8. The Gospel: Inspiration For Prayer
Each doctrine which makes up the Gospel elicits something practical in us. And prayerfulness is something demanded of the Truth we believe. Consider how the following doctrines inspire true prayer:
1. God exists and we can have a personal relationship with a God we know.
Practicing The Presence Of God
Believing in God's very existence of itself affects a man's behaviour. " The living God" is a phrase often used by men in prayer or desperate straits. God is, He is the living One, and He therefore is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
2. God created all things
With the Babylonian army besieging Jerusalem and every reason to be depressed, Jeremiah exalts in the creation record and has this as the basis for his faith that Yahweh's power is far from limited (Jer. 32:17). God's reply to this prayer is to repeat that yes, " I am the God of all flesh, is anything too hard for me?" ; His creative power is to be seen as the basis for Israel's Hope (Jer. 32:36-44). Likewise He taught Job the futility of having such metaphysical doubts about Him, of the joy there is all around us in creation regardless of our personal suffering…through an exposition of His power as creator. All this is why the disciples were inspired to faith that their prayers for deliverance would be answered by the recollection of the fact that God has created all things and therefore nothing is too hard for Him (Acts 4:24 RV). Ps. 146:5-9 outlines God's creative power at the start of things, and on this basis the Psalmist appeals to Israel to be considerate to the poor and those on the margins in society. Why? Because we here on this planet were and are the marginal compared to the God who lives so far away, physically and in all other ways. And yet He created us, and sustains us His creation. The wonder of this should lead us to seek out those whom we would otherwise overlook. God the creator has empowered the marginal by giving and sustaining our lives, and so should we do. Just because the Father gives His sun and rain to all without discrimination, we likewise should love our enemies (Mt. 5:43-45). This is the imperative of creation.
3. God sees and knows all things
The fact God sees and knows all means that we might as well open our lives up before Him in prayer and meditation. Jeremiah " revealed my cause" before the Lord because he knew that God " triest the reins and the heart" (Jer. 11:20). This may be why men like Jeremiah were somewhat 'rough' with God; whatever they felt about God, they told Him. They so knew that God knew their thoughts....there was and is no point in saying fine words to God in prayer, whilst feeling harder about Him in ones heart. the Psalmists talk to God in a far 'rougher' way than we do. They pour out their feelings, their anger and frustration with their enemies, their inability to understand how God is working…and they let it all hang down. They seem to have no reserve with God; they talk to Him as if He is their friend and acquaintance. David pleads with God to 'avenge my cause' (Ps. 35:23), he protests how he is in the right and how he longs for God to judge him. And so do the prophets, in the interjections they sometimes make in commentary on the prophecy they have just uttered. The emotion which David often seems to have felt was " Damn these people!" , but he pours this out to God and asks Him to damn them. When we like David feel our enemies are unjust, we can:
1. Seek revenge. But this isn't a response we can make, Biblically.
2. Deny the feelings of hurt and anger. And yet, they surface somehow. And we join the ranks of the millions of hurt people in this world, who 'take it out' in some way on others.
3. Or we can do as David seems to have done. Take these feelings, absolutely as they are, with no rough edges smoothed off them…to God Himself. Pour them all out in prayer and leave Him to resolve the matter. In passing, this fits in with the conclusions of modern psychiatry- that we can't eliminate our feelings, so we must express them in an appropriate way.
This latter option is how I understand the imprecatory Psalms. Those outpourings of human emotion were read by God as prayers. The writer of Psalm 137, sitting angry and frustrated by a Babylonian riverside, with his harp hanging on a willow branch, being jeered (" tormented" Ps. 137:3 RVmg.) by the victorious Babylonian soldiers who had led him away captive…he felt so angry with them. Especially when they tried to make him sing one of the temple songs (" sing us one of the songs of Zion" ). And, as a bitter man does, his mind went from one hurt to another. He remembered how when Babylon had invaded, the Edomites hadn't helped their Hebrew brethren (Obadiah 11,12). They had egged on the Babylonian soldiers in ripping down the temple, saying " Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation" . And so in anger and bitterness this Jew prays with tears, as he remembered Zion, " O daughter of Babylon…happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock" (:8,9 RV). God read those angry words as a prayer, and in some sense they will have their fulfilment. For these words are picked up in Rev. 18:8,21 and applied to what will finally happen to Babylon. Her spiritual children will be dashed against the rock of Christ, the stone of Daniel 2:44, at His return. He will dash in pieces the Babylon-led people that oppose Him.
This makes these Psalms a challenge to us, in that they show how our earlier brethren poured out their souls, their anger, their doubts and fears, their joy and exuberance too…to the God who hears prayer, to the God who feels passionately for us, who feels for our feelings, who sees and knows all things in the human heart, even moreso through our Lord Jesus Christ. And we must ask whether our prayers are of this quality, or whether we have slipped into the mire of mediocrity, the same standard phrases, the same old words and themes… and even worse, could it be that we perceive that God only sees and hears the words we say to Him in formal prayer, and disregards our other feelings and thoughts? Seeing He sees and knows all things, let us therefore pour out all that is within us before Him. And we will find it wonderfully therapeutic when struggling against anger and hurt.
