The School of Prayer (Part II)

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Christian Living
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Praying to the Father

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee. -Matthew 6:6

After Jesus had called His first disciples, He gave them their first public teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. There he expounded to them the kingdom of God, its laws and its life. In that kingdom God is not only King, but Father; He not only gives all, but is Himself all. It naturally came as a matter of course that the revelation of prayer and the prayer-life was a part of the Messiah’s teaching concerning the New Kingdom he came to set up. Neither Moses nor the prophets gave any commands or regulations with regard directly to the duty of prayer; it is only Jesus who teaches us to pray.

And the first thing the Lord teaches His disciples is that they must have a secret place for prayer; everyone must have some solitary spot where he can be alone with God. Every teacher must have a schoolroom. We have learned to know and accept Jesus as our only teacher in the school of prayer. He has already taught us that worship is no longer confined to times and places; that worship, spiritual true worship, is a thing of the spirit and the life; the whole man must worship in spirit and truth. And yet he wants each one to choose for himself the fixed spot where He can daily meet him. That inner chamber, that solitary place, is Jesus’ schoolroom. That spot may be anywhere; that spot may change from day to day but that secret place must be a quiet time in which the pupil places himself in the Master’s presence and be prepared to worship the Father. And when we’re alone in our secret place of prayer most surely, Jesus comes to us to teach us to pray.

In His first words on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus seeks to set the inner chamber before us in its most attractive light. If we listen carefully, we soon notice what the chief thing he tells us about prayer. Three times He uses the name of Father: `Pray to thy Father;’ ‘Thy Father shall recompense thee;’ your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

The first thing in closet-prayer is: I must meet my Father. Soon the light of the Father’s countenance shines in our closet-prayer. The fresh air from heaven which our Father fills us with is the atmosphere in which I am to breathe and pray. It is God’s Father-love. Thus each thought or petition we breathe out will be simple, childlike trust in the Father. This is how the Master teaches us to pray: He brings us into the Father’s living presence. What we pray there will avail much. Let us listen carefully to hear what the Lord has to say to us.

First Pray to the Father which is in secret

God is a God who hides Himself to the carnal eye. As long as in our worship of God, we are chiefly occupied with our own thoughts and, exercises we shall not meet Him who is Spirit, the unseen One. But to the man who withdraws himself from the world and man, and prepares to wait upon God alone, the Father will reveal Himself. As he forsakes and gives up and shuts out the world, and the life of the world, and surrenders himself to be led by Messiah into the secret place of God’s presence, the light of the Father’s love will rise upon him. The secrecy of the inner chamber and the closed door, the entire separation from all around us, is the only way to that inner spiritual sanctuary, the secret of God’s tabernacle, within the veil, where our spirit truly comes into contact with the invisible One.

And so we are taught, at the very outset of our search of the secret of effectual prayer is to remember that it is in the inner chamber. When we are alone with the Father is when we will learn to pray right. The Father is in secret: in these words Jesus teaches us where He is waiting for us and where He is always to be found. Christians often complain that private prayer is not what it should be. They feel weak and sinful, the heart is cold and dark; it is as if they have so little to pray and have little or no faith or joy. They are discouraged and kept from prayer by the thought that they cannot come to the Father as they ought to or as they wish.

Child of God! Listen to your Teacher. He tells you that when you go to private prayer your first thought must be: The Father is in secret, the Father waits for me there. Just because your heart is cold and prayerless, get into the presence of the loving Father. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. (Psalms 103:13) Do not be thinking of how little you have to bring to God, but of how much He wants to give you. Just place yourself before Him and look up into His face; think of His love, His wonderful, tender, pitying love. Just tell Him how sinful and cold and dark your life is. The secret place is where we can be totally honest with our Father.

Here Jesus assures us that secret prayer cannot be fruitless; its blessing will show itself in our life. All we have to do is get alone with God in secret, to entrust our life before men to Him; And He will reward us openly; He will see to it that the answer to prayer be made manifest in His blessing upon us. It is the Father’s loving heart that will give light and warmth to yours. Do what Jesus says: Just shut the door, and pray to thy Father which is in secret. Is it not wonderful to be able to get alone with God – the infinite God? And then to look up and say: My Abba Father! My heavenly Daddy!

