|20th June, 1999|
A HEALTHY SPIRITUAL life depends upon what I have called spiritual breathing. Regular prayer builds a strong spiritual life. It starts when a person breathes in wonder and awareness of God. It continues as we hold our breath in adoration and quiet infilling of God's spirit. We then exhale in confession, supplication and thanksgiving. That relaxes us, because we breathe out toxins that have been poisoning our spirit, we are telling God about all that troubles us and we are left with a feeling of thanksgiving and relief.
CONFESSION is our first response to dealing with out sin, that inner toxin that poisons our spiritual life. Sometimes we cannot see the needs of our lives because the deeds of our lives block our access to Him. Sometimes God cannot hear the desires of our hearts because the depravity of our hearts shrieks too loudly. Hence we need to confess. The Bible promises that "if we confess our sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 Confession means simply admitting to God our guilt and wrongdoing and thinking. Your prayer life can never rise above the level of your private life. As the writer of Psalm 66 says: "I cried out to the Lord with my tongue... If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer." V18-19 Confession is the act of inner cleansing. Of cleaning our inner lives, and of getting out into the open all that has been a spiritual toxin to our soul.
SUPPLICATION is the act our beseeching God for His intervention into the lives of others and ourselves. We need to ask God for our needs and the needs of others. Elijah prayed for rain and the drought was broken. Daniel prayed for the Jews to be delivered from a tyrant and they went free. Paul prayed that the nations might hear the Gospel, and the Word of God was spread. Our supplications are our concerns spread before God. God longs to hear our specific concerns, earnestly and continuously presented, because that is the only way our lives will be made ready for the answer.
THANKSGIVING is the exhaling of appreciation that God has heard and has answered. We show gratitude that God has blessed us in the past and will in the future. We have adored God for all that He is. Now we thank Him for all that He has done. Paul says over and over again: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful." Col 4:1 Our thanksgiving is one of the few gifts we can give to God. Jesus lived in an attitude of thanksgiving to God. At the tomb of Lazarus, he nevertheless thanked God. When he fed the multitudes He thanked God. When He prayed with the disciples, He hanked God. We can thank God for every blessing we have: for life and health and daily food, for faith and friends and every good gift; for what we have received in the past, we possess now, and are confident we shall have in the future. As Paul said to the Ephesians: "Give thanks to God the Father for everything." 5:20 1 Thess 5:18 Spiritual breathing is the healthy way to grow spiritually. We breathe in, hold, then exhale in confession, supplication and thanksgiving.
Of all people of all time, Jesus Christ is the one acknowledged as the Master teacher concerning prayer. But His personal life and example inspired praying. Mark emphasized that Jesus prayed in crucial moments, including the disciples' appointment 3:13, their mission 6:30-32, and at the Transfiguration. 9:2 Jesus displayed a regular and intense prayer life. Matt. 6:5; 14:23; Mark 1:35 Luke taught that Jesus was guided by the Holy Spirit. Luke 3:22; 4:1,14,18; Luke 10:21; Acts 10:38 John reported that Jesus sometimes prayed aloud for the benefit of those present. John 11:41-42 He also reported Jesus' prayer of intercession for the first disciples and future believers. John 17 Both prayers display Jesus' unity with the Father and desire to give Him glory. John 11:4; 17:1 Matthew records the Lord's Prayer Matt. 6:9-13 given to teach the disciples how to pray. The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray after watching Him pray. Luke 11:1 The prayer also provides a contrast to hypocritical prayers. Matt. 6:5 Although we often repeat this prayer, you must remember Jesus was emphasizing how to pray, not what to pray.
WHAT THEN SHOULD BE OUR PATTERN OF PRAYER?
Jesus gave us clear guidelines about effective praying: Matt 6:5-15 Jesus gave us "The Lord's Prayer" to aid our practice of prayer as a model for effective prayer. There are only 67 words in the King James version, known by heart by so many of us, yet they give us the six principles for effective prayer to guide our words and thoughts when we pray to God.
1. TURN TO GOD. Effective praying begins when we turn from our self-sufficiency to God. We start on a journey in faith. That is always the first step. God first. It is a total Biblical principle enunciated in the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other god before me." Exo 20:3 God first, is seen in the lives of great men and women of achievement: they put God first and turned to Him first. Our nation and its politicians go down the path of putting self first. But nothing comes before God. Not our needs, nor concerns nor self-interest. We must turn to God first.
