And When You Pray

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  This then is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…..”

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 6:5-9

                Last evening as I was reading in the third volume of Wilhelmus A Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service in a section, in which the author deals with the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, I came across the following helpful phrase regarding prayer.

God hallows Himself: “And I will sanctify My great Name” (Ezek. 36:23) God hallows Himself both in the works of nature and of grace, revealing to man what manner of God He is.”  (page 499)

                What A Brakel is saying here, and I believe that this is absolutely crucial for believers to understand is that the first principle of prayer is to hallow, or reverence God’s Name.  When we pray we are engaged in something much deeper than just making requests of God.  In God’s grace we are invited to bring our requests before Him (Philippians 4:6-7).  What we are doing is really much more however.  We are engaged in a relationship in which we are being fundamentally changed (what the Bible calls being sanctified) by our encounter with our Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:17-18 makes this clear.  So much of our experience in prayer, and the struggles we have with prayer are owing to this transformation.  There are times when prayer is a real joy.  Other times it is characterized by dryness and real struggle.  I believe that this is when we are being refined by God.

God’s purpose for our praying is to cause us to develop a sincere reverence for Him.  If we were to use the word glory to describe our purpose here, as in to “glorify God”, what we would mean by this is that we would be giving God His proper weight.  Our struggle is centred upon the fact that we keep thinking of God as if He is like us.  We keep falling short in our understanding of God’s true greatness.  God will not allow us to persist in this attitude for long.  A Brakel tells us that God “Hallows His own Name”, meaning He will always be bringing us to reverence Him for who He really is.  Prayer brings us to the point where this happens in our lives.  We, in prayer begin to see that He alone is God, there is no other, including all the false views of God that we create for ourselves.  In prayer God shows us His goodness, or graciousness.  He consents to be reconciled to us through the Lord Jesus Christ entirely on His merit not ours.  I do not believe that we truly understand just how gracious He is towards us.  In prayer He reveals to us His justice in judgement.  He really does deal with sin, but provides a way of redemption through His Son.  In prayer we are confronted with His omnipotence as He works out His purpose in our lives.

Once we begin to pray we find that nothing is ever the same again because God meets us and we begin to see His glory revealed through His Son.  He offers us and invitation to come to His throne of grace in real prayer.  Shall we pray?               

Advent Reflection

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.  You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  You will be true to Jacob and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago.”

                                                                                                                                                                Micah 7:18-20

                This coming Sunday will be the last Sunday of Advent.  For many this will be a delightful day in which we continue to sing Christmas carols.  Those songs of the Incarnation always seem to move our hearts in joyful worship.  I must confess that I love singing the Christmas carols, as they are among some of the most delightful of the hymns of the Church.  Advent looks ahead to the main event, the celebration of Christmas itself.  We love every part of that day.  We eagerly anticipate its coming each year.

This week I looked up the definition of advent and made some discoveries.  For the Christian Church Advent is a season of anticipation where we look forward to the coming of our Redeemer, the Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.  With this anticipation of His arrival we find ourselves immersed in hope that all that His coming means with become reality in our lives.  As Phillips Brooks writes in his masterful hymn “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  That line from O Little Town of Bethlehem captures our mood as we enter into advent this year.

There is however a third element to the definition of Advent for the Christian Church.  This is the call to repentance which the season brings.  John the Baptist came and called people to prepare the way of the Lord.  In doing so John was letting his world and ours know that any communion with God requires repentance.  We must turn to Him.  This was as well the message of the Prophets.  They were sent to call God’s people back to Him.  Their message is filled with the word of the Advent.  God is coming among us.  Isaiah even has a Word or a Name to designate His coming, Emmanuel, God with us.  Therefore it should not surprise us that a substantial portion of the focus of Advent is upon the Prophetic message.

That message consistently confronts us with the character of the God we worship.  Micah writes, “Who is a God like you?”  In fact that is the meaning of the Prophet’s name.  This is a key thought for us to focus upon this Advent season.  What do the Scriptures tell us about the character of God?  How is this reflected in the mighty works which He accomplished in the Incarnation of Christ?

