31 Days of Prayer: Day 12 – Approaching God as Father

You Can Pray“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’ (Matthew 6:9)

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, starting your prayers with the words ‘heavenly Father’ (or some similar variation) may have become so customary that you don’t think about it much. If you’re not a Christian, the idea of referring to the Creator as ‘Father’ may seem bizarre, even wrong. And if you’re a new Christian, maybe you haven’t got your head around this name for God and you’re still defaulting to safer options like ‘Lord’ or just ‘God’.

I guess that covers just about everyone. Calling God ‘Father’ when we pray has the potential to be a strange, confusing, or empty Christian habit. But it should never be any of those things. Instead, we should pause daily and reflect on the mind-blowing idea that we can call the God of the Universe ‘Father’. Continue reading

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31 Days of Prayer: Day Ten – Delighting in the Lord

Psalm 73“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)”

Yesterday, we looked at how pursuing the pleasures of this world as our driving desire can be fatal to our prayer lives. ‘You do not have, because you do not ask,’ is James’ blunt way of putting it. (Sorry for making you think of James Blunt just then.)

Isaiah puts it equally bluntly: Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Isa 59:1-2) The Psalmist raises a similar idea in Psalm 66: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.” Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Nine – Our passions or our prayers?

Pray - James 4“You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:2)

“I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” So said C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy 1955. Over the last six decades, surely our world has become more filled with trinkets and tools that offer us more instant gratification (pleasure, as Lewis put it), but dissuade us from the pursuit of real, lasting joy – the kind of joy that God offers us in the gospel.

The book of James has a particular concern for showing that a driving desire for the pleasures of this world can be fatal for our prayer lives. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Eight – The simplest reason to pray

Romans 12“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Through the first week of ’31 Days of Prayer’, I’ve managed to avoid maybe the most basic reason why Christians ought to pray: God tells us to.

It might seem the most natural, obvious thing in the world – habitually asking our all-powerful heavenly Father to act in our lives and in the world should be a no-brainer. But just because something is good for us doesn’t mean we naturally want to do it. Do children (and not a few adults) need to be told to eat their vegetables? Do sinful human beings need to be told to pray?

We’ll come back to some of these verses in later reflections throughout the month, but take a look at these biblical commands to pray: Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Seven – Pray Like Jesus

Bethsaida“Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:45-46)

Down through the ages, Christians have (unsurprisingly) looked to Jesus’ practice of prayer for guidance on how we ought to pray. Just a couple of months ago, Mark Dever (one of my favourite Christian authors and preachers) published a brief, insightful essay over at The Briefing, looking at prayer in the life of Jesus. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Six – Jesus’ most shocking command

Keep Calm Love Enemies“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)

During his earthly ministry, Jesus said some shocking things. Perhaps none is more shocking than this part of ‘the Sermon on the Mount’: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:43-48)

Christopher Hitchens (died 2008), one of the most famous and boisterous atheists of recent years, saw the offensiveness of these words. Here’s how he responded when asked about the idea that someone could be commanded to love: Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Five – Why ‘prayer’ is not powerful

EngagedBut there was no voice, and no one answered.” (1 Kings 18:26)

Come back with me to Mount Carmel, to a critical moment in Israel’s history. The people of God have succumbed to leaders who encourage them to abandon God’s commandments and follow the false god, Baal. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah the prophet confronts the people with a clear choice: ““How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”

To help them make their choice, Elijah proposes a contest between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and Baal. The contest seems to be completely stacked against Yahweh and Elijah – Baal has 450 prophets; Yahweh has one. What’s more, Baal was often seen as the god of fire, and this contest is going to be all about fire. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Four – Why prayer without work is presumption

15-black-green-tech“We prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Nehemiah 4:9)

Is it possible to value prayer too highly? No. Is it possible to pray too much? No. But…

What if our focus on prayer somehow leads us to neglect other kinds of action through which God might work?

The book of Nehemiah records God’s people embarking on their efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 445 BC (after their return from exile). As governor of the people, Nehemiah bore a special responsibility for leading the work. Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Three – God on speed-dial

photoSince we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb 10:19-22)

God is infinitely powerful, able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Day 1). And he is the perfectly loving Father, willing to give good gifts to those who ask (Day 2). But surely there’s still a problem – our sin. How can sinners like us approach the perfect, holy God with the temerity to ask for anything? As the Bible says, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Continue reading

31 Days of Prayer: Day Two – God is willing

Child KnockingIf 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. (Matt 7:11)

In Mark 9, Jesus meets the father of a boy possessed by an ‘impure spirit’. The man desperately wants his son healed, but is unsure of Jesus’ ability to help: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us,” he begs. Jesus replies “‘If you can’?” Jesus then heals the boy with a simple word – he is more than able to meet the father’s request. “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) Continue reading