Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Does it Mean to "Have Faith" in Prayer?

In Matthew 22:18-22 we’re told a story about Jesus and his disciples that teaches us something important about receiving answers to prayer, namely, that we must have faith to do so. 

Matthew writes, “In the morning, as he [Jesus] was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once. 

“When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’” 

At first glance, this story seems odd. It presents Jesus as one who is focused on his own hunger and upset when a common fig tree can’t feed it, so much so that he uses his extraordinary powers to kill the tree. The disciples, however, were more focused on Jesus power than his character and thus asked how the tree so quickly withered. 

I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t directly answer their question but rather took the opportunity to comment on their prayer lives. Specifically, he said that, if they would only have faith and not doubt, they would be able to do much greater things than this in prayer. This statement obviously puts faith in a very high place, but what exactly does it mean? Was Jesus saying that if we only believe enough we can literally get whatever we want—a car, a house, a good bill of health, success at work, or a pile of cash? 

To the contrary, I think Jesus was saying that we must have the kind of relationship with the Lord whereby we discern his will through his Word, and then stake our whole lives upon that in prayer. Indeed, Jesus himself only said what he heard the Father saying and only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19-20; 8:28). This implies that he did not impulsively rebuke that fig tree but rather did so as an act of obedience. 

Therefore, when Jesus says that we will be able to move mountains in prayer, as long as we have faith and do not doubt, he means that by virtue of our union with him we will be able to discern the Father’s will, praying according to the Father’s will, and receive answers according to the Father’s will. To have faith in prayer, then, is to confidently believe what God has said and pray according to it without doubt.

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand the relational nature of prayer and the extent and power of his words. Pray that he will teach us to pray with the strong belief that he will do whatever he has said he will do.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ask and it Will be Given to You

Over the last several weeks we’ve been meditating on the question, why must we ask of Jesus in prayer? I have suggested eight answers to this question which you can find on an earlier post on my blog. For now, I’d like to turn our attention to the promises Jesus makes to those who will in fact ask of him by faith. We begin this six-week journey with the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-11. 

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” 

The promise Jesus makes in these verses is extreme. The one through whom all things were created, the one who sustains all things by the word of his power, has said that if we ask of him, seek him, and knock on his door, if you will, he will respond to us, he will be found by us, and he will answer us. 

To help us process his hard-to-believe statement, Jesus uses the metaphor of a parent and child. He’s right in what he’s saying—what parent worth their weight in feathers would give a stone for bread or a serpent for fish? Only the most hard-hearted or mentally unstable among us would even think of doing such a thing, and therefore, how much more is God our Father disposed to give good things to those who ask of him, who seek him, who knock upon his door? 

The logic is as hard to escape as the promise is to believe but as we meditate upon it we see that it implies something that precedes answered prayer. The proper context of Jesus’ stunning promise is a Father-child relationship in which there is genuine love and warmth, regular contact and communication, clear leadership from the Father and humble submission from the child. The context is one in which the child who asks, seeks, and knocks wants the Father himself more than anything so that his help and blessings are but icing on the cake of knowing him. 

Understanding the relational nature of prayer and its answers is of utmost importance but as we grow in this understanding we must also grow in the refusal to minimize the extent of Jesus’ promises. Jesus meant exactly what he said and we would do well to receive and live by his words. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us understand the relational nature of prayer and the extent and power of his promises. Pray that he will teach us ask, seek, and knock at all times and in all things.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part III

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “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” (emphasis mine). Over the last two weeks we have seen that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, five of which I have shared over the last two weeks. Specifically, I have said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him, (4) because it teaches us to think, feel, and ask like Jesus, and (5) because it teaches us how to counsel and bless one another. This week I add three more reasons. 

Sixth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it is God’s means of glorifying himself by proving that we are in Christ. As Jesus said in John 14:12-14, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 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” (emphasis mine). Indeed, the process and outcomes of a praying life are proof-positive that the gospel has worked; that light has overcome darkness; that life has overcome death; that communion with God has overcome alienation. 