Here we encounter the God of grace who became human flesh and dwelt among us so that He could redeem us from our sin.  The only response that is adequate to such great grace is one of believing worship.

A Christmas Message

                Christmas is the time when we focus our attention on one of God’s great promises.  This is the promise of Immanuel, God with us.  Isaiah and Matthew point us to this promise when they write, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bring forth a son and you will call him Immanuel, meaning God with us.”  (Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23)  This tremendous promise changes everything about the lives that we live.

In thinking about this I came across this quotation which formed the inspiration for Anne Ross Cousin’s Hymn originally entitled “Last Words” but now known by the name “The Sands of Time are sinking.” 

“But the summons found him ill and like to die, and the court prepared to try him, received the treasured and characteristic answer: “I am summoned before a superior court and judiciary; and I behove to answer my first summons and ere your day arrive, I will be where few Kings and great folks come.”

                He died at St. Andrews, March 20th, 1661.  Late in the afternoon of the final day of his stormy life, just as the sun was sinking, he was asked by one of the friends standing by the couch.  “What think you now of Christ?”  To which he gave the answer: “Oh that all my brethren in the land may know what a Master I have served, and what peace I have this day!  I shall sleep in Christ, and then I awake I shall be satisfied with His likeness.  This night shall close the door, and put my anchor within the veil; and I shall go away in a sleep by five in the morning.  Glory! Glory: to my Creator and my redeemer forever!  I shall live and adore Him.  Oh for arms to embrace Him!  Oh for a well tuned harp!  Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”  At precisely five in the morning as predicted, he crossed the border into Immanuel’s land, there to feast his eyes on “the King in His beauty.”

                Here are the lyrics to Anne Ross Cousin’s hymn inspired by these words.

“The sands of time are sinking.  The dawn of heaven breaks, the summer morn I’ve sighed for, the fair sweet morn awakes.  Dark, dark has been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.  And glory, glory dwelleth In Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, Christ, He is the fountain, the deep sweet well of love; the streams on earth I’ve tasted, more deep I’ll drink above;  There to an ocean fullness, His mercy doth expand, and glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                With mercy and with judgment, my web of time He wove, and aye the dews of sorrow, were lustred with His love.  I’ll bless the heart that planned, when throned where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                Oh, I am my Beloved’s, and my beloved’s mine; He brings a poor vile sinner into His “house of wine.”  I stand upon His merit; I know no safer stand, not e’en where glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

                                The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace; not at the crown He giveth, but on His pierced hand: The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.”

                The original version of this hymn contained over twenty verses.  Our modern version has retained these five.  I want to draw your attention to one of the other verses however as it expresses the hope that is ours in Christ in the Gospel message.  Ours is indeed a resurrection faith.

                “I shall sleep sound in Jesus, fill’d with His likeness rise, to live and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes, ‘Tween me and resurrection but paradise doth stand; Then – then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land.”

This message of Immanuel is the heart of the Christmas celebration.  Here we find a hope which is firmly rooted in the promise of God to redeem us so that we will live in His land eternally.  Praise God for His great love for us.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

Revealing the Glory of The Lord Jesus Christ

At this the Jews exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon possessed!”  Abraham died, and so did the Prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your Word, he will never taste death.  Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the Prophets.  Who do you think you are?”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 8:52-53

                James T. Dennison in his article “The Gospel of John: An Introduction” (www.kerux.com/doc/0801A3.asp) writes this comment on the purpose behind the Gospel of John.  “John asks his readers to continually reflect on the question, “Who is Jesus?”  This Christological question is answered from the Prologue to the Epilogue – He is the Word/Logos, the son of God, who is God Himself.” (P.1)  Ever since I began my walk with the LORD Jesus Christ I have encouraged those who are seeking to know the LORD Jesus to begin by reading John’s Gospel.  This has been partly because that is where I began.  More importantly however I encourage this because John presents us with such a Glorious view of our living redeemer that this book is a nature and extremely helpful place to begin.

