PRAYER, AN OPEN INVITATION

29 05 2010
Truth Matters Newsletters – April 2010 – Vol. 15   Issue 4 -Prayer, An Open Invitation – By Rev. Robert Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

PRAYER,  AN OPEN INVITATION

By Rev. Robert Liichow

While I was attending Concordia Theological Seminary a while back I was struck by something hitherto alien to my spiritual experience and that was the uniform practice of praying prayers from prayer books. Every class the professors would call upon some budding wannabe pastor to open the class in prayer. A student would rise, come to the front, open up a pocket prayer book, find an appropriate prayer and recite it to the class followed by subdued amen’s.

Was there anything “wrong” with what this young man did, not to mention the countless numbers of Christians who only pray from books of previously written prayers? The real answer lies in the unknown mind of God. He alone knows if an individual is sincere in their prayers. For example a group of people can pray the Lord’s Prayer in a worship service. Everyone is saying the same words but is everyone truly praying?

It is possible to recite those blessed words and your mind be a million miles away from (1) Whom you are addressing and (2) the deep impact and meaning of the words spoken. When this occurs it is not prayer! In fact, I will go as far as to say that such an act is offensive to God. On a mere human level it is rude to be engaged in a conversation and let your mind drift wander far from the matters at hand and not pay attention to whom you are speaking. How much more so is our “rudeness” magnified in the eyes of the One who knows every thought we have. I may never know if you are listening to me, focused on what I am saying, or nodding your head simply because you’ve fallen asleep as opposed to assenting to my marvelous exposition. Rest assured, God knows.

Let me say that I am not opposed to the use of prayer books, after all, what Christian does not use the Psalms and other written biblical texts in their prayers? Naturally, praying back to God His holy word is far different than praying back to God some sinful-mortals written prayers, but there is precedence for using formal written prayers.

Praying using written prayers can be a great aid in developing your own prayer life. Assuming the prayer is based upon the proper use of the Scriptures. Devotional guides and daily Bible reading lessons usually include a prayer or two. Those are great to use as a starting point in our prayer life. The danger from depending upon these resources is exactly that —dependence. These resources are a tool and a guide but they cannot make up the entirety of one’s life of prayer. Why not? Because if I only use a prayer book, then I am at the mercy of the author for that day, regardless of what is going on in and around me. When these aids are depended upon then no real spiritual growth can develop beyond what can be absorbed via that specific aid.

Take away the aid and unfortunately many people are left with little or nothing to say to God in prayer. I know this from personal experience.

After being delivered from my habit of praying in tongues for hours a day I found myself with next to nothing to say to my Lord with my rational thinking & feeling self. Praying in other tongues was what I (and millions today) depended upon, once gone I was left almost speechless. This same thing can happen to anyone who depends completely on the prayers of others, one’s own fellowship with God suffers and suffers badly.

I do not believe that such books should comprise the majority of any Christian’s life of conversation with our heavenly Father, the Father who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for us. We serve the Living God, what’s more He is our Father (Matt. 6:9) the One to which our hearts cry “Abba” (Rom. 8:15) which means “Daddy.”

Maybe another example might help clarify what I am trying to express to you. What if your 3 year old daughter comes to you and reads you the Father’s Day card she has written and made at school. She stands before you and reads those words and you know and she knows that she means every one of them. Now she is 18, comes to you with a need. She whips out a letter and addresses you “loving father, great is your wisdom, longsuffering your patience and deep is your wallet. Givest to me thy daughter, whom thou lovest $20, please.” Naturally, you’d be somewhat taken aback. After all this time you would hope she would come to you as Father/daughter and simply talk, openly and honestly. As for me, I certainly would not want my child to address me formally or with someone else’s words. I want to hear from her. I don’t want to hear her say what others, have said, I want to know what is on her mind/heart right now. This is what I believe that our Father desires with us in our prayer lives.

Can We Talk?

Joan Rivers made this expression popular and it is akin to the former practice of rapping on someone’s melon while looking at them. Probably one of the best illustrations of someone really praying is found in the movie The Apostle. Robert Duvall plays an earthy Pentecostal preacher who rededicates himself to Christ and one scene is of him praying, pouring out his heart and soul to God. Talking to Him as though he were talking to someone he knew well; and whom (more importantly) he knew, knew him in totality. To me it is a great expression of prayer, its raw, unrehearsed, in short real.

I am convinced, that God desires His children to simply come to Him with as much transparency and honesty as is humanly possible. God already knows everything about you which can be a pretty frightening reality to confront. Yet as horrible as we may feel, know that because of Jesus Christ we are now washed cleaned from all sin and are reconciled to our Father. We are welcome in His presence, and what is more, we have a right (albeit an alien one) to stand before Him now clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

It is important to understand that prayer is not a means of grace which is to say is that prayer is not a vehicle by which God manifests His grace. Prayer however links us to God, whom is the source of all grace. Prayer is communication between us and God. All genuine conversations are two-way interchanges between communicants. One speaks the other listens. Once having heard the comments a response or appropriate action is taken; that is true communication.

