Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why and How Should We Pray?

Photo by Steve Evans 2009

As born-again Christians, we believe that God is in control, that He knows all, and that His will is done. Why, then should we pray? Because His Word commands us to (Psalm 62:8; Luke 11:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:17); because it is as an act of worship pleasing to Him (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4); and because it changes us. God promises to answer our prayers if we believe He will (Matthew 9:28-29; 21:22).

Most parents, even atheists, love their children and want to give them good things, as do Christian parents even though we are still sinners. God is the ideal Parent Who loves us infinitely (John 15:13), Who is perfectly good and has complete power to answer our prayers, so why would He not give good gifts to His children who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13; Matthew 7: 7-11) If anyone asks Him in prayer to be born again (John 3:3-8) by placing their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6), His Holy Spirit enters that person (1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 1:13).

Once we are saved, God hears our prayers and gives us what we need, even though it may not be what we think we want (Matthew 6:8,32; Luke 12:30). The whole Trinity is involved, because we pray to God the Father in the Name of Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit within us helps us to pray even when we’re not sure what to pray for or how to pray (Romans 8:26). Even if we just pray “Help me,” the Spirit will transform our prayers and carry them to the throne room of Heaven.

I have heard the example of a young child wanting to give her Daddy a bouquet of flowers, so she goes outside and picks whatever she can find. Before she presents it to him, her mother lovingly removes the weeds and thorns, so that the bouquet is beautiful and fragrant, yet still a gift from the child’s heart. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit rearranges our prayers to be a more meaningful and pleasing tribute to God the Father.

Our prayers should not be directed toward changing God’s mind, since we know God does not change (Hebrews 13:8), but to align our mind and heart with the indwelling mind of Christ. Through prayer, we grow closer to Christ and become more like Him (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).  All the wisdom, power, love and light of the Holy Spirit is in us from the moment of salvation onward, if we yield to Him.

What an amazing privilege, that we can pray to God on His throne 24/7, without an intermediary, having to make an appointment, or being put on hold. Jesus is our great High Priest Who knows exactly what we’re going through because He went through it too! He came to earth in human flesh and experienced pain, suffering, betrayal, fatigue, hunger, thirst. We should come boldly, not afraid to share our innermost thoughts and desires with Him, to receive His mercy and grace (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Public prayer has its place, as in church to lead others to pray, but it is even more important to get alone with God in private rather than making a show of prayer (Matthew 6:5-6). We should think about the words we are praying and feel their meaning in our heart, not just repeat a prayer we have learned like a chant or a religious duty (v. 7). Praise God that He understands us better than we ourselves do, and that He knows what we need before we even ask Him (v. 8).

How should we pray? The letters P.R.A.Y. help us to remember to Praise God; Repent of our sins; Ask Him our specific requests; and Yield to His perfect will rather than demanding to have our own way.  The “model prayer,” (v. 9-13; Luke 11:1-4) often referred to as the Lord’s Prayer, was Jesus’ example for His disciples. Even though we don’t have to repeat these exact words when we pray, it is useful to memorize this and other Scripture so that we can use it, not only in prayer, but to encourage ourselves and others and to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11).

Matthew 6: 9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The prayer begins with “Our Father” (v. 9). Only believers can say this, for we are all children of the devil until we are saved (1 John 3:10). The word for Father is “Abba,” like “Daddy,” a term of love, trust, and respect. Our Father is on His throne in Heaven, and yet our prayers reach Him there like sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4). As Lester Roloff said, “Prayer is instant contact with Heaven.”

We praise God by saying Hallowed be Thy Name. The Name of Jesus is the only Name by which we can be saved (Acts 2:21; 4:12; Romans 10:13) and it is special, holy, and worthy of praise. We praise and thank God for Who He is and for what He has done and has promised to do, and we thank Him in all circumstances, realizing that it is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Thy kingdom come” means that we look forward to Christ setting up His earthly kingdom (Matthew 6:10), and to the Rapture and Second Coming before that. Because of this, we want to live lives that are holy, set apart from the world (2 Peter 3:10-15), and in His service (1 Corinthians 15:57-58). To do that, we yield to His perfect will, realizing that His will being done is the best possible outcome. Even Jesus, Who asked for the suffering of the cross to pass from Him if that were possible, yielded to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

The model prayer continues, “Give us this day our daily bread,” (Matthew 6:11), as we ask Him to satisfy our physical as well as our spiritual needs (Matthew 4:4). We should ask Him every day, not just once a week in church, and He will provide for us every day, just as He gave the manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4). We pray for “us,” not for “me,” as we should pray for others as well as for ourselves, and prayer has more power when we pray together about the same burden (Matthew 18:19-20).

The model prayer asks for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12). We should confess and repent of our sins, and He has promised to forgive us (1 John 1:9). He forgave us even though He had to die for our sins (Luke 23:34), so we need to forgive others and not hold a grudge or bitterness in our heart (Matthew 18: 21-22).

We should pray to flee temptation, while asking Him to deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). Many have experienced the temptation we face at any given moment, and even He Himself was tempted when He walked the earth, yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Thankfully, He has promised an escape from every temptation we encounter, if we choose to take it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The prayer closes by acknowledging that Jesus Christ is our Lord and King, and that He alone has all power, glory and majesty. He has the absolute power to answer our prayers, no matter how small or great the need (Jeremiah 32: 17). He is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), present from the beginning of time and throughout all eternity  (Revelation 1:8).