In John 8:53 the Apostle leads us to ask a key question of Jesus.  Worded literally the question is, “Who do you make yourself out to be?”   Who does Jesus claim to be?  John gives us an abundance of material to help us answer the question.  The question is not asked for Jesus’ benefit.  He knows who He is.  It is asked for our benefit.  We must wrestle with the question, “Who is Jesus?  Dennison points out that John’s Gospel seems to have been written in order to bring the answer to this question to our minds and hearts.  John does not do this as a random bit of conversation in this Gospel which is quickly passed over as we read.  John is presenting a view of Jesus which reveals Him in all of His awesome glory.  This is a glory which is entirely consistent with the revelation given to us in Scripture.  Recently I have been reading with considerable agreement the arguments of a number of scholars who point out that when we drift away from the Word of God we inevitably fall into dangerous error.  John does not make this mistake.  Everything He tells us is firmly anchored in the revelation given to us in Scripture.  The LORD Jesus Christ is the Redeemer promised in Scripture.  He has come and reconciled us to God through His cross.  It is on this solid ground that we stand.

John confronts us with the question of Jesus’ identity.  He then gives us abundant material with which to come to a conclusion about Jesus.  His whole purpose is summed up in the words of John 20:30-31, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”  John’s Gospel is a selective account, as is our reflections upon it today.   The purpose of the Gospel and our study today is the same.  This is to lead us into a life of faith in Him.

Who Is Jesus?  John describes Him in the following incomplete list as the One who is.

1)      The Incarnate Word/Logos who redeems us through the cross. (1:14)

2)      As God – “It is I” (6:20)

3)      As the Bread of Life (6:35)

4)      As the Light of the World (8:12)

5)      As Eternal God (8:58)

6)      As the Gate for the Sheep (10:7)

7)      As the Good Shepherd (10:11)

8)      As the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)

9)      As the True Vine (15:1, 5)

Every one of these statements is a reference to a Biblical metaphor which leads us into an understanding of part of the Scriptural revelation of the character and mission of our redeemer.  As we reflect on these incomplete descriptions of all that John tells us may we come into an ever deepening faith in Him.  For John has pointed us to a vision of the Glory of the Lord in the face of Christ.

An Advent Meditation

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the LORD appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what it conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what the LORD had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” – which means “God with us”.    

                                                                                                                                                                Matthew 1:19-23

                As Matthew relates the account of the birth of the LORD Jesus Christ to us at the beginning of his gospel he also speaks to us about the proper way to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Christmas miracle.  In fact Matthew shows us how to go about seeking to know the LORD as our redeemer.  He does this as he relates to us the manner in which Joseph deals with the news of Mary’s pregnancy.  Most of us would have responded to such news by dismissing Mary’s tale of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement and its consequences.  Whether through hurt pride, anger, fear, or simply through unbelief we would have broken off the marriage and gone our own way.  Word of the virgin birth would not have seemed true to us.  That is not how Joseph responded.  His actions lead us to examine our own responses to the difficult things that God calls us to experience in our lives.  Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.  His righteousness seems to be something much more than the self righteousness which we often encounter.  He genuinely sought to obey God’s leading in this situation.  This crisis in his relationship with Mary would be another opportunity for Joseph to live out the obedience of faith.  Therefore Joseph pondered it.  The words means to think deeply, perhaps even to meditate upon a subject.  It seems apparent that part of this meditation involved reflecting upon the message of the scriptures.  He wanted to understand God’s purpose for all of this so that he could be believingly obedient even in this hard time.

Joseph’s meditation bore fruit in two ways.  It led him into the book of the Prophet Isaiah where he would have read in chapter seven about the necessity of standing firm in faith.  God had promised that a day was coming when Emmanuel would come.  This coming would in fact be God with us.  Could it be that the tale that Mary had told was true?  The second was that an angel came to Joseph in a dream giving him specific promises and instructions that must be received and obeyed in faith.  Now Joseph had a decision to make which would test him to the very core of his being.  He was to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own child.  All of this was to be done in obedience to God who was now among us.