Seventh, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it forms faith in us as we speak to God and he acts on our behalf. There is no better way to grow in trusting God than to walk in intimacy with God and see him guide, answer, direct, and rebuke along the way. And the more we walk with him and ask of him in Jesus’ name, the more we will see various sorts of answers and grow in the sure knowledge that he is with us and that he is for us in Christ. 

Finally, then, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because the process and outcomes of a praying life serve to make our joy full in Christ. As Jesus said in John 15:11 and 16:24, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” 

So, Beloved, for at least these eight reasons, let us make a life of walking with Christ in prayer and of asking of him in prayer, as we abide in him and his words abide in us. Next week we will begin to ponder some of Jesus’ great promises to those who call upon his name.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part III

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “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” (emphasis mine). Over the last two weeks we have seen that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, five of which I have shared over the last two weeks. Specifically, I have said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him, (4) because it teaches us to think, feel, and ask like Jesus, and (5) because it teaches us how to counsel and bless one another. This week I add three more reasons. 

Sixth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it is God’s means of glorifying himself by proving that we are in Christ. As Jesus said in John 14:12-14, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 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” (emphasis mine). Indeed, the process and outcomes of a praying life are proof-positive that the gospel has worked; that light has overcome darkness; that life has overcome death; that communion with God has overcome alienation. 

Seventh, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it forms faith in us as we speak to God and he acts on our behalf. There is no better way to grow in trusting God than to walk in intimacy with God and see him guide, answer, direct, and rebuke along the way. And the more we walk with him and ask of him in Jesus’ name, the more we will see various sorts of answers and grow in the sure knowledge that he is with us and that he is for us in Christ. 

Finally, then, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because the process and outcomes of a praying life serve to make our joy full in Christ. As Jesus said in John 15:11 and 16:24, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full…Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” 

So, Beloved, for at least these eight reasons, let us make a life of walking with Christ in prayer and of asking of him in prayer, as we abide in him and his words abide in us. Next week we will begin to ponder some of Jesus’ great promises to those who call upon his name.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part II

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “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” (emphasis mine). Last week we saw that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. I see at least eight reasons why Jesus commands us to ask of him, three of which I shared last week. Specifically, I said that we must ask of Jesus in prayer (1) because he commanded us to do so, (2) because we’re in a relationship with him and communication is key to the health of any relationship, and (3) because it teaches us childlike dependence upon him. This week I will add two more reasons. 

Fourth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because having to form specific requests teaches us how to think, feel, and ask like him. As good and necessary as it is to read, study, and even memorize the Bible, it’s even better to press on from the reception of truth to the articulation of it. We know that we’ve come to understand something when we’re able to accurately repeat it in our own words. For the Christian, this journey from reception to articulation begins in prayer when we speak God’s truth back to him from our hearts. As we do this, our Father further refines our prayers until they more perfectly align with his truth, and when they align with his truth he grants an answer for his glory and our joy. But even when the answer comes, the deeper work of God in us is that he’s using this process to transform into the image of his Beloved Son until we think, feel, and ask like him. 

Fifth, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because learning to speak to God teaches us how to counsel and bless others. When the Word of Christ dwells in us richly—when it teaches us and guides our thoughts, feelings, and actions; when it molds the words we speak to God in prayer—then we come to a true understanding of it and an ability to teach and admonish one another, to instruct and correct one another according to the will and ways of our Father. As we learn to speak to God, we learn to speak to one another in such a way that he is exalted and we are helped by his wise counsel and our mutual love. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will persuade us that we must ask of him in prayer, and that he will teach us to actually do so day by day. Pray that he will teach us how to form and articulate our thoughts and affections in such a way that he will be glorified, that he will be pleased to answer our prayers, that others will be blessed, and that our joy in him will be increased.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Must We Ask of Jesus in Prayer? Part I

In John 15:7-8, Jesus promised, “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” (emphasis mine). Last week we saw that this promise assumes something very basic but extremely important, namely, that we must spend time with Christ. For the next few weeks we will meditate on another basic but important assumption, namely, that we must ask of Christ in prayer or our prayers cannot be answered. 

