Monday, January 18, 2016

Making Progress in Praying by Faith

As I continue growing up in Jesus Christ, I regularly see God addressing one of my most annoying wrong beliefs, the works-based mindset. Not only is this mindset the focus of much teaching in God’s book, but it is also a huge part of life in our world.

The works-based mindset is that we earn our place in life by what we do. Religions teach that we earn standing with God by the good works we do, and will go to hell if our bad works exceed our good works. Businesses reward people based on performance. Awards are handed out to those who perform best in movies, music, and sports.

Life itself teaches us through many broken relationships that we are dispensable once we are no longer performing as someone says they needed from us. For some, this pushes greater effort to perform so well that we don’t lose people; for others it pushes them into hopelessness that they will ever be good enough to hold on to friends or family.
God’s response to the works-based mindset is the grace-through-faith experience. What he says about our salvation applies to the whole of our walk with him, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[1]

This morning, God applied this grace-through-faith experience to my understanding of prayer. It is not that I did not know these things before, but more like I was being pushed into the next grade in my knowledge of how to approach God with freedom and confidence.[2]

As usual, it started with a Beatitudinal confrontation.[3] In the way of, “blessed are the poor in spirit,”[4] I had to see that, if prayer depended on us reaching God, there would be no hope. If prayer depended on us, if we had to speak loud enough, or try hard enough, or say things right enough, or appeal reasonable enough, we would have no hope.

Put another way, any thought that prayer depends on me, and I’m no good at prayer, therefore there is no hope of prayer working for me, is false. Any sense that I must be good enough for prayer to work, is false.

The issue about prayer is not whether we can pray and make prayer work, but that the prayer of faith will always work because it is fellowship with the Triune, and they will not fail to respond to us according to the relationship they have described in their word.[5]

This is where we discover the glorious good of grace. Prayer must be based on approaching God by grace through faith.
Prayer is approaching God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, it cannot fail. Praying in Jesus’ name, in him, cannot fail. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Prayer always reaches the throne-room of God; God always hears what we pray; God always answers our prayers.
However, prayer does not originate in us. When we think of prayer as originating in us, we are thinking first covenant. The first covenant presented the way we had to live in order to ensure God’s blessing upon us. We failed. The law could not do it. In fact, that is the point of this next Scripture: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.”[6]

I know this speaks of the whole work of redemption. I know it is talking about how God has brought us to himself, accomplishing the greatest work of all, to redeem sinful souls.

And yet, I see how it then applies to prayer. God has made prayer what it is. The law, weakened by the flesh, could never produce people who prayed, and prayers that could be answered. The law produces works of prayer, while the gospel produces children who pray. Prayer under the law is a work we do; prayer under the gospel is talking to our Father in response to his grace.

If there was a law to “pray without ceasing,”[7] and that is all it was, a law, then there is no doubt that the law would be holy, and the commandment to “pray without ceasing” would be “holy and righteous and good.”[8]
However, if it is a law, then sin will seize the opportunity given by this law, and it will weaken the commandment by our flesh, arousing our sinful passions through this law, so that our sinful passions will work within us to bear fruit for death, to do things that kill relationships, that kill the work of God.[9]

Why is it so important to understand that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death”?[10]
It is because prayer under “the law of sin and death,” is something we must do, and, therefore, it will be done in the flesh, which means that sin will seize the opportunity given by the law to stir up the sinful passions that will make us do what we do not want to do, and fail to do the praying we do want to do.[11]

Does this sound familiar? We have within us the desire to pray, but when we set out to pray, we end up doing the things we do not want to do, and we do not do the praying we do want to do. If that describes your experience with prayer, you are likely facing prayer with a works-based mindset, trusting yourself to be good at prayer.

When we treat prayer as one more expression of our relationship with God by grace through faith, we do not need to be good at prayer. We simply need to have faith when we are praying. It is better to pray lousy prayers by faith, than to be great at prayer in the flesh.[12]

The message is that, when we come to God in faith, and we lay our hearts before him, he is not receiving us because we are so good at prayer; he is receiving us because our faith is responding to his grace.

This is why we never look at prayer as something that we do in order to get a response from God. When prayer is by grace through faith, our prayers of faith are always a response to God’s grace working in us.

This means that, our faith is not in our praying.[13] We can present prayers to God in which we are absolutely lousy in our faith in what we are asking for, but we have faith in God, and so we present our weak and feeble prayers to him.

When we don’t pray, it is often because we have prayed in order to get a response from God, and, when we don’t get the response from God we desire, we decide prayer is not “working”, and, if prayer is not working, why pray.

But when we pray by grace through faith, mostly based on what we receive through the word and the Spirit as we spend time with God, our praying is then a faith-response to whatever Father is doing.

After God ministered to me about praying by faith in response to his grace, my prayer time turned into an overwhelmingly liberating expression of pouring out my heart before my Father. In a way I’m not sure I have ever experienced, I truly felt unburdened in prayer. I had no concern about whether God was okay with what I was saying, how I worded my requests, or anything to do with performance. My prayers poured out of my heart as a child in unhindered fellowship with my Father. And it was all because I was responding to his overwhelming grace through faith, not through anything good I was doing.

I believe that God speaks to us through his word, shows us what he is doing in us and around us, and we experience him as we join him in his work. I testify that this is exactly what happened when I learned my lesson about coming to him by faith and pouring my heart out to him in prayer. Now God’s gracious invitation of, “pray without ceasing,” has taken on a whole new level of meaning. And, for that, I am very thankful.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9
[2] Ephesians 3:11-12; Hebrews 4:16
[3] The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12 have had a huge influence on my understanding of what it looks like for God to transform us through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).
[4] Matthew 5:3
[5] I speak here of the Trinity because it stood out to me very strongly in Romans 8:3-4 that God is revealing himself in terms of what he has done as our Father, what he accomplished through his Son, and what he has given us in his Spirit. The three persons of God working together in our salvation and sanctification is of great hope to all his children.
[6] Romans 8:3
[7] I Thessalonians 5:19
[8] Romans 7:12
[9] Romans 7 shows this so clearly, with special focus on Romans 7:8, 11.
[10] Romans 8:1-2
[11] Romans 7:13-20
[12] Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount when he contrasted the popular externals of prayer, fasting, and giving, with their grace-through-faith counterparts (Matthew 6:1-18)
[13] The “prayer of faith” can become a works-based activity where we think the answer to our prayer is based on the work of how much faith we have. Instead, the prayer of faith is the prayer that comes to God with everything because we have faith in what he would do by grace.

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