Phillips Brooks in his delightful Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” writes these words which not only describe the reality of that first Christmas day, but which continue to describe our own situation today.  “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”  Life is filled with hopes.  We constantly look forward to something better which is just around the corner.  Life is also filled with fears.  We have learned through bitter experience that life is hard and that things constantly go wrong.  How are we to respond?  Joseph meditates upon his situation responding with the Word of God which he then obeys in faith.  His response can be described with this classic quotation of Martyn Lloyd-Jones from his book on the Puritans.  I found the quotation on the internet this morning.  “There are many scriptures which demonstrate that repentance always comes first.  You find this in the gospels.  John the Baptist precedes our LORD and he preached a baptism of repentance.”  Joseph faced his hopes and fears with a desire to cast himself upon the purposes of God.  In faith he repented, seeking to yield his circumstances to the LORD.  He then obeyed God.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ.  Preparation for the believer always involves real repentance which brings us to submit all of our hopes and fears to the LORD’s plan and purpose for us.  Such repentance leads us to obey the calling of God upon our lives.  In recent days we have all been asked on numerous occasions, “Are you ready for Christmas?”  Following Joseph’s example that question takes on a much deeper significance.  “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Open Your Eyes and Look

                “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.”

                                                                                                                                                                                         John 4:35

                When we look carefully at John chapter four and explore the concept of the Divine Appointment which Jesus had while on His way to Galilee we discover some precious truths.  It is clear here that Jesus has an appointment with the Samaritan woman who He leads to ask Him for living water.  It is equally clear that Jesus has an appointment with the people of Sychar, many of whom come to believe in Him after they have met Him for themselves.  There is a third Divine Appointment here as well however.  This is the appointment which Jesus has with His disciples.  There is a lesson which they needed to learn, which could only be taught in that Samaritan village at the foot of Mt. Gerizim.  Here in the heart of the lost nation of the Samaritans these disciples were about to learn about the wonderful grace of the LORD Jesus Christ which would justify the ungodly.  As we explore this text we too can learn some valuable lessons.

1)      We can learn a lesson about the expectations which we have as we encounter people in our day to day lives.  These disciples were following Jesus into a region which was characterized by ungodliness.  The Samaritans were a people who were ethnically the result of the racial mixture of poor Jews who had been left behind at the exile of Israel with pagan people who had been resettled in the region.  Their religion was a mixture of the Hebrew faith with all manner of pagan beliefs and practices.  They had even set up a rival religious centre to that of Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim.  As the disciples drew near to this Samaritan centre of worship one can imagine what they must have thought about the hopeless, ungodly people they were encountering.  Perhaps these disciples were hoping that they would be able to pass through this region quickly and without incident.  If ever there was a people beyond the touch of God’s grace it was these people of Sychar.  Yet it is here that Jesus stops to rest.  Like us, these disciples see a people that they will not associate with because they are just too lost.  A number of years ago while serving in one of my first charges after graduation from Seminary I spoke to one of the leaders of the congregation about my intention to visit a family that lived down the street from the church in order that I might encourage them to attend services at our church.  The leader looked at me as if I was insane or at the very least hopelessly naive.   “These people will never darken the door of the Church.” he told me, “They are just too lost.”  I went anyway inviting the family to come to worship and sharing with them the gospel.  Not only did they begin to attend our church, they came to faith in Christ and brought many of their relatives who seemed to be even more lost than they.  We learned a lesson in those days about the way that the LORD was working in the hearts of that family.  Nothing is impossible with the LORD.  He can even bring hardened Samaritans to faith in Christ.

2)      Jesus tells His disciples that they need to have their eyes open so that they can really look and see what is going on around them.  The fields are ripe for harvest.  The word of the LORD has been doing its work.  Prayer is being answered.  People are finding that their hearts are being prepared for that day when they hear the Gospel.  The text tells us that the work does not depend upon us alone because others are at work as well.  The Word of God has been doing its work, quietly, almost imperceptivity, but surely.  It has been preparing the way for the harvest.  The disciples are not to think that everything depends upon them.  They are not to look at a people as being beyond grace.  They are simply to keep offering the message of grace to everyone who will listen to it.  We are to offer it with the love of God.  We are to offer it humbly.  But offer it we must.  Robert Murray McCheyne once remarked regarding his work among the slum dwellers of his city that “the flesh dies well there.”   This work is not about us, it is about the LORD.  He is powerfully at work in our world.  We are called to obey His call to witness, wherever He takes us, believing that He has already prepared the way for His Gospel.

