Enjoy Your Prayer Life

Michael Reeves. Enjoy Your Prayer Life. London: Ten Publishing, 2014. 46 pages.

            All Christians recognize the importance of prayer, but many Christians still struggle to set aside the time to develop a meaningful prayer life. And if they won’t set aside the time to develop a meaningful prayer life, chances are that they won’t read many of the excellent books that are available about prayer. [NOTE: My favorite book in that category is Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014).]

            This is where Michael Reeves comes in. He has written a splendid short little book about prayer. And at only 46 pages, it can be read in a single setting.

            In this helpful little book, he talks about what prayer is. Prayer isn’t something “we do.” Rather, “prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself” (12). Therefore, a lack of prayer can be considered nothing less than practical atheism.

            In last week’s post, I reviewed a book about how we approach God’s Word. Our intake of God’s Word and prayer are intimately connected. In fact, “prayer springs from God’s Word” (17). God’s Word awakens faith in our hearts which then leads us to prayer.

            There is a danger of trying to “fit” prayer into our daily lives. Remember, prayer is the primary way true faith expresses itself. Therefore, prayer isn’t something that’s only done in the morning or in the evening. Rather, our prayer life is to be unceasing. This, of course, means that prayer will happen in many forms. It may happen as we set aside an extended amount of time to approach the throne of grace. Then again, it may happen as the Lord brings to mind the name of a friend or loved one who is struggling with a health issue.

            But in all of our prayers, we need to recognize our utter dependence on God. We don’t accomplish God’s work through our own personal ambition. We need to rely on God every step of the way, and this is often expressed through prayer. And we often don’t even know how to prayer. This is when the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us in our prayers.

            So, brother or sister, be encouraged as you seek to develop a meaningful prayer life, and pick up a copy of Reeves outstanding little book on prayer.

Book Review: “Before You Open Your Bible”

Matt Smethurst. Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word. London: Ten Publishing, 2019. 89 pages.

            Have you ever given any thought to the Bible? It’s quite a book. It’s actually a collection of books—66 to be exact. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. To make matters even more interesting, the timespan from the first book written to the last is somewhere around 1,400 years. And it’s been over 1,900 years since the last book was written so the whole Bible is filled with ancient customs and ideas. The 66 books were written on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe). They were written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). And there were approximately 40 different authors (with one divine author overseeing the process).

            This is enough to make one’s head swim, and these facts can make the Bible a very intimidating book. So, how should a person approach the Bible? Thankfully, Matt Smethurst has written a gloriously short (89 pages) little book to help us as we approach the Bible. Smethurst gives us 9 “heart postures” with which we should approach the Bible.

            First, we need to approach the Bible prayerfully. Smethurst admits that this shouldn’t come to us as breaking news. We know that the Bible is a divine book, and we know that God hears our prayers, but how often do we go to the Bible without prayer. Sadly, far too often. He offers a helpful acrostic as we prayerfully approach the Bible (an acrostic which he admits he received from John Piper). We should prayerful approach with I-O-U-S. Incline our hearts to God’s testimonies (Ps 119:36). Open our eyes (Ps 119:18). Unite our hearts to fear your name (Ps 86:11). And, satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love (Ps 90:14).

            Second, we should approach our Bibles humbly. We need to remember that our God is a God who talks. He didn’t have to talk to us, but he chose to talk to us. When we open our Bibles, we get to hear from the Creator himself. This should humble us.

            Third, we need to approach the Bible desperately. Bible intake isn’t an optional extra for the Christian. If we want to survive in this world, we need to look at the Bible as our survival food. The Bible isn’t snack food. The Bible is our main course.

            Fourth, we need to approach our Bibles studiously. Some people view Bible study as something that is reserved for Bible geeks or pastors or theologians. Not so! Bible study is for all of us. We study because we love. Because we love God (and he loves us), it makes sense to study his word. And as we learn more about God, our worship of him because more intense. And since we’re all theologians after all, we may as well strive to be good theologians.

            Fifth, we should approach our Bibles obediently. The Bible is good for us. God is committed to our joy and our flourishing. When we obey God at his word, we invite greater flourishing. Jesus told his disciples to teach everyone to “obey” his teachings (Matt 28:19).

            Sixth, we should approach the Bible joyfully. The scriptures are full of calls to joy. “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). ‘I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).

            Seventh, we need to approach the Bible expectantly. The Word of God has power. It has the power to save (Romans 1:16), and it also has the power to change lives (John 17:17). The Bible will see us through all of life’s ups and downs.

