Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where are you going on your life-journey?

The most important question of your life. The problem is that many people deny what ought to be so obvious—that we are eternal creatures found in mortal bodies. Immortals bound with the decaying bodies of mortals. It should be self-evident to all of us, but strangely it is not.

By his word, he spoke the world into being, filled with animal diversity, and all the wondrous beauties of nature. The Bible teaches that it happened almost instantaneously; men have now stretched the life of the earth back to nearly 5 billion years, to try to make the impossible seem more likely with time, and still they find they have a monstrous task. But God says he did it, creating and making and fitting and designing all the things in the universe that would make the earth have life, and have it abundantly. But by their own designs, men have plotted to replace this work of God with a work of accident, time, and mutation. Still, the word of God rings for those who will listen: “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away” (Psalm 102:25).

I understand on our life-journey, if we are lucky, we find animals to bond with. I have done that myself. But there is a great void of difference between us and the nearest animals. Perhaps Descartes came closer than he realized when he said I think therefore I am. Rationality is a great mark of difference, and though it appears in some of the higher animals, particularly the higher animals that spend time with man, it is not well formed. If man just fished, he would be like other animals. But man fishes with a hook and a pole, and there are fewer animals that can imitate that. How many animals take it a step further, and create a boat, that they might be more successful fishermen? Even if we find such an exception in the wonders of nature, how many of those boats are powered? And which animal cultivates and grows fish that he may eat? On every hand, man so far outstrips his fellow animals that there is a great divide between them than cannot be surpassed.

Men have thoughts—perhaps animals do some reasoning. I think I can see it in my dog at times. But man does not stop with reasoning. He writes. He collects ideas, and ruminates upon them. He puts them into books, and then builds libraries to hold the books. To make it yet easier on himself, he puts the books into electronic format, that he might literally have vast reservoirs of books at his whim. Animals never approach this standard. What does God say but that he breathed into man and he became a living soul? There is a vast ocean, broader than the Pacific itself, between man and animal.

All of this the tiniest child seems to intuit; it is only when we “grow up” that we forget our basic beginnings, our roots. For indeed, we are rooted in the image of our Creator, and stand in all our earth as something unique, the only animal, if you will, to receive the breath of God. Perhaps that is why Jesus directed us to be like the little children in coming to him. As a teacher, I saw young children all the time, and it greatly saddened my heart to see so many of them becoming captivated by the things of this world, instead of being opened to the Creator-God who makes all life possible. Their life journeys were being set in the wrong direction, a direction that leads them away from God.

Ezekiel, chapters 3, 18, and 33, all make it clear that the will of God is that the wicked should turn from their ways and find faith. I do not pretend to understand the sovereignty of God; in my morning prayers I see the hand of God as everything, all-powerful and everywhere present. And yet within God’s nature, as powerful as it is, he still commands us to turn from our self-centered lifestyles to one that is centered in him. Ezekiel makes it plain that it is not the will of God for men to perish; instead their plight remains upon their own heads as they careen their way through life, bashing their way through the stop signs of warning, never heeding those signs until their life ends in a stupendous crash. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

In the time of coming judgment, the prophet warned Israel, prepare to meet your God, Israel. That warning certainly applies to all of us today. As eternal creatures, created by God in his image, our journey is this lifetime is as but the first step. It might seem strange to consider it so, with all of our years’ of experiences behind us, but the time of our lives is frequently compared to grass and flowers, which are here today and gone tomorrow. Still, God gives us this first step that we might start correctly, with him leading us throughout the rest of the journey.

Therefore, all the other journeys that we would take are by definition wrong. There is one way, Jesus teaches, the narrow way, and few there are that find it. The blindness of our world as they plunge into darkness is amazing to this old man. The tolerance taught in my own country is so wrong—Jesus also taught that the way to Hell is broad, and that there are many who are treading its pathway. Every lifestyle apart from one of faith is doomed to destruction; it matters not how virtuous one may paint such a lifestyle.

“I am okay,” says the non-thinking person. “I will be alright when I face that last day.” After all, they reason, I am better than my neighbor who is a drunkard. I raise my kids carefully. I do my best, they say, and I will trust God with the rest. Their ill-measured idea of God is that he will overlook their faults, and see somehow inside their hearts, and know that they are really a decent sort, worthy of heaven. But the reality is so far from that picture. We are a woeful and sinful people, and when we compare ourselves to others, we are taking our eyes off of our needs, and pointing fingers at others. The truth is that God does see into our hearts, totally and completely. He knows you better than you know yourself, even when you are being candid with yourself, which if you are like me comes all too seldom. God knows that heart of yours, that it is fully disobedient, and in desperate need of a divine solution. It is no good saying that you are better than someone else—it may be true, but it belies your need, and God cannot “fudge” the scales in your favor, and overlook your sin.

