Prayer

3 Forms of Prayer That End Up Forming Us

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Prayer has a formative impact on our lives—the manner or form of our prayers actually shapes the contours and character of our lives. So frequently, it would seem, our prayers begin with our experience: something in our lives occasions a particular prayer, typically a petition or request. And thus the content of our prayers is determined by what is happening in our lives. But perhaps the reverse should actually be the norm. Without doubt, the circumstances of our lives will inform our prayers. But perhaps what should be happening is that our prayers would inform our lives, that our praying would alter our living, that our prayers would shape the contours and content of our daily experience.

PRAYER AS FORMATION

In this way of living and praying, we would allow our deepest convictions—our faith and our theological vision of God, ourselves, and our world—to inform our prayers and be the means by which we know the transforming power of grace in our lives. More particularly, we would choose that the reign of Christ—the kingdom of God—would increasingly be that which defines our lives, our ways of being, living, and responding to our world. We would find that the salvation of God is not merely something that God has done for us—in Christ, on the cross—but also something that God is doing in us.

To this end, our prayers play a crucial role. Indeed, if transformation does not happen through our prayers, it likely does not happen. This is why it is so crucial that we teach new Christians how to pray and that in our patterns and approaches to congregational life we are consistently coming back to the fundamentals of prayer. And this is why all of us, older and newer Christians alike, are always coming back to the basics of the form and structure of formative prayer.

When we pray “thy kingdom come,” should not our prayer be an act of recalibration? Could our praying be an act of intentional alignment and realignment? That is, in our prayer our vision of the kingdom purposes of God will be deepened and broadened; we will be drawn into the reality of Christ risen and now on the throne of the universe. And thus through our prayers we not only pray for the kingdom but also come to increasingly live within the kingdom, under the reign of Christ.

This last point is crucial. So frequently we pray as though God is passive and we are trying to get God to act. But could it be that God is always active? And that in our praying we are aware of how God is actually always at work, bringing his kingdom into effect, and we are seeing and responding to the kingdom even as we pray “thy kingdom come”? In the process, we are increasingly more aligned and in tune with the kingdom, more and more living our lives, individually and in community, in a manner that consistently reflects, in word and deed, the coming kingdom of God.

3 MOVEMENTS IN OUR PRAYERS

Can we do this? Certainly, but only if we are intentional. We need to consider the merits of a very focused and purposeful approach to our prayers. Yes, there is a place for spontaneity. And most certainly there is a place for freeform prayers where we express to God our immediate thoughts and feelings. But when we speak of our formation in Christ and our participation in the kingdom—where the kingdom of God increasingly defines us more than anything else—we should perhaps be focused and purposeful. We can consider the value of consistency and even routine, an approach to prayer that has an order to it. We can even speak of a liturgy, meaning that our prayers have a regular pattern to them so that over time our hearts and minds and lives are increasingly conformed to the very thing for which we are praying.

In this kind of intentionality it is very helpful to think in terms of three movements in our prayers, three forms of prayer by which we respond to and learn to live in the reality that Christ is risen and active in our world—that in and through Christ the reign of God is coming. Three movements, with an intentional sequence.

First, we give thanks. We see and respond with gratitude to the ways in which God is already at work in our world and in our lives. We begin here. We begin by seeing the evidence of the reign of Christ—the ways that God is already at work in our lives and in our world. And we give thanks. We pray “thy kingdom come” in a way that not only acknowledges that God is already at work but celebrates and gives thanks for this work. We cannot pray “thy kingdom come” if we are not grateful for how the kingdom has come and is coming. Thanksgiving is foundational to the Christian life and thus foundational to prayer.

Second, we make confession—the essential realignment of those who long to live under the reign of Christ. We pray “thy kingdom come,” and very soon we also pray—if we follow the sequence of the Lord’s Prayer—“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We practice confession. It is clear from Scripture that when the kingdom is announced and when the kingdom is at hand—present, in our midst, and recognized—we respond with confession (Mark 1:15).

Confession is essential if we truly recognize and believe in the coming of the kingdom. If we have kingdom eyes, the genius of our response is that we see where there is a disconnect. We see and feel that our lives are not being lived ina way that is consistent with the kingdom. We cannot pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” unless and until we see the ways that our lives are not lived in consistency with the will of God. And so, recognizing the kingdom, we repent: we practice confession. Repentance, then, is not merely a matter of feeling bad about something we have said or done, but rather an act of intentional alignment—or better, realignment—with the coming of the reign of Christ.

