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Incomprehensible, Great, and Glorious God,
I adore thee and abase myself.
I approach thee mindful that I am
less than nothing,
a creature worse than nothing.
My thoughts are not screened from thy gaze.
My secret sins blaze in the light of thy countenance.
Enable me to remember that blood which cleanseth
to believe in that grace which subdues
to resign myself to that agency which can
deliver me from the bondage of corruption
into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.
Thou hast begun a good work in me
and canst alone continue and complete it.
Give me an increasing conviction of my tendency
and of my exposure to sin.
Help me to feel more of the purifying, softening
influence of religion,
its compassion, love, pity, courtesy,
and employ me as thy instrument
in blessing others.
Give me to distinguish
between the mere form of godliness and its power,
between life and a name to live,
between guile and truth,
between hypocrisy and a religion that will bear
If I am not right, set me right, keep me right;
And may I at last come to thy house in peace.
~ The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, 95).
February 17, 2015
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). He also said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28).
So whether someone “persecutes” or “abuses” or “hates” or “curses” us, we are to pray for them. They may be family members whose “abuses” are small and annoying — “loved ones” we don’t think of as “enemies,” but sometimes act like they are. Or they may be mortal enemies who really do plan to kill us. Small or great, we are to pray for them.
What this command does is make God a necessary part of enemy love. Prayer is to God. Therefore, God is involved in loving our enemy. We are to turn to God when our enemy abuses us. We are to talk to God about this. We are to ask him to do something about this.
What to Pray for Those Who Hate You
What are you praying for your enemies — the people who treat you badly?
Here is a good place to start — the way you pray for yourself. Would it not be strange if a prayer for our enemy should ask for less important things than we are told to ask for ourselves? Do unto others what you want others to do to you (Matthew 7:12). No. More than that. Do unto others what you should want them to do for you. And pray for others the way you should want them to pray for you.
I wish the word “should” were not necessary as an expansion of the Golden Rule. But many professing Christians are so worldly that they only pray for natural things rather than spiritual things. That is, they pray for food and health and safety and success and happy relationships. But they don’t pray for more faith, or holiness, or contrition, or purity of heart, or love for Christ, or courage in witness. So it won’t do to say to them, Pray for others the way you want others to pray for you. They show by their own prayers that the things they really need they don’t pray for.
That is not how we should pray for our enemies.
The Lord’s Prayer — Even for Your Enemies
The place to start in praying for our enemies is the prayer that the Lord taught us to pray. Whatever else you pray for your enemies, pray for them like this:
- Father, grant that my enemy — my colleague who snubs me, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come to hallow your name. Grant that they would treasure you above all, and reverence you, and admire you more than anything.
- Father, grant that my enemy would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemy your own loyal subject.
“Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need, but it is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of the need. In this, as in everything, God’s thoughts are not as ours. God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honored by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.”
“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.”
~ Jesus in Matthew 6:6 (NIV)
by David Mathis
Prayer is at the very heart of the Christian life. Not only is it obedience to God’s command, but it is a vital means of our receiving his ongoing grace for our spiritual survival and thriving. And the joy of prayer — communing with God — is essential to what it means to be Christian. Without prayer, there is no true relationship with him, and no deep delight in who he is, but only glimpses from afar.
As Jesus teaches, private prayer (or “closet prayer”) has an important role to play in the life of the believer. We develop our various patterns and practices for secret prayer in the rhythms of our unique lives. We find our place and time to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). Amen to private prayer. It is crucial. But there is more.
Pray with Constancy
Prayer begins in secret, but God doesn’t mean for it to stay in the closet. Prayer is for all of life, and especially for our life together in community. When we follow the lead of the Scriptures, we not only practice prayer in private, but take its spirit of dependence and trust into the rest of the day, and into times of prayer together with fellow believers.
