March 16, 2014

The greatest ministry . . .

Yesterday I was praying and lamenting that I’m not doing anything visible toward building the kingdom of God. The next thought was, “But prayer builds the kingdom of God . . .” and I started to think that my lament could be just a complaint; prayer is unseen, hard work. Any form of ministry seems more rewarding.

But God keeps nudging me. I’m blessed this morning by a definition from today’s reading: “Prayer is the purest exercise of the faculties God has given us — an exercise that links our faculties with our Maker in order to work out His intentions.”

Working out the intentions of God is a lofty idea, yet it means total surrender. The example of Jesus Christ consistently reveals what prayer is all about . . .  

Then (Jesus) said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ (Hebrews 10:7)

In Gethsemane and before going to the cross, Jesus spoke to His disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther He fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Then He found the disciples sleeping and said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” For the second time, He prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again, He found them sleeping, so left them and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:38–44)

On another occasion, He said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

People often say that Jesus changed the world because He is God, forgetting that He is God in human flesh, God who did not cling to the power of being God but became a man and relied on the Father, just as the Father also expects His children to rely on Him. That means total surrender. It means that God can do things through us to accomplish His will on earth. He does it by putting His will into a surrendered heart so that all our prayers are His prayers, and certain to be answered . . .

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) The J. B. Phillips version says, “If you live your life in me and my words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you.” In other words, when I do what He says and live as He wants me to live, then He will do what I say.

A second thought is that prayer is the current ministry of Jesus Christ. He died, rose again, and is at the right hand of God, interceding for us. (Romans 8:34) How could I think anything else could be more important than what Jesus is doing?

Yet I know the real reason for hesitation. Prayer is spiritual warfare. The powers of evil do not want me surrendered to God saying, “Not my will, but thine be done” and be aligned with the Almighty in prayer. They will do anything to discourage prayer and to sidetrack me into sin or selfishness. Prayer is war.

Because of that, it is a lonely business. Many others are less inclined to pray for those involved in the ministry of prayer, for they too are subject to this continual effort to stop any sort of prayer support.

I’ve heard it said that prayer is the most difficult yet the most important task. Even though the rest of me resists and makes excuses, my heart says yes. If God gives me nothing else to do, this one thing I must do — pray.

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