But such people can go blithely on through their life-journey, never seeing themselves as God sees them. What a surprise it is to so many when they fail their expectations of a glorious afterlife based on their own deeds. God has given a divine solution in our trusting Jesus Christ. You see, God did not overlook sin—instead, he poured out all of his divine wrath upon his son, that by believing we might be saved. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, John tells us, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Perhaps you are not familiar with the story. Poisonous vipers were loose and plentiful in the camp of the Israelites, biting and killing many of them. Moses, listening to God, took a pole, put one of the poisonous vipers on it, and commanded all who were bitten to look upon the serpent. Those who trusted Moses and looked upon the serpent were healed.

In a manner, the Son of God is like that serpent. He took upon himself all of your sins, indeed, the sins of the world, and in doing that, became a fiery serpent, drawing all the wrath of God. If you will look today and understand and have faith in what God did, you will be saved. But nothing less than divine wrath for your sins can get you out of judgment. What a folly it is to trust your own efforts, when provision has been made for you to escape the wrath of God. Yet, the blind go on, trusting themselves yet another day, and doom themselves to total and complete failure.

I know people who want so much to make it on their own; isn’t that the first cry of the infant who wants to do it for himself? But if you will not look to the cross, and see the provision that God has made, there remains no provision for you, and you doom yourself to perdition. How much better that the wicked man should turn from his way and live!

The classic definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. From the beginning of time, the pathway to Hell is paved with men and women who have tried it their way, presenting themselves to God, and expecting that to be merit enough. There is only one merit acceptable to God, and he had fully provided that in his divine solution, the only solution that will carry us on our life-journey to heaven. I close with something Tozer has to say about a man dying without Christ: “An old sinner is an awesome and frightening spectacle. One feels about him much as one feels about the condemned man on his way to the gallows. A sense of numb terror and shock fills the heart. The knowledge that the condemned man was once a redcheeked boy only heightens the feeling, and the knowledge that the aged rebel now beyond reclamation once went up to the house of God on a Sunday morning to the sweet sound of church bells makes even the trusting Christian humble and a little bit scared. There but for the grace of God goes he.”1Is it not ironic that men go through all of their lives, somehow never having looked seriously at the claims of Christ? There is not a more tragic event than someone who spent their life not looking where they ought to—upon the Christ who has been lifted up that all men might have life, and have it abundantly.

1. Tozer, A.W.. Man - The Dwelling Place of God (Kindle Locations 554-557). . Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What do Christians look forward to?

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Song of Solomon 2:10

One of the most precious prayers of Jesus occurs near the end of what is properly called the Lord’s Prayer, in John 17. It is found in verse 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Some mistakenly interpret this verse to be talking about the death of the saints, but nowhere is death mentioned. Alliteration is totally in the mind of the interpreter, and he gives the text any meaning that he deems appropriate. That is why alliteration being used to finding meaning in the text of the Bible is so scary. The interpreter is allowed to bestow whatever fitting meaning he wants to on the text. One may look in vain for any mention of the doctrine of saint’s death and afterlife, and thus we ought to have confidence that whatever Jesus meant, he did not mean for us to be thinking about death and the afterlife. Instead, it is talking about the most beautiful love story of the universe. Jesus, the bridegroom, is so completely in love with his bride, the church. Over and again, he petitions the Father about the church, showing his love and steadfastness toward his bride. Can I prove this from the text? Very easily. Let’s look at the Lord’s Prayer and see evidences of his love for the church.

In verse nine Jesus prays, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.” Looking forward, Jesus is actually praying for those the Father has given him, the church. In verse eleven, Jesus again prays for the church (specifically, those whom thou hast given me), “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Again, in verse fifteen, Jesus prays, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” In all these three instances (and there are more), Jesus is clearly praying for his followers, his chosen ones, and is looking forward to those that the Father has given him.

