March 2, 2014

Prayer and Sweat

My dad’s work ethic often annoyed me, even though it deeply affected my life and that of my siblings. I never thought of this before, but prayer requires a good work ethic. Suddenly I am thankful.

If my prayers were only “God bless this food . . .” and “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” then I would not know about the work of prayer. I’d have no experience with the battles against unseen spiritual enemies, the need to uphold other Christians as they serve God, my own need for strength in all of life, or the delight of having a two-way conversation with the Creator of the universe.

The Bible talks about the work of prayer. Jesus told His disciples a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

This parable was about an unrighteous judge who was repeatedly asked for “justice against my adversary” by a widow. For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.”

Jesus pointed out that if an unrighteous judge can give justice, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” (Luke 18:1–8)

However, Jesus immediately adds two important truths that concern prayer. He asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” which tells me that the work of prayer is fueled by faith. If I don’t believe that God hears and answers, I may not even ask and certainly will not persist in asking.

The second truth is in the next parable “for those who trust themselves.” From my experience, when I am thinking that way, I am not praying, or at least not asking God for His help . . .  

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:9–14)

Persistent prayer is an expression of need. It knows that without the power of God, I am helpless, as are others who serve Him. This is why Paul appealed, “By our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints . . .” (Romans 15:30–32) and why he “did not cease to pray for” others, “asking that they may be filled with the knowledge of (God’s) will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

Persistent prayer happens when I know I am needy, but it is also an expression of love for others, and of making God’s plans a priority in my life . . .

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)

God teaches me that through prayer my life and the lives of others are brought into line with the will of God and are equipped to do His will in His power. Short and sweet prayers have their place, but effective prayer almost always involves more than a few words and those words are fervent and mingled with sweat.

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