Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lord, Teach Us to Pray (Part 2)

Reading: Luke 11, Colossians 3 – 4, Ephesians 3 – 4
"When you pray, say: "....your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2)
What does it mean to say, “Your kingdom come”? God's kingdom is God's domain... the region over which He rules. In one sense we can say everything is God's kingdom, since God rules over all. But there is a more specific sense in which it is used here. This is the that domain over which God's rule is actively embraced by the participants (Matthew 7:21); this is the domain over which God rules in His grace. So we are asking, “Father, may Your rule over men in grace come; May the Gospel conquer the hearts of men.”   

There are at least two ways in which the kingdom can increase: It can increase in breadth, and it can increase in depth. That is to say, more people can be included in it's reach, and the people already included, the church, can become increasingly submitted to that reign through the knowledge of God's will in their lives and their obedient response. I like to pray for both.
In the first sense, I might pray as Paul requested,
Colossians 4:3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Ephesians 4:19-20 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
This is praying for the advance of the Gospel. Prayer that we, as a church, would proclaim the Gospel clearly and unashamedly; that individuals gifted to do so would proclaim the Gospel clearly and unashamedly; that each one of us would be unashamed of Christ and therefore testify of Him before men (Luke 9:26; Matthew 10:32-33). Here I may also pray as Christ told us to in Matthew 9:38.
Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
It is not to be assumed that all are to go, in the same sense, into the harvest field. Each local church should be praying for God to raise up within its midst those specifically gifted to evangelize. Immediately following this call to prayer in Matthew 9, we are told that Jesus sent the 12 into the harvest field. Part of why we are ineffective in reaching the harvest field today, whether it be plentiful or scarce, is because we are not asking the Lord of the Harvest to send forth whom He will.
It is also important to pray for the souls to whom the Gospel will be preached. In the parable of the soils, the same Gospel is sown into different kinds of soils. And the condition of the soil determines the outcome of the seed sown. So let's pray that the Holy Spirit would empower the Gospel into the hearts of men. That He would soften hearts; that He would prepare people to receive the Gospel; that He would direct our path, as believers in this community, to those appointed for eternal life (Acts 13:48).
In the second sense of the conquest of God's kingdom I pray that God's rule over us His people, His church, will increase. (Here I pray, following Paul's example, for specific churches and the local church of which I am a part in particular.) There are so many places I can go for this that it is almost endless. Here are some scriptures I most frequently pray in this context.
Colossians 3:12-16 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Here I would pray that we, the church, would put off the old self (3:9), which is under the domain of darkness (1:13), and put on Christ (3:10-11). In putting on Christ we will be clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We will begin to bear with each other and forgive one another just as Christ bore our sins and forgave us. We will love the Gospel and live the Gospel. Rather than being ruled by the domain of darkness and its hatred, pride and selfish ambition which produces strife, we will allow the peace of Christ to rule over our hearts, since as members of one body we are called to peace.
I pray that we would be a people who are filled with gratitude, and a people in whom the Gospel Story, the word about Christ, would dwell richly and become the very conversation we have with each other as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. That the Gospel would bring forth songs from our hearts that would be expressed in our fellowship.
Another favorite text to pray along this line is Ephesians 3:14-21.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Think of this request that Paul makes on behalf of the local church in Ephesus. He prays that out of all of Heaven's riches for what He views to be the greatest treasure: that God would strengthen them with power through His Spirit in their inner being so that Christ would be dwelling in their hearts through faith. Now I don't think he is praying that they would be saved, since they were the church and according to the previous part of this letter they were saved. Rather he is praying that Christ would be “formed in them” to use the words he spoke to the Galatians. What was the goal of the Christian life in Paul's mind? Christ in you, the hope of glory! Paul is praying that the Spirit of Christ would so fill the church that Christ would be living through them in the world. That they, having received and been grounded in the love of God held out in the Gospel (love the Gospel), would now grasp that love, lay hold of it in all its width and length, height and depth...that they would be filled to the measure of the fullness of God! That is Christ in them! Christ is the measure of the fullness of God.
Now that request seems audacious, even outlandish. So he goes on to pray, Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” We don't know the half of what God desires to do in the church, if we but only pray. Paul evidently saw prayer as a significant means of accomplishing this work of sanctification—specifically the prayers prayed by some for others in the church. That is why he spent so much time praying for the sanctification of the church...the conquest of the kingdom of God over the hearts of those in the church.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,