            Eighth, we need to approach our Bibles communally. No, Smethurst isn’t suggesting that we join a commune! Rather, he’s stating the straightforward truth that Christianity was never meant to be a solo sport. Christianity has always been meant to be a faith that is lived out in community. While we should read the Bible individually and devotionally, we should also read the Bible in community. We can use the Bible to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).

            Finally, we should approach our Bibles Christocentrically. That’s a big word, but when you look at its parts, the meaning becomes clear. We should approach our Bibles with the knowledge that Christ is at the center of everything that’s written in the Bible. Jesus himself told us that Moses and the Old Testament prophets were writing about him (see Luke 24:25–27). The Bible may have been written over a vast period of time and by many different authors, but the Bible is about Jesus from beginning to end.

Image of God (part 3)

In the previous two posts, I’ve discussed what the image of God is and what it means to have the image of God. In this brief post, I’ll be asking this question, “Who has the image of God?”

The short answer to this question is every single human being on the planet. All humans are created in the image of God.

It makes no difference whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. Gay or straight. Male or female. Gender binary or gender queer. A US citizen or an illegal immigrant. Young or old.

All human beings bear the image of God. All human beings have been created in the image of God.

But I want to close with this thought. There is one person who breaks this mold. There is one person who wasn’t created in the image of God. Who is that person? His name is Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t created in the image of God because he IS the image of God.

The apostle Paul writes these words in Colossians.

Colossians 1:15
15 He [i.e., Jesus] IS the image of the invisible God (emphasis added).

Jesus doesn’t merely bear the image of God. He IS the image of God. And he came into this world to rescue us from ourselves. He came to rescue us from our sin and from our alienation from God.

Our sin had separated us from God, and he made “peace [with God] by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

And now, those who have trusted in Christ are being transformed day-by-day into the image of the Son “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So, remember this. We’re all created in the image of God, and we’re being daily transformed into greater and greater likeness to the Son of God.

If you haven’t done so already, find a Bible-believing and Bible-preaching church and join that church. Hitch your wagon to the other members of that church so you can join them in this wonderful journey of being transformed together more and more into the image of God.

Image of God (Part 2)

As we’ve previously argued, every human being bears the image of God. But what does that mean? What is the function of the image of God in the everyday lives of men and women? Let me suggest two:—dominion and dignity.

Dominion is easiest to see from Genesis 1 since the word is explicitly stated in the text.

Genesis 1:26b

26b And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth (emphasis added).

To have dominion means to rule over something or to exercise authority over something. Notice how broad is the scope of mankind’s dominion.

Mankind has dominion over the creatures in the water, over the creatures in the air, and over the creature on the land. That pretty much covers every type of creature.

Unfortunately, some have taken their God-given dominion and used it in nefarious ways, but dominion doesn’t imply that we can be careless with God’s creation. After all, we do need to remember that this is God’s creation—not ours! We are merely stewards of God’s creation.

In being given dominion, we’re acting with authority as God’s stewards over his creation. So, for example. is it ok to go and kill an animal to provide food to eat? Yes, of course, it is. One may choose to eat vegan, but that’s not a requirement of bearing the image of God.

On the other hand, is it ok to hunt a species to the point of extinction? No, in doing so, we wouldn’t be exercising a proper dominion over God’s creation.

Or consider this scenario. What if we have to make a choice between killing an animal or killing a human being? What if we’re facing a moral dilemma?

Some of you may remember the incident with Harambe—a western lowland gorilla in the Cincinnati zoo—that happened a couple of years ago.

A three-year-old boy had somehow gotten into the gorilla enclosure, and Harambe, the gorilla, grabbed the boy and started dragging him around the enclosure. The zookeeper had to make a quick and devastating decision. He chose to shoot and kill the gorilla so that the boy could be saved.

It was all a very tragic event, and we won’t even get into the discussion about whether animal enclosures like zoos are good or about the boy’s parents and their complicity in allowing the boy to get that close to the enclosure.

It was a sad thing to have to shoot the gorilla, but it was the right call. The boy, not the gorilla, is created in the image of God. That means that the boy has more worth than the gorilla.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to hunt gorillas for sport and put their heads on your mantles, but human beings have more inherent worth than other parts of God’s creation. Human beings are created in the image of God.