And now, all who have entered the school of prayer; take these lessons, practice them, and trust Messiah to perfect you in them. Dwell much in the inner chamber, with the door shut from men and the world, and shut up with God. It is there that the Father waits for you; it is there that Jesus will teach you to pray. To be alone in secret with the Father is your highest joy. To be assured that the Father will openly reward the secret prayer so that it cannot remain unblessed is your strength day by day. And to know that the Father knows that you need what you ask is your liberty to bring every need, with the assurance that your God will supply it according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Looking back on my life I am amazed at how long it took me to understand prayer. For many years after my conversion I struggled with unanswered prayer and my inability to hear from God. My prayer life was not unlike many believers today; unaware and ignorant of the precious gift our loving Lord has given us by allowing us a way to come into the very presence of the Almighty God, Creator of the universe!

My prayers at best were shallow, selfish, self-serving, and earthly. They were almost always a one way conversation. More like giving God directions than prayers. I rarely heard God’s voice because I was too busy talking to listen to what God had to say. I’ve since learned that prayer is an intimate two way conversation between the Lord and me. It is not a giant gift shop in heaven where I simply place my order and demand the delivery of my goods by quoting a few scriptures. Nor is it a celestial complaint department, that if I whine loud enough and long enough, God will have no choice but to grant my request. God designed prayer as a way for us to communicate with him and him with us; and so that we can draw closer to him and him to us.

King David knew the importance of a two way communication with God. He was constantly in contact with God. By reading the Psalms you can see the close relationship he had with God. God considered David to be a man after his own heart. (I Sam. 13:14, Acts 13:22) Why? Because through his intimate two way communion with God, David knew God’s heart. Whenever David sinned he repented on the spot quickly because he knew that his sin separated himself from God.

God desires that kind of intimate relationship with all of his children. And what kind of child only speaks to their father to get things that they want? A selfish, self-centered child. But a child who truly loves their father desires to just spend time with him. That is the primary reason God instituted prayer for us. That we might spend time with our heavenly Father and experience the abundant love that he has for each and every one of us. For each of us, that will involve not only talking to God and sharing with him our heart, but also being still before him and allowing him to speak to us.

But what if I don’t know how to listen to God’s voice? How do I know for certain that it’s God’s voice that I’m hearing and not my own thoughts? How do I distinguish between God’s voice, Satan, and my own thoughts? The Bible teaches us to test all things and to hold fast to what is good. (I Thess. 5:21) our only standard by which to test all things is God’s Holy Scriptures.

Sam Shoemaker, one of the original founders of AA, taught that by using Psalms 15, Matthew 5:3-11, and I Corinthians 13:4-8, we can understand that everything that God does will promote four absolute truths that Jesus and all the apostles preached and lived by. They are: Absolute purity, absolute honesty, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love.

By using these four absolutes as our standard we can know for certain if a thought is from God. Spend 30 to 60 minutes every day silently before God and ask him to speak to you. Write down all your thoughts on paper. At the end of your quiet time compare those thoughts with scripture and the four absolutes. If the thoughts that you’ve written down promote absolute purity, honesty, unselfishness, and love, then you know that those thoughts are from God. If not, then you can disregard them as your own thoughts. If they are from God, then God has just spoken to you; and if God has just spoken to you, you now have the choice of obeying him.

He may ask you to do something as simple as asking forgiveness from someone you were short with, or something as difficult as moving across the country or across the world to serve him better. Don’t think it disrespectful or a sign of a lack of faith by asking God about something several times you feel he’s already told you to do in order to be sure it’s from God. We serve a loving and merciful God who won’t force us to do anything we’re not ready for.

Each of us will know in our own hearts if we’re waiting on God or if we’re being disobedient to God’s leading. But by using God’s Holy Scriptures and his four absolute truths we can know for certain what God’s will is.

That is the ministry of the Messiah in a nutshell. He prayed, he listened to the Father, and then he obeyed. Look at the results of Jesus’ prayers: (Luke 6:12-49) Jesus prayed all night. The next day not only did he choose his disciples and healed multitudes of people, but he also preached a sermon so filled with God’s spirit that his discourse alone probably brought multitudes to believe in him. (Luke 5:16-25) After Jesus had been in the wilderness praying, he returned and was able to heal a man paralyzed and thereby glorify God. (Matt.14:22-33) After feeding over 5,000 people Jesus went off by himself to a mountain to pray. Later he walked on top of the sea. Today unbelievers as well as God’s own are familiar with the story of Peter walking on water.

