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Approaching God In Prayer
James R. Davis

Luke 11:1
One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."

Luke 18:1
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. There is almost a universal longing within the human psychic to seek God in prayer. This is especially in difficult times. Yet, there is something about prayer that seems to repel our tendencies to pray. At times we are attracted to God in prayer, but at other times we are repelled. It is at these times that we experience the agony of a prayerless powerless life.

It seems as though we are always torn between the drawing power of God's grace, and our understanding of how unworthy we are to stand upon holy ground as we approach God in prayer. We approach God in prayer thinking that we must be as holy as the ground we walk upon. Too many times, these attitudes concerning prayer cause us to pray only when we are driven to our knees by the circumstances of life. Then as a result of having no way to turn, we throw ourselves upon holy ground in prayer. We make an extreme effort to purge our souls and find some relief for the extremity of the moment.

As we look at our lives they may be nothing more than a tangled mess. While we were vacationing in California a couple of weeks ago, we went deep-sea fishing on a boat with several other people. I caught a fish and as I was bringing the fish up several other lines became entangled with my line. The guide on the boat attempted to untangle the mess. He spent far too long, as for as I was concerned, trying to untangle the mess. I tried to help him, but I was thinking, why don't we cut are losses and throw the tangled mess away and get back to fishing. We eventually did cut the line. But not soon enough for me, for everybody else was still pulling in fish while we tried to untangle the mess. Sometimes we do this in life; we feel that we must untangle the mess we are in before we can approach God in prayer. Yet, prayer is the very thing that helps us by allowing us to cut our lines when they get tangled. Prayer helps us untangle our lives. If the tangled mess keeps us from seeking God in prayer, then we will find no relief.

Our lives are constantly bombarded with good motives and bad motives. At times we have altruistic motives, at other times we are the most selfish people on earth. I come to God with a heart that is tempted to hate and to be merciful, to love and to be bitter. If I think that I must get all of this straightened out before I step on holy ground, then prayer will never be a pleasant experience. It will only remind me of my unworthiness to approach at God. Then I will be spiritually paralyzed.

The Bible speaks precisely to this problem.

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

The prodigal son was driven home when he had no other recourse. But, at least he knew that he could go home and approach his father. His father met him with his arms opened wide. He never thought that he couldn't approach his father, it was his father's approachableness that drew him into his father's arms. "When he came to his senses, he said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death . . . I will go to my father and say to him: "Father, I have sinned . . . I am no longer worthy to be called your son . . . make me like one of your hired men." (Luke 15:17)

He has less than pure motives when he returns, he is driven to his father in dire circumstances. There is nothing bright or pure about his return. The realization that there was nothing that he could do to make himself worthy to approach his father drove him into his father's arm. If he had  waited until he got his life back on course, he would have still been eating hog feed.

Knowing that we can approach God in prayer gives our lives direction. When our children come to us with request often we are grieved over their selfish motives. But we are always glad that they come to us.

Just As We Are

We can only come to God from where we are. It makes no difference about where we should be, ought to be or where we feel we need to be, we can only come from where we are.

Manasseh king of Judah gives us all hope today. It was only in Manasseh's distress that he sought the favor of the Lord and humbled himself before God.

2 Chronicles 33:1-13
Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever." In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God's temple, of which God had said to David and to his son Solomon, "In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses." But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

The account in 2 Kings 21:16 says that Manasseh filled Jerusalem with innocent blood from end to end. What a horrible person, yet, God heard his prayer. He was forgiven and restored to his position.

Moses came to God in his anger and disappointment.

Numbers 11:11-15
He asked the LORD, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now-- if I have found favor in your eyes-- and do not let me face my own ruin."

Elisha retaliating against the children who jeered him., calling him a baldhead.

II Kings 2:23-25
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.

The Psalmist delights in the violent death of the babies.

Ps 137:8-9
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

Prayer involves dealing with the real issues of the heart whether good or bad. In the midst of all these self-serving requests you find the most sublime prayers of all time.

I don't know what Manasseh prayed, but his prayer moved the God of heaven. "In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God." What a prayer that must have been.