And third, we practice discernment—considering where and how God is calling us to speak and act as participants in the kingdom of God. We pray “thy kingdom come” as those who are also called to be full participants, in word and deed, in what God is doing in the world. And so when we pray we of course ask—or better, discern—how we are called in our lives to witness to the kingdom.

We are not merely observers; we are engaged. We are invited—more, actually called as agents of God’s purposes in the world. Our words and our deeds matter. In some mysterious way, even though God and God alone brings about the kingdom, our lives witness to the kingdom—our words, our work. And so when we pray “thy kingdom come,” we also necessarily must pray, How, oh Lord, are you calling me to make a difference in your kingdom purposes for our world? 


Taken from Teach Us to Pray by Gordon T. Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by Gordon T. Smith Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Gordon T. Smith (PhD, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University) is the president of Ambrose University and Seminary in Calgary, Alberta, where he also serves as professor of systematic and spiritual theology. He is an ordained minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the author of many books, including Courage and Calling, Called to Be Saints, Spiritual Direction, Consider Your Calling, and The Voice of Jesus.

Ask Him for Joy

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Like a seismograph, my wife is intimately tuned to recognize any time the ground is moving in the lives and needs 0f our five children. She can sense a fever from a mile away and knows if her offspring need a Kleenex five minutes before a nose begins to run. This has come not only because of the amazingly intuitive and attentive mother she is, but also because of the immense amount of time that she has invested in our children. She has been the primary resource to meet every one of their needs from their conception onward. As each of our five children developed in her womb, there was not a physical need her body didn’t anticipate or provide for them. As they have entered the world and have grown, she has been a constant presence and provider for them. When they have a need, she meets it. As a result, they go to her for almost everything.

It’s a bit humorous when I’m at home, because even when I’m close by and available to meet their needs, my kids don’t default to me as a major resource for their most basic needs. There are times when I will be in the room near my wife when one of my smaller children walks in and asks her a question like, “Does Daddy have to go to work today?” At that moment, Keri and I will exchange a bemused and knowing glance. Her eyes will momentarily return to the child’s, and with the power of a gravitational force (I’m convinced that mothers actually have tractor beams in their eyes) will guide a pair of five year-old eyes—simply with a nod—to my waiting and attentive face. She’ll gently say, “Your dad is right here. Ask him.”

The resulting transformation of a child’s face from query to comprehension (and on a good day, to delight) is miraculous. It’s as if a veil has been lifted and the child has noticed my presence in their world for the very first time. Their eyes widen, a smile broadens across their face, and oftentimes a hug ensues (these are the sweet times). The child’s attention is then diverted to me, and the questioner has been re-introduced to the appropriate party with a simple directive: “Your dad is right here for you. Ask him.”

Christ, the Perfect Mediator

Christian theology has long acknowledged and celebrated Christ’s unique office as Mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Through his sacrificial and atoning death, burial, resurrection and ascension, Christ has accomplished the enduring reconciliation of relationship between God and his people. There is no greater truth, no greater reality.

And yet the robustness of Jesus’ mediation is often weakened when we tell ourselves that maybe God isn’t really happy with us. Maybe he just tolerates us. So we are hesitant to get too close to him. This is one reason why we need Jesus to continuously run interference for us with an unhappy God.

The fact of the matter is that Christ is such a perfect mediator between us and God that he has provided a way for us to come to the Father directly. His righteousness is now our own (2 Cor. 5:21), and we are counted as fully-vested, adopted children. It is utterly profound, and often rather difficult, for us to believe what Jesus says in John 16:

“In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full…In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” – John 16:23–24, 26–27

Jesus references a radical change in relationship between his followers and his Father that will happen through his mediating work; specifically, through his redemptive death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Jesus is assuring his gathered disciples that “that day” will come when direct access to the Father will take place. In that day, Jesus says that we will be able to ask directly, that is, we will be able to pray. We will be able to approach the Father directly in Jesus’ name and through his mediating work—and we will be the ones asking (“I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf”). In turn, the Father himself will be the one hearing, listening, and responding, “for the Father himself loves you.”

A pastor friend of mine often reminds me that at the core of the gospel is the often-missed truth that Jesus died so that we could pray. The author of the letter to the Hebrews assures us that we may “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We have truly been given “boldness and access” to the Father “with confidence through our faith in him” (Eph. 2:18, 3:12).

And God expects us to come, to pray, and to ask. In fact, he commands us to ask. He wants us to ask. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Your Dad is right here for you. Ask him.”

