GROWING SPIRITUALLY: GROWING THROUGH PRAYER

“Prayer” is a word and a concept everybody is familiar with. Muslims, Buddhists, those who practice Hinduism and Satanism all pray. But of all the people in all the world, only Christians connect with the Creator when they pray. Prayer is, or it should be, the centerpiece of one’s faith. Many Christians believe that nothing happens apart from prayer. Jesus Himself advised His friends to pray that God’s will would be done earth as it is done in heaven.

Prayer is more than merely talking to God; it is a relationship with God. In fact, praying to God is the most intimate thing you can do in your faith. As we pray, all is laid bare before our heavenly Father. There is nothing you can hide from God when you pray.

But prayer is also educational. When we pray, God reveals Himself to us. As we pray, the Holy Spirit brings long-forgotten Bible verses to our minds that strengthen and encourage us. No wonder our Lord said this:

Men ought always to pray, and not to faint. (Luke 18:1 KJV)

1. The necessity of prayer

Given that prayer is so important, it’s curious that a command to pray is not in the Ten Commandments. In fact, much of what we know about prayer comes from studying the people who prayed in Scripture, not necessarily from individual verses that give us detailed instructions. We can learn a lot prayer by looking at how the heroes of the faith practiced it.

a. Jesus, Luke 5:15, 16

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

This innocuous incident occurs at the end the story of the healing of a leper. Matthew puts this story immediately after the Sermon on the Mount, but Luke is doesn’t localize it like Matthew did:

While Jesus was in one of the towns… (Luke 5:12)

Though Luke isn’t interested in details (for a change), being a physician himself, he adds a tad more detail to what Mark wrote. Luke makes sure his reader understands that the leper was literally “full of leprosy.” In other words, for this man, the end was near; the disease had eaten him up.

In faith, this very sick man begged Jesus to heal him. Notice what Jesus did:

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.I am willing,he said.Be clean!And immediately the leprosy left him. (verse 13)

The act of touching this man is significant. Usually lepers were isolated from the general population and kept at a distance. In touching this man, Jesus went against the teachings of his religion. To be obedient to God demands that we do things like that sometimes. Much has been written about why Jesus touched the man. Some think that healing power flowed from Jesus into the man when Jesus touched him.

But what is significant here is verse 14:

Then Jesus ordered him,Dont tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.

Why would Jesus tell the leper to do that? Scholars note that the healing of lepers is one of the Messianic signs that John the Baptist was reminded of while he was in prison. Also, Jesus had a lot of work to do in a short period of time. The last thing He needed was to be descended upon by throngs of lepers and sick people all applying to be healed. Instead, the healed leper needed to show himself to the priest, a ritual taught in Leviticus 14.

This brings us to Jesus as an example of one who prayed correctly. The immediate effect of such a dramatic and obvious healing was that more and more people would take notice. You can’t keep a thing like that quiet! Jesus was becoming a popular preacher; lots and lots of folks, sick and healthy, were beginning to coalesce around Him. But in the midst of this popularity, Jesus did an unusual thing: He withdrew to pray in private. It’s never easy to resist the pull of popularity, but Jesus in great wisdom, knew He needed to get away from the people. We would do well to put into practice this kind of prayer. Instead of doing what would seem natural: preach and teach to the crowd, He left the crowd to “recharge His batteries.” This is wise to do, for when we practice prayer like that, it becomes the priority and when we return to the crowd (or the real world) we will be better able to minister to them for having spent time in God’s presence.

b. Jesus’ teaching on prayer, Matthew 6:6

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.

Jesus preached what He practiced. This admonition comes on the heels of a longer teaching about ostentatious prayer. Instead of making a big deal about praying in public, it’s better to pray in secret. Obviously, Jesus is not forbidding public prayer; the early church prayed in public and we continue to do so. It all boils down to one’s motives. When we pray in private, we are seeking only one Person’s approval; the One that counts: God’s. Secrecy is the key to intimacy, even in prayer. Richard Foster comments:

Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence. And He is inviting youand meto come home, to come home to where we belong, to come home to that for which we were created. His arms are stretched out wide to receive us. His heart is enlarged to take us in.

c. Paul, Colossians 4:2

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Paul wrote a lot of letters, and the last few verses of all his letters usually were written to encourage his readers; to build up their faith. After having written about the Word, the great apostle now stresses the importance of prayer. The Word and prayer work together in our relationship with God. Through the Word, God speaks to us. Through prayer, we speak to Him.