It always strikes me as strange when some “well-meaning” person has conflicting bumper stickers on their car—one championing the need to save the spotted owl, and the other championing a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

Without a doubt, we ought to exercise a stewardship over God’s creation to save as many animals that are nearing extinction as we can, but the baby inside the woman’s belly is just that—a human baby—a human person. And as such, that baby has worth and dignity.

A couple of years ago, the singer Beyoncé posted on social media that she was having twins and that she had “three hearts inside her.” Her post instantly became one of the most “liked” posts in history. Millions of people “liked” her post.

Yet, many of those same millions—including Beyoncé herself—advocate for a woman’s right to kill the baby in the womb. We can’t have it both ways.

We can’t celebrate the baby simply because it’s wanted. What’s in the womb is either a human being with human personhood or it’s not. We can’t have it both ways.

Biblical and modern scientific evidence conclusively shows us that what is inside the womb is a human being. And because it’s a human being, it has worth, which brings us to the second “D” word—dignity.

Because we are created in the image of God, mankind alone has a dignity that no other creature has. Furthermore, EVERY human being has that dignity—from conception to natural death.

The United States of America has some of the most liberal and inhumane laws regulating abortion in the world. We share the company of nations like North Korea, Vietnam, and China. The least safe place to be for many babies in the US is in the womb.

Lawmakers in New York recently celebrated the passing of a law that allows for abortion up until the moment of birth. The embroiled governor of Virginia even made public comments that sounded like infanticide!

Only a few states place bans on “sex-selection” abortions (i.e., choosing to have an abortion because the parents don’t like the biological gender of the baby). This is draconian! But, apparently, to those who want completely unfettered access to abortion, it’s too much to ask for a ban on sex-selection abortions. According to one organization that is openly pro-abortion, they say,

“Bans on sex-selective abortions place a burden on [abortion] providers.”

How petty is that argument? What about the burden on that little baby boy and that little baby girl? He or she has been created with dignity and worth, and their dignity and worth trumps the burden on the provider.

Human beings have dignity and worth. Human beings have dominion. That’s the function of being created in the image of God.

Image of God (Part 1)

The Bible declares the worth and dignity of every human being by declaring that humans have been created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27). We see in this that human beings are categorically different than any other part of God’s good creation, and we can see this difference in at least two significant ways in Genesis, chapter 1.

First, for every other created thing, it starts like this. “And God said, ‘Let there be . . .’ ” We can see that in verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 20, 24, of Genesis, chapter 1. But when it comes the creation of human beings, God doesn’t say, “Let there be,” rather he says, “Let us make.”

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s actually quite important. Do we hear the personal nature of “let us make” as opposed to “let there be”? With the rest of creation, God simply spoke it into being—he spoke it into existence. With human beings, however, he crafted them. He made them. He fashioned them.

If we were to fast forward to Genesis, chapter 2, we’d see that God formed mankind from the dust of the earth, and God actually breathed the breath of life into his nostrils (2:7). This is categorically different than anything God did with the rest of his creation.

A second difference between human beings and the rest of creation is found here. All of the other living creatures in Genesis 1 were made “according to their kinds.” We see that twice in verse 21, twice again in verse 24, and three times in verse 25—“according to their kinds.”

With the creation of human beings, however, it wasn’t “according to their kinds.” Rather, when God created human beings, it was “in our image.”

So, if we were study a dog, we would learn something about “dog-ness”—or what it means to be a dog. And if we were study an elephant, we learn something about “elephant-ness”—or what it means to be an elephant. And if we were study an ant, we learn something about “ant-ness”—or what it means to be an ant.

But when we study human beings, not only do we learn something about what it means to be a human—or “human-ness”—but we also learn something remarkable about what God is like—because we’ve been created in his image, after his likeness.

N.B. We shouldn’t don’t read too much into that remark. We don’t believe that one day, we’ll be gods. “Godhood” isn’t in our future.

But, we’ve been created in God’s image, and that is packed full of meaning for us.

That word—“image”—it appears three times in Genesis 1:26–27.

  • “Let us make man in our image”
  • “So God created man in his own image”
  • “In the image of God he created him.”

And then, for good measure, one time at the beginning of verse 26, God also says, “after our likeness.”

So, what does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of God? Theologians have wrestled with that question for centuries. One might think that the answer is simple, but it’s not.

First, let’s make it clear what the image of God (or imago Dei) doesn’t mean. Whenever we hear the word image, we quite naturally think of a picture or a likeness. We think of physical qualities.

On my desk in my office, I have a picture of my wife and a picture of my children. One could say that those pictures are images of my family, and there wouldn’t be anything wrong with saying it that way.