Jesus showed us the first principle of effective prayer: 9"This , then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name," Note that we are to pray to "Our Father", not "yours" or "mine" but "Our Father", the God and Father of us all. We pray to our "Father", that is, to the Almighty, loving, providing Creator of all. No narrow sectarianism here. Our Father is the God of all cultures, races and traditions. That is why we can be one nation under God. Our God is "in Heaven". That means God is in close proximity to each of us. God is where you are. One church notice board had the letters of its sign about next week's sermons rearranged by an atheist leaving the message: "GOD IS NO WHERE". The minister slipped just one letter across. It now read: "GOD IS NOW HERE." That is what "in heaven" means. "Hallowed be your name," simply means that God our Father is a God of holiness, truth, justice, kindness, compassion and power. The first principle of effective prayer is to turn to God, the God of each of us, who is near to us, and able for anything.
2. CONSIDER HIS CONCERNS. Effective praying starts with God and His concerns. So often people think that prayer is just rushing in with all our needs. But we are to start with God's concerns. 10"your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." A coin can blot out sun if placed over your eye. Your problems are so close to you that you can lose perspective and fail to see the divine resources. So effective prayer starts with concentration upon the power and goodwill of God. We start with confidence. "Your kingdom come." That positive affirmation engenders hope! "Your will be done" defines the extent of God's Kingdom. His kingdom consists of all who do His will and expand the territory of His blessing. So we start with God and His concerns.
3. STATE YOUR NEEDS. Effective prayer states our needs frankly. Jesus encouraged us to ask God to "give us" our needs whatever they are: Matt 7:11 "If 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 21:22 "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." John 14:14 "You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it." Matt 7:7-8 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Jesus teaches us 11"Give us today our daily bread." It is "today" in the immediate future. Jesus encouraged us to think about our needs on a daily basis rather than spend our energy fruitlessly worrying about what might be needed in the future.
In a memorable statement, Jesus said: Matt 6:33-34 "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Our prayers must be for our needs rather than our wants. If we were to be given all we desired it would be not good for us. But when we are given all our needs, we are satisfied. State you needs plainly.
4. SEEK HIS FORGIVENESS. Effective prayer seeks God to grant us our spiritual needs along with our physical needs. 12"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." "Forgive us". We all need forgiveness. Every one of us. Our forgiveness however is conditional "as we also have forgiven our debtors." There is reciprocity in forgiveness. Why is a sense of our own forgiveness as well as a knowing we have forgiven others, so central to our prayers being effective? Because when you have been forgiven you know that you are not alone in bearing the load. You can feel the weight of guilt has been removed. You are assured that the resources of God are available to help you. You know that God has cleansed you from all sin. All this is ours when we forgive and are forgiven.
5. ASK FOR GUIDANCE. Effective prayer asks God then to guide us in all our daily affairs. 13"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil one." God promised to guide those who asked Him. Prov 3:6 "In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight."
This part of the Lord's Prayer asks that God would not lead us into a situation where we would be tempted beyond our capacity to resist. Instead we would have the inner strength to withstand the Evil One. As Phillips Brooks said: "Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks."
6. DEDICATE YOUR ALL TO HIM. Effective prayer always concludes with a commitment to God of all we have and are. Many early manuscripts conclude with an ancient blessing: "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever, Amen." To God belongs everything - the kingdom, the power and the glory - everything is dedicated to God. This prayer provides us with a pattern for our practice of prayer.
In learning to pray, to breathe spiritually, no laboratory is needed only a room; no apparatus only ourselves. The living God is the field of force into which we enter in prayer. The only really total failure is to stop praying and not to begin again. A healthy spiritual life depends upon what I have called spiritual breathing. Regular prayer builds a strong spiritual life. It starts when a person breathes in wonder and awareness of God. It continues as we hold our breath in adoration and quiet infilling of God's spirit. We then exhale in confession, supplication and thanksgiving. That relaxes us, because we breathe out toxins that have been poisoning our spirit, we are telling God about all that troubles us and we are left with a feeling of thanksgiving and relief. Spiritual breathing aids a healthy Spirit.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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