Ask Out of Joy, Not Shame

But, if you’re like me, prayer is often a labor and a grind for you, accompanied by overtones of duty, burden, and guilt. We know we ought to pray, so we simultaneously carry an awareness of our deficiency in prayer. Ask any of your Christian friends how their prayer life is going, and you will likely get a sheepish aversion of the eyes, a quick change of the subject, or a dejected expression.

Yet the fact that we now have access to the very throne of God is incredible, and should be for us a source of much joy. What else could bring us greater joy than a new, intimate relationship with God himself? God doesn’t want us to associate prayer with guilt and shame. Instead, he grants us the ability to find joy in our relationship with him through prayer: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:24).

We often take this to mean that our joy will be full because of our receiving, but its true meaning is deeper than this. Joy comes because of the relationship in which we can ask God something because he loves us:

“In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you.” – John 16:26-27 (emphasis added)

Perhaps Jesus is saying that joy comes because of our new relationship with the One whom we are asking—the One who is present; the One who loves us; the One who listens to and answers our requests. Because of this new relationship, we are learning to ask for that which is actually able to make us joyful. As a result, we receive what we truly want, the very thing that we will find ourselves asking for, more of God.

ASKING FOR JOY

What if instead of loading our prayer life with false expectations, guilt, fear, aversion, humiliation, anger, frustration, or even boredom, we were to ask for what God is so willing to give? What if we were to ask God for joy?

For God prayer is all about relationship; it’s all about being with his children. And for us, it should be about being with our Father, in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). God would have you be joyful, even in your sadness, sorrow, broken-heartedness and pain. So come to him—especially if you don’t feel joyful—and ask for joy from the Healer, the Care-giver, and the only One who can turn your sorrow into joy.

Ask for joy! Fight for joy! Find joy! For in Christ, you are in the smiling, happy presence of the God who made you and loves you more than you could ever ask or imagine. He wants to be with you. He wants you to devote your time and attention and energy to him. He loves you and offers you joy.

Your Dad is right here for you. Ask him.


Mike Phay serve as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as an Affiliate Professor at Kilns College in Bend, OR. He has been married to Keri for 20 years and they have five amazing kids (Emma, Caleb, Halle, Maggie, and Daisy). He loves books and coffee, preferably at the same time.

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Thy Will Be Done

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You don’t have to read the papers, watch the news, or scroll through social media to know this pervasive truth: the world is not as it should be. Society is not right. Culture is corrupt. Institutions are failing. The market is not moral. Humans, in our sin, are destroying the earth as fast as we can, only to be outdone by the destroying of one-another. We abuse; we steal; we kill; we neglect. Earth does not look like heaven. While Jesus prayed, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we point to the grand disparity of earth and the notion of heaven and dispute the existence of God. We often wonder: “If there is a God, when will he do something?”

This doubt transforms into one of the best prayers: “God make our world whole.”

Jesus Is God’s Will on Earth from Heaven

Jesus taught his disciples to pray these words amidst cultural chaos, on land that looked nothing like heaven. Jesus had come proclaiming and demonstrating a world of peace, without sickness, evil, or death. Fresh from petitioning God’s kingdom to come into our lives, into our communities, and into our world, Jesus emphasized this kingdom—God’s will on this earth.

In other words, the kingdom is all about God getting his way. It means God ruling with peace, justice, mercy, grace, and love. God’s will is lasting peace and abundant joy.

Jesus calls us to invoke, in our prayers, an imagination of our world looking exactly how God intended. Our minds, hearts, and vocal chords are to call on God to do and be all that he intended: “God be with us. God take charge.”

The poignancy of this line in the prayer is found in the person praying it: Jesus prays as God’s will on earth from heaven. Jesus, himself, is God’s will on earth. He is with them. He is in charge, commanding the earth, weather, and all material. Jesus is God’s will from heaven.

Paul poetically describes Christ’s laying down of all his divine attributes to take the form of man and enter humanity (Phil 2). Jesus’ birth is the advent of this prayers’ answer: God’s will has come to earth! Heaven has dipped into humanity. God is his own answer to this prayer. In Christ, God’s will is advancing on earth.

What is God’s will? Jesus came into the world to make God’s will plane. God’s will is to reconcile humanity to God. The symptoms of this will are the healing of the sick, the mending of the broken, and expelling of evil.

God’s will is to pour his love generously into the world through Jesus. His will is to defeat sin, death, and evil and make all things new by his own death and resurrection.

