Friday, September 29, 2006

Pondering Prayer

Since my earlier post linking to Dan Phillips' post on What Prayer Is and Isn't the topic of prayer has been on my mind constantly. Partly because I've been wrestling with the practice and understanding of prayer for several years now, and partly because I was concerned that MY post may have left the impression that we just don't need to pray at all!!! May it never be!!!

As I've evaluated my own understanding and practice of prayer in light of Scripture, I've found some excellent discussions and teaching on the topic by J.C. Ryle, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, Don Whitney, and many others. I hope you'll enjoy them too!

In "Concise Theology - A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs" J.I. Packer offers this: "God made us and has redeemed us for fellowship with himself, and that is what prayer is. God speaks to us in and through the contents of the Bible, which the Holy Spirit opens up and applies to us and enables us to understand. We then speak to God about himself, and ourselves, and people in his world, shaping what we say as response to what he has said...Petition, in which the persons praying humbly acknowledge their need and express themselves as trustfully depending on God to meet it out of his sovereign resources of wisdom and goodness, is the dimension of prayer that is most constantly highlighted in the Bible...There is no tension or inconsistency between the teaching of Scripture on God's sovereign foreordination of all things and on the efficacy of prayer. God foreordains the means as well as the end, and our prayer is foreordained as the means whereby he brings his sovereign will to pass...Christians who pray to God sincerely, with reverence and humility, with a sense of privilege and a pure (i.e., purified, penitent) heart, will find in themselves a Spirit-given filial instinct prompting prayer to and trust in their heavenly Father (Gal. 4:6, Rom. 8:15), and a desire to pray that outruns their uncertainty as to what thoughts they should express (Rom. 8:26-27). The mysterious reality of the Holy Spirit's help in prayer becomes known only to those who actually pray."

Donald S. Whitney points out a lost aspect of prayer in his book, "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life". Whitney writes, "This is one of the most compelling concepts on prayer I've ever learned. Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake (reading) and prayer. The two are often disjointed when they should be united. We read the Bible, close it, and then try to shift gears into prayer. But many times it seems as if the gears between the two won't mesh. In fact, after some forward progress in our time in the Word, shifting to prayer sometimes is like suddenly moving back into neutral or even reverse. Instead there should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move even closer to God in those moments. This happens when there is the link of meditation in between...The process works like this: After the input of a passage of Scripture, meditation allows us to take what God has said to us and think deeply on it, digest it, and then speak to God about it in meaningful prayer. As a result, we pray about what we've encountered in the Bible, now personalized through meditation. And not only do we have something substantial to say in prayer, and the confidence that we are praying God's thoughts to Him, but we transition smoothly into prayer with a passion for what we're praying about. Then as we move on with our prayer, we don't jerk and lurch along because we already have some spiritual momentum."

I don't know about you, but I find these principles and practices to be much more in line with Scripture than the popular man-centered notion that "prayer changes things".

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