This high priestly and intercessory prayer is thus made on behalf of the bride of Christ, present and future, the seed of what would become the church. His love is apparent throughout the prayer, as he most carefully prays through for the church. Notice again the verse of my topic, v. 24, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” Notice now in particular the petition part to the prayer, “I will that they. . .be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” Where was Jesus going? Of course, he ascends to the Father, and assumes his throne, where we see him in Acts. He is in heaven. This is referring to the translation, often called the Rapture, when Jesus will come and gather his church and take them to heaven, that they might behold all the fullness of his glory.

There are a great many arguments about exactly when in prophetic events this event takes place; there should be no argument about it actually taking place. There is a much more famous passage in John 14:2, 3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Again, there are commentators who wrest this Scripture to be talking about the dead, or when Christians die and go to heaven. There is absolutely no context to support such a contention, and allegory, it should be remembered is always in the mind of the interpreter.

I believe that the Bible clearly teaches the Rapture taking place before the Tribulation, or the last week of Daniel. In fact, most believers have acknowledged the imminence of his coming, even while they may not agree on the order of prophetic events. Perhaps it is because Jesus warns us over and again to be watchful for his coming, lest we be surprised. The apostles follow up with this warning. It is very difficult for those who would place the Rapture after the Tribulation to follow this doctrine, of his imminent coming, if events of the Tribulation have to come first. That would mean, that instead of looking for Christ, we should be looking instead for the beasts and the false prophet. Instead of Christ’s sudden appearance we should be looking for these rascals. In our history, hundreds of saints have identified hundreds of people who were to be the beasts or the false prophet, and history has proven all of them wrong. That should give a holy pause to the student of Scripture. Nonetheless, this doctrinal ground has been furrowed by others better than me, and ought not to be the subject of this peace. I instead, just want us to look at the beauty of what is happening.

The passage of John that I started with, that of Jesus praying for us that we might be with him is not just beautiful because of the words. It is an altogether fine thing that we are called to be with him, and that we will see him in his glory, but if we stop there we do not see the love story. This whole prayer is full of Jesus’ love for the church; he is praying his last words as a living man for us, but more than that, this is the love of a bridegroom being expressed for his bride. I am told that there were three great steps to a Jewish wedding. First, while yet children the two in question are betrothed. The church and Christ fulfill this picture as the Bride and the Bridegroom are bonded in the Holy Spirit, sealed unto the day of redemption. Second, the groom comes and retrieves his bride from the home of the bride. This will be fulfilled when Christ, the groom, comes and finds us at home here on earth. Third, the groom takes the bride to his home, where they have a marriage supper. This picture is represented when Christ, the groom, gets the church, his bride, and takes us to his family home, heaven, and there we have the marriage supper.

Jesus is dripping with love and concern for his bride in his last intercessory prayer. His is the love of a groom infatuated with his bride; he is concerned with her welfare above all else. How else will we explain this beautiful prayer of Christ, that we may be with him where he is, and that we may behold his glory?

I think of when I was courting my wife. I remember sharing things little by little with her, as she learned to do with me. The delightful thing about falling in love was that we learned to trust one another. I would share a peculiar taste, or a favorite of mine, and she would endeavor to remember it, and make it precious to her. I did the same for her. We endeared each other’s peculiarities to each other, and so we learned to trust. It is all part of falling in love, and is very evident here. Christ has a warm and passionate love for us. He wants what perhaps all good grooms would want.

First, he wants to show us off to the heavenly host. Ephesians 5:26 says, “That he might sanctify and cleanse it [the Bride] with the washing of water by the word.” He has cleaned us, put us in clothes that shall never be sullied or dirty again. He has washed us as white as snow. But Revelation 19:8 tells us, “And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” In other words, there are two things here Christ finds wonderfully attractive in his bride, that attracts his full love and devotion. First, he washed us white as snow, and second, we are clothed in the fine linen of the righteous acts of the saints. Not that these are works originated by us; rather they are works that the Holy Spirit has done in and through us, so that in both senses, we are the product of Christ’s adornment.

The trouble with the church today is that we are not acting much like the beloved bride. We do not seem to realize the divine favor that has been poured out upon us, and we do anything except act like a bride in love. And, I fear there are many of us, who do not seem to realize we are getting ready for the event of the universe, and we are not busy about our Father’s business. We are like rats scurrying around and working, but we have forgotten our purpose—we are to be serving the Master. Some of us endeavor to become experts in theology rather than worrying about being a bride ready for her groom. We are ready to argue points of doctrine, and will do so very often, even to the point of offending our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, doctrine matters, but we have lost sight of the fact that our brothers and sisters matter more. Christ prayed in the Lord’s prayer over and again that we might be brought to unity, that we might be marked by his love. The least knowledgeable saint found busy for his Lord is going to be immeasurably and fantastically ahead of us, for he has taken his little mite of knowledge, and applied it vigorously toward the one he loves. It ought to teach us to stop and ponder, how much of our day is really spent getting ready for our Groom? If we are really in love, hadn’t we better act like it?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Who prayed the greatest prayer?

