Aspiring Meditations: 27. Aspiring to Pray
Matt 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matt 6:9 This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven….
Matt 14:23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.
Matt 19:13 Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.
We might think that the subject of prayer is so familiar that we really need not consider it, and yet surveys reveal that even leaders – on average – tend to only pray a few minutes each day. So what can we say that hasn’t been said before? Nothing perhaps, but let’s lay out the basics and see if they will speak to us afresh.
Matthew and Luke both have the word ‘pray’ eleven times. It is a familiar topic. In Mt 6:6 we see some interesting things. First, Jesus assumes that prayer will be part of the life of his followers for he says, “When you pray.” Second, prayer is shown to be an expression of a private and intimate relationship with God, hence pray in secret. Third, prayer is a channel through which God will ‘reward’ or bless us. Challenging! These are merely starting points.
So concerned is Jesus for his disciples that he gives them a structure of how to go about prayer in Mt 6:9 on. When we come to Mt 14:23 we see that he himself prayed on his own sometimes and it clearly wasn’t just a quick few words. We don’t know what time he went up there to pray but he was still there “When evening came,” indicating the passing of time. Luke shows us another time when he prayed: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Lk 6:12,13) Again it is clear he prayed for a long time and the second verse suggests that he had been praying to make sure he got right the choosing of the first apostles. Prayer thus took on a purposeful significance. In his teaching Jesus, perhaps backing up his own practice, “told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) Persistence becomes an important element in prayer sometimes.
When it comes to life post-Jesus, it seems clear that the apostles followed in Jesus’ footsteps in respect of prayer: “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray.” (Acts 10:9) Some suggest it was a standard time for Jews to pray but the fact of the matter is that this ex-fisherman now incorporated prayer into his life. Later in Acts there is another lovely little picture involving prayer: “when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.” (Acts 21:5) As they parted from one another, the natural thing was to commit themselves and one another to the Lord in prayer. Excellent!
Now I have purposely left one of our verses above to last because I believe it is particularly significant to the church today: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.” (Mt 19:13) Such a simple little verse and yet so profound. Parent (presumably) brought their children to Jesus for him to lay hands on them and pray over them. It was expected he would do that and although his disciples objected he did actually do it (v.15). The practice of laying hands on did not arise until the Law introduced it in Ex 29 when Aaron and his sons were instructed to place their hands on the sacrifices. Laying on of hands there was clearly to identify with the sacrifice.
Years later, however, we see laying on of hands in a different context: “Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he that this is tgo be and commissioned him, as the LORD instructed through Moses.” (Num 27:22,23) Moses laid hands on Joshua, not only to identify with him but to impart to him the anointing for leadership, and we later read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.” (Deut 34:9) So now we see Jesus placing his hands on these children to impart a blessing. In Acts we see this same thing occurring again and again. See Acts 6:6 (praying over the new deacons), 8:17 (for the Samaritan believers to receive the HS), 9:12,17 (Ananias praying over Saul), 13:3 (sending off the new apostolic team), 19:9 (Paul prays for the Ephesian believers) and 28:8 (Paul healing a sick man). When we pray over one another, do we expect the Lord to turn up?
Now note the commonalities: it was always in the context of prayer and it was always to impart the blessing of God. I am aware that in many churches there are opportunities given for people to come forward to be prayed for but I believe I have a new sense of the heart of God that this is to be for all His people, Twice in the past six weeks (once in the UK and once in the USA) I have had opportunity to preach on faith and in both congregations I invited a dozen people to come forward who would like prayer. Then, and here is the difference and the point I believe the Lord was making, I asked leaders or prayer ministry teams to stand aside and specifically invited people who had never prayed over someone to come and pray for these people as I guided. I asked them to wait silently before the Lord’s to sense His presence and then sense what He felt about the person before them, and only then pray God’s blessing over them in whatever form they felt they could do it. It was thrilling to watch and awesome to behold.
Now I am aware of the dangers in doing this and it needs careful oversight and careful follow up but I believe the point the Lord is making is that He wants to encourage more and more of His people to pray over one another – expecting Him to turn up and bless. I have been impacted by the picture in Mark 3:1-5 where Jesus went into a synagogue and healed a man with a shriveled hand. It is almost certain that the man was a regular, one of the men of the community who probably turned up week by week to hear the scrolls read and expounded, and to hear the prayers. Now that happened week by week but they expected nothing else, but then Jesus came in and healed the man. See the parallel: the word of God was expounded week by week but they expected nothing else.
Now Jesus comes to us and says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) We are called to do the works of Jesus. Now I am not suggesting that all will have faith to bring healing but I am suggesting that all can have faith to wait on God and expect Him to bless (Mt 6:6 – reward!) as we pray. Yes, this is a challenge to faith and to lifestyle but more it is a challenge to become the body of Christ who does the work of Jesus, not merely the leaders. If we do not make regular opportunity, and bring regular encouragement for the people of God to step out in faith, we will be like that synagogue and there will be people continuing to come and go, week by week with needs that Jesus wants to address but that we are failing to meet. It is time to rise up to truly be the people of God and it will be revealed as we pray. Yes, let’s aspire to this!