Real Prayer 

 

- Prayer is perhaps the area where it is easiest to have only a surface level of spirituality, without getting down to real faith, real perseverance in prayer, real wrestling with God. Elijah " prayed in his prayer" (James 5:17 AVmg.) reflects the Spirit's recognition that there is prayer, and real prayer. “Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer” (Ps. 64:1) seems to say the same: there is our true, pleading voice: and the outward form of prayer. The form of words we use, the outward form, conceals the real thing; the real groaning of spirit which is counted by God as the real prayer. The tendency to multiply words in prayer without intensely meaning them is probably behind the Lord's teaching about faith as a grain of mustard seed, which could move a mountain (Lk. 17:20). He's surely saying that a little bit of the real thing can do such wonders.

- The OT idiom of prayer ‘returning into one’s own bosom’ is surely the quarry from which the Lord dug His image of a man praying with himself. It isn’t real prayer; it’s one part of the brain talking to a black box in another part of the brain, that we call ‘God’.

-  Nobody who has seriously prayed would say that prayer comes easy. And yet, deceptively, it can come almost too easily. It’s so easy to rattle off in the Lord’s Prayer: “...thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. But the Lord Himself struggled to say those words in Gethsemane, as He prayed the prayer He had taught others to pray. ‘Not my will....but thine...be done’ surely took Him quite some minutes to utter, with intense sweating in between. “Not for ease that prayer shall be...”.

- The man who knocks is answered, the Lord taught (Lk. 11:7-9). He may have meant that all true prayer is answered in its essence, rather than its particularities. But for our purposes we note that the first knocks weren’t heard. Only by continual knocking was the request responded to. And so “knock, and it shall be opened” doesn’t just mean ‘ask for something and you’ll get it’. The first knocks produced nothing. It surely means ‘Keep on and on knocking, driven to your utmost desperation and intreaty; this is what I call knocking’. 

- Just before his final fight with the Philistines, " Saul enquired of the Lord (but) the Lord answered him not" (1 Sam. 28:6), and therefore he went to a witch. But in God's final analysis of Saul, Yahweh says that He smote Saul because Saul sinned against God's word by not enquiring of God, but of a witch (1 Chron. 10:13,14). But Saul did enquire of God (see 1 Sam. 14:27 s.w.; 28:6), but God didn't answer him (note how often in the records it is stated that David enquired successfully of Yahweh). The point is that although Saul prayed to God and enquired of His word on the surface, in his heart, he did nothing of the sort; and therefore his prayer and enquiry was reckoned never to have happened. And we must ask how much of our prayer and Bible study is seen by God as being only spoken and read on a surface level. This was exactly the problem of natural Israel. " They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled (in prayer) upon their beds" (Hos. 7:14). " Though they called them to the Most High, none at all would exalt him" (Hos. 11:7).

- James 4:2,3 says it all plainly: some ask and receive not, because in reality, they don’t ask at all. They are playing around with the possible power of prayer for their own benefit. And Old Testament Israel fasted, but only to themselves, not to God (Zech. 7:5,6).

- The Law seems to have foreseen the difference between real and apparent prayer by warning that the true incense was to be burnt [representing prayer], but not any other kind of incense, or incense comprised of other kinds of ingredients (Ex. 30:9).

- The believers in Acts 12 gathered together to hold a prayer meeting for Peter’s release. Their prayers were answered; he stood outside, knocking on the door. But they simply didn’t believe it. They couldn’t conceive their prayer was answered. They mocked poor Rhoda and told her to go back and watch the door and not disturb them any more while they prayed for Peter’s release. And having mocked her, they got back on their knees and asked again for his release. We can pray, in faith apparently, but with no very deep faith that the answer in actual reality will happen or may already have been granted.

- Like Israel we can seek God daily, taking delight in approaching unto Him; and yet need the exhortation to urgently seek Him (Is. 55:6 cp. 58:2). We can appear to seek unto Him in prayer and attendance at our meetings, and yet not seek Him in the real sense at all. Likewise men came to Jesus physically, at quite some effort to themselves, and yet He tells them that they have not truly come to Him at all (Jn. 6:24 cp. 35-37). We can draw near with our mouth, honour Him with our lips, “but have removed [our] heart far from me” (Is. 29:13). Only those who call upon Him “in truth”, with “unfeigned lips” will he heard (Ps. 145:18). Men repeatedly ‘sought for’ the Lord Jesus (Mk. 1:37; Jn. 6:26), but He told them to truly seek Him (Mt. 6:33; 7:7; Lk.12:31). “Strive to enter in [now] at the strait gate: for many [at judgment day] will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Lk. 13:24). Our attitude to seeking the Lord now will be the attitude we have then. The emotion and reality of the judgment experience will not essentially change our attitude to the Lord. If we have “boldness” in prayer now (Heb. 4:16), then we will have “boldness in the day of judgment”. How we feel to Him now is how we will then.

- Amazingly, prayer in the first century ecclesias was sometimes made with anger and in a spirit of quarrelling (1 Tim. 2:8). The words were said with an agenda, not to God but designed more for the hearing of men. This is an easy pitfall in prayer- to pray to oneself as did the Pharisee (Lk. 18:11), or to pray with attention to how our human hearers will receive the words. To begin prayer with “Our Father” and a few thoughts on the God to whom our words are being directed is surely wise advice from the Lord.

- We can pray with an impure heart; and yet the very practice of prayer can make us think we are somehow spiritually acceptable before God. Thus Paul had to warn that prayer should be made “without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8). He knew that a man can pray to God with an angry heart, thinking the act of prayer cancels out his anger.

- Worship like prayer can be on a surface level, or the real thing. Reflect how Saul “worshipped the Lord” merely for the sake of appearances, because this was what his position required of him (1 Sam. 15:31).