But when we talk about the image of God, we’re not talking about a picture or a likeness. When we look in a mirror, our physical appearance isn’t the image of God. That’s not what it means to be created in the image of God. The Bible teaches us that God himself doesn’t have a body like we do. God is spirit (John 4:24). So, our physical bodies aren’t the image of God.

What, then, does the image of God mean? The image of God in us relates to various capacities that we have. Here are four of those capacities.

First, we’ve been created with a moral capacity. Our moral capacity is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. We are ultimately accountable to God for our moral choices.

No one, for example, chastises a lion when that lion attacks and kills another lion who was encroaching on his territory. No one says that the lion has committed an “immoral” act. That would be nonsense. Lions weren’t created to act morally or immorally. Lions do what lions do. It’s neither moral or immoral.

But suppose a businessman started canvasing the neighborhood where his competitor lived. If the competitor decided to shoot him because he was “hunting in ‘my territory’,” we would all consider that an immoral act. The competitor would go to jail, and rightly so. Human beings are moral creatures who’ve been created in the image of a moral lawgiver.

We even acknowledge that there is such a thing as a moral lawgiver. And when we live according to God’s moral standards, our likeness to God is reflected by our actions.

Second, we’ve been created with a spiritual capacity. Our spiritual capacity is part of what it means to be created in the image of God. No other part of God’s creation has a spiritual capacity.

The lion doesn’t stop and offer thanks to God before he eats the antelope! But we’ve been created to know that there’s something more to our existence. Romans 1 tells us that God has made it plain to everyone that he exists.

Romans 1:19
19 
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

Why we are here? Why is there something rather than nothing? If we were to believe in Darwinian evolution, we’d have to come to the conclusion that we’re all just a cosmic accident. If we believe in Darwinian evolution, human beings have no more dignity than houseflies.

But, because we’ve been created in God’s image, we have a spiritual capacity. Isaiah 43:7 tells us why we are here. We are here because God created us for his glory. We bring him glory by worshipping him.

Third, we’ve been created with a mental or rational capacity. Our mental or rational capacity is part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

The word of God commands us to love God with all our hearts, all our strength, all our souls, AND all our minds (Matthew 22:36–40)!

No other part of creation can do this. Dogs and cats did not get up this morning thinking grandiose thoughts of God. They get up in the morning and all they want was fresh water, fresh food, and some attention! That’s all that they want.

Human beings, however, have been created with the capacity to think rational thoughts.

Fourth, we’ve been created with a relational capacity, and our relational capacity is part of what it means to be created in the image of God.

Notice what the text says in verse 26. It says, God—singular—said, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness”—plural pronouns.

What are we to make of this? Are we to assume that Moses—who wrote the book of Genesis—didn’t know his grammar rules? That’s NOT what’s happening. This grammar is quite intentional.

This is an early hint about who God is. This is an early hint about the doctrine of the Trinity—one God, singular, in three persons, plural.

How does the Trinity relate to relationships? Since God is Trinity and the Trinity is eternal, that means that God has always been in relationship with himself.

There’s never been a time when God the Father wasn’t in a relationship with God the Son. And there’s never been a time when God the Son wasn’t in relationship with God the Holy Spirit. God is and always has been in a relationship with himself.

And so, since we’re created in his image, it’s reasonable to suggest that he’s given us this relational capacity as well.

The very first thing that isn’t good in all of creation is that man was alone. It’s not good for man to be alone. So, God created woman to come alongside man. God created woman to help complete the man.

We’ve been created for relationship. We’re not meant to be hermits. Some people have hermit tendencies, but it’s not good to be alone.

We’ve also been created to be in relationship with God. In Genesis 3, it’s God who comes looking for Adam and Eve in the garden. God wants a relationship with his creatures.

One final thought about these various imago Dei capacities. The image of God is lasting and enduring for all time to all people. Even after sin comes into the world and corrupts the world, human beings are still referred to as God’s image bearers. Sin doesn’t nullify the image of God.

Nor does a diminished capacity nullify the image of God in a person. Suppose, for example, someone’s suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t remember her own name, much less her husband and children. One could rightfully argue that her relational capacity has been severally affected.

But is that woman still someone who’s been created in the image of God? Does she still possess the image of God? Answer. YES, she does. She is still a woman created in the image of God and she still has dignity and worth.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 5)

In Romans 15:32, Paul writes,

Romans 15:32
32 
so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

Notice how Paul ties in the prayers of his brothers and sisters with the will of God—“so that by God’s will I may come.”

