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Monday, September 5, 2016

The Person Who Prays – Approach of God


In an earlier Bible study called Prayer part 1: What, Why, and How, we learned from the Bible we are to approach God recognizing His existence, mercy, power, faithfulness, and righteousness. Because of these, we are to approach Him with reverence, pray to Him only, and ensure our prayers give testimony of God. The question this current part of our study considers concerns the physical/spiritual action required. Yet approaching God cannot easily be separated as just physical and spiritual. Each facet of a person’s approach of God involves more than one part of the person’s self. How do we approach God and be with Him? Eleven verses in the New Testament teach about this.

Prayer – Communing with God through the His Spirit

Before His death and resurrection, Jesus told His disciples what was to come. He explained He would be arrested and crucified. When the disciples expressed fear and unbelief, He comforted them. Jesus told them He would ask the Father and the Father would give them another helper to be with them forever (John 14:16-17). This Helper, He said, would be the Spirit of truth that only believers can receive because they know God and He abides in them just as God abides in the Son.

 “Helper” comes from the Greek word parakletos and means one who pleads another person’s case, who is an advocate and intercessor for, and who leads the person to a deeper knowledge of God and the gospel. This Helper is the Spirit of God who abides continually in the heart of the believer and intercedes for the believer with the Father in heaven, just as Jesus did for His disciples while he lived on earth. The Spirit, Jesus stated in verse twenty-six, will teach believers all things and bring to remembrance all Jesus said. He will encourage, remind, and make strong believers as they live on earth after Jesus’ resurrection and before His return.

Paul spoke of the Spirit of God regarding prayer. In Romans 8:26, Paul said, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” He stated the Spirit is our intercessor to God. Earlier Jesus said the Spirit would be our teacher, encourager, and would abide as the presence of God within us. Now Paul teaches that the Spirit can speak for us to our Father when we are communing with Him and do not know how to put into words our heart, mind, and spirit. God’s Spirit joins with our spirit and conveys to the Father the depth of our appeal and emotion. This joining of our spirit with the Father through the Holy Spirit is the ultimate expression of communing with God. Truth, pure love for God and humankind, adoration and worship, and petition combine to flow between the Father and His child, the believer, through Holy Spirit.

Paul taught the Ephesians in his writing of Ephesians 6:18 that prayer and petition at all times should occur in the Spirit. As we commune with God, prayer should occur through the Holy Spirit that abides with each believer when he or she becomes a child of God. In this passage that Paul wrote the Ephesian believers, he expressly taught as they put on each piece of the armor of God, they  should pray in the Spirit for God’s guidance, protection, and glory, not only to protect one’s self. The fight for each armor bearer is not for life and death – flesh and blood, but for eternal salvation for all people and righteousness. It was a fight to stand firm against the schemes of the devil…against “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place.” (Ephesians 6:11-12) Victory requires God’s full strength which requires continual prayer/communing with God that comes through the Spirit, our intercessor.

Prayer – Communing with God with Your Mind and Spirit

That section title sounds like an elementary and trite statement. It sounds so fundamental that one wonders why it needs consideration. Yet, Paul spoke on it and the writer of Daniel regarded it in Daniel’s life. What is necessary beyond bended knee, bowed head, and folded hands like children are taught by their parents and Sunday School teachers?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians speaking to them concerning spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues. His basic point was if a person’s speaking in tongues is not followed with an interpretation of what was said, then it is not of the Spirit since it does not edify a person in the church. This word spoken in a strange tongue does not enlighten or improve anyone’s understanding of God and His truth when no interpretation is given. Since the Holy Spirit is given to each believer to teach, instruct, admonish, and encourage, then the word spoken in a strange tongue could not be said to have come from the Spirit. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 when he said, “If I pray in a tongue my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.”

Paul brought this lesson to a personal level. He did not intend it only to teach the whole church body. Paul recognized for a person to pray to God that person must connect with Him in both body and spirit. Because God is spirit, we speak with and worship Him in spirit. Yet we must remember we are more than spirit. God made us with minds, hearts, and bodies. For a person to be taught that person’s mind must be engaged. When Moses spent the forty years in the desert with the Israelites, he continued to teach them who God was and what He was doing so the Israelites would see, perceive, recognize, know, and relate to Him. In the same way, when a person prays to God, the spirit of the person should be one part of the person to commune with God.