The Glory Of Christ

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 1:1-5

                An examination of the Gospel of John, in fact a careful look at all of the Apostle John’s writings, leads us to develop a strong suspicion that one of the themes that he wanted to impress upon our minds was the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.  John points us back beyond the beginning of creation in order to develop the foundation of his gospel proclamation.  The one he is about to introduce us to is someone much more glorious than any historical figure.  He is in fact the one through whom all of creation has come into being, and in whom everything currently holds together.  John calls us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Glorious One whom the whole of Scripture has been pointing to as the Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Destiny of Creation.  John uses the word Logos to describe Him.  This is the Word of God as a person active in every part of God’s revelation of Himself.  Today I will focus upon two aspects of this revelation in order to point us to the Glory of Christ.

First the Scriptures describe Him as wisdom personified.  In 1 Corinthians 1:24 we read, “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  In Proverbs 8:22-31 we read about Wisdom as being personified and much that is written there seems to inform John’s description of the Word of God.

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of His works, before His deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.  When there was no oceans, I was given birth, when there was no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before He made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world.  I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when He established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when He gave the sea its boundary so the waters could not overstep His command, and when He marked out the foundations of the earth.  Then I was the craftsman at His side.  I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in His presence, rejoicing in His whole world and delighting in mankind.”

                John links his portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom he calls us to believe in, with this being who existed before anything had been created.  In fact John takes his Gospel further by telling us that not only was this being with God before creation, He was in fact God Himself.  The teaching in the Old Testament about this pointed further as well because in many places this Divine Logos was also identified with the Angel of the Lord who was in fact the Pre-Incarnate Christ.  In Exodus 23:20-23 we read about this figure.  “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.  Pay attention to Him and listen to what He says.  Do not rebel against Him; He will not forgive you your rebellion, since My Name is in Him.  If you listen carefully to what He says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.  My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.”  What a tremendous promise for these Old Testament people of God.  This Angel of the Lord will be God Himself among them, leading them.  The Name of God, the character of God, will be in this Angel.  It is this figure that John is pointing to as he calls us to faith.  He asks us to lift up our eyes and behold the Glorious Christ who has come in humility to redeem us through the Cross.

Such truth saves us from sin.  It is this that Charles Haddon Spurgeon describes when he tells us the account of the conversion of an ancient Christian writer by the name of Junius the younger, quoting his description of the way in which he came to Christ.  “My father, who was frequently reading the New Testament , and had long observed with grief the progress I had made in infidelity, had put that book in my way in his library, in order to attract my attention, if it might please God to bless his design, though without giving me the least intimation of it.  Here therefore, I unwittingly opened the New Testament thus providentially laid before me.  At the very first view, although I was deeply engaged in other thoughts, that grand chapter of the evangelist and apostle presented itself to me — `In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.` I read part of the chapter, and was so greeted that I instantly became struck with the divinity of the argument, and the majesty and authority of the composition, as surpassing the highest flights of human eloquence.  My body shuddered; my mind was in amazement, and I was so agitated the whole day that I scarcely know who was I was; nor did the agitation cease, but continued till it was at last soothed by a humble faith in Him who was made flesh and dwelt among us.“

Intercessory Praying

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us.  He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:16-18

                If you are like me you often find the examples of great Prayer Warriors to be somewhat intimidating. “Historic Pray-ers” are held up an example for us, but they often seem to be people whose commitment to the Lord is beyond that of us ordinary mortals.  Then there are the examples of people of prayer in the Bible and their example is even more intimidating.  People like Moses, or Abraham, David, Daniel, Elijah, the Apostles, or any of the host of New Testament characters seem almost to be from another Planet as they engage in Ministries of Intercession.