When We Pray, It’s a Call for Incarnation

“Prayer is a moment of incarnation—God with us.” — Paul Miller

The act of prayer, any prayer, is one that beckons the will of God on earth. This kind of petitioning is what prayer is. It’s a statement of belief, a realization of God’s presence in earth, a cry to the one who can change earth. Furthermore, prayer itself is an act of submission. Our prayers are always a petition for God to be with us. All prayer is about God and his will being made visible in our world.

Our current American prayer crisis comes, in part, from godless prayer. We don’t seek the presence of God in our lives and world. We seek God’s activity—a to-do list. We are more like the people crowding around Jesus in Mark 3:7–12 than we’d like to admit. They pressed to be close to him to use his power for their healing. Jesus flees from these people into a boat for fear of being crushed.

The people wanted healing, not a healer. They were content to use Jesus like a charm, not welcome him as Christ. In teaching us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus instructs us to welcome God with us. He teaches us to pray centered on his mission.

When we Pray, It is for Home

The gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection is one that unifies heaven and earth. While the incarnation Christ on earth is God’s will dipping into earth, Jesus’ death and resurrection is the advancement of that will. God creates a new reality of heaven and earth in his resurrection.

“When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, he rose as the beginning of the new world that Israel’s God had always intended to make. That is the first and perhaps the most important thing to know about the meaning of Easter…the stories of the risen Jesus have a different quality altogether. They seem to be about a person who is equally at home “on earth” and “in heaven.” And that is, in fact, exactly what they are.” — N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

When we pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for home. We are praying as refugees without a native land we can return to. We are praying for the completeness of resurrection life into our life today, tomorrow, and forevermore. We are praying for resurrection hope.

Prayer orients us toward our rest, the risen Christ whose will is on earth as it is in heaven.

When we pray, It’s for His Will

We pray as people between two worlds. We pray on behalf of the world. Our prayers are invitations to God: bring your will into our city, culture, government, and marketplace. This prayer is certainly one of trust and confidence in his sovereignty. This prayer is also one of compassion, empathy, and desperation in a lost and dying world.

We pray for his resurrection hope in every moment of death. We pray for his great reconciliation in the face of every sin. We pray for his advancement and victory over every kind of evil.

Brad Watson (@bradawatson) serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities where he develops and teaches leaders how to form communities that love God and serve the city. Brad is the author of Raised?Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities, and Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities. He lives in southeast Portland with his wife and their two daughters. You can read more from Brad at www.bradawatson.com.

Thy Kingdom Come

For much of my Christian life, I failed to connect the dots. I couldn’t bridge the gap between what I knew God had done in my heart and how that truth applies to the world around me. Is following Jesus just a small, subjective feeling? Did the Spirit’s work in changing my heart mean that his work was only for my heart? These questions perplexed me for quite some time. I never received peace until I dug into the scriptures to explore the kingdom of God.

Jesus teaches us to start our prayers by remembering we belong to God’s family—the family that God has rescued and is gathering together from all nations.

Central to the gospel announcement are the words of Jesus himself: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15). Our Lord saw his vocation as Israel’s Messiah as genuinely good news—and it had everything to do with God’s Kingdom coming to bear on this earth.

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom announcement was about God’s rule being established in time and on earth. The prophets of old had warned of this great day (e.g., Dan 7:13–14), and Jesus declared without hesitation that the day was “now.” “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt 12:28).

The ministry of Jesus consisted of both demonstration and proclamation. He showed and taught the ways of the Kingdom. He healed both external wounds and internal injuries. The Kingdom of God was an all-encompassing reality—a new world order underneath the lordship of Christ Jesus.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray for this fact to “come.” Incidentally, it was coming. Had Christ died for sinners? Not yet. Was the tomb empty? Not quite. But the Kingdom was breaking in, and the disciples were to ask God to increase the temperature.

Notwithstanding the disciples’ current struggle with unbelief, Jesus assured them that their prayers would not go unheard. If they prayed like this, then the Father would hear their cry.

“Prayer doesn’t change things; God changes things in answer to prayer.” – John Calvin

Praying for the Kingdom

What does it mean for us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come? To start, we must keep in mind that prayer is God’s means. It is no accident that Jesus here taught his disciples to pray and not how to organize a three-point sermon. The preaching would come later when the Spirit would descend and give them authority and power.

What they needed now was to learn in Christ’s school of prayer. They needed communion with God. As Jesus would later pray in Gethsemane, that they also may be in us

Praying to “our Father” that the Kingdom would “come” is simply another way of communing with God underneath his sovereign authority and plan. Even though the disciples would have to walk through countless trials—including the death of their teacher—they were to stick closely to God in prayer, believing that, in doing so, the world would be changed.

