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					                                               Prayer
                                                    CrossFire 107

                                                                       think we have a right to have our prayers
What Prayer Is
                                                                       answered. If they are not, we are disappointed
Prayer is communication with God in the broadest                       and stop praying. But there are solutions to
sense. As the activity of communication with God, it                   these problems.
holds a central part in the life of the Christian. He
cannot do without it, nor can he have too much of it.           We have God's estimate of the importance of prayer
We are not told that Jesus taught His disciples how to          “Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His presence
preach or work miracles. We are told that He taught             continually!” (l Chronicles l6; 11). We should give it
them to pray (Matthew 6; 9). Elisha is not mentioned            the place in our lives that He has ordained for it. Our
in the New Testament even though he worked greater              prayer is to be directed and controlled by God, and
miracles than Elijah. It is Elijah, and particularly his        not by ourselves.
prayers, that the New Testament remembers (James 5;
l7). It takes us right back to the bedrock of our               •      We have the example of Jesus, Whose life was
Christianity. God takes the initiative. As we did not                  filled from beginning to end with an awesome
choose Him, but He chose us (John l5; l6), so He is                    purposefulness. Yet He found time for prayer -
more eager to communicate with us than we are with                     early (Mark l; 35), late (Matthew l4; 23 - 25),
Him.                                                                   when He was busy (Luke 5; 15 & 16), at
Why we can Pray                                                        crucial moments (Luke 6; 12 & 13; Matthew
                                                                       26; 36). His life and His teaching suggest that
In life God is always reaching out to His people. We                   the Christian should make prayer his first
do not have to struggle to find our way into His                       priority.
presence. But we know where we may find Him. God                •      We have God's revelation in the Bible, which
has already provided the way back to Himself. When                     is essential for our prayer. Our prayer is not to
His Son died in our place on the Cross, He Himself                     be a one-way transaction. Our meditation is
took our separation and alienation, as at that moment                  controlled by His revelation. The Bible
Jesus found Himself God-forsaken. There the barrier                    provides us with promises to claim; it shows
of our sin was remo ved. We were granted access into                   us our sins; it gives us examples of prayer to
the presence of God. It is because Jesus' death made                   follow; it supplies words for our praise.
this possible that we may pray 'in the name of' , or 'for       •      In our praying we never get away from the
the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord'.                                   foot of the Cross. We have no right of
                                                                       ourselves even to come into the presence of
As God has taken the initiative in drawing us back to                  God, let alone to ask Him for things.
Himself and making prayer possible, we can relax                       Complacency and self-satisfaction are fatal to
about prayer. It is letting God do what He wants. It                   prayer. We must always remember our
may at times be hard, but it should never be seen as                   helplessness before God.
an achievement.
                                                                The Mystery of Prayer
Prayer Difficulties
                                                                But in trying to answer some of the problems of
Why, then, do we find it difficult? For the same                prayer, we should not ignore its mystery. Prayer is not
reason that we can find the whole Christian life                simple. Nor is it always easy. The Bible speaks of
difficult: old patterns of selfishness try to reassert          wrestling in prayer (in Colossians 4;l2 Epaphras
themselves.                                                     literally 'agonises over you in the prayers'). Jesus told
(a)     We pray only when we feel like praying,                 a parable specifically to teach His disciples that they
        letting our feelings dominate us rather than our        ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke l8;1). It
        minds and our wills. Our minds tell us that             seems that there is some connection between the
        prayer is important, but our feelings say that it       effectiveness of our prayers and the strength of our
        is more pleasant to watch the television.               faith (Matthew 21; 21 & 22). We will always be
(b)     (b) We allow prayer to be squeezed out of our           puzzled by our unanswered prayers (or rather those to
        lives by the pressures of everyday living. The          which God's answer is "No"); it may be that we are
        pressing but unimportant squeezes out the               asking for what is in fact harmful for us - wisdom
        important but unpressing.                               may sometimes refuse what ignorance innocently
(c)     (c) We narro w down our prayer in practice to           asks. It may be that unconfessed sin is separating us
        'asking God for things' and find ourselves              from God (Psalm 66; 18). It may be that God is
        presenting God with the same shopping list              challenging our faith. His clocks keep perfect time
        day after day.                                          and He may be wanting each of us to pray more, to
(d)     (d) We lose our sense of helplessness and               pray more earnestly, to persevere, so that His eventual