Paul first says to “devote” or “persevere” in prayer. Prayer the perhaps the most important aspect of our new life in Christ and as such it should never be neglected. Prayer is an amazing thing. It is a means of obtaining both spiritual and physical satisfaction in life. Prayer helps us focus, thus it helps us mentally. It is also a weapon against spiritual attacks. And it’s a way for thankful, grateful, and needy believers to pour their hearts to God in praise, adoration, worship and supplication.

The apostle also tells his readers to “be watchful.” In other words, when we pray we need to be alert and awake. It’s a discipline, no doubt about it. Most of us have a hard time getting past a few scant minutes in prayer before our minds start wandering. When we pray, we need to be completely engaged with our hearts and our minds. Like any worthwhile thing in life, learning to stay alert (or even awake) during extended times of prayer takes practice and discipline.

Lastly, Paul says to be “thankful” in prayer. We may be very needy people, and while we should never be afraid to “cast our cares” up God, we also need to take time to thank Him for all that He has done for us.

2. Pray for spiritual growth

Some people like to say, “prayer changes things.” That sounds good, but it’s not really sound theology. In fact, prayer ought to change us. Prayer in absolutely vital to spiritual growth. Most Christians erroneously think that prayer should always change circumstances. But the fact is, prayer should transform us; prayer should change us.

a. Paul prays for his churches, Philippians 1:9—11; Colossians 1:9—12

The congregations at Philippi and Colosse were two that held fast to the Gospel of Christ. A lot of first century churches wrested with false teaching and schisms, but these two were different.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christto the glory and praise of God.

This church had a special relationship with Paul; they supported him in his missionary travels and he makes the point to mention that he prays for them. Notice the things he prays for:

  • That the congregation may grow in love for each other;

  • That the members of the church may grow in knowledge and depth of insight;

  • That they may learn how to exercise spiritual discernment;

  • That each member of the church may grow spiritually.

What an excellent list of things to pray for! When was the last time you prayed those things for your church? Really, if you keep alert when you pray, you should have no problem coming up with things to pray for!

If we look at how Paul prayed for the church at Colosse, we’ll see that he prayed about the following things:

  • That they be filled with the knowledge of God’s will;

  • That they live lives that please the Lord;

  • That they may bear much spiritual fruit;

  • That they may learn endurance, perseverance;

  • That they may joyfully praise the Lord for what He has done for them.

Again we see how “common sense” Paul’s prayers for his friends were. And we also see what was important to Paul. We can be sure that he prayed for their material and physical needs, but it’s probably significant that went out of his way to make sure they know that he was vitally concerned with their spiritual health.

3. We never pray alone

When we pray in secret as Jesus said we ought, we may feel like we are alone but we really aren’t. Prayer takes discipline and practice, but it’s not just the work of the person praying. When we pray, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the whole Body of Christ is working right along with us.

a. Jesus prays with us, Hebrews 7:23—25

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Notice: Jesus is still working for those He died for! The work of salvation is a finished work, but now—right now—Jesus is in heaven praying for those He has saved. What a glorious truth!

b. The Holy Spirit prays with us, Romans 8:26, 27

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with Gods will.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to pray for. Sometimes we get tired or we are so emotionally involved in a situation that it’s almost impossible to pray objectively. At moments like these, the Holy Spirit steps in and enables us to pray as we should. The Spirit knows far more than we do, so we should not be afraid to allow the Holy Spirit to take charge of our prayer life from time to time.

Spiritual growth takes place during times of prayer.  You may not feel like you are growing, but just as infants grow when they sleep, so you grow when you take the time, not to sleep, but to spend quality time in God’s presence.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd
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