In Matthew 6:8 Jesus said, “…your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” which begs the question, Why then must we ask of Jesus in prayer? If the Father already knows what we want and if he is disposed to give us what we want when we ask according to his will, why then doesn’t he just give us what we want? I see at least eight reasons. 

First, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because he commanded us to do so. As those who have become his children by grace through faith, we begin with obedience and not questioning. As we do what he says and learn to walk in his ways, he increases our understanding and joy in him. The flesh must understand in order to obey; the spirit obeys in order to understand. 

Second, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because we are in a relationship with him and communication is central to the health and growth of any relationship. Of course, he knows us much better than we know ourselves but the sound of his children’s voices is surely among the greatest delights of his heart. Think about the great lengths to which Jesus went to save us, bring us to himself, and make us children of the Father. Think then of how precious it is to him to see us actually relating with our Father through his blood and by the power of the Holy Spirit. So we ask of Jesus to delight the heart of Jesus because we’re in a blood-bought relationship with Jesus. 

Third, we must ask of Jesus in prayer because it teaches us to live in childlike dependence upon him. It teaches us that he is the vine and we are but branches. It teaches us that he is the bread and fountain of life, and that we are but hungry and thirsty souls who need a source from which to eat and drink. And it also teaches us that he is eager to give the food and drink of himself to all who believe and ask in his name. So we ask of Jesus because it helps us to understand and feel our proper relationship to Jesus. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will persuade us that we must ask of him in prayer, and that he will teach us to actually ask of him in prayer day by day. Pray that he will teach us how to form and articulate our thoughts and affections in such a way that he will be glorified, that he will be pleased to answer our prayers, that others will be blessed, and that our joy in him will be increased.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Making Time to be with Jesus

In John 15:7-8, Jesus makes a stunning promise: “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” (emphasis mine). The call to abide in Christ, to allow his words to abide in us, and to ask for whatever we wish assumes something very basic but extremely important: we must actually spend time with Christ. We must actually speak with him. We must actually ask. Prayer is a vital part of a relationship, and relationships require time and speech.

Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) received a call to serve as a missionary to China early in his life. Although he didn’t know it, his parents had devoted him to the Lord for this very task but then wisely allowed the Lord to work in his life and clarify the call without their direct intervention. Almost as soon as he received his call from the Lord, Hudson knew that he had to be a man of prayer in order to bear fruit. But like all of us, he struggled with the practical, daily aspects of it. 

“Hudson Taylor was a normal boy living a busy life. Whether as a clerk in a bank or assistant in his father’s store, he had many temptations, and when a lively cousin came to be his roommate, it was not easy to keep first things first and make time for prayer. He knew, though, that without prayer there could only be failure and unrest. Taylor had to learn that there is no substitute for real spiritual blessing” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, Littleton, CO: OMF Books, page 13).

It’s a mistake to think that the heroes of our faith did not struggle with prayer, for every one of them did. What separates them from most of us is that they simply would not give up until they learned what it means to pray without ceasing. They read the Bible, listened to the words of Jesus, fought, failed, and pressed on in grace day by day. 

In the coming months, we will hear many stories of faith and answered prayer from some of the leading lights of the last two centuries, but among the most important lessons we will learn from them is this: to be a house of prayer requires personal and corporate intentionality, discipline, and community. It requires personal and corporate focus, tenacity, and encouragement. We must help each other learn to make time for Jesus day by day and to ask for God-exalting things from Jesus day by day. 

Prayer Focus: Pray that Jesus will help us see the importance of time and speech in our lives of prayer. Pray that he will give us a spirit to fight this good fight until we know what it means to pray without ceasing.