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Knowing God and Prayer (Part V)

The famous New York diamond dealer Harry Winston heard about a wealthy Dutch merchant who was looking for a certain kind of diamond to add to his collection. Winston called the merchant, told him that he thought he had the perfect stone, and invited the collector to come to New York and examine it.

The collector flew to New York and Winston assigned a salesman to meet him and show him the diamond. When the salesman presented the diamond to the merchant he described the expensive stone by pointing out all its fine technical features. The merchant listened and praised the stone but turned away and said, “It’s a wonderful stone but not exactly what I wanted.”

Winston, who had been watching the presentation from a distance, stopped the merchant and asked, “Do you mind if I show you the diamond once again?” The merchant agreed and Winston presented the same stone. But, instead of talking about the technical features of the stone, Winston spoke spontaneously about his own genuine admiration of the diamond and what a rare thing of beauty it was. Abruptly, the customer changed his mind and bought the diamond.

While he was waiting for the diamond to be packaged and brought to him, the merchant turned to Winston and asked, “Why did I buy it from you when I had no difficulty saying no to your salesman?”

Winston replied, “The salesman is one of the best in the business and he knows more about diamonds than I do. I pay him a good salary for what he knows. But I would gladly pay him twice as much, if I could put into him something I have and he lacks. You see, he knows diamonds, but I love them.”

Do you just know about Christ? Or, do you know him and love him? Is your Christianity rooted solely in the intellectual technicalities of the faith? Or, are you emotionally and spiritually in love with him? Does he command your best thoughts, draw out your deepest feelings, and secure your happy and willing allegiance? Have you experienced his wooing and attractive presence? Is there a joyful spontaneity about your relationship? Or, is your Christianity predictable—akin to watching the same ol’ tired reruns you once loved, but have now grown quite tired of? Your life should sing like a song, not read like a telephone book. There’s a difference you know.

We have been saying all along in this series that spiritually meaningful prayer takes place in the context of relationship with a personal, supremely majestic God whose perfections of love, holiness, wisdom, and sovereignty extend to infinity. But he has, according to his own infinite counsels and goodness, condescended among the ranks to made himself known to us in our helpless estate: Jesus Christ is the revelation of God par excellence. And for those of you who have been looking intently for God, you need look no longer. Your search for God has ended; he is staring at you in the face of Christ! Christ is the glory of God; God at his fullest to us, so to speak (John 1:18; 2 Cor 4:4, 6) . And so we love him, and we come to him according to the wide, yet specific access he has opened up by his own blood (Eph 2:18). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

So we love and praise God in prayer because he first loved us and sought our friendship (1 John 4:10). But, even as Christians, we are still so weak. We are like the proverbial second grader who sits before a textbook on Einsteinian physics; the gap between the learner and subject defies description. So wouldn’t it be nice if God had written the textbook, so to speak, in a way our feeble hearts and minds could grasp? Wouldn’t it be nice if he gave us an example that could help us learn how to pray in a way that honors him? Not so that we might turn it into a mindless method per se—calculated to get us what we want, which, of course, is our special proclivity as fallen human beings—but so that we might understand even better what truly pleases him.

Well, truth be known, he has filled his Word with hundreds of examples of prayer. One need only read the Psalms to see that. But, he has also left us the example of his son—the “Pray-er” par excellence.

In both this lesson and the next one, we will be concentrating our attention on Christ as the supreme model for prayer. Did you know that in the Gospels there is only one occasion when Jesus was explicitly asked to teach something? It comes in Luke 11:1. After the disciples had watched Jesus pray, a certain one asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” “How to pray” is the only thing the disciples ever asked the Lord to teach them. More is caught than taught!

“When I was a small boy,” says Bruce Larson, “I attended church every Sunday at a big Gothic Presbyterian bastion in Chicago. The preaching was powerful and the music was great. But for me, the most awesome moment in the morning service was the offertory, when twelve solemn frock-coated ushers marched in lock-step down the main aisle to receive the brass plates for collecting the offering. These men, so serious about their business of serving the Lord in this magnificent house of worship, were the business and professional leaders of Chicago.

