Volume. XXX, No. 16
Sunday, 18 October 2015


Understanding Prayer (Part 1)


Introduction

The Christian journey and the faith I have come to understand and profess without any prejudice, I am confidently able to state that the Reformed faith is the proper, Biblical expression of Christianity. And yet because of our evil inclinations which are a result of the fallen nature of humanity (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:23), our knowledge about God is limited.

One such area of the Christian faith where most people have difficulties is in understanding and applying how the sovereignty of God relates with our prayers. Hence, they ask questions like ‘Does the sovereignty of God in any way relate with our daily lives?’ Biblically we understand that God is sovereign. Sovereignty of God means the Lord has ordained every detail of what is taking place in our daily lives, both in the present and in the times to come. It means God reigns over all creation for His own glory! It is also clear in the Scriptures that God invites us to present our petitions to Him in prayer. The moment we place side by side the sovereignty of God and the presentation of our petitions to God it immediately raises serious questions from some people as this does not make sense to them. Since God is all-sovereign what then is the relevance of prayer? Are we not supposed to remain content with what God has already ordained? Is this not what Paul says ‘…all things work together for good to love God’ (Rom. 8: 28)?

I will approach this issue from the following perspectives: defining prayer; prayer is for our benefit; prayer is part of God’s Sovereign plan; praying is a natural and inseparable part of being united with Christ; we are commanded to pray and promised that it is effective; and prayer builds relationship with God.

What is prayer?

In the monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, prayer is at the centre of every activity. Jews pray 3 times in a day while Muslims pray 5 times. For Christians there are set times during which one is to pray. Having said that, prayer is not only restricted to monotheistic religions. Other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Baha'i, Confucianism, Jainism, Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism.

According to Timothy Keller in his book ‘Prayer: experiencing awe and intimacy with God’, says all prayer is responding to God because it is God who initiates the encounter with mankind. It is God who first comes to us otherwise we would never reach out to Him. Therefore, prayer is a gift from God to a Christian. Thus we define prayer as a genuine, personal conversation in response to God’s specific and verbal revelation. Being a response to God, prayer is an encounter with the Triune God in which we do not only desire to know about God, rather to know God and to seek His face and presence. However, we cannot talk about prayer without having access to the One we pray to. John Calvin in his book ‘The Institutes of Christian Religion’ states that it is possible for a person to accumulate a lot of knowledge about God, but will not truly know God not until the fundamental structure of the heart gets changed.

In Eph. 2: 18, Paul explains how this access into God’s presence comes about. He says that our access to God comes through and “by one Spirit”. As Timothy Keller says, every Christian will desire to pray because through the Spirit, prayer is faith become audible.
There is one significant thing that many of us believers who have grown up in the Reformed tradition were taught about prayer – that it is speaking to the Sovereign Lord and constitutes praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession and supplications; to be prayed in accordance with God’s will and in Jesus’ name (Shorter Catechism Q. 98). John Calvin in his Institutes calls prayer as ‘the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits’ (Institutes III, chapter 20). No one believer can deny that we daily receive good gifts from God because everything about us comes from Him – salvation, communion with God, life, health, families, relationships, jobs, food, safety, shelter etc.

Prayer is the practice of constantly being in the presence of God. Prayer is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord.

It is by means of prayer that we open ourselves to the loving and caring God and enjoy the presence of the Lord.

2. Prayers are for our own benefit

As it has already been mentioned, God is Sovereign and therefore He owns everything: “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 50: 12). This means God needs nothing from us; He is not dependent on us. On the contrary, we depend on Him for everything. This can be understood better in some elements of prayer. For instance the elements of adoration and confession. Can we say God’s existence is dependent on our praises? Absolutely not! God can get along without them, but we can’t. Adoration is important for our maturing in faith. The apostle Paul says that God blesses those who make requests of Him (2 Cor. 1: 10, 11). Therefore, there are several benefits of prayer some of which are discussed here:

