Quarter 3, 2005,
"The Spiritual Life"
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
"Lord of Our Prayers"
For the past several years, the Nike corporation featured advertisements showing a simple picture of their shoe with the caption, just do it.
Human beings seem to require all sorts of impediments, conditions, and prerequisites to simply saying a prayer. Some children are instructed to kneel down, close their eyes and fold their hands. Others are taught they must use books or beads to remind them of the words of a prayer, or to make the sign of the cross, face towards
There is nothing wrong with assuming a reverent attitude when praying. Anything that focuses our attention is useful. The problem arises when we believe that without those props, God doesnt listen to us. If we think that the rituals make us good enough for God to hear our prayer, we can take some responsibility for our own sanctification. Jesus taught, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God. (Mark ). When we understand this, we must recognize that all our attempts to make ourselves good before coming to God in prayer are futile. We can simply trust that we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace.
Christ, High Priest and Human Elder Brother
Our lesson this week emphasizes Christs intercessory role. Because He qualified to become our High Priest by coming in the likeness of sinful flesh, He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities and can, as our elder brother, knowledgeably intercede for us before a holy God. A wise writer described that Christs humanity made prayer a necessity and a privilege. He found comfort and joy in communion with His Father. And if the Saviour of men, the Son of God, felt the need of prayer, how much more should feeble, sinful mortals feel the necessity of fervent, constant prayer (Steps to Christ, p. 94).
The biblical teachings regarding the nature Christ assumed when He came to this earth, and the doctrine of the cleansing of the sanctuary, help us understand the privilege of prayer. As we participate in the cleansing process typified by the Hebrew Day of Atonement, Christ reveals our hidden sin. Our prayers are to be part of a two-way conversation in which we allow God to speak to us through reading or hearing His word. As we are convicted of sin, we open our hearts in prayer to the searching of His Spirit. This process is as varied as the individual and requires no particular method or format.
Can God accept the prayer of someone who believes a ritual should accompany it? It depends on their motivation. Remember, prayers purpose is to change us, not God. By coming to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, Christ knows what its like to function as a human being. Thus, He is able to intimately identify with our struggles, and can judge our motives. If He sees that the ritual we use to accompany our prayer is motivated by an intent to obligate God to hear us, we have reverted back to a works/slave mentality. Nothing we do obligates God to do anything. He has already done everything necessary for our salvation, and His own promises obligate Him. If the motivation behind our prayer ritual is to prepare ourselves to be in a proper attitude, Christ, our high priest and judge also reads those motives.
Praying for Forgiveness
We know that many times we will need to come before God asking for forgiveness for sin. We need only believe the promise that if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, KJV). Notice that He forgives us, not the sin. Gods holy, unchangeable law cannot allow Him to forgive sin by acting as if it hadnt happened. His solution to the sin problem was to assume human nature, the nature that needed redeeming to the cross where He paid the penalty for our sin. On Him was laid the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:6), so the entire world stands within that verdict of acquittal.
Praying for Others
Failing to pray for others is called a sin. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you...... (1 Sam. ). How we pray for others requires some thought. Most of us feel sympathy for the patient in an ambulance that speeds by, sirens blaring. Suppose you believe you are being called to pray for that person. The first inclination might be, God, please make that person accept You before they die. No matter how sincere, God cannot honor the prayer to make someone accept Him. God never forces, He draws. By using the life-changing circumstances that almost always accompany a full-code ambulance trip, God is drawing, but not forcing, those involved to see their need of Him.
There is also a hidden danger in our motivation in praying for others. We may self-righteously think that the only person who needs to learn a lesson is our ambulance patient. What if the person God is trying to draw to Him by allowing that circumstance is you? My church is currently struggling to understand why one of our beloved elders suffered a serious stroke and has only limited speech. I dont know why that happened, but if I think it is to teach him something, I miss the point. In such a tragedy, if God sees fit to let us become aware of the circumstance, we must first look for the lesson we are to learn. If someone is brought to accept Christ by watching our Elders persistent, Job-like faith, I believe when he learns that in heaven, he will throw down his crown at the feet of Jesus and give Him all the glory. It is by telling the message of the cross that the God-head will draw all men. When He allows us to suffer, we are participating with Christ.
Misunderstanding Corporate Confession
Another danger in praying for others is thinking that we can impose our will on another. The text says, if we confess our sin. If I dont like something Suzie did to Joe, does it make sense for me to go to Joe and confess on her behalf without Suzies consent or even knowledge? To do so would cut off further discussion so that if Joe needed to talk things out, he would be seen as ungrateful for the repentance. Nothing would ever get solved.
Job did something that looks similar when he sacrificed for his children, [for] it may be that my sons have sinned (Job 1:5). I believe the example Job displayed was his acknowledgment that as a parent, his influence may not be perfect. But he cannot assume their guilt for the choices they made.
The concept of corporate repentance contained in the 1888 message is not that of assuming guilt. Rather, it contemplates a collective acknowledgment by current leadership that mistakes have been made by past leaders of an organization, and sincere efforts are made to not perpetuate the error, and if possible, repair the damage. Without the acknowledgment, which is equivalent to confession, there can be no repentance so the problem can be faced and fixed. If Abraham Lincoln believed that he wasnt responsible for slavery because he wasnt there during the framing of the Constitution, which didnt prohibit it, our country would still be suffering from the cancer that eats away at a society where all are not free.
Many things can be said about prayer, but all the teaching can never provide the experience of just doing it. Ask God to send His Spirit to teach you. Prayer is the connecting link to the golden chain of the humanity Christ will retain for eternity. What a privilege!
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