Paul said if his spirit spoke in tongues to God and his mind did not, what he said to God did not edify his mind. He did not grow in his relationship with God because more than his spirit is involved in his relationship with God. That was what Paul meant with his rhetorical question in verse fifteen. Paul realized praying to God involved more than the spirit for him to know God better and grow his relationship with Him. That is why he stated after this question, “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.” Praying to and communing with God requires more than one part of our being. Here Paul taught our mind and our spirit must join in communion with God. A person who wants to commune with God must approach Him with his or her whole being – heart, mind, body, and soul.

The life of Daniel teaches this same lesson. The messenger from God who spoke to Daniel expressed Daniel set his heart on understanding God and His vision. He humbled himself before God and sought understanding. In Daniel 10:12, the writer records the messenger saying, “Then he said to me, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.’”

The messenger spoke of a “heart understanding” by Daniel. Daniel sought knowledge for his mind that would affect his heart and the way he lived. He desired to know God’s mind and understanding on what was happening to him and the Israelites of the time. His earnest desire to know God’s will and understanding shows how the heart and mind often cannot be separated when considering a person and what is important to him or her. Daniel communed with God through prayer seeking His knowledge. He humbled himself before God. His communing with God involved his head, heart, and spirit. With the messenger’s next words, we realize Daniel’s commune with God involved him physically, through his mouth. Daniel spoke to God, and the messenger arrived to speak to him because of his words to God.

Daniel’s prayers to God, his communing and seeking God, involved his whole being. He sought God and His understanding while approaching him with humility and genuine care. Daniel approached God with his physical being by speaking his heart to God with his mouth. Most probably, in his humility, he bowed before God in his seeking for heart understanding and God’s wisdom. Daniel was an effective prayer. He communed with God, and God heard and answered him.

Prayer – Communing with God with Your Body

Communing with God involves all parts of a person’s being – heart, soul, mind, and strength (physical body). Just as Daniel did not pray with some of the parts of his being, most people, when truly communing with God, commune with Him through their whole being. Daniel used each part of his being when praying with God in Daniel 10. David recognized the need to commune with God in multiple ways, too.

In Psalm 19:14, David said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” This verse shows us David recognized his commune/prayer time with God came not just from his heart, but form his mouth. He recognized praying involved his body – his mouth to speak – and his mind and spirit through meditation. David recognized a physical side to communing with God. From one’s mouth most often comes what is in the heart; however, that is not always the case. Sometimes the mouth speaks from the mind only to flatter the hearer and gain something for self. This type of prayer is self-motivated and not motivated on wanting to commune with and know God more. Self-motivated prayer comes from a person’s desire to get something out of the prayer he or she says.

Jesus recognized these types of prayer when he explained a parable to Peter and the other disciples. He said what comes from the heart that determines if a person’s actions, words, and attitudes are God-glorifying. If a person’s heart is not right and truly seeking God, then the words the person utters do not bring them to a closer relationship with God.  Jesus expressed this in Matthew 15:18 when He said, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart and those defile the man.” (Consider also Mark 7:20 and Matthew 12:34). The heart (intentions and motivations) matters and the words reflect the heart’s condition.

What does this say concerning the rote prayers we learned as children or “baby” Christians? Are they deficient or self-serving? The rote prayers we learned as children and seekers or new believers in Jesus Christ are good prayers. They teach us how to pray to God. Yet, if those prayers are said as an appeasement to us that we have said our prayers today so we are okay with God, then

·         We have not grown in our relationship with Him since we were children or baby Christians,
·         We are not truly communing with our Father,
·         We are not becoming more Christlike, and
·         We are stagnating.

 Jesus told His disciples not to be like the Gentiles who use meaningless repetition (Matthew 6:7-8). Jesus said,

“But when you pray, go to your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentile do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”

Some of the rote prayers we learned that you may still use and that could be “meaningless repetition” could be these –

Ø  “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Ø  “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we have received from Thy bounty through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” or
Ø  “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food.”

