Saturday, June 26, 2010

A biblically balanced prayer

It's a struggle to pray in a biblically balanced manner.  I don't know if you're like me, but when I go to the Lord in prayer there's usually something in particular on my mind.  And in the same way that I blurt out whatever's on my mind to my husband when he walks in the door, I tend to blurt out the need that's on my heart when I go to the Lord in prayer.  I remember learning the ACTS model as a young believer and trying to actually spend time during each prayer in Adoration, Confession, and Thanksgiving before moving onto Supplication.  But this is a discipline and all too often I find myself rushing to the supplication part.  I know God loves us and that we are told to make our requests known to Him.  It's just that I struggle to keep this in balance with the other important purposes of prayer.

Last night I was reading Solomon's prayer of dedication of the Temple to the Lord.  I was struck by the repition of the requests for God to hear and forgive His people.  (8:30, 8:34, 8:36, 8:39, 8:50) 

"And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place.  Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive."  (1 Kings 8:30) 

Once they have God's ear, the first request is for forgiveness.  Solomon also asked that God:  act (8:32&39), judge His servants (8:32), condemn the wicked (8:32), justify the righteous (8:32), bring Israel back to the land (8:34), teach Israel the good way in which they should walk (8:36), send rain (8:36), give to everyone according to all his ways (8:39), do according to all for which the foreigner calls for (8:43), maintain the cause of Your people (8:45), and grant Your repentant people compassion (8:50).  But he asks for forgiveness first.  Solomon seems to understand that forgiveness is 1.) our greatest need and 2.) the prerequisite for all other supplications.  He also seems to understand that 3.) the ultimate goal of our supplications is not our felt need, but God's glory.

1.)  Forgiveness is our greatest need-  During the course of a 32 verse prayer, Solomon asks that God forgive His people under various circumstances no less than 5 times.  I should also mention that in Solomon's if/ then scenario, He asks that God forgive His people only when they confess their sins and turn back to the Lord.  Forgiveness cannot be divorced from repentance.  Solomon acknowledges the fact that we all sin and therefore are all in need of forgiveness. 

"When anyone sins against his neighbor..." (1 Kings 8:31)

"When Your people Israel are defeated before an enemy because they have sinned against You..." (1 Kings 8:33)

"When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You..." (1 Kings 8:35)

"...when each one knows the plague of his own heart..." (1 Kings 8:38)

"When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin)..." (1 Kings 8:46)

This priority of forgiveness reminds me of the time a paralyzed man is brought to Jesus to be healed and Jesus does something no one expected of Him.  "When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven you.'"  (Mark 2:5)  By this time Jesus has healed many people of various diseases.  Everyone, His disciples included, was expecting Jesus to physically heal this man (which He eventually does.)  But Jesus addresses the most severe problem the man has first.  Jesus forgives his sins first in verse 5 and then in verse 11 He addresses the man's physical plight and enables him to walk again.   Jesus didn't always do this when He healed people, but He does it here to make a point.  A man who can walk is still dead... in his sins.  We all have a terminal disease, it's called sin.  And it's more serious than any other problem we take to the Lord.  I think Solomon recognized this same truth.

2.)  Forgiveness is required for right standing with God and right standing with God is required for Him to grant our other supplications.  Notice there is a certain order of events followed in these verses.

v. 34- hear... forgive... bring them back to the land.
v. 36- hear... forgive... teach them... send rain. 
v. 39- hear... forgive... act, give to everyone according to all his ways
v. 49- hear... forgive... grant them compassion

I don't think it's a coincidence that Solomon puts his request for forgiveness first rather than tacking it onto the end of each supplication.  As believers, we understand that Christ died once for the forgiveness of our sins, yet we are told in the NT to confess our sins.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1:9

"Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.  The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."  James 5:16

So in order to be heard, or avail much, we must be righteous.  And in order to be righteous, we must confess our sins.  I don't think this is referring to the righteousness that is imputed to us by God at the point of salvation.  If that were so, the passage in 1 John wouldn't make much sense.  The context of the exhortation to confess our sins is that we all sin and "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8)  Even though we have been justified, we still struggle with the flesh and we still sin.  When we sin, we grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4-5), so we must confess our sins and repent.  We shouldn't concern ourselves with less important matters (health, job situation, family) with unrepentant sin in our lives.  It's majoring in the minors.  God is primarily concerned about His glory and when His people are in sin, that reflects poorly on Him.  It is with this understanding that Solomon requests forgiveness first and then moves onto other requests from the Lord.

3.)  The reason to which Solomon appeals to God for answering the prayers of His people is totally wrapped up in the glory of God.

v. 29 "... that Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place which You said, 'My name shall be there'"
v. 36 "...that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk..."
v. 40 "...that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land which You gave to our fathers."
v. 43 "...that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You..."
v. 51 "...for they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out of Egypt, out of the iron furnace...
v. 53 "For You separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be Your inheritance..."

David prays along these same lines in Psalm 6 when he cries out to the Lord, "Oh, save me for Your mercie's sake!"  We've been listening to Jamie Soles CDs of the Psalms and the ESV version says, "Save me for the sake of Your steadfast love."

Paul's beautiful prayer for the Philippians also has God's glory in mind.  "And this I pray, that your love may abound... being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God."  (Philippians 1:9-11 emphasis mine)

And of course, the Lord's prayer is all wrapped up in God's glory:  "Hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done... For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."  (Mathew 6:9b, 10a & 13b)  In fact, the Lord's prayer begins and ends with the glory of God. 

I'm certainly not claiming to have this all figured out, but the more I study the Scriptures with prayer in mind, the more I see that my generation has an imbalanced view of prayer.  We see prayer primarily as a way to ask God to change something about our circumstances, instead of as a means of giving Him glory.  He gets the glory when we praise Him for who He is and what He's done (Adoration and Thanksgiving).  He's also glorified when His people are in right standing with Him (Confession).  And He glorifies Himself when He shows through granting our Supplications that He alone is the One, True, God and nothing is too difficult for Him. 

We're supposed to take all of our concerns to the Lord, but we should keep in mind 1.) that our sin is more serious to Him than our felt need and 2.) that praying with right motives is wrapped up in seeking God's glory in every situation.

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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.