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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Put in the Fire for the Sake of Prayer

I was going through a bunch of old notebooks yesterday with the intent of finding notes that I had remembered taking on a prayer sermon from John Piper, as well as notes from Jonathan Edward's Religious Affections. It has been on my heart to compose a post specifically on prayer, discipline, and trials and how they are related. Most of these are direct quotes as well as notes from his sermon. It is a wonderful sketch of the prayer life found in the Gospel of John. First, he begins with some foundations on prayer.

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. ~ John 14:13-14

Jesus connects praying with the glory of God with Himself as mediator. God is glorified in answering prayer; therefore, the aim of prayer is the glory of God. If we pray a me-prayer (my importance, my wants, my interests, my pursuits) and don't implicitly mean "Hallowed be Thy name" - that is not God-honoring prayer. The Lord protects this verse from selfish prayer.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. ~ John 15:7-8

That's the qualification. The words of Christ should live in us. We should be so immersed in His Gospels and the NT that our thinking is transformed and we are able to discern the will of God. The asking is about fruit - Lord make me more loving, patient, humble, and servant-hearted!
Verse 16 connects 7 and 8.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. ~ John 15:16
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. ~ John 16:23-24
Prayer is for our joy. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

The thing about prayer that I have been wrestling with is keeping the right mindset about it. In fall '09, upon acceptance into Ellerslie: School of Honor, I was challenged by Steve Gallagher to begin my days in prayer. He didn't give me a time set, but he stressed to me the need to give the first moments of my day to the Lord. Naturally, it was difficult at first. For months I struggled with focusing my morning's on Christ. It seemed like my prayers were so weak and dry and short. I wanted to grow in my prayers, but it seemed nearly impossible. Well, living around prayer-filled people for 11 weeks at Ellerslie certainly changed that. All of sudden, I found I was hungry. I wasn't dulled and bored by prayer anymore; I became inflamed with it through daily meditation on the Word and worship and fellowship. Yeshua became my dearest Beloved! Being around devoted brothers and sisters can humble you into such a place. Nevertheless, it's been an entirely different experience in the past several months for me. As this season in my life has made way for many trials and challenges, I have found this hunger in my soul to pray, but sometimes keeping it merely out of the discipline that I've obtained through the entire year and half of waking up early with one aim and motive. Oh sure, I can wake up at 7:30 (haha, it took months to break my 10:00 wake-up hour) and give an hour+ to Christ.....but, honestly, am I yearning for Him? Or, am I doing it out of self-discipline? I read this quote last month from Desiring God:

We don't need self-discipline to pray continuously; we just need to be poor in spirit. ~ Paul Miller

It convicted me that I do get up and pray some mornings out of a sense of duty. It's not that I wake up thirsty to drink from His fountain of Life, but rather that I know that if I don't pray, then my days aren't going to start off on the right foot. While the latter can be true, it's more than just beginning my day right. It's about this incredibly deep need that I have in me to know Yeshua, to draw all life, love, and strength from His sweet presence. It's about the fact that I'm incredibly self-seeking and I have these awful, fleshy inclinations in me that need to be purified! It's about the fact that there are hurting people around me that need to know Christ's particular love for them through my allowing Christ to serve and love them through me, rather than to push them off, correct or rebuke them whenever they say hurtful or un-Biblical things, or deal impatiently with them. It's about Him having complete lordship over my life so that He would be on display in all my actions, words, feelings, thoughts, etc. And it's about Him being the first Love of my heart and life!

Try saying that to me in the morning. haha!
I need to preach this reality to myself moment by moment or else I look away and become consumed with some frivolous self-interest.

So, is regular, disciplined, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying prayer a duty? John Piper powerfully states,

"It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold."
"Just as there are physical means of life, there are spiritual means of grace."

Amen, amen!!!

Now, perhaps one of the most beautiful and painful things about prayer is the way that the Lord often teaches it to us. John Piper explains that in Zechariah 13:8-9 we are told "one of the main ways that God awakens earnest prayer in his children, namely, in the refining fires of suffering. Don’t worry about when this passage is talking about. Just see, for now, how God works, and use this word to prepare yourself for God’s prayer school."

"Verse 8: “In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.” So the one third represents God’s remnant—his faithful, imperfect, weak people, who do not pray with the kind of discipline and desperation and joy, and hunger for God, that they should. So what is God’s remedy? What is his school of prayer? Verse 9: “And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” Notice carefully what is happening. In his great love, God saved the one third from being cut off with the two thirds who perished (v. 8). And then as part of his love for them, he puts them in the fire to be tested and refined. That is normal Christianity. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12)."

God rescues us from the flames of hell and puts us in the refining flames. He puts us in fire to awaken in us urgent prayer. We're not to teach Him how to teach. We submit to His school of prayer, not turn from it. This is His love.

In 1746, Jonathan Edwards wrote in his book, Religious Affections, "Trials are threefold benefit for true religion. It shows what is true religion. It distinguishes between what is true and false by testing. It not only manifests its truth but also enhances its genuine beauty and attractiveness. True virtue is loveliest when it is oppressed. It purifies and increases true religion. It frees it from false admixtures."
By the way, what he means by "religion" is true, Spirit-born, saving faith in Christ.
I cannot compare this season of trials to others or say it is harder than what others are currently going through. I can only submit, accept, and embrace the Father's loving purposes for this season. And Jonathan Edwards gives us good reason to embrace the hour of trial. We must remember this...

God's every motive in our life is love. He loves us too much to leave us how we are. ~ Eric Ludy

And to add to that, I would say that God is also working for our joy in Christ. I think this reveals to us that the opposite of joy is not suffering. It's despair in suffering. I want to be always patient in the hour of trial and testing.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage;wait for the LORD! ~ Psalm 27:14

Prayer is for the soul whose one cry is for Christ! Always and only ever Christ. May every trial, no matter how great or small, awaken in us a more intimate devotion to Christ, instruct us how to pray by His Spirit, and burn away all that is not of Him!

2 comments:

Nolan said...

Amen!

The verses and quotes that you shared truly point to prayer as something starting with the heart. Do we pray in His name or ask for ourselves? Truly convicting. The Piper quote in response to "prayer out of duty" really made me rethink my approach to my own "pray when I feel like it" idea. How far is that from a heart that prays in one's own name? What place does prayer have in our lives, and from what heart are we praying? It sheds light on what prayer is - something that we need, not just an activity. I must say that Romans 8:26 is a comforting verse, relating to the ways I might pray ineffectively. Thank you for the sharpening words of encouragement! I have also been reading the "Praying Through" Ellerslie notes this week.

Erika said...

Glad you were encouraged. :) You're right about Rom 8:26. Originally, I was going to include several verses from Romans 8 into this post since their are several that are very fitting. But I didn't. lol So, thank you for providing it! I hope you're gleaning much from 'Praying Through.' :)