December 1, 2015

Now it is time to pray

Jeremiah 1:1–2:37, Colossians 1:1–14, Proverbs 10:1–32, Ephesians 6:13–18

Of all the Bible books, I’m most drawn to Jeremiah. Perhaps it’s because both of us are glass-half-empty people who see the evil in the world before we start looking for the good. The biggest difference is that God has called me to pray about what I see, but Jeremiah was given a more challenging task.

The Lord said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”

But the Lord replied, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:4–8)

The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant . . . . But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you to deliver you.” (Jeremiah 1:9–10, 17–19)

The phrase “dress yourself for work” is another point of identification with Jeremiah. In Hebrew, it says “gird up your loins” which is repeated in the NT in a section on spiritual warfare in prayer. Paul wrote it in Greek. Most English translations say something like this:

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13–18)

However, “fastened on the belt of truth” in Greek is also “gird up your loins.” Today, we don’t understand that phrase, but in those days it referred to the loose garments that could interfere in combat, thus a fighting man would need to gather it up and secure it with a belt. Thus, God tells Jeremiah to get ready for the work of a prophet, and Paul tells Christians to prepare themselves for battle in the work of prayer by taking care of anything that hinders from that work.

And prayer is work, particularly if it is focused on the will of God and the needs of His people. Prayer is a mystery too. Why should I ask God to meet my needs when He has already promised to do so? From experience, I know this is not so simple. Prayer keeps God in my focus, strengthens my relationship with Him, and makes me more aware of how needy I am and how much my life depends on His grace.

Solomon writes of the contrasts between those who trust God (and pray) and those who do their own thing. Doing my own thing can rapidly deteriorate into what he calls “wickedness” and prayer is an important part of staying in His will . . . 

“Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” (Proverbs 10:2–5)

Solomon also reminds me that “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.” (Proverbs 10:23–24) This means when my desires fit into the will of God, He answers my prayers!

Because prayer is often hard work, the Apostle Paul also prayed in his letters to the churches. He knew, as I know, that God’s strength is necessary. Bringing Him a “shopping list” is relatively easy, but “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication . . . . alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” is not. There are days when it is my most difficult task.

This is why Paul prayed words like Colossians 1:11-14. He reminds me where prayer power comes from, why I am able to pray, and what He has done for me that motivates prayer:

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

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