Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Monday
Aug242015

PRAYER THROUGH THE NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament is itself a systematic treatise on prayer.

I discovered this in my reading of The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues on His Way, Doubleday Image Books, New York, 1992, softcover, pages 132 to 135, translation by Helen Bacovcin.

The speaker is identified as the Professor. He had been a university professor, once dissolute, now redeemed. This pamphlet quotes his analysis of New Testament prayer. In the original, the Professor gives only Scripture references. However, in this article, all Scripture references are printed in full from the New International Version. My comments are in Italic.

Here is the Professor's teaching:

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After careful reading and rereading of the New Testament, I discovered that the sacred writers present the teaching on prayer in a systematic way; that there is a gradual development and organic unity which begins in the writings of the first Evangelist and continues throughout the New Testament.

For example, at the very beginning we have the introduction to prayer, then the form or outward expression in words, then the necessary conditions for prayer, then the methods of learning it and examples. Finally, the secret teaching about the interior and ceaseless prayer in the name of Jesus Christ is given, and it is shown to be higher than formal prayer; then our need of prayer, the fruits of prayer, etc. In a word, everything—complete and detailed knowledge about the exercise of prayer—is given in a systematic way from the beginning to the end. . . .

 

1. How to Pray. Now find chapter 6 of St. Matthew and read verses 5 through 15 from the Sermon on the Mount:

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10  your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us. (From Luke 11:4) 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Here you can see—in verses 5 through 9—the introductory lesson on prayer. We are to pray with a pure intention and not to impress others. We are to find a quiet place for our prayer and ask for forgiveness of our sins and union with God. We are not to imitate the pagans and make up many petitions about the various needs of life.

When you read verses 10 through 13, you can see what the form of our prayer should be and what type of words we should use to express it. All the needs of our life are very wisely expressed in this prayer.

Then in verses 14 and 15, we can see what conditions must be met to make our prayer effective, for if we do not forgive those who have offended us, then the Lord will not forgive us our sins.

 

2. Be Persistent in Prayer. Matthew chapter 7, verses 7 through 12, show how we can succeed in prayer and why we should be full of hope when we 'ask, seek, and knock.'

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This forceful expression shows that prayer is to have a pre-eminent place in our lives and that it is to be frequent. Prayer is not only to accompany all our actions, but is to precede them in time. This is an important attribute of prayer. You can see an example of this in chapter 14 of St. Mark, verses 32 through 40, where Christ Jesus repeats the same prayer several times.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if pos­sible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

Another example about frequent prayer can be seen in the Gospel of St. Luke chapter 11, verse 5 through 14, in the parable of the persistent friend.

5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity, he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Note especially verse 13. Jesus proclaims that if you ask for the Holy Spirit, you will receive the Holy Spirit. Yes, you received the Holy Spirit in baptism, but you need the overflowing of the Holy Spirit so you receive power to build the church of Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 14:12)

In Luke 18 verses 1 to 14, Jesus stresses our need for persistent prayer in the parable of the importunate widow asking the judge for mercy.

1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Notice that in verse 1, we have a command of Jesus Christ to pray always and in all places. We are not to lose heart or to give in to slothfulness.

 

3. Interior Prayer. In addition to this detailed instruction on prayer, the Gospel of John contains the basic teaching regarding the interior prayer of the heart. This is introduced in the conversation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, (John 4:5-25) where Christ says that God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth and where ceaseless prayer is presented as living water springing to life eternal.

5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

In verses 4 through 8 of John Chapter 15, there is a clearer illustration of the necessity and the power of interior prayer; the soul is to abide in Christ and is to be constantly aware of God's presence.

4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

4. Ask in My Name. And finally in Chapter 16 of John, verses 23 through 25, there is a mystery revealed!

23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.

You can see that prayer uttered in the name of Jesus Christ, or what we call the Jesus Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' has great power, and when it is repeated frequently it can easily sanctify and transform the heart. This can certainly be seen in the examples of the Apostles; they were Christ's disciples less than a year when He taught them the Our Father, which prayer they passed on to us, but at the end of His earthly life Jesus Christ revealed a mystery to them which they needed to know to be decisively successful in their prayer. He said to them in John 16:24:

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.

And this is indeed what happened to them, for when the Apostles learned to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they performed many miracles and were themselves transformed.

 

4.5 Power in Prayer. The Professor does not include one of Jesus’ statements about the impact of prayer, John 14:12.

“Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Now do you see the logic, the fullness, and the wisdom with which the Gospel presents the teaching on prayer? And to learn still more about prayer, we can read the letters of the Apostles.

 

5. Results of Prayer. In continuing with our theme, I will point out some excerpts which illuminate the various aspects of prayer. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles we read how the first Christians prayed, how their vibrant faith in Jesus Christ prompted them to pray continually and fervently. And then we read that the result of this continuous abiding in prayer was the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on those who prayed. A similar example is given in Acts, chapter 16, verses 25 and 26.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

 

6. Pray Under All Circumstances. Then looking at the letters of the Apostles, we can see:

—first that it is necessary to pray under all circumstances of life, James 5:13-16.

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In verse 26, who is the righteous person? I used to assume it was the elder, but having been an elder for many years, I certainly knew I wasn't righteous. The key is the phrase "Therefore confess your sins to each other," a command that is not observed in any healing service I've ever attended.

The righteous people are the ones who have confessed their sins to God and to each other. That should include both the elder and the sick person.

—second, that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayer. Jude 20 and Romans 8:26.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit. .

Romans 8:26. 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 through wordless groans.

—third, that it is necessary to pray in the Spirit on every occasion. Ephesians 6:18.

18 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.

—fourth, that calm and inner peace are necessary for prayer. Philippians 4:6-7.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

—fifth, that it is necessary to pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17 — Pray continually.

—and finally, that it is necessary to pray for everyone, and not only for ourselves. I Timothy 2:1-5. 

1  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

 

7. Summary

By careful and attentive reading of Scripture it is possible to find many more insights about prayer—insights which are hidden from the casual or the superficial reader. From what I have shown you, have you noticed the gradual and systematic development in the instruction on prayer which we have from our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament? Do you see in what marvelous way it is distributed in all four Evangelists?

In St. Matthew we see the introduction to prayer, [as well as] the form, and the conditions. In St. Mark we find examples. In St. Luke, parables. And in St. John the mysterious example of interior prayer—through either briefly or comprehensively this is presented in all four evangelists. The Acts present the practice and the results of prayer, and the Letters and the Revelation the many aspects of the act of prayer. This then is the reason why I use only the New Testament to study the various ways leading to salvation.

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Purpose of this blog is to compile books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

This article with my comments is not copywrighted. However, the translation of The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues on His Way by Helen Bacovcin is copyrighted.

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