After many years of diverse career experience, I was excitedly counting down the days until my retirement. I eagerly anticipated being in control of my schedule and time while enjoying a slower pace of life. I envisioned more days devoted to serving in ministry at my church and deepening relationships...
When it comes to staying in good spiritual shape, many of us these days would want to say, “Well, I’m doing okay in some areas of my Christian life, but I have to admit I’m terribly out of shape when it comes to prayer.” Perhaps you are one of these people. Perhaps you do not know true prayer.
I have a little discussion-starter tool I use with members of my church. It includes half a dozen envelopes with questions on the front—questions asking about faith, spiritual growth, and similar topics. I often say when people visit me: “We can talk about anything you want. If you haven’t any ideas, then here are some questions you might like to talk about. You can choose one.”
About half of all the folks I’ve shared that with picked up the envelope on prayer, and said they’d like to talk about that. The question on the outside of this envelope reads: “How would you describe your prayer life?” Inside the envelope are a number of cards with various words, some positive, some negative. I have found repeatedly that folks pick up two cards to describe their prayer life:
So I think there is a great hunger among us to discover what it means to pray in the Holy Spirit. Sooner or later almost everybody prays. There are no atheists in fox holes. You may think that you can get through life without God, but sooner or later you will come to a situation in which you will want to call on God to help you. When this happens, we must understand what true prayer is.
True Prayer Calls out to God the Father
Somebody once sent me a magazine from a famous and wonderful hospital, and it had an article about the place of spirituality in healing. The hospital chaplain wrote about the value of “prayer to God or to a higher power.” We hear this kind of language constantly these days, and it is very important to understand that these are two entirely different things.
There are many higher powers in the spirit world. The Bible says that Jesus Christ sits in heaven with angels authorities and powers in submission to him.Isaiah the prophet tells us about a day when God will deal with these powers:
In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. (Isaiah 24: 21)
They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; They will be shut up in prison and punished after many days…. For the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders gloriously. (24:22-23)
If that is the ultimate destiny of the higher powers, we have no business praying to them, or associating with them. Whatever temporary help they may be able to give you now, they are under the condemnation of God and you do not want to be identified with them in any way.
That will be worth remembering next time you are in a conversation with somebody who talks about praying to a higher power: True prayer is for God the Father, not for “higher powers.”
True Prayer Comes through Jesus
Once we have grasped that there is one God and he is not whoever we want him to be, but he is who he is, the next question is: How do we come to him? The Bible uses a picture to help us understand this point. There is one God, but there is more than one throne. That’s easy to understand, at least for a person from Britain.
There is one Queen in Britain, but she has several thrones. There is a throne in the Palace, probably several, there is a throne in the House of Lords, and so forth. The thrones relate to different functions that the Queen performs. She uses the throne in the House of Lords when she goes to read the government program at the State opening of Parliament.
Similarly, there is one God, but the Bible makes it clear that he has more than one throne. We read about a great white throne where God administers justice and judgment. But we also read about the throne of grace, where we find mercy and grace to help us in time on need. Consider these verses:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it… And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne.. and the dead were judged.. (Revelation 20:11-12)
We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14, 16)
From these two verses, we learn the important distinction between the two thrones: You can come to the great white throne any way you want, but if you want to come to the throne of grace you need to come through Jesus.
There is one God but there is more than one throne. Access to the throne of grace comes through our great high priest Jesus the Son of God. If you are looking for grace, there is no other way to pray but in the name of Jesus because God’s grace comes to us through Jesus Christ.
True Prayer Flows from Scripture
Turning the Scriptures into prayers will help you keep your prayers fresh. Every day you will be seeing something new. More than that, the Scriptures will guide your mind into the thoughts of God.
This is the great difference between Eastern mysticism and Christian prayer. Mysticism says empty your mind so that you can pray; however, God says fill your mind so that you can pray. In light of this, let an open Bible be the guide for your praying. You will find that you begin to think God’s thoughts after him as you pray in the Spirit.
The problem with much of our praying is it is unprepared, incoherent rambling. We are winging it in the presence of God. A lot of our praying dries up because of the staleness of spontaneity. I say it is better to think long and pray short than to think short and to pray long.
Don’t meditate to clear your mind, but instead meditate on the Bible in order to fill it. Reflect on the purposes of God in his word then turn that into prayer.