Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace… (Hebrews 4:14-16)
One thing that churches in Scotland are doing these days is a campaign called Try Praying. The idea is that most people at some time in their life will want to pray.
It may be in a hospital or at some other moment of crisis, but at some time most people feel that they want to pray. That is true of thousands and millions of people who would never darken the door of a church.
So the churches in Scotland have come up with this campaign Try Praying. There was a huge sign opposite the church where I was speaking Try Praying. You see the signs on buses in the towns.
The signs point people to a website where you can download a free booklet. The challenge is to pray for a week and see how it changes your life. You can check it out at www.trypraying.org. You will find some great stories of people who’ve clearly come to faith in Christ as a result of this.
Here is something that the church has to offer. Christian people have something that at some point, most people in our community and in our country will feel that they need—to pray. Christians know how to pray, or at least we should.
With Christ in the School of Prayer
The point of this series is to help us go deeper in our praying. Prayer is a holy art. It is better caught than taught. The best way to learn to pray is to start praying. But there are some things that can be learned.
I have been greatly helped here by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote a little book called Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible:
It is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself… Prayer does not mean simply to pour out ones heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him whether the heart is full or empty. i
The tradition of prayer in which most of us have been brought up, or become part of, emphasizes the wonderful truth that we can come to God freely in the name of Christ at any time.
You do not need an appointment to come to God. You do not need a priest to pray on your behalf. You do not need to have a special gift with words to speak to God. Through Christ, you can come to God and you can say to him whatever is on your heart.
This meeting matters
This is a wonderful truth, especially, when it comes to what I like to call “arrow” prayers. You can shoot an arrow prayer to the Lord in a nanosecond. I do that before I get up to speak: “Lord, help me. Make this useful.” I do this many other times in the week.
Arrow prayers are like sending a text to the Lord. It’s quick. It’s instant. It’s marvelous to be able to do this as you walk into a difficult meeting, a hard conversation, or other situations where you don’t know what to do.
Just as texting is not the only form of communication, arrow prayers are not the only form of prayer. There is much more to praying than instant, “top of the head” requests to God. Spontaneous prayer is a marvelous gift, but when things really matter we rarely trust spontaneity.
Some of you work in sales. You prepare to go to meetings with clients. You try to understand their needs in order to commend a product that will be helpful to them. You research their website. You learn about their business. You prepare a presentation. This presentation is adapted to the particular customer with whom you are meeting. Why? Because this meeting matters. Why would you not do the same with prayer?
Some of you have been involved in raising funds, or in negotiating contracts. Your work revolves around key meetings, and when they come you prepare for them really well. You have a presentation, and it shows the problem, and it shows the inadequacy of other solutions, and it lays out what you are proposing, and what you are asking. Why would you not do the same with prayer?
Week by week I have the privilege of speaking to you. What I say is never spontaneous. I spend about 20 hours—pouring over the Bible, trying to grasp what its verses are saying, and then crafting sentence by sentence, asking the help of God as to how this can best be conveyed to you.
I do this because I have the great privilege of bringing the Word of God to you. It’s a huge privilege and I don’t want to waste that opportunity. I’m not going to “wing it.” I want to come prepared. Since I take this time to speak with you, why would I not prepare for speaking to God?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
Now suppose you had a once in a lifetime opportunity of a direct audience with Almighty God. Suppose you could come and ask him anything you wanted. Suppose you could come and tell him what matters to you. Suppose you had that opportunity this coming Thursday.
You would prepare. You would say to yourself, “I am going to speak to Almighty God on Thursday. This is the most important conversation I will have, not only of this week, but of my entire life.”
Suppose your appointment with Almighty God were to last for 15 minutes. You would say to yourself, “I have 15 minutes with God on Thursday. What am I going to say? What am I going to ask? How am I going to make the best use of that immense privilege?”
There would be some things you would want to ask for yourself. What are they? What is it that you really need from God? If you are married, you would want to ask something for your spouse, and for your children, for other friends and loved ones.
What do they need? What is really going to make a difference for them? Standing in the presence of God, you are not going to say, “Lord be with them,” which is something that he has promised already! That would be a waste of your golden opportunity.
As you think about this appointment, it might occur to you that spending the entire 15 minutes asking is not a good idea. There’s no other relationship in which you would be so self-absorbed. Imagine turning up for breakfast with a friend and saying, “Good to see you, Joe. I have seven things to ask you today…”
When you meet with God, you will want to thank him. You will want to confess to him, “There are things I need to make right with him.” You will want to deepen and strengthen your own your own relationship with him.
You don’t want to wing it on these things. So you prepare:
A training manual for prayer
You have a direct audience with Almighty God every time you pray. How do you prepare to pray? Where can we learn this holy art of prayer? God has given us an entire book of prayers in the Bible: The Psalms. The reason we are given the book of Psalms is to help us in our praying.
The Psalms are a training manual for prayer. In the book of Psalms, there are model prayers for every circumstance of life. These prayers have been breathed out by the Holy Spirit. They show us how to pray in a way that is pleasing to God, and they are given for our use and for our instruction.