One of the twelve ushers was a man named Frank Loesch. He was not a very imposing-looking man, but in Chicago he was a living legend, for he was the man who had stood up to Al Capone. In the prohibition years, Capone’s rule was absolute. The local and state police and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation were afraid to oppose him. But single-handedly, Frank Loesch, as a Christian layman and without any government support, organized the Chicago Crime Commission, a group of citizens that was determined to take Mr. Capone to court and put him away. During the months that the Crime Commission met, Frank Loesch’s life was in constant danger. There were threats on the lives of his family and friends. But he never wavered. Ultimately, he won the case against Capone and was the instrument for removing this blight from the city of Chicago. Frank Loesch had risked his life to live out his faith.

Each Sunday at this point of the service, my father, a Chicago businessman himself, never failed to poke me and silently point to Frank Loesch with pride. Sometimes I’d catch a tear in my father’s eye. For my dad, and for all of us, this was and is what authentic Christian living is all about.”

There is nothing like a living example of truth to clear the fog from our brains and motivate us to action. Truth clothed in flesh is like meeting a famous radio personality for the first time; it’s amazing how different they look from what you had imagined. As Frank Loesch’s political life is an example of courage under fire, so Christ’s prayer life is an example of real, unfeigned communion with God. Consistent reflection on the model of Christ’s prayer life is crucial to the growth of the Christian in terms of knowing God and prayer.

Jesus’ Prayer Life as the Model for Prayer

National Park officials welcome 250 million people to our treasured parks each year. Most visitors are day trippers, coming to look and run. In 1983, the average time spent for all forty-eight national parks was four and one-half hours. For Isle Royale it was four days, perhaps due to remoteness. But, Yosemite or Sequoia, Yellowstone or Glacier National Park in four and one-half hours? To so heatedly race in and out of these stunning temples of granite offers no time to pause, let alone stop and look, listen and smell the delights of the mountains, rivers and high country. What’s even worse is that our prayer times fare no better. We rush in and out, like we’re in a frantic hurry in the drive-through at McDonalds, often missing God’s majesty in our haste to go nowhere.

But this is in part due to our weak comprehension of the beauty of God. In a culture driven insatiably by the secular, our knowledge of God is scarce, hardly ever true, and threatens prayer with extinction. This is why when Jesus taught on prayer—since he had to deal with the same problems of human misunderstanding of God—he spent time explaining the good nature of God. And, we will get to that in a minute. Suffice it to say here that personal knowledge of God—a growing and fruitful knowledge—is integral to prayer. And yet it needs to be pointed out that the two are, in reality, mutually determining.

So our prayer times often look more like a pit stop on race day at Daytona than a purposeful and delightful stroll through a beautiful park on a spring afternoon. But we did not learn this from Christ. No a chance! Our Model is different. He was constantly in prayer and for long periods of time. Such was his devotion to prayer and his relationship with the Father that the writer of Hebrews—probably pulling on broad early church tradition concerning Christ’s earthly ministry, including Gethsemane—was prompted to say that “During his earthly life [Jesus] offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7).

The stress in Hebrews 5:7 is generally on the humanity of Christ, that he was truly human—like we are, yet without sin—and needed communion with the Father. He prayed constantly and seriously with great concentration, knowledge of God, and sincerity. The term “supplications” is more intense than “requests” and has been associated by some NT scholars with the ancient practice of holding out an olive branch as a sign of appeal.26 Further, the reference to “loud cries and tears” expresses anguish, struggle, and a deep sense of humble submission to the will of God. Rabbinic tradition suggests that “there are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things (‘there is no door through which tears do not pass’).”27 Finally, though Gethsemane is an excellent example of Hebrews 5:7, the writer says that this kind of prayer characterized the days of his life. Our Lord prayed seriously and without ceasing.