There are many other examples of Jesus praying, listening to God, and obeying. His greatest prayer of all was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  Even up to the moment of his death Jesus continued to commune with his Father through prayer when he cried, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (v.4) That same spirit allowed Jesus to perform the mighty works of God, heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons, is the same spirit that works in believers today and is available to us through prayer. But there are some requirements for answered prayer that we should be aware of.

Forgiveness…. (Matt. 6:14, 18:19-20) We must come to God with a forgiving heart. If we hold unforgiveness against someone in our heart God cannot forgive us and we separate ourselves from him by our sin.

Repentance.….. (Luke 18:10-14) If we pray with an unrepentant heart all we do is make noise. We may impress others around us, but I guarantee that God is not the least bit impressed.

Pray believing….. (Matt. 21:22, Mark 11:23-24) Why ask God for something if you don’t believe He’ll do what you ask? Don’t bother Him with your faithless prattle. Instead, be honest with God and tell Him that your faith is small and weak and ask him to increase your faith and help your unbelief.

Pray in God’s will…. (I John 5:14) This is where the scriptures and the four absolutes will lead you to know God’s will. The only way to know God’s will is to know God’s heart and that only comes from spending time with Him in your secret place and listening to His voice.

Scripture tells us that if we ask anything in Jesus’s name he will do it. (John 14:13) Does that mean that God will give me a nice new car or a new home? It does if that’s God’s will and if you believe it will promote the four absolutes. The Bible teaches that God will supply all of our needs, but be careful to differentiate between wants and needs. I’ve known many believers who have set themselves up for failure by believing God to supply their wants rather than their needs.

Thanksgiving…. (I Tim. 2:1-3, Phil. 4:6) Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Luke 11: 1-4 but then he gave them an example of prayer. (v.9-13) And with that scripture in mind, if you, being evil know how to teach your children thankfulness, how much more should you be thankful to your heavenly Father? Most of us who have children teach them from an early age to say thank-you for everything from a glass of water to an expensive birthday gift from Grandma. Should our heavenly Father expect less from us; in whom we live and breathe and have our being? The one in whom we owe our salvation, to? Yes, our very lives?

Unceasing….. (I Thess. 5:17) This may seem to be a difficult task, (if not impossible) but to pray without ceasing simply means to constantly be thinking of God. If you’ve ever had a sick child you know that you can go through your day of normal routine; do work at the office, balance the check book, pay bills, etc. and still be constantly thinking of your sick child. Praying without ceasing is like that in the fact that even when going about your normal business of the day you can still constantly have your mind on God.

The most intimate way we can share our feelings with each other is by way of communication. We tell each other how we feel; what makes us happy, or sad, or angry. We bless and encourage with our speech, i.e.; our communication. I’ve met men who weren’t worth a nickel walk around like they owned the world because of an uplifting word from a loving wife. Our speech; our communication, is what connects us, attracts us, and deepens our relationships with others. So it is with God too. He desires to have that deep relationship with all of his children and share his heart with us. He wants to not only reveal his will to us, but also his abundant love and mercy and grace that he’s patiently waiting to give to each and every one of us.

Lord God, King of the universe. With my whole heart I bless you for the appointment of the inner chamber, as the school where you meet each of your students alone, and reveal yourself to me. Abba Father! Strengthen my faith so that in your tender love and kindness, even though I feel sinful or troubled, the first instinctive thought may be to go where I know my Father waits for me, and where prayer never can go unblessed. Let the thought that you know my need before I ask, bring me, in great restfulness of faith, to trust that you will give what your child requires. And let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot of earth.

And, Lord I pray that you would bless the closets of your believing people everywhere. Let the wonderful revelation of a Father’s tenderness free all Christians from every thought of secret prayer as a duty or a burden, and lead them to regard it as the highest privilege of their life, a joy and a blessing. Bring back all who are discouraged, because they cannot find how to bring you into their prayer. And give them understanding to know that they only have to come with their emptiness to you who has all to give, and delights to give it. Help your children not to focus on what they lack to bring the Father, but what the Father waits to give to them. Let this be their one thought.

Especially bless the inner chamber of all your servants who are working for you, as the place where your truth and your grace is revealed to them, where they are daily anointed with fresh oil, where their strength is renewed, and the blessings are received in faith, with which they are to bless their fellow-men. Lord, draw us all into the closet that brings us ever nearer to you. Amen.

For more on prayer read Andrew Murray’s book, With Christ in the School of Prayer

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