December 12, 2009

Simple or specific?

My mother wrote prayers in her journals. As she aged and her memory became confused, those prayers became simple requests that God would bless certain people and help them with what they are doing. Her heart shows in the prayers she wrote and I am blessed when I read them.

The Apostle Paul wrote prayers too, and prayer requests. His prayers are also a blessing and offer instructions in how to pray. For instance, these verses show how our requests can be specific.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.  (Romans 15:30-32)
First he asked the Christians at Rome to pray for him through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is our access to God, our mediator. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” This excludes priests and those that have been exalted to a superior status of saints (the Bible says all believers are saints).

The Bible makes clear that Jesus is “also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That is why Christians pray in the name of Jesus and through Him. He gives us access to God.

Paul also asked the Christians at Rome to pray through the love of the Spirit. Natural affection might produce fervent prayer for a little while, but the love of the Holy Spirit will keep me praying long after my own emotions wear thin. Not only that, the Holy Spirit takes our prayers to God when we don’t even say them with our mouths.

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27)
This are foundational concepts concerning Christian praying. Paul wrote about them again and again. Jesus talked also of the need to pray in His name and to love one another as He loved us. The love of the Holy Spirit not only motivates, but He helps us when we pray.

Paul’s actual prayer requests are specific too. He wanted the Christians at Rome to pray that he be delivered from those who persecuted him in Judea. They wanted to kill him. Paul was ready to die, but he also wanted to finish the work God had given him.

He asked that his work be acceptable to the “saints” meaning all those who believed. This could be a two-pronged request; one that he did an excellent job of what he did, and two, that the hearers had receptive hearts. Both were important to him.

His last request in this passage is that God’s will would bring him to them with joy and that they could be a blessing to each other. Sometimes I forget that these early Christians did not have the New Testament to comfort and instruct them. Of course they did not have e-mail, the Internet, facebook, Skype or conventional telephones. Communication took a long time.

Also, when I want to hear a well-known preacher, I can find many of his sermons on the Internet, even on i-tunes, but hearing Paul speak in those days meant a great deal of travel for either Paul or his listeners. It would have meant much to the church at Rome to know that Paul wanted to be with them and asked them to pray toward that end.

Now as I write this, I think again about my mother’s simple “God bless my children, in Jesus’ name” and know that God heard her. The Holy Spirit took those prayers to the throne of God and put His own spin on them, rounding them out so they included details of what we needed. I know God heard because God also answered — and I have been blessed.

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