In all of the Bible there are so many outstanding prayers. While yet at Biola, many years ago, I did a study in a class on prayer for Dr. Mitchell. I found thousands of verses on prayer, or which were prayers themselves, and most of the prayers were answered. A few of the exceptions were those offered while in obvious sin, like Saul did often when he was king. But the record of answered prayer is so great that it almost defies imagination. God hears our prayers, and Jesus tells us that now that we have the Holy Spirit living within us, the record of answered prayer is truer to even a greater degree. Jesus repeats his promise at least 3 times: “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23, 24). Whatsoever, Jesus says. And we are not to ask Jesus, but rather the Father who loved us enough to send us the Son, and to give us the forever gift of the Holy Spirit. But who in the Bible prayed the greatest prayer? I am going to give you seven possibilities of the greatest prayer, but this is by no means a definitive answer, rather it is an opinion of someone who delights in the sovereign record of God answering his children.

First, it seems very hard to beat the intensity of the prayer of Jonah, answered so affirmatively by our Lord. Jonah, a type of Christ, in that he spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, as our Lord spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the earth. But for all of that, I find Jonah to be a weak type of Christ in that he was an unwilling witness to the Gentiles in contrast to our Lord who came as a babe in the manger that he might grow into a willing sacrifice for us. Even in the end of Jonah, we find him watching the great city of Nineveh, hoping to see the judgments of God poured out. What a difference there was in our Lord, who came the first time in the guise as a mere servant, that we might be found ready for the second time he comes, as our Lord and our Master.

However, when I imagine myself in Jonah’s position, somewhere in the belly of the fish, it is easy to imagine the desperation of his prayer. Could any prayer be more desperate? I want to note for the record that God hears prayers even when we are disobedient. How often I would remonstrate the incautious Christian, who sins and then cries out to God! I would exclaim that you should not use God as a crutch, but that is exactly what Jonah did do—he disobeyed himself into a great quandary, and turning to God he sought deliverance. How I ought to learn of the mercies of our Father! He is willing, more than willing, to be our Father even when we are the naughty child. He loves us with a boundless love, and he does not stop being our Father when we are not following him. What a great comfort it is to know that God hears us even when we have been disobedient!

Of course the book of Daniel suggests two prayers that could easily be nominated as the greatest prayers of the Bible. Daniel in the lion’s den suggests awesome prayer—just think, Daniel spent all night with those lions, for all we know, staring at their dinner. What did he pray? The same with the three in the fiery furnace. They at least are more open about their prayer. God is able to deliver us, they declare, but whether he does or not, we will not bow down to your image. I connect these two prayers on the basis of their both being commands of the King to worship other than the true God, something that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to do. How refreshing it is to learn of men of God who would not leave their faith because of new kingly morality! They were willing to stand on principle, even if it meant their deaths. How unlike the men of faith are compared to American Christians today, who seem to be willing to be anything, and follow the winds of heathen morality wherever it may lead.

It seems to me that in scoring their prayers, Daniel and company earn some extra points. Theirs was not disobedience, like Jonah. Rather their aim was to remain faithful to the most high God, whatever the cost. Their cry, for all of that, was meaningful, loud, and plaintive. They needed God’s intercession, and they needed it immediately. Their prayers, like that of Jonah, were necessarily short, abrupt, and to the point. “God help me!” Theirs was not a flowery prayer, built on hours of praising God, but rather on the needs of the next few seconds. Daniel and his friends stand in contrast to Jonah here, for we are told that they frequently prayed, and being trained as they were, undoubtedly had learned all the right ways to express gratitude and praise to God. But, like Jonah, the needs of the moment swallowed up all the needs to think about and praise and thank God. Could any of them prayed anything but, “God help me!”