It is prayer that makes us ready to give God thanks
Prayer makes us become zealous “to seek, desire, love, and serve Him, while at the same time we become accustomed in every need to flee to join Him as to a sacred anchor.”
Prayers turn our desires to be more appropriate in the eyes of our Master
With answered prayers, we become more prepared to meditate on His infinite kindness. As stated in the Larger Catechism Q. 185, it is this spirit that makes us pray and reminds us how unworthy we are, and how magnificent and majestic the Lord is.
In like manner, it is what we recognise as answered prayer of God’s many other provisions that we tend to esteem most. It is this assurance that God answers our prayers that encouraged Elijah to pray for rain (1 Kings 18: 41)
It is in prayer that we confirm what we know to be true that God provides all that we need and, as Paul says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28)
Prayer changes the one praying because in prayer, you are in the presence of God as you lay before Him your complete self in confession and dependence. There is nothing to hide when in quiet supplication we are reaching into the deepest part of ourselves and admitting our needs and failures. In so doing, our hearts are quieted and pride is stripped and we enjoy the presence of God. James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded."
The other benefit of prayer is peace. "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7)

3. It is natural to pray
 
Whether we are to pray is not really in question. This is so because prayer is an ever-present part of a Christian life. An unbeliever is an oxymoron (the opposite of a Christian). We pray to God for help. Asking God for help is the most natural prayer of all.  In the Bible, prayer is often associated with proper Christian worship and life. Scripture constantly associates prayer with proper Christian worship and life. One of the earliest signs of Paul’s conversion was his attention to prayer (Acts 9: 11). Writing to Timothy, Paul expressed a desire that men should pray everywhere (1 Tim. 2: 8). The apostle Paul even linked “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6: 18; cf. Shorter Catechism Q. 88). This is why it is said that prayer is a Christian matter or a heart matter (Ps. 62: 8). Prayer is uniquely Christian and Trinitarian in nature praying to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Matt. 6: 9; Rom. 8: 26; Jude 20 - 25). It is because prayer must be part of the Christian life that we are to be constantly in prayer (Rom. 12: 12).

(…….to be continued next week)

Rev Alfred Ngoma

More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

Kitchen Roster - Today: Group E. Next Lord’s Day: Group A.
*Warm welcome to our pulpit: Dr Reg Matthews from Australian Presbyterian (AP).
*Church office is temporary located at 86 Edmund Ave, Unley, SA 5061. Please note that Postal Address is PO Box 398, Fullarton SA 5063. Church phone has been temporary disconnected.
*After worship service, please help to put away hymn books, Bibles, chairs and to clean up the premises.
*Special thanks to all Hopefuls who have helped in working bees and in the shifting of church belongings to new locations.

Prayer Items
Journey mercies: Rev George van Buuren (Adl); & others arriving safely at their destinations.
Church activities, in the past week & working bees yesterday.
Visitors & new worshippers.
God’s daily mercy, guidance & blessings.
Smooth relocation of office by removalists on Wednesday.
Anniversary Thanksgiving: Ebenezer BPC - Melbourne (16th); Life BPC (65th), Maranatha BPC (25th) & True Life BPC (12th) - Singapore.

Praise & Thanksgiving
Health & God’s healing - Dr Gary Cohen (USA), Dr SH Tow (S’pore); Rev Patrick Tan (S’pore); Rev Edward & Sis Lehia Paauwe; & others in affliction.
Special Prayer: Pastor Ki; Rev George van Buuren (heart failure)
iSketch & Tell Ministry: Pr Hai Seng Lim’s ministry in Melbourne.
New Life BPC (London) - Dr Carl Martin; God’s guidance & encouragement for congregation.
Providence B-P Church, Mawson Lakes - Ps David & Sis Susan Weng, & congregation.
Youth & Assistant Pastor for Hope B-P Church.
Journey mercies: Bro Sung Hyun & Sis Sanglye Ma & Grace; Mrs Han &  Sis Sangyi Han (S Korea); & those who are travelling.
Interpreters of sermon into Mandarin.
Jobs: Those seeking for jobs in Adelaide.
Persecuted believers in Islamic countries.
God’s guidance: purchase of new church property.
Australia: God’s wisdom for our political leaders. People to repent and turn to God.
God’s guidance & provision of a permanent location for our church, office & fellowship activities.

 

 

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PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063