Each of these prayers is a worthy prayer. They teach us to seek God for protection and to realize God is the protector of our souls. These prayers teach us to recognize the blessings we have come from God and to thank Him. These are good prayers. Yet if all you say to God is this and you pray only when you awake, lie down, or eat, you must ask yourself if you are truly praying/communing with God? Are you growing in your relationship with God? Have you truly asked Christ to be your Lord and Savior?

Prayer – Communing with God as Jesus Taught

In the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus calls God Father. He teaches believers to recognize God as Creator and the Provider of all things. Jesus helps believers understand and address God as the Father of our selves who are born again through the atoning death of Jesus Christ. Giving God the title of Father was an honor reserved for those who taught and led the Israelites from their wisdom and experience. This title applied to God means approaching Him with the understanding and acknowledgement of His superior wisdom and understanding.

Within the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to recognize God’s greatness. He is greater than them and anything they can see or imagine. He created all they see. God lives and reigns in heaven. Recognizing this requires a heart acknowledgement of one’s smallness and God’s greatness.

Jesus taught His disciples to recognize God the Father is their Provider. He gives everything people need for sustenance and survival. His children can go to Him with their physical needs. They can know His power reaches to all nature to provide food for His children. People can approach Him physically with their words and their physical needs.

Jesus further taught God is greater than our spiritual selves. He is holy and almighty. God has power over sin and death and can forgive sin. He will forgive the sins of the people who confess and seek His forgiveness. We approach God with our spiritual selves and are taught to practice the mercy God gives us by forgiving people who have harmed us.

We further recognize and approach God with our spiritual selves when we recognize because God is holy, He has the power to keep us from sinning, from falling to temptation. He can deliver us from evil. God wants us to seek Him to avoid temptation and sin. By doing this we do not sin and can be in His presence. This means approaching God with our heart, soul, and mind. We must choose to let God be our Lord so we walk in His ways.

Prayer – Loving God with Our Whole Being

When we are in a growing and loving relationship with God, we learn to love Him with all our being – our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus taught this in Luke 10:27 and God taught this to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5. Communing with God – praying to God, reading His Word, listening to Him from His Word and from His shepherds, and meditating on what He is saying – requires the desire a love relationship gives. Just as our love for our spouse, children, or parents makes us want to listen to, speak with, and help them, our love for God should lead us to do the same with Him. Active communing with someone involves our heart, mind, and strength. Active communing with God requires these, too, as well as involving our spirit. Our spirit is joined with His Spirit, our intercessor, when we become His children upon our profession of faith in Jesus Christ and our confession and repentance of sins. Communing/praying to Him without our spirit would be like have hot cocoa without the cocoa powder. It’s just not communing.

Relevance and Conclusion

John 4:24 tells us, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” To truly love God and be in a growing relationship with Him, we must love Him as Jesus taught, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To approach God as a person of effective prayer requires we approach Him with our whole being – with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

v  We must pray in the Spirit, the Helper, who came from Jesus when He ascended into heaven – our spirit speaking through His Spirit.
v  We must pray with our minds, recognizing God for who He is – Father, Creator, Provider, Savior, and Redeemer.
v  We must pray with our hearts recognizing God’s greatness and our smallness, bowing ourselves in humility before Him.
v  We must pray with our physical beings speaking with our lips and bowing with our knees and heads recognizing almighty God.

Loving the Lord God with all of who we are is communing/praying with God. Without love of God, we would have no desire to truly, genuinely commune with God. Communing with God is praying. It is speaking and listening to and for Him.

When did you last seek to be with God?
When did you last pray to Him, genuinely pray to Him?

It’s not too late to seek Him now, to reach out to Him with your whole self. God promises He will forgive you. Yes, anything you put in your life above God means you have sinned against God. Yet John said in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Come to God.
Seek Him.

“When you seek Him, you will find Him when you search for Him with all your heart, soul, and mind.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

Receive Forgiveness.

Commune with God.