Likely you know the verses that lead us to whisper prayers long after we’ve left the closet. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), “be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2), “pray at all times” (Ephesians 6:18). Jesus said that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). These texts charge us not to stay all day in the closet, but to carry a posture of prayer in the soul as we give ourselves fully to our daily tasks and engagements — and that in a moment, we be ready to go consciously Godward in the car, waiting in line, before a meal, in the midst of a difficult conversation, and in anything else.
“Everywhere God is, prayer is,” Tim Keller writes. “Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives” (Prayer, 28).
Pray with Company
And the highpoint of prayer all-pervasive, outside the closet door, is praying together with other Christians.
Arranging for accompaniment in prayer takes more energy and effort than a whispered prayer while on the move. It takes planning and initiative and the syncing of schedules in a way that private prayer does not. But it is worth every ounce.
And so we have at least two fronts to a healthy life of prayer. We pray personally, in the secret and on the move, and we pray corporately, resisting the privatizing of our prayers, not just by asking others to pray for us, but especially by having others pray with others.
Christ and His Company
If any human life would have been fine without regular company in prayer, it would have been Jesus’s. But again and again we catch glimpses of a life of prayer that was not only personal but corporate. “He took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28), and he responded gladly to their inquiry, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), with a communal prayer to “our Father,” marked by the repeated use of “we,” “us,” and “our.”
The classic text on Jesus’s letting others invade his prayer space is Luke 9:18: “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him.” Rarely did he part company with his men (and only then to pray, Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16), and doubtless one of their most regular pursuits together was prayer. Keeping such company in prayer must have played a part in “the boldness of Peter and John [who were] uneducated, common men,” but it was recognized “that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Jesus’s communal prayer with his men then led to communal prayer in the early church they led. It is explicit at nearly every turn in the Books of Acts.
- “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14; also Acts 2:42).
- “They lifted their voices together to God” (Acts 4:24), and the filling of the Holy Spirit fell after they prayed together (Acts 4:31).
- The church chose the Seven, and “they prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6).
- While Peter was in prison, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5), and when he escaped miraculously, he found “many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).
- It was “after fasting and praying” that the church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas out on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:3), and “when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23).
- Even in jail, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).
- And in an emotional goodbye to the Ephesian elders, Paul “knelt down and prayed with them all” (Acts 20:36; also Acts 21:5).
Five Counsels for Praying with Company
And our need for God’s help today is no less, and prayer together remains a vital means of God’s ongoing grace in the Christian life and for our communities.
That the early church prayed together is plain; the details of how they went about it are not. Which is fitting. There is no one pattern for corporate prayer, whether it’s in twos or tens, hundreds or thousands. The practices of praying together vary from family to family, church to church, and community to community based on context, leadership, and shared history. Wise leaders are observant about what habits and practices are already at work in the group, which ones are helpful and could be encouraged, and which ones might prove unhelpful in the long haul and could be replaced.
Here are five lessons learned in leading small-group prayer in recent years. Maybe one or two would be good for a family, community group, or church you lead or are a part of.
1. Make it regular.
Make regular prayer with company a part of your weekly or biweekly routine. Instead of just hit-or-miss, have some planned time and place to gather with fellow believers to pray. As for how many weeks or months you commit, make some finite pledge together, rather than a world-without-end-amen kind of plan. When the specified time is up, renew or reconsider. Regular prayer commitments without an end date tend to fizzle over time, and then prove discouraging for future engagements.
2. Start with Scripture.
Christian prayer at its truest comes in response to God’s self-revelation to us. It is, as George Herbert wrote, “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.” And so it is fitting to begin sessions of corporate prayer with some anchor in God’s own speaking to us by reading a passage or referencing some place in Scripture as a kind of “call to prayer.” We inhale the Scriptures, and exhale in prayer.
3. Limit share time.
It can be easy to let the sharing of requests cannibalize the actual praying together. Keep your introductions short, read a passage, and go right into prayer. Encourage people to share their requests by praying them with the information needed to let others in on what they’re praying.