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day” (Boice, Romans, 1897).

To say prayer is necessary isn’t to say that God “changes his mind” because of our prayers. Nor does the necessity of prayer simply mean that God changes us through our prayers. It encompasses both of those thoughts.

Here’s how that works. God not only appoints the end results that he desires, but he also appoints the means toward those ends.

John Calvin, in his commentary on Romans, wrote this. “The phrase through the will of God reminds us of the necessity of devoting ourselves to prayer, since God alone directs all our paths by his providence” (Calvin, Romans).

Tim Keller writes,

Edmund P. Clowney wrote, “The Bible does not present an art of prayer; it presents a God of prayer.” We should not decide how to pray based on the experiences and feelings we want. Instead, we should do everything possible to behold our God as he is, and prayer will follow. The more clearly we grasp who God is, the more our prayer is shaped and determined accordingly.
Keller, Prayer, 62

Take some time right now to pray for you and your church to be a shining light for the gospel.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 4)

Prayer is effectual. That means prayer works. In James 5, we read these words.

James 5:16
16b 
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

In Romans 15:31–32, Paul wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray . . .

Romans 15:31–32
31 
that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.

We know from earlier in the chapter that Paul is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the financial love offering that he’d been collecting for the saints in Jerusalem. Keep this in mind as hear his prayer requests.

He has two prayer requests. First, he asks for prayer that he will be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea. He understands that there are people who would love nothing more than to see Paul dead.

Paul’s not afraid of death. He’s quite ready to die. So, why does he pray to be delivered from these individuals? He requests prayer because he’s planning on going to Spain to preach the gospel there. As Paul is writing this letter, the gospel hasn’t made its way to Spain yet, and Paul’s eager to preach the gospel where it hasn’t yet been proclaimed.

It’s a kingdom-oriented prayer. He wants to see the gospel advance.

Second, he asks for prayer that his service for Jerusalem will be acceptable to the saints there. He’s talking about the love offering that he’s carrying to them.

Now, we might wonder, “Why wouldn’t they be happy to receive financial help? Why is he asking for prayer for this?” After all, wouldn’t we be happy to receive an unexpected financial blessing?

But we do well to remember how passionate the Jerusalem believers were about the importance of keeping the Jewish law. Many of them were fanatically opposed to Paul even preaching to the Gentiles, and the offering that Paul was carrying to them had been collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia. There was a very real possibility that they would reject this help.

So, Paul asks for prayer.

And here’s what we know. Both prayers were answered! Prayer is effective.

Paul was delivered from his enemies (Acts 21:27ff). And the offering evidently helped heal Gentile-Jewish relations (Acts 21:17–20).

Prayer is effective.

As you consider the effectiveness of prayer, take some time to pray for your pastor as he prepares to preach the word to you this week.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (part 3)

Let’s look again at Romans 15:30.

Romans 15:30
30 
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.

In these words, we’re reminded that prayer is hard work. Paul tells us to “strive together with” him in our prayers. That’s another interesting Greek word that’s translated as “strive together.” The word means to strain along with others—straining as if engaged in a fight.

Prayer is hard work. Ask anyone who’s made a New Year’s resolution to pray more regularly. If you made that New Year’s resolution this year, how’s that going? It’s only February, but that resolution may seem like a distant memory.

We’re distracted from prayer so easily. Could it be that we’re so easily distracted because prayer is hard work? We don’t expect it to be hard work. We expect it to be easy, but it isn’t. Prayer is hard work, and it’s spiritual work. We’re fighting a spiritual battle when we pray.

In another letter, Paul writes this,

Ephesians 6:10–12
10 
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When we fall to our knees in prayer, we’re entering into spiritual warfare.

In 1942, C. S. Lewis wrote a classic book called The Screwtape Letters. As the title suggests, the book is composed of a series of fictional letters from a demon named Screwtape written to a young demon nephew named Wormwood. Hence, The Screwtape Letters.

In the book, Wormwood’s been assigned a Christian “patient,” and Wormwood’s job is to keep his Christian patient from growing closer to the “Enemy.” The “Enemy,” of course, in the minds of these two demons, is Jesus.

In the fourth letter, Screwtape advises his nephew about Christian prayer. Here’s a portion of that letter. Screwtape writes,

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently reconverted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 15

In other words, Screwtape is suggesting that Wormwood should keep the patient from praying anything sincere and meaningful. Just have him pray repetitious, childhood prayers.