In looking carefully at these people of prayer though we make an encouraging discovery.  This is that they, like us, are mere sinful mortals.  James tells us that “Elijah was a man like us.”  What James means by this is that Elijah was a man who was subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.  The reason we find him or others like him so difficult to follow is because we focus our attention upon ourselves rather than the God who hears and answers prayer.  Let’s take a look at what James tells us about Intercessory Prayer in these brief verses.  First, in verse 16 he calls us to intercessory prayer, with the confession of sin, for one another so that we will be healed.  This must be as natural a part of our life together as the Body of Christ as is breathing to our human lives.  There is a presupposition here however.  Intercessory praying requires that we be living in the will of God.  Do we really want the will of God to become increasingly our reality?  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself it is in the God who we are praying to.  James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is effective to accomplish its purpose.  James is pointing us to the will of God here.  The righteous person is one who is dependent upon the Lord in every way.  We are sinners redeemed through the merciful grace of Christ.  We are not, nor can we ever be righteous in ourselves.  Here is the precious truth here that James shouts at us.  Neither was Elijah, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other Biblical people righteous in and of themselves.  None of those great historic people whose biographies we devour were righteous in themselves either.  All of them were sinners like us, subject to the same frailties and weaknesses as we are.

Why then was their intercessory praying so much more effective than ours.  I believe that James is telling us that they had learnt the secret of prayer.  It must be a dependant casting of ourselves upon the purpose of God which is being worked out in Christ.  Listen to how the Apostle Paul describes the righteous life of believers in Romans 12:1-2.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

                When you explore the passages in 1 Kings 17 & 18 regarding Elijah and prayer what is seen clearly is that this was a man who through prayerful meditation was seeking to understand and obey the Will of God.  His prayer of intercession then became conformed to the will of God.  This made the difference for him.  If we join our voices to the Intercessory praying of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, both of whom we are told are interceding for us according to the will of God the Father then our praying will have the same power as theirs, not because of us, but because of them.  Charles Hodge puts it this way in a quotation shared by Kurt Richardson.

“It cannot be supposed that God has subjected Himself in the government of the world, or in the dispensation of His gifts, to the short sighted wisdom of men, by promising, without condition, to do whatever they ask.  No rational man could wish that this was the case.  He then asserted that the condition expressed in 1 John 5:14 is everywhere else implied: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”” (Richardson, Kurt A., The New American Commentary on James, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1997, p. 238)

Praying For Comfort in Grief

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:18

                “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:28-29

                There seem to be seasons in our lives.  This is especially true when we seek to walk with God in worship and in service.  There are times of great joy, and then there are others times of trial and chastening.  As a Pastor I am at times made aware of the trials and chastening that others are experiencing.  Recent weeks have been one such time, and it has led me to reflect anew on the ways in which God is at work in my life, but also in the lives of many of those that I am called to serve in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  One thing has been abundantly clear to me in these reflections God has a plan and a purpose which He is working out in our lives, and also in history.  As the Apostle Paul reflects upon this in his letter to the Romans he pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of just what God is doing.  We see how all of creation is waiting for the final revelation of God’s redeemed people.  We see that this purpose is being worked out in each of our individual lives.  In fact it is the subject of a great intercessory prayer meeting in which we have been invited to Intercede with the Spirit of God before the Throne of God as we struggle with our trials, and in the process we find ourselves being ushered into the Will of God.

Think about that for a couple of minutes.  We are not left to deal with our trials by ourselves.  The Holy Spirit is interceding for us, as, we discover later in the chapter, is the Son of God.  What a wonderful comfort to discover that not only are other believers praying for us, so too is the Triune God.  What can ever stand against us if God is for us?  His purpose is our holiness.  All that He has done is so that a people will be created who will be conformed to the image of Christ.  For this reason we daily bring ourselves before God in prayer, seeking His grace to powerfully work in us.

Darrell Johnson in his wonderful series of studies on the book of Revelation, when he comes to reflect upon the powerful vision of the throne of God seen in chapter four begins with these words.  “Things are not as they seem.” (Darrell Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 2004, p. 129)  The book of Revelation is written to encourage persecuted believers to stand firm in their faith.  The fourth chapter introduces us to one of the greatest helps which god has given us.  This is a Biblical vision of God in all of His glory.  I am told that the word glory was originally a marketplace word.  Its root was to give something its proper weight.  When we see God in all of His glory we are giving Him His proper weight.  We see Him as He is, at least as much of His reality as we can bear.  The Apostle John receives an invitation of see God on His throne, as the holy, sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe.  As he looks upon God on His throne the trials that Church, and John himself in exile on Patmos come into their proper perspective.  What John will be discovering in this vision is the tremendous spiritual resources that are available to anyone who will stand firm in their faith.