This second petition covers everything from eschatology to missiology and ecclesiology to piety. I want to focus in on just three aspects of this second petition.

Three Key Elements of the Lord’s Prayer 

1. We pray that sin would be eradicated.

Because “all mankind” is “under the dominion of sin and Satan,” we pray for the Kingdom of God to come and deal with the big problem of sin. Because the Kingdom was inaugurated, we must not forget how it was done.

Christ’s substitutionary death was an end to sin. The Lamb of God came to take away the sins of the world, and he intends to do just that. Praying for the Kingdom to come is to pray that Christ’s sovereign rule would wipe out our lustful thoughts and irritable attitudes.

We don’t want God’s moral law to be trampled; we want it to be honored! We want sin to be eradicated, and we look forward to the day when it will be.

2. We pray that Satan would be snuffed out.

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The Bible makes several things clear about Satan and his demise.

  • He has been disarmed, defeated, and triumphed over (Col 2:15; Rev 12:7ff; Mk 3:27).
  • He is “fallen” (Lk 10:18) and was “thrown” down out of heaven (Rev 12:9).
  • For the early Christians, he was crushed under their feet (Rom 16:20).
  • He has no authority over Christians (Col 1:13).
  • Jesus tied him up, binding him so that the nations could no longer be deceived (Matt 12:29; Mk 3:27; Lk 11:20; Rev 20).
  • Satan has been “judged” (Jn 16:11) and cast out (Jn 12:31).
  • He can’t touch a Christian (1 Jn 5:18).
  • All his works have been destroyed (1 Jn 3:8).
  • Satan has nothing (Jn 14:30), and he flees when resisted (Jas 4:7).
  • He is alive in the world, but he is a defeated enemy moping around in his bitterness.

Praying for the Kingdom to come means that evil and Satan her leader must go.

3. We pray that Christ’s glory would cover the earth.

Because the Kingdom has come and it intends to grow in history (Dan 2; Matt 13; Isa 9:7), we pray for its expansion in every neighborhood and every home. “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).

The glory of God is the supremacy of his personhood; we want desperately for his holiness, love, grace, wrath, and mercy to be acknowledged by all men, women, and children everywhere. The impetus for the missional church is this glory.

Multiplying Disciples

When we consider the task of making, maturing, and multiplying disciples, sometimes we fail to see (like I did!) how the Kingdom connects to real life. At a basic level, we know that disciples are made and brought into the Kingdom because the Spirit changes a person’s heart through our preaching of the gospel message (Rom. 10:14–17).

We usually understand this regarding evangelism and discipleship—both are necessary correlated. When we consider maturing disciples, we understand that the power to make and grow disciples rests in the power of the gospel.

We make a disciple by the power of the gospel, and we grow a disciple by the same thing. The trouble comes in on this last part: How do we multiply disciples, and how does it connect to this second petition?

When we consider the reality of the Kingdom that has come and pray for its effects to grow, we need to keep in mind that a significant part of that growing comes from the Church. In other words, the Church of Jesus is a colony of heaven; our citizenship is held in the heavenly file room while our practical passports are held at the local assemblies.

Baptized disciples who partake of the Lord’s Supper under the leadership of qualified elders and listen to the preaching of the Word of God each Lord’s day are ambassadors of this Kingdom. The signposts of heaven are people.

Pieces of the Kingdom

If we intend to plant churches, grow missional communities, and send out missionaries around the globe, we’re going to need to keep in mind that God has ordained these means to achieve his Kingdom ends. All those late-night counseling meetings, all those coffee conversations, those men’s groups, ladies’ book studies, missional community gatherings, fight clubs, and church planting efforts are all pieces of the great Kingdom puzzle.

To connect the dots between what God has given you and what God intends to do through you, we must realize that the dots are already connected.

Everything we do is motivated and fueled by God’s Kingdom work. Usually, we divorce our multiplication efforts from the Kingdom—and sometimes for good reason. It often just doesn’t look like the Kingdom. But perhaps we aren’t looking at it with the right glasses? Perhaps the invitation of the Kingdom is an invitation into the small stuff that doesn’t look like much.

When we catechize our children, go to work and do a good job, interact on social media in an honorable way, or even change a diaper, all of it falls under the lordship of Christ.Since the entire world belongs to him

Since the entire world belongs to him in principle and is commissioned to multiply disciples who think, speak, act, and toil like Jesus, we are now free to find all our work, all our missional community efforts—all of life—as honorable work for the Kingdom.Since we are sent into the world that belongs to King Jesus, even the small stuff matters.