In this series we are going to learn to pray better from the Psalms:
Psalm 10: How to pray when the wicked seem to be winning. People are talking about this all the time, how “the neighborhood is going bad,” and “the government is headed the wrong way,” etc.
Psalm 11: How to pray when you feel like giving up. You may be in this position already. Others will come to this at some point.
Psalm 12: How to pray when you fear for your children. Look at this world and you worry for your children or for your grandchildren.
Psalm 13: How to pray when you are in an agony of soul.
There are 150 psalms. God has given us a manual on how to pray in every circumstance of life and we should use it. We should use it to improve our praying. We should use it especially when we find it hard to pray.
We should use the Psalms so that our prayers are shaped by the word of God, so that they are more than a reflection of our own hearts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:
If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray… The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayers, not the poverty of our heart. ii
Andrew Bonar, was a godly minister in 19th century Scotland. He kept a diary of his spiritual life,
I ask too short, ask too little, ask with too much want of forethought. Then, too little meditation upon Scripture. iii
John Calvin described the Psalms as…
…an anatomy of all parts of the soul… For there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror… the Holy Spirit has here drawn together all the griefs and sorrows, fears, doubt, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated. iv
I am inviting you to enroll with me in the school of prayer, as we immerse ourselves in the Psalms, so that we may grow in the depth of our praying. But that’s only half of it—with Christ… in the school of prayer. Christ is the great attraction! That’s why we’re looking at Hebrews 4 today.
7 Encouragements to Pray
- Pray, because Jesus is our great high priest.
We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God… Hebrews 4:14
If I have to engage in an important conversation, I am often grateful to have someone else with me. Is there someone who can come with me who knows the person I will be meeting better than I do?
Remember this is how Moses felt when God sent him to speak to Pharaoh. God sent Aaron with him. Aaron was the High Priest. Who will go with us when we go into the throne room, not of Pharaoh, but of Almighty God?
Hebrews says “we have a great high priest…” Think about this: Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he is there for us. When you pray, you ascend by faith into heavenly places, where Christ is.
Christ is next to the Father, and when you pray, you are next to Christ. He is there for you, and when you speak, he is there with you! He is there, endorsing what you’re saying, placing his name under what you’re asking.
You are with Christ in the school of prayer. A Christian never prays alone. You pray to the Father, with the Son, in the Spirit.
Again, I have been helped by Bonhoeffer here,
He [Jesus Christ] wants to pray with us and to have us pray with him, so that we may be confident and glad that God hears us.
You can come to the Father with Jesus beside you. He is there to support you in your prayer, to back you up in what you are saying, to agree with your prayer because it has already been his own.
- Pray, because Jesus knows what life is like.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
You can’t bring anything to Jesus that will shock him. Nothing that you face is surprising to Jesus. You don’t need to hide anything from him. Think about the humanity of Jesus: He worked in a shop. He grieved. He saw darkness unleashed like no one else ever has.
- Pray, because God invites us to his throne of grace.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace… Hebrews 4:16
Bunyan says, “God has more than one throne…” The throne of grace is very different from the throne of judgment. God invites you to come to the throne of grace! How often would you want to pray, if you knew you were coming before the throne of judgment?
- Pray, because this is how you will receive help from God.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need… Hebrews 4:16
Many people who call themselves Christians feel they do not receive help from God. If that’s the case, ask yourself: “Am I praying?” It is through prayer that the help of God is received—you draw near to the throne of grace. How much more could you receive from God if you prayed?
- Pray, because this was the practice of Jesus.
We see this through the life of Jesus. He goes to a solitary place to pray.
When he comes to his hour of greatest trial he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Scripture tells us that he prays the same thing three times. His soul is wrestling. He goes back to the Father again and again to find help and relief. If the Son of God did this, how much more should I do this in my own weakness?
- Pray, because this is how you will guard against temptation.
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Matthew 26:41
Someone says to me, “I keep falling back into that old temptation!” My first question is, “Were you praying? My second question is, “Were you watching?”
It’s very easy to fall into being a “pseudo-Christian.” You say, “There’s this sin that I can’t get out of, but it’s ok, because there’s grace. So I don’t need to worry about it.”
The promise of Jesus is very clear: If you will watch and pray there is sufficient help in these things for you not to fall into temptation. Do these things and you will be able to stand. Ignore them and you will surely fall.
- Pray, because when you seek Christ, you will find him.
“Ask and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
There will be times when you feel that nothing much is coming of your prayers. This is a promise to help you persevere. Ask and go on asking.
Andrew Gray began thinking about all those who are already in heaven, and from their experience what they might say to us today:
Now I think, if Adam were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If Moses and Aaron and Aaron were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If David were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If the four beasts (around the throne of God) were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If the twenty-four elders were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If all the angels that are standing on the sea of glass were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
If all the spirit of just men made perfect were going to give you counsel, it would be this: Be much in prayer.
© Colin S. Smith
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