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answer will strengthen and reinforce our faith.          confession when we bring our sins before God and
                                                         seek His forgiveness and the help of His Spirit. We
Faith in Prayer
                                                         need thanksgiving ; above all for the death of Jesus
We are taught to pray according to our faith (Mark 11; that makes the whole thing possible and takes away
24). We are not to pray for what we cannot believe       our sin, but also for the thousand things we take for
will happen. But, as we pray, and God answers, our       granted every day and for the answers to previous
faith will grow to grasp the 'impossible'. For example, prayer. We need to ask for our needs (again not
instead of asking for the conversion of our neighbour, forgetting the ones we take for granted - 'give us this
if we cannot believe that it will happen, we could pray day our daily bread' ), and for the needs of others (the
that we might get to know that neighbour better -        authorities who rule over us, Christian work around
perhaps invite him into our house, or be invited into    the world, the poor and the suffering, our own church
his. As God answered that prayer, we might be            and friends) and we need to be specific in all our
encouraged to pray that we may get into conversation prayers. "God bless Africa" is non- intelligent prayer.
with him about Christianity. As God answered that        It is not focussed. It is unrelated to a burden of tangible
prayer, we might believe that he would come to church proportions, which must surely be a part of heartfelt
with us. The answer to that prayer might have created prayer. It is not a prayer whose answers can be
in us the faith to believe that this neighbour will be   perceived and thus one which will not readily bring
converted. God's answer to that will finally have        praise and thanksgiving to God. We need praise -
increased our faith as well as extended His Kingdom. spiritual health made audible, as it has been called,
                                                         when we respond to God for Who He is, rather than
'There is no way to learn to pray but by praying. No     merely for what He has done.
reasoned philosophy of prayer ever taught a soul to
                                                         Public Prayer
pray. The subject is beset with problems, but there are
no problems of prayer to the man who prays. They are There are also forms of public prayer; grace before
all met in the fact of answered prayer and the joy of    meals, prayer in church services, and prayer meetings.
fellowship with God'. [Samuel Chadwick].                 Jesus Himself gave us guidelines to follow. In
                                                         Matthew 6, verses 5 and 6, we pray to God, not men
It is no good our hoping that prayer will change things, (there is such a thing as a horizontal prayer, telling
without changing us . In our praying God is at work      others something we think they should know, and not
upon us, just as much as we are at work upon the         directed to God at all); verses 7 and 8, we are to stick
world.                                                   to simple language. Guard against all ambition to excel
                                                         one another in expression.
How to Pray
We can (and must) pray at all times and in all places. It   ‘Remember the most spiritual prayer is a groan which
may be a moment's quiet reflection, or a sudden cry of      cannot be uttered (Romans 8; 26), or a cry of “Abba,
panic (like Peter's Matthew l4; 3O). But, if we do not      Father” (Galatians 4; 6)’ [R.M. McCheyne]. There are
have a regular pattern of planned prayer in our lives,      various people who tend to kill prayer meetings; those
there is a danger we will soon not be praying at all. We    who pray too long, too horizontally, too often, those
need to find a time of the day when we can be alone,        who do not pray at all, and, especially, those who
and a place where we can be undisturbed. Jesus rose a       never attend.
great while before day and went out into a lonely
                                                            Remember
place, teaching us that prayer is more important than
sleep (Mark 1; 35). What position we use does not        Satan seeks in every way he can to keep us from
matter, but we will need a Bible if we are to hear God   praying. If he cannot squeeze it out of our lives by
as well as speak to Him.                                 pressure of time, he will make us forget that prayer
                                                         begins and ends with humiliation and dependence,
As important as daily regularity in our praying is a     that: 'the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not
balance between different aspect of prayer. We need      know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself
stillness while we wait quietly to hear God's voice. 'Be intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words'.
still, and know that I am God' (Psalm 46; 10). 'For God (Romans 8; 26).
alone my soul waits in silence' (Psalm 62; 1). It has
been said that all the evils of modern life have come    This article was written by the Reverend Mark Ashton
upon man because he cannot sit alone quietly in a
room. Certainly we often bustle busily into the
presence of God and bustle out again without ever
pausing to listen to Him or to worship Him. We need




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