~ Oswald Chambers
“Resign every forbidden joy; restrain every wish that is not referred to God’s will; banish all eager desires, all anxiety; desire only the will of God; seek him alone and supremely, and you will find peace.”
by Drew Hunter:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). This first line of the Lord’s Prayer is one of the most familiar in the Bible. It is one of the most commonly prayed prayers in history. Yet among believers it is often underappreciated and misunderstood.
After years of familiarity with this prayer I realized that I wasn’t quite sure what I was saying. I began to wonder if I was doing what Jesus had just warned about: heaping up “empty phrases” in prayer (v. 7). What are we actually praying here? What does Jesus hold so highly as to instruct us to make it our first prayer?
Clarifying Our Understanding
Clarity came in three steps. The first step is answering this question: Is this a statement of praise, or is it a request? For years I thought it was a statement of adoration and praise. I thought “hallowed be your name” was equivalent to “you are holy and worthy.” But notice: it’s not, “hallowed is your name,” but “hallowed be your name.” This is a request. It’s asking God to do something. The Lord’s Prayer is a series of petitions, and this is the first one. Jesus is telling us to pray, “May your name be hallowed.”
But what exactly are we asking God to do? Step two is considering what “hallowed” means. It is to honor something as holy (literally, to sanctify). It is to set something apart and acknowledge its uniqueness. When we hallow something, we honor it as uncommon, special, and superior.
Last step: What are we requesting be honored? God’s name. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s “name” is another way of referring to himself. God’s name represents who he is.
“We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:5–6)
Every Christian wants a deeper life of prayer in this new year. Who, after the close of one year, looks back over the time in his closet and thinks, “Yeah, I’d better cut back on all the praying this next twelve months”? We all want to grow, to enjoy richer fellowship with God — the question, though, comes down to how we think it will happen. Might it mean that we pray more consistently? Absolutely. Might it mean that we intercede more for others? Most likely. Might it mean that our petitions are more passionate? Maybe, depending on what we mean by passionate praying.
Passion Far and Wide
For some, passionate praying sounds like making more audacious requests. If we are really praying passionately, we are asking God to move mountains, to swing open closed doors, to bring something out of nothing. In one sense, this makes sense. Passion, boldness, and faith converge to petition God for the things that he alone can do. We are honoring the Giver by praying this way, right? We look out over our cities, over the continents of this world, and we should ask God to do mighty works. We find an unengaged, unreached people group and we pray, “Save them!” We learn about the Planned Parenthood centers in our communities and we beg God to shut them down. We think of an unprecedented high number and ask God for that many baptisms in our church the next six months.
Passion, in this sense, means we step back, look forward, and pray big. Most of us could use a little more of this God-sized dreaming in our prayers — but only if it’s not at the expense of another kind of passion.
Deeper still than praying with passion far and wide, is a passion of singular intensity. It’s a passion that starts in the beautiful posture of a heart not lifted up, eyes not raised too high, minds not occupied with things too great and marvelous for us (Psalm 131:1). It’s a passion that knows God can do whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6), that longs for his promised kingdom of unceasing peace and praise (Psalm 135:19–21), and that prays, face to the floor in earnestness, “God, don’t let me forget you.”
Passion Fierce and Simple
This is the passionate praying that, moved mountains aside, audacity put on hold, simply wants to remember God. The passion is seen not so much in the request itself, but to the degree that the one praying desires it. If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill, the psalmist petitions God (Psalm 137:5–6), and teaches us! “Jerusalem” stands for more than any old city. The vision here is the reign of God. To remember Jerusalem is to remember the promises of God and his coming rule. Said positively, the psalmist wants to know God and have him take the lead in his life. But he wants it so badly. Consider the rawness of his asking. The psalmist is talking about losing the use of his dominant hand, and therefore his livelihood. He is talking about his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, and therefore starving. How in the world can he really pray this way? This seriously?
The psalmist prays this way because he cannot imagine a worse reality than what he is praying against. The worst place for the psalmist is being anywhere without God. Scariest to him is to forget God, to lose faith. And we understand what he’s getting at.