Disciplines of Grace: PRAYER
“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there's nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.” - Oswald Chambers
We are all acquainted with prayer and we believe it's important for a growing Christian life - but for the most part, we don’t practice prayer as the Scripture or how the Lord instructs us to pray. Our prayer lives tend to be more REACTIVE, SPORADIC, ERRATIC rather than ESSENTIAL. But prayer is an untapped resource, an unexplored continent where countless treasure remains to be unearthed. It is talked about more than anything else and practiced less than anything else. And yet, for the believer it remains one of the necessary disciplines we must inculcate in our spiritual lives if we are going to continue to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
The disciples caught the lifestyle and emphasis on Jesus Life and Ministry. It is the secret of a consistent, passionate and disciplined lifestyle of prayer. It is not much about a lifeless religious ritual, but JESUS Himself taught a vital perspective of prayer that is RELATIONAL, ENJOYABLE and POWERFUL if we will have the right heart for it.
That's why the apostles emphasized the vitality of prayer in the 1st century Church:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
1 John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Needless to say, JESUS Himself taught. the disciples to pray and demonstrated a life fuelled by it, showing His interdependence with our Heavenly Father.
"Now He was telling them a parable to show them that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.”
Though it is possible to be a Christian without a life of prayer, we cannot say it is possible to have a growing and victorious Christian life without it. The spiritual life without prayer is like living without breathing. It is like being married without talking to your husband or wife. A relationship can never be meaningful or growing without two-way communication. Prayer is our privilege and honour because it is God who invites us into this intimate communion with Him. That's why it is called a "Discipline of Grace". We don't pray to gain grace; we have been given grace that's why we can pray - we have access to the throne of God only because of the blood of JESUS shed for us. There are countless prayers recorded in the Bible; from the Old Testament to the New. All the heroes of faith we know of were only able to fulfil their calling and divine assignment through prayer and God working in response to their prayers. Hudson Taylor, one of the pioneers of missions in China says this:
"When we work, we work. But when we pray, God works."
When we begin to let go and let God, miracles take place. For starters, the book of Psalms is a compilation of many kinds of prayers and songs, heartfelt, genuine and authentic from the heart of David and its other authors. But Luke 11:1-12 and Matthew 6:5-15 are where the most famous prayer is recorded in the Bible: The Lord's Prayer. Both passages present wonderful teaching of JESUS on how our prayer lives should and should not look like. It is important to emphasize how JESUS values prayer in its personal, intimate level; thus he says:
"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt. 6:6)
And then goes on to give a model of prayer by which we should learn from:
There are many elements to this prayer we can talk about but among others, the most essential part is the focus of prayer. Notice that in this prayer, the first part focuses on GOD as OUR FATHER... ("Our" being plural in form means that prayer has a community or family mindset). Interestingly, JESUS did not say "Our King.." or "Our Creator.." which God is - but His intention was to draw us to the most important aspect of all in relation to prayer - OUR RELATIONSHIP with Him as GOD's children. If we approach God with this identity in mind, then all other parts will be aligned to it. The priority of prayer is HIM. It seeks to glorify His Name and His Kingdom and His will manifested upon all other things. And then it proceeds with our needs and petitions.
The kind of prayer that JESUS taught is structured based on His highest value and order of priority: Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
If we are going to take up our cross and follow Jesus prayer is not optional. IT IS VITAL. If we are going to be like Him we will pray as He did. In fact, if JESUS Himself, needed to depend on the Father and pray, how much more us. He was persistent in prayer and commanded His followers to practice this as He did.
1 John 2:6
Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
1.What fresh insights have you learned from this week's preaching? 2. Why do you think prayer is a discipline of grace? The lifeblood of our faith? 3. What is the difference between 'religious prayers' and 'relational' prayers. Refer to Matthew 6:5-15. 4. Why and how can we cultivate a lifestyle of prayer? 5. What insights can we gain from the Lord's Prayer? 6. How has this message challenged you and helped you understand prayer in a deeper way? 7. Since prayer is both personal but also communal, how can we pray for each other more?