David gives us the next prayer, a prayer that I think we dare not forget. It is the prayer of David for forgiveness, when his sin became known before all of Israel, before God, and all of his deceit became exposed by the light of day. It comes to us in Psalm 51. “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin,” David cries aloud to God. Now he had sinned, definitely in the murder of Uriah, but as much in the adultery with Bathsheba, and perhaps against the nation of Israel itself, because he involved his general in the murder plot, and tried to hide his behavior with intrigue and deceit. But what does David say? “Against thee, and thee only have I sinned.” There is a sense in which all sin that we do is against God, principally and chiefly. Thus, it was altogether proper for David to say, against thee, and thee only have I sinned. Leaping ahead in progressive revelation, long before it was revealed to us in teaching, David exclaims for God to take not his Holy Spirit from him, but to restore unto him the joy of his salvation. All of which God was more than willing to grant.

David’s prayer is a different sort than Jonah’s or Daniel’s. They were praying for their lives, that God might intercede for them. In Jonah’s case we have seen that he prayed to God in spite of his disobedience while Daniel prayed through to God with his obedience. Jonah did indeed pray that God might deliver him from the “hell” of being in the fish, perhaps metaphorically alluding to that greater hell also. But Jonah never seems to have a deep sense of his own corruption like David does. Jonah never seems to face the fact that he is in deep sin, but that is okay as we might not expect an early prophet to understand that which is not yet made apparent. David understands his folly, and I might expect that understanding to dismay and dishearten him, but quite the contrary happens. David looks at the mercies and love of God, and wants restoration, much like we would when we sin. What a joy it is to know that our Father loves us so!

The next prayer is that of Elijah while on Mount Carmel, and it simply is a spectacular prayer! Can you just imagine Elijah? He went to Ahab over 3 years before, and proclaimed to Ahab that there would be no more rain, “except by my word”, and then he disappears from Ahab. Ahab probably did not think too much about the crazy prophet dressed in a camel’s coat, hairy face, and perhaps a demented manner. But as the years passed and rain did not, did not, come, Ahab must have had second thoughts. In fact, the Bible tells us that Ahab scoured the land for this crazy man, this man that dared to face the king and stop the rain. At last, Ahab finds Elijah (not knowing it was the other way around—Elijah had found Ahab), and Elijah at last gets his confrontation. Summoning all the prophets of Baal, some 850 prophets, he takes them to the summit of Mt. Carmel. There he challenges them to get their god to answer by fire, and what a delight he must have had. I can quite imagine a line being drawn on the side of the mountain, with 850 prophets dancing and cutting themselves, and working themselves into a frenzy, trying to get the attention of Baal. What is Elijah doing all of this time? I can picture him by himself, on the other side of the line, lying down with a piece of straw in his mouth, watching the prophets dance their jig. The prophets of Baal work for hours, and Elijah mocks them. Then at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah rouses himself, lays the wood carefully, drenches it in water (where did they get the water?) three times, and then lays out his prayer to God. “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”

Oh, it was such a different prayer than those I have spoken about before! Elijah was engaging in something we term intercessory prayer—praying for others. Jonah’s prayer, and Daniel’s too, were used for others, but I think they were too caught up in the moment to worry about others. They were praying for themselves, but Elijah is praying for someone else besides himself—he is praying for the whole nation of Israel, and through the power of God, is about to pull off the biggest revival in the history of Israel. “Oh, that the people might know that you are the Lord God.” His prayer is built not on himself, but rather on God’s revealing himself to a lost nation. Does God answer? By the fires of heaven, in perhaps the most vivid and dramatic answer to prayer, Elijah has his answer. Elijah has yet to learn that God is found more often in the “gentle whisper”. It is enough for Elijah to know that his God is a God who answers by fire. I think in Elijah we see time to prepare that the others might not have had. The emergency was upon David and Jonah, but Elijah has three and one half years to pray, to get his thoughts marshalled for the big day. Thus, Elijah can teach us that preparatory prayer can be essential when we want to be used in the great event.

The next prayers I have selected to review are also intercessory prayers just as Elijah’s, and perhaps because they are prayers for others, we might deem them as a bit greater. The fifth prayer came from David’s son, Solomon. It came after the dedication of the temple, which Solomon was years in building. I think it must have been, like in the time of Elijah, a time of great revival. Actually, the first prayer of Solomon is also famous, and ought not to be skipped. Solomon prays not for riches, or wealth, or honor but for wisdom to govern the people of Israel. This prayer is actually done in front of the tabernacle, and it is years later, at the completion of the temple, that Solomon makes his longer prayer, again an intercessory prayer. Again and again, he represents the sinful people of Israel to God, asking God for mercies and justice and forgiveness in what may be the longest prayer of the Old Testament. Solomon, in both of these prayers, is a type of the Christ to come. Indeed, such a priestly prayer for people comes not again until John 17, the Lord’s prayer. In these prayers Solomon gives us a picture of the one who “ever lives to intercede for us.”

