July 25, 2014

“You have not because you ask not . . .”

The Christian church is made up of people who were once “strangers and aliens” but are now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Their faith is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” and they are “joined together” and growing “into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21) 

Obviously this is a work of God. Only He can unite people and build us up into a powerful and holy structure. However, Christians have responsibilities too. One of them is to pray, not just “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayers, but persevering and believing prayer.

The early church began during a prayer meeting. It grew also as the first believers prayed. When some of them were arrested for speaking about Christ, they prayed even more . . .

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ . . .  both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23–31)

Their prayer was powerful. They were “together,” they prayed using the Old Testament Scriptures, they acknowledged what God had been doing, and their focus was on glorifying Jesus Christ. The result? When they finished, God filled them with His Spirit and they boldly continued to share the Word of God.

If Christians were persecuted in today’s world, would their cry to heaven be more like, “I have my rights?” Is unity less of a factor and the glory of God less of a motive than it was in Acts 4? Do most Christians use Scripture in prayer?

Are contemporary Christians, at least in the Western world, more concerned that God does something about their comfort (health, wealth) than giving them boldness to share the good news of Jesus Christ? Is persevering and believing prayer the biggest missing ingredient in the church today?

Sometimes I feel as if prayer is my greatest calling but also the weakest part of my Christian life? Do I pray too much for myself and not enough for others?

Jesus prayed for His church, oddly beginning with a request for personal glory. He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:1–5)

Should I pray like that? Should the church? God has given us a different kind of authority (to be called His children) and we cannot bestow eternal life on anyone, but we must tell them about Jesus and how to have His life.

I do a mediocre job of glorifying God on earth and of accomplishing all He gave me to do, but from what Jesus said here and what the Bible says elsewhere, I can ask Him to glorify me. That means having Him pour out His Spirit so I am filled with Him, and then able to speak His Word with boldness.

Another passage gives me a jab in the ribs about prayer. It describes “a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household.” This non-Jew, non-Christian man “gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (See his story in Acts 10).

If a non-believing person can pray continually to God (and he was heard), and all Christians have the Holy Spirit and a relationship with God who continually tells them to persevere in believing prayer, then why do I (or any Christian) struggle with talking to God? Is it because my focus is less on taking care of the needs of others and more on treating God as my “genie in a bottle” who grants my every whim?

By the grace of God, selfishness does not need to rule my life or my prayers. He will take care of me, but there is a lot more going on in the world that must be on my prayer list. 

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