Since we are sent into the world that belongs to King Jesus, even the small stuff matters.

Reflections

  • How does praying for God's kingdom to come bridge the gap between his work in your heart and the world around you?
  • What does it mean for us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come?
  • In what ways can you pray for sin to be eradicated in your community and city?
  • What is the impetus behind the mission of the church?
  • How does the kingdom of God bring significance to even the small tasks in this life?

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI, and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.

Self-Justifying Prayer

Constant and Considerate

After discussing the value of prayer in discipleship in Luke 18:1-8, you would think the subject would be closed. But I do not think it was for Jesus. The concept of the downtrodden and prayerful faithfulness permeates the rest of Luke 18 and it is right after teaching to “pray always” that Jesus presents one of his more famous parables,

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (Lk. 18:10-13).

Partner—GCD—450x300This is a familiar passage to many. And often prayer’s crucial role in the narrative is neglected. But in context it makes sense that the prayers of the parable are worth studying. The lessons learned are not that unlike the parable of the widow but before a new aspect of importance is added. For, Jesus spoke the parable against those “who trusted in themselves” (18:9). But more importantly they were also people who “treated others with contempt.” Ultimately this is always true. Those that trust their works, theology, and experience of God more than a godly humility mistreat the downtrodden. Christian prayer and discipleship must be constant and considerate, as we shall see from this parable. And with this in mind, Jesus proceeds to contrast sharp distinctions within prayer.

Both men went up to the temple (18:10). Let me put it in modern language: they were members of the same church. One was of good standing in the church and the other the type of person that people don’t usually like. But both were together in the same building.

This makes it interesting then that the Pharisee is said to have stood “by himself” (18:11). As his prayer affirms, when it comes to God this guy is in it for himself. He is willing to praise God (All thanks goes to God!). In fact he praises God for all the good that he does. And he does a lot. He abides by the law. He goes beyond the law (his fasting). And he does not keep anything back from God (his tithe).

Self-Justifying Prayer

What then was he guilty of? Jesus tells us at the start of the parable: he trusted himself and had contempt for others. He stands by himself. He is thankful for himself. And none of his works are focused on others. His prayer is both self-focused and degrading to those who are not on his level.

In contrast, the tax collector (who is also by himself) could not lift up his eyes to God. He too prays in a self-focused manner. There is no thankfulness in his voice. He does not trust in himself. He does not degrade others. He lacks any semblance of pride. But he is the one who went home “justified” (18:14). It would be inappropriate to presume that Jesus is here referring solely to the type of soteriological justification that systematic theology is concerned with. Though it is included—it can also indicate that the worship of the man was accepted before God.

And it is this element that I’d like to stress. For the second sin in Scripture was over denigrating a brother’s acceptance before God (Gen 4) and Christ taught the failure of any worship done while there is strife before brothers (Matt 5:24). Christian discipleship and  prayer can never turn in trusting in “us” (whether our theology or works) and denigrating our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Prayer as Essential to Christian Discipleship

Since prayer is essential to Christian discipleship, we should learn from this how it gets abused. For in advancement of discipleship there begins anew the opportunity to say “God, I thank you that I am not like …”

  • Those who don’t study and memorize the Scriptures.
  • Those who miss church service.
  • Those who don’t read as many theology books.
  • Those who don’t pray often.
  • Those who don’t catechize their children.
  • Those who don’t attend Bible Studies.

For each Sunday the Christian disciple gets to determine if they will go home justified in their worship before God. And it will be the one who returns to the realization that they have only accomplished what they should have done (Lk 17:10) that will go home justified. But if we proceed in a spirit of demeaning contempt for our brothers then we must repent of our “discipleship.”

Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @benNuwn and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.