If Solomon’s prayer is long, the answer is also long, and I know of no answer in the Bible to compare to it. God seems to take each part of Solomon’s prayer and provide a specific answer to it. He famously provides the verses which shall yet guide Israel in the future, the near future if my guess is right. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” God promises mercy towards the repentant, toward the humble. Blessed are the meek, says Jesus, and this is the starting point of our relationship with God.

What an encouragement this prayer of Solomon is to those of us who pray for lists. Solomon must have figured out all of the needs of his people, and prayed for them specifically. God answers those prayers in detail, giving us all encouragement as the things that we see in our lives mount up into lists. We have a God who knows our needs, and when we are interceding for others, are we not taking on the very image of the One who loved us and gave himself for us?

The sixth prayer is the prayer of a great prayer warrior Nehemiah. I would remind you of how much of a prayer warrior he is, for in the beginning of Nehemiah we find him mourning and fasting and praying for the nation of Israel. He was very conscious of the sins of Israel, confessing them before God, and being mindful of the fact that God would be faithful in restoring Jerusalem. So it is not that Nehemiah is not a great warrior in prayer, he is that and more. But his great prayer is not long, and is but practically instantaneous. Nehemiah, being sad, appears one day before his king. The king, seeing his sadness, asks Nehemiah why. Nehemiah begins to tell the king why he is said, and the king asks plainly what is your request? Nehemiah does not even record his short prayer, merely telling us, “so, I prayed to the Lord of heaven.” Did he take a break from the question, and tell the king I will get back to you on that? Not likely. Very likely instead, he said a short prayer to God, which may again have been as short as “God help me.” It was his greatest prayer! Like Jonah, like Daniel, and like all the others, God answered his prayer, and brought the people of Israel back from their captivity.

But the seventh prayer, the prayer that I think overshadows all the others is found in a prayer of our Lord, almost his last prayer before dying on the cross. He gazes out at mankind through his bloody eyes, his marred face, and his broken body hanging on the cross, and declares, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Can a prayer possible be greater than that which was so given before you and I were ever in existence? We are born into the world, and if we have received the grace of God, we have been reborn. We lived and walked in our sin, and how gracious is the God who hanging on the cross, cried out for our forgiveness. Never shall there be a prayer to top this one.

Remember the first six prayers? Each of them answered, and many of them in dire circumstances. But without the coming and giving of our Savior it would amount to nothing. Thanks be to God for sending his son into the world, that we might be forgiven for we know not what we do. Thanks be to God for restoring us that we might walk, and fellowship, and have our prayers set before him. Let me end this piece with the reminder of Revelation where God takes all the prayers of the saints of all time, and burns them in a sweet smelling offering in heaven itself. This means that God takes your prayers, precious saint, and saves them. They are so important to him. He listens to your every word for your sonship is important to him, just as a caring father might do for his son. We can pray. We can have confidence. We can come knowing that he hears us, that he knows our hurts, that he shares our pain, and that he is indeed our loving Father. For the prayer of Jesus is answered, and we have been forgiven.

Lessons for our prayer lives:

1. Jonah
a. it is okay to pray expecting help even when you have been disobedient
b. it is comforting to realize when we are hurting God is listening

2. Daniel and friends
a. standing for what is right definitely gets God’s attention
b. refusing to do wrong, even when we do not know if God will protect us
c. praying steadfastly in other times builds the character to stand when challenged
d. all of them often prayed together, and gained strength through their community

3. David
a. know that we have a forgiving and merciful God
b. we can come with confidence and confession
c. our deepest shame is known about plainly to God, and he chooses to love us anyway

4. Elijah
a. God is our strength especially when we are one against many
b. praying ahead of time builds our ability to pray effectively during stress times

5. Solomon
a. there is great wisdom in seeking the welfare of others while in prayer
b. detailed prayer offered in faith can get detailed answers

a. being a prayer warrior puts you in a place where God uses you
b. building lists of prayers helps you focus sharply on God and his provision
c. prayer before you get to the emergency is fruitful

a. we are not worthless; Jesus gave his all that we might be forgiven
b. we often do not know what we are doing, but we do have access to one who does
c. even when we were against him, still he prayed for our forgiveness