The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 226)
Praying is Difficult
Prayer requires a certain self-discipline which sadly eludes many. Our flesh seems to resist this means of grace more than others. We find it easier to study the Bible than to pray. We would rather enjoy Christian fellowship with others than pray. It is far easier to give money to a mission’s cause than to persevere in prayer for it. Some might even prefer to do street evangelism than to pray. Thus, unless we take prayer seriously as a discipline, we will end up doing anything else except pray. But it is precisely the lack of prayer that renders those “prayer-substitutes” fruitless.
Praying Right is Difficult
Think about this – there is nothing specifically Christian about prayer as all religions advocate prayer. For many, prayer is an activity in and of itself, hence they speak of “offering prayers” or “doing one’s prayers” or “saying prayers”. Some people even infuse mysticism into their prayers – how one feels when praying is the final test of whether prayers are “effective” or not. One creates a mental picture in one’s mind of a god one is comfortable with, a god one likes talking to, so that one finds times of prayer enriching and enjoyable. It is a frightening reality that such mysticism has infiltrated Christian prayers too.
What sets Christian prayer apart is the God to Whom we pray. A right biblical knowledge of who God is, what God is like, how God responds to prayer, should distinguish Christian prayer from all others. Consider the Lord’s teaching, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words” (Matt 6:7). We often mistake Christ’s teaching here as regarding how one ought to pray or not to pray. But actually, His main point is about what God is like. This is because He immediately clarifies the character and nature of God, “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt 6:8). Knowing God aright is key to praying aright.
Christian prayer is different from pagan religious prayers chiefly because the God to Whom we pray is not up to us to conjure in our minds. He is God Almighty, the Triune Godhead Who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. Having a right understanding of Who it is we pray to, is critical for the Christian. Getting this right will eliminate many of our problems with prayer.
Praying to God Who is Holy
The Bible portrays God’s holiness with an unmistakable gravitas. After the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, Moses sang, “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working wonders?” (Exod 15:11). The men of Beth-shemesh, looked into the ark of the covenant and 50,070 of them died; the rest spoke in fear, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” (1 Sam 6:20). On a different note, the psalmist praises God “For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You?” (Ps 71:19). God is thrice holy – immaculate in purity, spotless in righteousness, blazing in radiance, and altogether separate from His creation.
Some conceive of divine holiness like this: there are good men, even better men, saintly men, and really godly men. Then beyond that, you have a holy God. Others think that the holiness of God is like the righteousness of the best of men, magnified a billion times. These do not even come close to defining God’s holiness. In reality, God exists in fundamental distinction from creation. God is altogether different from us. He “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16) and man cannot get near Him. Even from afar, man cannot look into His blazing radiance to catch a glimpse of Him. Aiden W. Tozer puts it like this:
God is holy, we pray to a holy God and so we must remember this. But how did men in the Bible respond to God’s holiness when they realised the full force of it? Manoah, father of Samson, met with God in the following way, “For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.” (Jdg 13:20). Right after this, he said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God” (Jdg 13:22). He was in terror, for he knew that if he saw God, God also saw him, and God is holy while Manoah was not.
Isaiah saw the pre-incarnate Christ sitting on His throne, high and exalted, and pronounced a curse on himself, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isa 6:5). His eyes saw the King, so he knew the holy King’s eyes also saw his wicked self and he was terrified.
In the NT, the disciples were in a boat with Jesus sleeping therein when a gale came upon the lake which threatened to sink the boat. The disciples were afraid. They woke Jesus, who stilled the storm; then, the disciples “became very much afraid” (Mark 4:41). A storm outside the boat is less frightening than a holy God inside. On another occasion, a woman who haemorrhaged for 12 years touched Jesus and was instantly healed; and she was “trembling”. Knowing that she touched the garment of God in flesh, she realised that this holy God also came into physical contact with her sinful self and this terrorised her.
The consistent reaction of persons of faith discovering (or rediscovering) God’s holiness is deep fear. Their response is not flippant, casual, pathetic nor apathetic. They are terrorised, become lifeless like corpses, and they curse themselves. This is the same God to Whom we pray today. Knowing God’s holiness should dramatically change our attitude in prayer and our approach to prayer.
Contrition in Prayer
Consternation in Prayer
For us who are in Christ, the gates of Heaven are flung wide open for us, and we are safe in the arms of Jesus. Our sins have been forgiven us. But it precisely because our sins are forgiven, that is why we fear God. Ps 130:3-4 affirms this, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”
But why do we fear God when His divine judgement has been taken away from us? This is crucial for us to grasp. If we are fearful of God only because of the judgement due to us then this is a self-centred fear of God. But if we fear God even after our sins are fully and finally forgiven, this is a God-centred fear of God. This is a fear motivated by Who God is, by His awful holiness. If you do not understand this, you do not understand God’s holiness.
How does this fear of God despite being forgiven come about? First, we take full note of God’s holiness as we stare into the consuming fire that is God and we understand how in His holiness, God must be angry against sin with a fierce wrath. Second, we realise that the wrath of God against our sins, the sins we have actually committed, did not just disappear into nowhere, it was ferociously inflicted on the body of Christ in all its fullness. That thought ought to draw out of our deepest heart of hearts a gratitude and a desperate desire that we worship and please this Saviour God in a way that is fitting and proper. This is then what leads us to reverence and awe.
Capitulation in Prayer
At times, we treat God too flippantly, even in prayer. For instance, we like to multi-task while praying (eg. we pray on the road, we pray in buses and trains, we pray in line at McDonald’s, we pray in the toilet). These are not necessarily wrong, but surely, we esteem God too lowly when the majority of time we spend in prayer are times when we are also doing something else. We should avoid multi-tasking when praying to God because God is awful in His holiness.
Compliance in Prayer