prayer support and grace to persevere.

The words “through Jesus Christ” remind me that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that no one can come to God except through Him (John 14:6). I dare not pray anything that suggests God should act because _____ is a good person. He knows, and I know too, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We cannot do the will of God. It is God who works in us, changing the way we think and giving us the ability to please Him (Philippians 2:13). Again, my praying must reflect that.

The reason for all this is that Jesus Christ is glorified. That is the purpose of God as He works in me, and in His people. He changes us so we reflect Him, reflect His glory, showing the world what He is like that others may be drawn to Him.

My praying can become too temporal, too focused on the here and now. I pray for sick people to get well, or unemployed to find a job, or travelers to arrive safely. There is nothing wrong with that, but I’m convicted that my prayers need to include and be founded on the purposes of God. I can pray that the sick are drawn to Him in hope as they lie there, that the unemployed realize He is their source and able to care for them. I should pray that His will be done and that Jesus Christ is glorified in sickness or health, adversity and well-being, safety or calamity.

Why is this important? The Bible tells me that praying in His will guarantees answers. If I pray using Scripture as my model, I am praying God’s will back to Him, and I can expect that He will respond. I cannot guess how, but I know from Ephesians 3:20 that it will be “exceedingly abundantly above all that I can ask or imagine”!

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