Praying For Bad Things to Happen To Bad People

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When was the last time you were mad at someone? I mean really mad? Mad enough to pray that God would do something terrible to them? As I read my news feeder this morning articles about the trial of an abortionist in Philadelphia occupied the bandwidth of my iPad. From exposure, to trial details, to commentary on the issues at hand the Gosnell murder trial was front and center. As I read the details of the trial a very sinister and unsanitized thought entered my head. "Maybe they will find him guilty and snip his spine at the base of his neck like he did to all those babies... or worse!" As soon as it was tracking through my frontal lobe though, I felt guilt. How awful that I would think some sort of thought like that towards this man. My Christian upbringing has taught me to reject thoughts like that as vengeful, angry, and wrong. I deserve wrath just as much as Gosnell does. I deserve death for my sin just as deeply as he does. Thinking like that has no place in the mind of a Christian. Or does it? Psalm 137 has long been an intriguing and difficult passage for me to handle. What place does a song that ends with "dash their babies heads against the rocks" have in the Bible? It sounds so vengeful, so vitriol, so wrong. How did a song that elevates the death and vengeance of another people come to be in the Bible, be considered "Christian," or even inspired Scripture? Maybe the problem isn't with the Bible. Maybe the problem is with our view of justice and the place of praying prayers that ask for God to pummel our enemies into dust.

The Imprecatory Category

Within the Psalms themselves we find more than just one example of expressions like Psalm 137. Some have categorized these unique Psalms into a category of prayer labeled "imprecatory Psalms." As C.S. Lewis states in, Reflections on the Psalms: "In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth." These Psalms are ones in which an appeal to God is made to curse, destroy, or remove an enemy of the writer. They are pleas for vengeance, justice, and equity for the downtrodden.

The problem with this category of Psalm is that it doesn't seem to fit with the other parts of Scripture. How can we pray things like Psalm 109 prays?

 Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. May his children become fatherless, and his wife a widow. May his children wander as beggars and be driven from their ruined homes. May creditors seize his entire estate, and strangers take all he has earned. Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity his fatherless children. - Psalm 109:8-12, NLT.

If we’re humble to the Scriptures then, functionally we have to put this category of imprecatory prayers within our Christian lives. If we are going to submit ourselves to the Scripture in every part and believe what the Bible says, then we have to figure out how this kind of prayer fits our lives. The Psalms themselves were collected and used as a worship songbook for the nation of Israel. Psalm 137, as one of the songs of Ascents, was probably recited as the Jews went up to Jerusalem for the annual festivals. Jesus himself most likely recited this Psalm on his way to Jerusalem for one of the Passover Feasts he observed. But can you even imagine the words "Blessed be the one who dashes their babies heads against the rocks" coming out of Jesus' mouth?

A Tolerant Unimprecatory World

It may sound trite to say that our world has stripped the Biblical notions of justice, vengeance and righteous anger from just about anywhere. To look at a person who has deeply sinned against us and pray to God "Let no one be kind to him" is categorically mean. Our tolerance of people who would even pray like this even further diminished. Didn't Jesus himself say, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44)? Praying that they have a very difficult time of things in life however doesn't seem to equate with loving your enemy.

Let's face it, the only people our world allows us to be intolerant with are intolerant people. It doesn't fit with the cultural Zeitgeist of our times. Even at its core praying that God strikes down people opposed to us doesn't feel loving. It doesn't feel Christian. Functionally many Christians have just removed these sorts of passages from their Bibles altogether. Worse yet is that we have ignored and forgotten this sort of thing is even in the Bible. The question is are we listening to culture more than we are listening to our Bibles on this issue? Is there room for prayers and songs such as these?

One of the reasons we struggle to pray things like this is because we struggle, culturally, with the concept of justice. More specifically, we have lost the categories of right and wrong. And yet, we all know it is there. The families of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting categorically understand “right” and “wrong”. The recent Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath spoke to us, collectively, as a “wrong” event. Immediately after the capture of the suspected bomber the Boston police department tweeted “justice has won.” Yet without a category of right and wrong, good and evil, the concept of justice falls down everywhere. Justice in its essence means good for the righteous and evil for the wicked. If there is no real rights and no real wrongs in this world, and everything is left as a cultural preference in our society, then justice itself is a construct we can also do away with. Hitler, Stalin, Gosnell, bin Laden, and every rapist, murderer, pedophile, and terrorist should go free and be left alone to their own devices.

Our hearts, internally, don’t leave us with that option. In our hearts, regardless of how relative and tolerant we are, we desire justice. We want right to be right, and the wrong to be wrong. Especially if we are wronged. We want justice.

For this very reason God’s justice comes to us as a welcome relief. God’s justice tells us that he will do the right thing, for the right people, in the right way, at the right time. Justice for God speaks of all his perfections coming to bear on his creation in beautiful exactness. The Scriptures so clearly affirm that God is just, and will always be just. As Abraham attempted to negotiate with God for the safety of the city of Sodom on behalf of the righteous inhabitants there he called forth God’s justice and stated, “Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25, NLT). The tension for us is that we often wonder where God’s justice is. We want justice now. We want blood today. We want punishment and vengeance to fall upon the guilty against us at this very moment. Wrong must be punished; right must be honored.