4. The Kingdom will come
The hope of the future Kingdom means that we will not now be materialistic. And the model prayer was given by Jesus in the context of His comment on how some tend to always be asking God for material things. The Lord teaches that the paramount thing we should request is the coming of the Kingdom, and our forgiveness so that we might partake in it. This is the request we should be making- for " Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of…after this manner therefore pray ye…" (Mt. 6:9,10). Later in Mt. 6 the Lord repeats the same words: " Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things…seek ye first his Kingdom" (Mt. 6:32-34 RV). The structure of the Lord's prayer reflects this- for the first and only request in it is a seeking for the coming of His Kingdom. The RV of Heb. 10:34,35 brings out well the same theme: " Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions, knowing that ye have your own selves for a better possession" (RVmg). Who we ourselves will be turned into is our better possession, " a better possession and an abiding one" (RV). And this compensates for the loss of material possessions in this life. Therefore the writer urges them to not cast away their confidence in the receipt of this reward at the Lord's return (:35). The more humbly confident we are in receiving the Kingdom, the less the loss of possessions now will mean to us. Hebrews also associates the hope of the Kingdom with the characteristic of patience in the small things of this life. Hence Job, when he lost his hope, could exclaim: " What is mine end, that I should be patient?" (Job 6:11 RV).
5. The Bible is inspired by God
So Read The Bible And Let It Guide Your Prayer Requests
The sort of things we ask for in prayer will be affected by this; and we will read God's word with real reverence and fervour, knowing that this really is God's voice speaking to us, and that this really is the source of God's Holy Spirit which can work in our characters to bring about that transformation we fain would see. The wonder of the Bible, as God's very own self-revelation, will remain with us. True response to belief in the inspiration of the word is that we will truly believe (Jn. 19:35), and we will see the secrets of our heart disclosed (1 Cor. 14:25). Likewise, if we grasp the reality of the cross, the thoughts of our hearts will be revealed (Lk. 2:35). The power of basics leads to real self knowledge and self examination. If His words abide in us, we will ask what we desire and receive it, because we ask according to the will of God revealed in Scripture- and will have made His will, our will. And thus we will enter a positive upwards spiral in our prayer life with the Father.
6. Jesus had our nature
Therefore in the daily round of life, He will be a living reality, like David we will behold the Lord Jesus before our face all the day. We will really believe that forgiveness is possible through the work of such a representative; and the reality of his example will mean the more to us, as a living inspiration to rise above our lower nature. Appreciating the doctrines of the atonement enables us to pray acceptably; " we have boldness and access with confidence by the Faith" - not just 'by faith', but as a result of the Faith (Eph. 3:12). Hebrews so often uses the word " therefore" ; because of the facts of the atonement, we can therefore come boldly before God's throne in prayer, with a true heart and clear conscience (Heb. 4:16). This " boldness" which the atonement has enabled will be reflected in our being 'bold' in our witness (2 Cor. 3:12; 7:4); our experience of imputed righteousness will lead us to have a confidence exuding through our whole being. This is surely why 'boldness' was such a characteristic and watchword of the early church (Acts 4:13,29,31; Eph. 3:12; Phil. 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:13; Heb. 10:19; 1 Jn. 4:17). Stephen truly believed that the Lord Jesus stood as his representative and his advocate before the throne of grace. Although condemned by an earthly court, he confidently makes his appeal before the court of Heaven (Acts 7:56). Doubtless he was further inspired by the basic truth that whoever confesses the Lord Jesus before men, He will confess him before the angels in the court of Heaven (Lk. 12:8).
The connection between the atonement and faith in prayer is also brought out in 2 Cor. 1:20 RSV: " For all the promises of God in him are yea. That is why we utter the Amen through him" . The promises of God were confirmed through the Lord's death, and the fact that He died as the seed of Abraham, having taken upon Him Abraham's plural seed in representation (Rom. 15:8,9). Because of this, " we utter the Amen through [on account of being in] Him" . We can heartily say 'Amen', so be it, to our prayers on account of our faith and understanding of His atoning work.
Paul exhorts that prayers be made " for all men" , just because " Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all" , and He thereby is the one and only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:1-6). Because of what He enabled for all, we should pray for all, that somehow circumstances might be allowed which enable all men's salvation in Jesus to indeed spread to all men.
In the light of ten chapters of detailed exposition of the meaning of the blood of Christ, therefore let us..., Paul triumphantly drives home (Heb. 10:19-25): Let us enter boldly " into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" . This is only possible through a deep knowledge of sin forgiven. Our prayer life should be a positive and upbuilding experience: " Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience" . Reflection on the atonement, believing it all, will result in a positive and unashamed faith.