Thursday, March 7, 2013

Prayer: The Voice of Faith

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4; Psalm 16   
Paul didn't preach promoting himself or his ministry, “but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5). As a minister of the New Covenant, he had been given the transforming knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ as a treasure that he was proclaiming and presenting wherever he went. He was holding forth the truth of Jesus plainly by the preaching of the Gospel. Then Paul describes some of the ways he suffered as a servant of Jesus.
7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
He goes on to say we “are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake...So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). How did Paul do it? How did he endure such suffering over such a long period and not throw in the towel? He tells us in the next chapter, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), which is indeed the secret. But how does one maintain faith through such affliction? How does one hold onto faith when affliction is screaming in our heads, “God has forsaken you!” (Undoubtedly Paul faced times when he wondered why God wasn't hearing him. See 2 Corinthians 12:8.) Paul points us to the secret of maintaining faith when it seems only “death is at work in us.”
Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak... (2 Corinthians 4:13 ESV)
At Gulf Coast Community Church, where I have the privilege of serving as a pastor, I often say, “When we see the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament we must go back to the Old Testament and read the quote in its context and understand what it meant in its context, and then return to the New Testament reading the quote with that understanding.” If we do that here, it will give us great insight into how Paul responded to these afflictions, and why he wasn't crushed and destroyed.
Psalm 116 is a psalm about prayer—about the prayer of someone in a desperate state. No wonder Paul quotes from it when describing how he responds to desperate crises. No wonder it was on Paul's mind as he contemplated his own afflictions. He may well have used the words of the psalm in his own prayers. In Psalm 116 we see the following references to prayer:
1...he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. 2…he inclined his ear to me... I will call on him as long as I live.…4Then I called on the name of the LORD: "O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!"...10 I believed, even when I spoke: "I am greatly afflicted" …17I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:1, 2, 4, 10, 17 ESV)
And the following make it clear that these prayers were being lifted up by a man in a hard place, a very difficult place.
1...for mercy....3The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.4…deliver my soul!" 6...when I was brought low, he saved me.... 8For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling... 10 "I am greatly afflicted" (Psalm 116:1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 ESV)
In Psalm 116 the psalmist was crying out to the Lord during times of great affliction. He was pleading for mercy and was definitely hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, but because he called on the Lord he was not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned and not destroyed. When the psalmist declared, “I believed, even when I spoke: "I am greatly afflicted" he was saying, “When I was crying out to you in my affliction saying, 'I am greatly afflicted,' I was doing so because I believe, because I trust in You, Lord.”
The psalmist prayed because he was walking by faith. Prayer is the voice of faith. Faith turns us to the Lord in our affliction. Faith cries out to Him in prayer. Faith doesn't deny our affliction (when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”), faith brings our affliction to God and asks for intervention! That is what the psalmist did, and evidently that is what Paul did.
Why did Paul cry out to the Lord in difficult times? Because Paul knew that God would use those prayers to bring about deliverance (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). When we look at the psalms, we find not only prayers to bring to God when we believe, but prayers to bring to God when our faith is being assaulted and feels like it is about to crumble. And when we take these words with us to God they often help us return to a place of trust in God.
To the praying soul there becomes possible the faith which is the grasp of the human spirit upon the realities and verities of the unseen world. (A. T. Pierson)
So why do we pray? Because we believe, and because without it our faith would fail. Prayer is the voice of faith and without it, faith is silent.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,