Amen means “so be it.” The Hebrew word, amen, means “surely, indeed, truly.” When we say Amen after a prayer, it means we agree with the prayer and are also praying it.

May our daily prayers to Our Father praise the Holy Name of Jesus, ask His forgiveness, boldly bring to Him our requests great and small, and submit to His perfect will in all things. In so doing, may we please God and become more like Him!  

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

A New Song: Triplets of Praise

As we saw last week, the waltz is a special song because of its rhythmic structure based on three beats, reminding me of the triune nature of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No matter what the rhythm, however, God wants us to sing a new song to Him, and His Word describes that new song in triplets of praise. God designed us in His image for His good pleasure, including our voices (Exodus 15:1,21), ears (Exodus 10:2), and musical abilities (Genesis 4:21) to resonate freely to His glory.

Six Psalms (33, 40, 96, 98, 144, 149) command us to sing a new song to the Lord. That song is to be accompanied by a harp, psaltery and instrument of ten strings (Psalm 33:2-3; 144:9); or with the harp, trumpets and cornet (Psalm 98:1,5,6); or with the dance, timbrel and harp (Psalm 149:1,3). Three types of instruments specifically mentioned are therefore stringed instruments (including the psaltery), brass instruments (trumpets and cornet), and percussion instruments (timbrel, which is like a tambourine).

The new song therefore may be sung with the voice, played on instruments, or danced. It may be played skilfully with a loud noise (Psalm 33:3), be poetic as a psalm, or just be a joyful noise. Everyone, regardless of musical ability, is to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, by making a loud noise, rejoicing, and singing praise (Psalm 98:4-5).

Not only is this new song of praise for all the inhabitants of the earth to sing (Psalm 96:1), but for all creation! Even the sea should roar, the floods clap their hands, and the hills be joyful together (Psalm 98:7-8).

Why should I praise the Lord? Because He bent toward me, heard my cry of distress, and brought me up out of the horrible pit of destruction. He set my feet upon the Rock of His sure Foundation, He kept me out of trouble, and He put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40:1-3). God is praiseworthy for the marvelous things He has done, for the victory He has won, and for saving us through His Son. He alone has the attributes of righteousness, mercy and truth (Psalm 98:1-3).

What will happen if I sing that new song of praise? Many shall see it (experience our witness of being born again), and fear (realize they are sinners deserving eternal punishment in hell) and shall trust in the Lord (place their faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only Way to Heaven). (Psalm 40:1-3; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:3-8; 14:6). By singing unto the Lord, we bless His name; show His salvation; and declare His glory (Psalm 96:1-3).

Music that honors God is a way to witness to the unsaved (Psalm 98:2), as well as to encourage other believers and to worship God (Psalm 149:1-2). To uplift fellow Christians, to elevate our own spirits and to commune with God, we should speak to one another, to ourselves, and to God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19).

Even though classic hymns containing Scripture may not be “new songs,” we can sing them anew, listening for nuances and creating inflections that emphasize how the hymn now applies to our own life. God’s Word in song is as much a two-edged sword as it is when it is spoken (Psalm 149:6; Hebrews 4:12). What a wonderful way to rebuke the devil and have him flee from us! (Matthew 4:10-11; James 4:7).

In my music ministry, I try to sing a variety of good music, including not only standard hymns and contemporary Christian songs but also “new songs,” or classic secular tunes for which I have rewritten the lyrics (link to video), hoping to engage those whose hearts may be softened by the melody to respond to the Christian message. This is also the focus of our dance ministry, where we use music and dance to bring Good News to a largely secular audience.

There are three verses (Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; 14:3) referring to the new song of praise that is fit only for the Redeemer, the Lamb Who was slain, and the King of Kings eternally on His throne. One of these is prophesied in Isaiah, foretelling the inhabitants of all the new earth singing the praise of Christ the King in the new Millennium (Isaiah 42:9-12).

The other two verses picture the Revelation of Jesus Christ in all His glory. The singers of the new song will be the four beasts and four and twenty elders (Revelation 5:8) and the 144,000 redeemed male virgins (Revelation 14:3-4). The 144,000 witnesses will sing with a voice like many waters, like a great thunder, and like the sound of harp music (Revelation 14:2).

The four beasts repeat “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8). Each of the three words “holy” refers to a different member of the Trinity, identified as “Lord” (Christ Jesus), “God” (the Father), and “Almighty” (the Holy Spirit) Who empowers the divine plan (Genesis 1:2; Luke 1:35).

Why is Jesus Christ alone worthy of the praise in this new song? Because He was slain; He redeemed us with His shed blood; and He made believers from every nation to be kings and priests to reign with Him (Revelation 5:10).

When should we sing new songs to the Lord? Not only in the future when we worship Him in glory, or when we praise Him publicly in church or elsewhere, but even privately at home, singing aloud upon our beds before we rise in the morning or fall asleep at night! (Psalm 149:5-6). Praise God that all who have trusted Him as Lord and Savior can sing the new song of the redeemed (Psalm 71:23; Isaiah 51:11), for we are a new creation in Him! Even if you can’t carry a tune, lift up your whole being in new songs to His glory!

© 2014 Laurie Collett
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