So where are we in this regard? Do we pray constantly? Seriously? With great strength? Or, do we pray once in a while, with passing interest and no real conviction? If this is the case, do not turn inward with a “woe is me” attitude. This will accomplish nothing. Instead, begin to ask God to teach you to pray and expect that you can learn much. This is one of the problems of our churches. We really don’t believe that prayer is something that has to be learned through practice, trial and error. If this were not the case—i.e., that prayer did not need to be learned—then Jesus would not have had to teach both his disciples to pray and as well as critique prayer that was wrongheaded (Matthew 6:5-15)? While it is true that even children can pray, and should, it is equally untrue that adults should remain childish in regard to their prayers. There is a difference between that which is simple and that which is simplistic—and nave. The latter is no virtue.

I leave you with one example which illustrates the “ongoingness” of Jesus’ prayer life. The story is in John 11. Martha and Mary informed Jesus that their brother, Lazarus—a person whom Jesus loved, was sick. Now Lazarus was in Bethany in Judea and Jesus was probably across the Jordan to the east when the news reached him. But, instead of departing immediately to attend to his friend, he spent two more days where he was (11:1-6). Then he journeyed to be with his friend.

As Jesus came close to the village of Bethany, he met Martha and eventually Mary and comforted them because Lazarus had subsequently died and was buried four days earlier. Jesus himself was deeply moved and wept (11:35). He then went to the tomb where they had laid Lazarus and asked that the stone be moved away. After the stone had been taken away, Jesus looked up to heaven and uttered a most amazing prayer. The part that interests me here is:

“Father, I thank you that you have listened to me” (John 11:41).

The point I wish to make is that nowhere in the text does it say that he had prayed. When, therefore, did God listen to him? If it were a general reference to his prayer life in the past, we would expect to see the word “always” inserted here: “Father, I thank you have that you have always listened to me.”28 But this is not the case. The context suggests, on the other hand, that from the moment he had heard about it, he had been offering prayer for his friend Lazarus, as well as all the people involved, namely, his disciples and friends.29 We may logically infer, then, that his prayers regarding this issue were constant and perhaps silent as he traveled back from across the Jordan to Bethany. The fact that he knew when Lazarus died (11:11),30 apart it would seem, from any human means, makes this more tenable. Further, his confidence that God wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead was most likely developed through prayer and communion with God (11:14-15, 23, 40). In any case, the point is that he was praying continuously and as such provides an excellent model for us.

Applications from the Life of Jesus

There is no reason that we cannot carry on a “prayer-conversation” with God all throughout the day. What we are really doing is “practicing his presence” as brother Lawrence tells us. He loves to hear from us, as it were, and such prayer keeps our hearts warm toward his love, and free from sins of worry, anger, gossip, immorality, and a host of other evils.

But like the example of Christ, there are times when we will need to draw aside for an extended period and pray. It is true, we need to pray throughout the day, each day, but we also need concentrated times of prayer. We have seen that Hebrews 5:7 and John 11 show the Lord praying all the time and we will see in the next lesson that extended times of prayer were a habit of the Lord’s as well. I want to introduce the idea of extended times on prayer and discuss with you how you might go about doing this. By the way, nothing will fuel your daily prayer more than to get away for a rich, extended time of prayer.

In these times of extended prayer you will need to get rid of all distractions and concentrate much more intensely, focusing all your energies on the Lord and securing his ear in prayer. Don’t misunderstand me. We know that he listens because we learned in the first two lessons that he was omnipresent and omniscient, but sometimes we possess very little conviction that he has listened and heard my prayers and is concerned with my requests and needs. This is especially true in the area of guidance and “big” decisions that concern “my life only.”

A great way to implement the idea of extended prayer is through half-days in prayer. Let me show you what I mean. You will probably need to plan a couple weeks ahead since most of our schedules are so full. Get baby sitters if you have children. The bottom line is to secure a quiet place where you will not be distracted by telephone calls, pagers, emails, etc. You are not going to be available to anybody except the Lord. It is time to listen to him. This is an excellent opportunity to get away with your spouse a pray.