As Darrell Johnson explores this theme he quotes from a Father John Powell who wrote in Fully Human, Fully Alive: A New Life through a New Vision the following.

“Through the eyes of our minds you and I look out at reality (ourselves, other people, life, the world, God).  However we see things differently.  Your vision of reality is not mine and, conversely, mine is not yours.  Both our visions are limited and inadequate, but not to the same extent.  We have both misinterpreted and distorted reality, but in different ways.  We have each seen something of the available truth and beauty to which the other has been blind.  The main point is that it is the dimensions and clarity of this vision the dimensions of our world and the quality of our lives.  To the extent that we are blind or have distorted reality, our lives and our happiness have been diminished.  Consequently, if we are to change – to grow – there must first be a change in this basic vision, or perception of reality.” (Niles, Illinois: Argus Communications, 1976, p. 10)

                What we need is a new vision.  This is what God provides for us in His Word.  In Christ we are welcomed into His presence to see Him as He is, so that we might become like Him.  In our trials God chips away at the scales on our eyes that hinder us from seeing His Glory.  With each trial, as we continue to stand firm we see Him more clearly and therefore find ourselves becoming more Christ like.

Ask Him

                “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds.  He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 10:1

                In this truly wonderful little verse in Zechariah a precious truth is opened up for us that we so often find ourselves taking for granted.  Zechariah has been speaking the Word of the Lord to the people of God, showing them that God’s faithfulness to his covenant promise to Israel will be revealed in the years to come as a great blessing on the Day of the Lord.  God is going to deal with the nations, judging them, and calling some to redemption that they might be included in His people.  He is also going to refine His people so that they will truly exhibit the righteousness of God in this sin stained world.  The refining will lead to the prosperity and security that God has been constantly promising.  It is a sure thing, because God is faithful.  He will uphold His covenant promises to His people, especially as those promises have been established in the shed blood of the sacrifice.  Looking ahead, we know that these promises are in fact established in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.  Nothing can be more secure or certain than that.  So we look to the fulfillment of God’s promise to us.  In fact we rejoice right now in that fulfilled promise.  On account of that finished work of Christ we now find ourselves redeemed and adopted into His family.

Here is the precious word from Zechariah which he piles on top of the wonderful things he has been writing.  God has promised these blessings, so come before Him and ask Him for them.  The promise is and invitation to sincere, heartfelt, believing, expectant, confession and prayer.  Ask Him for rain in the springtime the prophet writes.  This is not the only time in the Word of God we see this link between our need, God’s promise, and the call to prayer.  In Nehemiah 1:4 we read about a Godly Servant in King Artaxerxes’ court who receives distressing news from friends in Jerusalem and who immediately cries out to God in prayer.  We should note that Nehemiah had the promises of God through Jeremiah and Daniel to lead him to understand that God was restoring His people.  Still he goes before God in prayer.

“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love Him and keep His commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.  I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you.  We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:4-7) 

                Nehemiah goes on to continue praying scripturally seeking the Lord’s providence in very specific ways in his life and in the life of His people.  He prays courageously, specifically, and expectantly, confessing his sins as well has the sin of the people of Israel.  In Daniel 9:1ff we see that Godly man doing exactly the same thing in response to God’s prophetic promises to him.

I believe that this is God’s calling on His church today.  We have been given wonderful promises regarding God’s faithful working in our midst as He brings about the wonderful redemption which we have in Christ.  We know that these promises are secure because they are rooted in His faithfulness.  So often we take them for granted.  God will do what He will do, we reason.  What God is doing is calling us to prayer.  We are to sincerely, confessionally, expectantly ask Him for the very things He has promised us, following the pattern which he has revealed to us in His Word.  God is calling His Church to prayer.  Praise God!!