Screwtape continues,

If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him toward themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.
Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 16–17

Friends, prayer is hard work. It’s not about our feelings. When we pray, we’re entering into a spiritual battlefield.

As you pray today, if you’re a church member in some church, consider praying for 2 church members.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayer (Part 2)

We read these words in Romans 15:30.

Romans 15:30

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.

We see in these words that prayer is vital. Paul begins this passage by “appealing” to his brothers and sisters in the Lord. I love the Greek word that Paul uses here. The word is used over 100 times in the New Testament. It means to appeal or to urge or to beg. I can’t help but think about The Temptations and their hit song (Ain’t Too Proud to Beg) whenever I come across this word.

Paul was willing to beg his brothers and sisters in Christ to join with him in prayer. And why was he willing to do that? Because he knew that prayer is vital.

A wise man once said, “There’s much that can be done after you pray, but nothing can be accomplished before you pray.” Paul understood how vital prayer is for the Christian.

And we also need to notice the trinitarian nature of Paul’s appeal. Not only is he appealing to his brothers and sisters, but he’s appealing through the Trinity.

Romans 15:30
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf (emphasis added).

When we enter into prayer, it’s no small thing. When we pray, it’s not something to be taken lightly. When we pray, we are speaking to the Creator of the universe.

If we were told today that we were going to have the opportunity to spend an hour with our favorite celebrity tomorrow, we’d probably lose sleep tonight thinking about what we’d want to talk about. What questions might we ask?

Well, to state the matter rather bluntly, no celebrity compares with God! And when we pray, we are speaking with him. We’re not speaking with his publicist or his agent; we’re speaking with him.

Prayer is vital. Spend some time right now praying for 3 people you know who are not yet Christians. If you don’t personally know any non-Christians, pray for an opportunity to get to know some non-Christians.

Kingdom-Oriented Prayers

At the beginning of each year, I set aside a Sunday morning sermon on the topic of prayer. I do so not because the average church member would argue against the importance of prayer. Nearly every Christian would verbally agree that prayer is important.

But even while nearly every Christian would verbally agree that prayer is important, I wonder how many of our lives actually reflect the importance of prayer. That is, how many of us actually set aside time to pray?

And for those who do set aside time to pray, what is the content of those prayers? Are our prayers more concerned with keeping Christians out of heaven or are they more concerned with keeping non-Christians out of hell? In other words, do we pray more for our Christian brothers and sisters to get feeling better—for them to be healed? Or do we spend more time praying for the lost to hear the gospel and be saved?

I’m not at all suggesting that it’s wrong to pray for the healing of a brother or sister in Christ. I model this type of prayer every Sunday morning during my pastoral prayer. But if our prayers are nothing more than an “organ recital”—that is, praying for Aunt Sally’s stomach and Brother Bob’s kidneys, etc.—and we have no concern for the lost, then I can assure you that we’ve missed the mark.

Timothy Keller, who’s a retired pastor from New York City, wrote this in his book on prayer.

“It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. It is certain that they lived in the midst of many dangers and hardships. They faced persecution, death from disease, oppression by powerful forces, and separation from loved ones. Their existence was far less secure that ours is today. Yet in those prayers you see not one petition for a better emperor, for protection from marauding armies, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul does not pray for the goods we would usually have near the top of our lists of requests.”
Timothy Keller, Prayer, 20

Keller goes on to properly argue that it’s not wrong for us to pray for such things. Even Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, but in Paul’s prayers, we learn what we need more than we need anything else—we learn that we need to know God better. We need to focus on kingdom-oriented prayers—prayers that bring us closer to Jesus. We need to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph 1:18).

I set aside a Sunday at the beginning of the year to preach on the practice of prayer because prayer is like oxygen to the soul of a believer.

Let me again quote from Keller. He writes,

“To discover the real you, look at what you spend time thinking about when no one is looking, when nothing is forcing you to think about anything in particular. At such moments, do your thoughts go toward God? You may want to be seen as a humble, unassuming person, but do you take the initiative to confess your sins before God? You wish to be perceived as a positive, cheerful person, but do you habitually than God for everything you have and praise him for who he is? You may speak a great deal about what a “blessing” your faith is and you “just really love the Lord,” but if you are prayerless—is that really true? If you aren’t joyful, humble, and faithful in private before God, then what you want to appear to be on the outside won’t match what you truly are.”
Keller, Prayer, 22–23

For the next several blog posts, I will be writing about the importance of kingdom-oriented prayer.