Entrusting The Means To God

One of the reasons that I appreciate the imprecatory Psalms so much is that they give me a legitimate means by which to express frustration with God about the injustice of this world. They give me a category and an outlet to help me deal with both persons and circumstances of injustice, immorality. They put me in my place and give God the rightful place he has as Lord over all.

When we look at the Imprecatory Psalms we see that the Psalmist isn't just praying ill will on others, and then going out and carrying that ill will out himself. The Psalmist is expressing himself to God in need. He is saying, "God things are so bad here right now because of this, will you enact vengeance upon them because of their wickedness." There is an air of release in praying these things. In appealing to God to act in this way the Psalmist is giving themselves and the outcome over to God. They are entrusting themselves to a faithful Creator. This doesn't mean God, at that moment will do as the person has prayed. It means that the responsibility of setting things straight is put into the hands of the rightful authority.

For many the idea of praying about vengeance and justice is a foreign notion, because we don't want to be mean about it to others. However, God gives us that means as a matter of faith. When I pray about the difficult situations or people in my sphere of life, or the world at large, I am asking God to take control. I am relinquishing my right to stand as judge, jury and executioner and giving that mantle to God.

Vengeance Is Mine, Says the Lord

Often times I think I don't allow myself to pray in these ways because I doubt God will deal with it. I doubt that he will actually act justly, and so I hope that someone else will do it. As soon as I had my thought about Kermit Gosnell I despaired. In my mind I played out the thoughts that the judge would go lenient on him, that he'd get off on a technicality, and that he'd walk free, even lauded, in our society. My despair was brought on by the fact that I had forgotten about the justice of God. I was hoping that someone, somewhere would give this "monster" his due.

Only God can do that rightly. Only God can bring vengeance down upon us because of our sins. With the imprecatory category I can now pray "let his years be few" and stop worrying about whether God will do it full justice. He is fully just. His action will be right and adequate. The end of the Scripture story is very clear, God will bring full, precise, wise justice upon all those who oppose God and his ways. The angels sing “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” (Revelation 16:5–6, ESV). God will give to everyone what they deserve. Justice will be served.

However, for some this justice has already been served. This makes our prayer for justice a tension filled one. For in praying these sorts of things it might so happen in a different manner. The vengeance that God might pour out against wickedness might have already been secured. On the cross Jesus bore the full weight of God's justice and wrath for those who believe. In Jesus violent murder, an unjust and evil act in itself, the righteous justice of God was performed. Jesus as our substitute stood in our place and took our penalty, God’s wrath, for our sins. As I pray for vengeance upon my enemies and wicked people God’s answer might result in the person hearing and receiving the gospel news and believing fully in Jesus. In that case justice has been served. Christ has stood in their place, he has taken their penalty, he has absorbed the full weight of the wrath of God and the vengeance of God has been applied. The offending sinner has been given a clean slate. The question is am I okay with God's mercy and justice in this situation? Will I entrust myself to him to do what he deems best with each and every individual?

Maybe the real problem with our prayers for justice is that we are afraid of God being just, and answering with mercy towards the sinner. It is in the case that we need to repent of our arrogance and self-righteousness. Were we not the ones that were rebellious and wicked and offensive to God as well? Did we not deserve death for our sins? Did not Christ take our punishment himself? Maybe we don’t understand God’s justice.

Pray Boldly

Maybe our faith and prayers are too weak. We don't pray boldly enough for both the justice and mercy of God. Maybe we are missing a means of gospel transformation in our own lives by not taking up the Psalms and praying those words to God. This includes the feelgood "The Lord is my shepherd" (Psalm 23) type Psalms as well as the "may they perish at the rebuke of your face" (Psalm 80) imprecatory prayers.

We ought to pray the entire Psalter, both highs and lows and in so doing let the actions of justice, grace, vengeance, mercy and hope be given over to God, who is faithful and true. Let's pray boldly and let's entrust ourselves to God who pours out his perfect justice at the cross, and will do so again at the Final Judgement. It will make us more compassionate, more bold, and better equipped to deal with hard statements in the Scriptures.


Jeremy Writebol is the Executive Director of GCD. He is the husband of Stephanie and father of Allison and Ethan. He serves as the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI. He is also an author and contributor to several GCD Books including everPresent and Make, Mature, Multiply. He writes personally at jwritebol.netYou can read all of Jeremy’s articles for GCD here.