Friday, May 16, 2008

Ask For Wisdom

I wanted to expand on one important aspect of prayer: asking God for wisdom.

Maybe the most famous command to do so in the Bible appears in James 1:5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

This instruction falls in the “Give us this day our daily bread” category of the prayer of Jesus. It is important to highlight wisdom because far too often, when faced with a difficult decision, we send up a quick “God tell me what to do,” instead of prayerfully considering the options.

Here are three examples which detail God’s desire for us to seek after and employ wisdom in our daily life:

  • Shortly after Kings David’s death, God speaks to King Solomon, offering him anything he would request. At this offer Solomon expresses his concern over not knowing how to lead the people of Israel, but instead of asking that God tell him what to do (as he could have done), he asks for wisdom – which God is so happy to grant that He freely gives Solomon riches, honor, and long life as well, if only he will continue to follow God (1 Kings 3:5-15).
  • Every single one of Proverbs’ 31 chapters mentions wisdom by name and encourages the reader to seek after it; I don’t believe there is any more highly regarded quality in Proverbs than true wisdom.
  • In Mathew 10:16 Jesus Himself advises His disciples to prepare themselves for the work to come by being “shrewd as serpents.” Even a cursory examination of the scriptures will reveal that wisdom is a quality held in extremely high regard by God and His people.

The Bible seems to communicate that God holds human beings in very high regard, we are made in His image and He humbled Himself to point of sharing in our humanity and taking upon Himself a crushing punishment, death on Roman cross, to provide us with the chance to find Him. The Bible is clear, God doesn’t want followers He must move like so many chess pieces around the world, but like any good father, He wants us to become so familiar with His desires that we automatically apply the things He has taught us to every situation; that we begin to make Christ-like decisions on our own.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How Should We Pray?

As promised, this next post is on prayer, particularly in light of what I consider the Biblical teaching on decision making and God’s will.

There are many areas of my walk with God that have come easily to me, however prayer is not one of them despite my desire that it be otherwise. Because of this, I hope for three things in this piece:

  1. That writing this will me organize my own thoughts on the subject.
  2. That what I have learned can help someone else (particularly in the area of decision making).
  3. That anyone with insight into this subject will share it and perhaps deepen my own prayer life.

Recently, my wife and I were discussing prayer in light of what I believe to be the Biblical teaching on decision making. When I pointed out that the Bible doesn’t appear to teach that we should pray for specific guidance from the Lord (i.e. “God, please tell me if I should do x or y”), she said she basically agreed, but asked “If we’re not praying for guidance, how should we be praying?” (If I characterized your statement incorrectly, Dear, please let me know!) From talking with other Christians about these ideas, I have heard many ask exactly the same question: “If this true, then what do I pray for? What is the purpose of prayer?”

To answer this question, let’s breakdown “the Lord’s prayer,” the teaching Jesus gave His disciples when they asked Him, “Lord, teach us now to pray!”

Matthew 6:9-15 (NASB)

This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’

The prayer starts with an act of worship: it acknowledges God’s proper place in Heaven and the Holiness of His being in implied contrast to our own, which is the essence of true worship – attributing worth to God.

Next comes a request for God’s will to be done in this world, as it is done in the dwelling place of God. It seems that this verse is referring to God’s sovereign will, for two reasons: Moral will appears to be addressed later in the prayer, and the nature of the will described is one of authority. The will that we are told to pray for is the same type of will God exercises in Heaven – That sovereign king.

Jesus teaches us to pray for our physical needs, our daily bread. Something that just occurred to me as look at the Lord’s prayer right now is that the prayer is for daily bread, which communicates an immediate need. I’m not going to say that one should not pray for future needs to be met, but it’s interesting to note that this matches up with the nature of God’s provision of manna to the Israelites in the desert. He provided only what they would need for that day, leaving them to trust Him for provision for tomorrow (Exodus 16:4-24).

The final section of the prayer has to do with sin and forgiveness. The model Jesus teaches us to ask for forgiveness from God for our “debts” and reminders us to forgive those who owe “debts” to us, concluding with a request for help in overcoming temptation. Jesus explains what He means by “debts” in the next sentence: He restates that sentence again by noting that God will forgive you of your sins if only you are willing to forgive the sins of others against you.

It seems to me that this prayer is complete and perfectly balanced. When we pray, we should worship God, we should pray for the advancement of His Kingdom on earth, we should present our needs to Him, and we need to beg His forgiveness of us and ask for help in walking in the manner of a true servant.