As I said, this will be an extended time of prayer. Here’s how I suggest you do it. Perhaps this will give you some ideas. First, after knowing where you’re going to pray, decide on the length of time. Perhaps you can pray from 8am to 1pm. That’s five hours. You will be amazed at how quickly it goes by! Second, do not spend any time during the five hours sharing prayer requests and thinking about what to pray for. Do all this beforehand. Take a couple of weeks and plan what you’re going to pray about and write it out. This will help you stay focused during the prayer time. Apart from actually doing it, this is the key to a successful and meaningful extended prayer time. Perhaps the following chart will be of some help in your half day of prayer. By the way, don’t let anyone tell you, “you can’t do that, it’s too hard…or, it’s a waste of time, etc.” You can do it and I’m sure the Lord will bless you as you do.

Time

Prayer Detail

8-8:30

Read Bible and Prayer Book

      Select a psalm before prayer day (A psalm you really like, e.g., Psalm 1, 16, 23, 37, etc.)

      Use a devotional/prayer book you like

8:30-9:00

Worship and Praise God in Prayer and Song

      Praise God in Prayer

      Use Instrument, CD player, or Cassette (Whatever works for you)

9:00-10:00

Prayer for Family

      Children and their needs

      Marriage

      Other Extended Family Members

      Major Events

      Finances

10:00-10:15

break

10:15-11:00

Meditate on Scripture and Read Prayer Book

      Use another psalm, etc.

      What has God spoken to me about so far?

11:00-12:00

Prayer for People and Ministry

      Church Involvement (Vision/Practicalities/Problems/Solutions)

      Commitment to Evangelism with Neighbors (Pray for people by name)

      Commitment to Discipleship (Does God want me to more actively pursue this? How?

12:00-12:45

Prayer for Missions

      Specific Missions and People (Gospel Success/Protection/Finances)

      Use “Operation World” to Pray for Countries of the World. Use Map.

12:45-1:00

Worship and Praise the Lord.

This chart is just a suggestion of the way you might invest the time with the Lord. Decide on whatever seems best to you. The most important thing is a time of worship and prayer where you can praise him and also consciously bring everything in your life under his Lordship.

Writing on the subject of prayer, Dudley J. Delffs sums up our common difficulties with the subject and points us in the right direction:

Recently I cleaned out a bathroom cabinet and found an old bottle of expensive cologne. When my wife gave it to me several years ago, it was my favorite, redolent of cedar and pine. Opening the bottle now, however, I found its flat aroma sour and unpleasant. It reminded me of the way my prayer life becomes when I don’t pursue new methods. I begin feeling tired and stale with God. I dread having to keep my appointed time with him.

What I long for instead, and what I know God desires, is the sweet aroma of my heart in love with him. My comparison echoes Revelation 5:8, which describes the “prayers of the saints” as “golden bowls full of incense.” Our prayers should be devoid of pride and legalism, and filled instead with the honesty of our heart’s true desire for connection with the Father. Our love becomes a sweet aroma, pleasing to him who so loves us.

The point of drawing aside and having extended times of prayer is so that our hearts can return fully to the One who has bought and paid for our lives (1 Cor 6:19-20). It is so that we can know Christ better and enjoy him more. “I want to know Christ,” says the apostle (Phil 3:10-11). There are also other benefits such as clearer lifelong goals, ministry vision, vision for the family, and clarity in important decisions that need to be made.

In conclusion, the point of this lesson was simply to establish the profound truth of Jesus’ commitment to prayer and the clear example he has given us. The ideas of praying throughout the day and half-days in prayer are applications from the life of Christ. In the next lesson we will build on these ideas, discussing aspects of Jesus’ prayer life as it related to his ministry and the mission to which God had called him.


26 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris, vol. 15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 129.

27 Leon Morris, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 49.

28 The fact that it is in the next phrase does not change the thesis advanced here since there it is used with a pluperfect tense verb, i.e., “I knew,” whereas the first phrase is in the aorist tense.

29 The whole event is orchestrated to develop the faith of the disciples (11:14-15) as well as Mary and Martha (11:17-37).

30 All he knew up to that point in the text is the report of the illness. There was no mention that Lazarus was dead.

Related Topics: Prayer