Teach Me To Pray.

I’m always amazed how little I pray. I was going to write “compared to what I should,” but I decided against that. I don’t know how much I should pray because I’ve never reached a point that I can honestly say, “That’s enough.”

Here’s what I’m pretty sure of. By neglecting this great gift, I am likely not enjoying spiritual fruit that is available to me. Let’s face it, Jesus said what he said for a reason:

John 15:7-8 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

I’ve read a few biographies of famous people with a passion for God. One was Jesus, who we know prayed regularly for significant periods of time. He was intentional and deliberate in this discipline. So were other great men and women of Christ. Really, there is no reason for me not to pray like that.

When I do pray meaningfully, I find that I have difficulty figuring out exactly what I should pray for. What is it that I wish? Jesus promises that he will do it for me. All I need to do is ask. Simple as that. But it’s the “abide” part that precedes the promise that really slows me down. What does Jesus mean by abiding in him and his words abiding in me?

I don’t see how this can be understood without knowing what his words are. And what are his words other than the entirety of the bible? Folks, that where doctrine comes in. I know, I know, that word is said by many to divide people. But, seriously, if I desire to have my prayer answered, then I need to understand the condition Jesus has imposed upon me: to abide in him and that his words abide in me.

Let’s take salvation prayer as an example. My prayer almost always settles on praying for the salvation of those I know. My greatest desire is for my children to be saved. That’s easy enough to pray that; however, I know that Jesus said that not everyone will enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:13-14, 21-23). In fact, most won’t. Is that a good thing? Well, God does desire that all come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:4) but he is also a God of justice. In fact, it’s the part of foundation of his throne (Ps. 89:14). We will be held accountable for our actions (Heb. 4:13). In this, God is glorified.

Here’s the sobering truth. God is glorified in his wrath. Let’s face it, some of my loved ones will experience that wrath, the lake of fire for all eternity, and God will be glorified in it. So will some of yours. That’s a concept that many, many people can’t get their heads around; but if we are to have Jesus’ words abide in us, then somehow we need to make peace with this. Furthermore, we need to incorporate it into our prayer.

Does that mean I pray that my godless child fries in hell? No, hardly. Remember what God says in Ezekiel 33:11? “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Then all I need to pray for is that my loved ones turn back from their evil ways, right? In other words, repent. But we know that they won’t. Romans 3 is clear about that. Man will NOT turn to God. Knowing better, man will stubbornly and foolishly pursue worship of manmade gods other than the one, true and living God (Romans 1).

Here’s the thing. If anyone will enter the kingdom of God, it is DESPITE his/her deeds. In other words, it will take something else for that to happen. Their sin will need to be paid – in full – before they will be allowed into the presence of God. That can only happen through God, and he has a particular process for that. Jesus experienced God’s wrath, even though he never sinned, on behalf of those particular individuals on whom God chooses to have mercy (Romans 3:25, 9:15-16).

So, all we need to do is ask God to have mercy? Well, it’s not that simple because we know that God has decided on whom he will have mercy before the world was even created (Eph. 1:4-5). Even so, God commands us to pray for all people (1 Tim. 2:1-6). How all this works, I don’t know.

Here’s something that we need to settle in our minds. God is the one who decides. Are we going to be like Jesus in the garden when he said, “… not my will, but yours be done,” (Luke 22:42)? Seriously, will we allow Jesus’ words abide in us? These words, in this situation?

Here’s the hard test, my friends. Am I willing to lay my child on the altar of sacrifice so that God may be glorified in his wrath? I’m talking figuratively speaking, of course, but it’s no different that what God commanded of Abraham. What if God does not have mercy on my child despite my prayer? Honestly, I shudder at the thought, but who am I to argue with God?

Let’s take it one step further. Can I praise God’s name in his wrath against my own child? If I believe what I read in the bible, I will. Please don’t misunderstand, I will weep over this, greatly, at the loss of my child. I will take no pleasure in it, just as God takes no pleasure. But, can I praise God and glorify his name through it?

Perhaps our reaction would be like Paul, to wish that he himself were accursed for the sake of his brothers (Rom. 9:3). I don’t know if many of us have truly considered the full ramification of this. I’m sure Paul did. It’s a rare person who puts his life in place of others – to volunteer his/her life for another. It’s one thing to be in a high-risk job but quite another to change places of someone on death row. Furthermore, how many have truly considered an eternity in hell?

Here’s the maddening thing – when we consider that we might pay through hellfire for someone’s careless, reckless, senseless, selfish behavior, we start to understand just how irresponsible humans really are. People know God through nature, yet refuse to honor or thank him. Instead we worship anything BUT God. We claim to be wise but are actually fools, and God lets us dive deeper and deeper into our sin and destruction (Romans 1).

It’s not that he does’t warn us. Oh, he warns us over and over and over and over and over. I’ll bet the hardest thing about judgment day will be the understanding of just how much God has revealed himself to us yet we shook our fist and turned our backs on him. Oh, oh, oh, how awful will that be!

Yet, Jesus, knowing all this – all of this and far more than we bother to think about – Jesus died and willingly accepted God’s wrath to pay for our sin – not for his sin, but for ours.

Why? He doesn’t need us. He never has and never will. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are fully content in and among themselves. God doesn’t need us. Yet, he created us to invade his privacy and share himself with us. Oh, and to reveal his mercy. That’s a big character trait of God. Justice is, too, but his mercy overrides at God’s discretion, praise be to God and his Son, Jesus Christ!

So, I end up humbled by the realization that my own willful deeds have earned me hellfire but that for some reason, that I know not, God has had mercy on me and is counting me among his children. It is a gift beyond comprehension and one that I could never possibly return. Thank you, Father!

Now, back to my children and prayer. There is only two possibilities: they will pay for their sin or God will forgive them. Either way, I will praise God and glorify his name. I certainly will ask for mercy but understand and accept the fact if he doesn’t. Furthermore, I will pray that God will give me opportunity to warn them of these things, to repent of their sin, and to turn and seek Jesus. I will pray that God will send others into their path with the same message (Matt. 9:38).

There is also reason to pray that my children sin less than they do even if God does not grant them eternal life. The bible says that there are degrees of God’s wrath (Matt. 10:15, 11:24). If they will die in their sin, I pray that they have less sin to pay for. This is not to suggest that hell will be nice, but scripture does say that it will be more bearable for some than others depending upon their behavior. I can pray for that. That would be a prayer for mercy.

I can also pray that God restrain Satan from tormenting them with temptation and demons. I can also pray that they live and work in environments that are less sinful so that they experience temptation less. I guess I can pray these things for those who are saved as well.

I can also pray, assuming my child might one day realize and enjoy salvation, that she may know God to the fullest, that she be a willing tool in the hands of the Lord. I pray that she might have a husband that will also be saved and the two of them will enjoy biblical marriage and family life. I can pray for the generations that will come.

So, you see, there is so much to pray about. I really need to do it more often and more thoroughly.

Father, teach me to pray. Amen.

Copyright © 2020 Scott Powers

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

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