Life is a mixed bag. Moses came to God regretting that God had placed such a burden upon his shoulders. At other times he was more than willing to lay his life on the line to shoulder those burdens. When the children of Israel made the molten calf, Moses interceded.

Exod 32:31-33
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin-- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." The LORD replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.

Moses gives us a little more details about this incident in his account in Deuteronomy in the following verses.

Deuteronomy 9:18-19
Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD's sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me.

When God was about to destroy the people for refusing to cross over into the land of Canaan, Moses interceded.

Numbers 14:11-20
The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they." Moses said to the LORD, "Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 'The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.' "Now may the Lord's strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.' In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." The LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked.

On another occasion Elisha is praying for a barren Shunem woman and he tells her:

II Kings 4:16-17
"About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms." "No, my lord," she objected. "Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!" But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her."

Later when the son dies Elisha brings him back to life. We see these people bringing the issues of the heart to God, the good and the bad.

As you look deep into the heart of the Psalmist, one moment he is crying that his enemy's babies might be dashed against a rock and at the next moment he is crying out "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (Psalms 119:97)

Coming to God in prayer requires bringing the issues of the heart to a God that is willing to help us deal with the problems of life. There must be no pretense. God already knows the issues of our hearts, so there is no need to pretend that issues don't exist. Pretending destroys the very purpose of prayer. Prayer is designed to deal with these issues.

I John 3:19-20
This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Luke 7:37-50
When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-- that she is a sinner."

Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you." "Tell me, teacher," he said.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."

The other guests began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Edward Sill shows us clearly the nature of true wisdom in his poem entitled, "A Fool's Prayer." He writes,

"The royal feast was done; the king
sought some new sport to banish care,
and to his jester cried,
'Sir Fool, kneel now and make for us a prayer.'

The jester doffed his cap and kneeled
upon the monarch's silken stool;
his pleading voice arose: 'O Lord,
be merciful to me, a fool!

No pity, Lord, could change the heart
from red with wrong to white as wool.
Thy grace must heal the sin;
so, Lord, be merciful to me, a fool!

These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
go crushing blossoms without end;
these hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
among the heartstrings of a friend.

The ill-timed truth we might have kept,
who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say,
who knows how grandly it had rung?

Our faults no tenderness should ask;
Christ's chastening stripes must cleanse them all.
But for our blunders, O, in shame
before the eyes of Heaven we fall.

Earth bears no balm for our mistakes;
men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
that did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
be merciful to me, a fool!"

The room was hushed; in silence rose the king,
and sought his gardens cool,
and walked apart and murmured low,
'Be merciful to ME, a fool!'"

When we truly pray, the true condition of our heart is revealed. It is only then that God can begin his work. As long as we pretend that our problems do not exist we will never face the real issues of life.

We Must Begin Where We Are

The only place God can begin to bless us is right where we are, because that is the only place we are! We must believe that God can reach us and bless us in the ordinary junctures of daily life. This is the stuff of prayer.

A boy asked his politician father, "What does the chaplain of the Senate do?" The realistic dad replied, "He stands up, looks at the Senators, and then prays for the country."

We are already standing on holy ground, right where we stand . . . in the midst of our job, homes, in our relationships on the job and families. These are the places were we must begin.

Jeremiah 20:7-13
O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. I hear many whispering, "Terror on every side! Report him! Let's report him!" All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him." But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.

The circumstances of life create the need and content of prayer. Jesus prayed, "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) Don't worry about the wording; you can talk to God as you talk to a friend. You can do it openly and honest, just as your children talk to you. God is delighted when we do so.

We must learn to pray when we are dealing with the evil in our lives. It is in praying and struggling with life's problems  as we approach the throne room of God with boldness that we learn to pray. Simple prayer is designed for the dull and ignorant, the educated and uneducated, the spiritual and the unspiritual.

Conclusion:

If there is anything we learn from all those who have gone before, it is that no one has the advantage in prayer. "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory." (Matthew 12:20)

One thing we must ever keep before us is that it is the blood of Jesus Christ that gives the Christian boldness to enter into the throne room. When we approach God's throne Christ is at his right hand advocating our cause.

Hebrews 4:12-16
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
 
 

 

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