Sadly, many Christians approach payer as an obligation and duty, while others think they will be heard for their many oft repeated words (Matt 6:7). Wrong! Prayer is a privilege and not an obligation. My dear brothers and sisters do you realize how wonderful a thing it is to pray? You and I, out of ALL the people on the earth have been given an open invitation to come and dialog with the God of all creation!!

Think of it! It is mind blowing in the extreme when one ponders the reality that we are welcome not only into the courts of heaven, but we are encouraged to stand before the very throne of the Cosmocreator;

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

We do not come before our Father cringing, whimpering and with great trepidation. We come before our Lord in prayer with boldness (can be translated “confidence”) which is not to be confused with rudeness or with a belligerent attitude. Because of the work of Jesus, His blood shed, His life given, His body raised from the dead this has given to us an open audience with His Father. Shame on us if we never “RSVP” and develop a life of prayer.

I Expect An Answer

One thing I took with me from my foray into charismania is the reality of a vibrant prayer life. Most of the sound doctrine within that segment of the Church can be found in their writings on spiritual formation, the types of prayer, etc. One important lesson I learned and seek to transmit to others is that when I pray I “expect” my Father and Elder Brother (yes, Jesus designs to call us His brethren Heb. 2:11) to give me an answer. I do not talk to the ceiling, empty room or myself. I am talking with my Father and He is listening to me. He has given us so many tremendous promises regarding prayer, if we’d only truly believe them. Here are just a few examples:

I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Proverbs 8:17

God is not hiding from us. He has promised in many places throughout the Bible that those who seek Him will find Him. Seek Him how? Through His Word and sacrament, through mediating on the scriptures, through service to others (“…how can he love God whom he hath not seen.” 1 John 4:20).

Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

Do you desire to grow in your fellowship with the Father? Ask Him for growth and I assure you that is exactly the type of prayer He loves to answer. Seek Him, make time in your life to pray. Luther got up and prayed hours BEFORE his day got started. Every one of us has 24 hours per day; it all depends upon how we choose to slice the pie. Knock, in our case it is simply being polite, the door to the throne stands wide open to us and Jesus Himself is that door. (John 10:9).

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And IF we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 1 John 5:22

I have little to no confidence in any man alive today, “cursed is the man that trusts in man” (Jer. 17:5) but I have supreme confidence in my heavenly Father. If He says pray according to His will, which I can know from His Word, and I pray accordingly, then I can rest assured that He has heard me and thus having heard me that I will receive the answer to which I have petitioned Him about. Why because of my great faith? No, not at all because God does not tell lies (Nu. 23:19), because my Lord Jesus Christ told me that heaven and earth shall pass away but His Word will not (Matt. 24:35) and I believe Him at His Word.

In our service we have a portion of corporate prayer where our pastor leads the petitions and we respond “Lord hear our prayer” (I really, really believe He hears our prayers). This time can either be a powerful time to transact family business or simply part of the ritual. It all boils down to where each individual’s heart and mind is focused. Which brings me to my main point—

The Heart of the Matter

And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them. Eze. 33:31-33

Wherefore the Lord said, Foreasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isa. 29:13

Woe unto them! For they have fled from me: destruction unto them! Because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heartHos. 7:13-14

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lip; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matt. 15:8

God is after our hearts, the very core of our beings the essence of whom we really are. Jesus taught us that it is from our hearts that both good and evil spring (Matt. 15:19). By regeneration God has taken out of us the old stony heart and placed within us a new heart (Eze. 11:19) one that is now open and desirous of His courts. Now, because of Jesus our hearts cry out like David’s “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psl. 84:2). So take heart and begin to pray from your heart!

Prayer is more than just reciting the right words in a somber or hushed tone—if that were the case then the mere act of speaking the words out loud would be all that is required to be considered prayer. Such a belief is akin to the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine of “ex opere operato” which means “from the work done” in Latin. To the non-theologian it means “just going through the motions themselves is meritorious.” Within the RC simply attending the Mass is a meritorious act whether you understand it at all, which was why originally the Mass was in Latin, regardless of the language of the congregants. They did not have to understand what the priest was saying because just showing up was enough.

The same thought carries over into some of their prayer practices. Praying (reciting) the “Rosary” (a chain with 50 beads, if, it is a five decade unit denoting various petitions) several times a day or month can equal heavenly “points” too, again regardless of where the person’s heart and mind are while they are in prayer. In the spirit of charity let me say that using a rosary is not a sin, in fact many of the prayers used in the cycle are common to all orthodox Christians; some of these include The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles creed (ok, not really prayer per se), but solid stuff. The proper use of beads as a prayer aid can be as a focusing device for the mind to concentrate on the specific prayers being offered, yet most people are not that disciplined. No my friend, prayer at its core is a heart matter not a spiritual mechanism to operate via recitation of certain holy words.

In closing PLEASE understand this if nothing else from this article —your heavenly Father wants to fellowship with you. He has provided the means for fellowship. The blood of Christ Jesus has washed away our sins (1 Pet. 1:19), we are robed in His righteousness (Isa. 61:10), we are now the children of God (Gal. 3:26) and we are all called to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) and priests stand before God and pray on behalf of themselves and others. YOU are highly esteemed by your Father and you were handpicked according to His sovereign good pleasure to be His forever (John 10:27-28) Never doubt His love for you nor His desire for you to spend time with Him. He is not going anywhere; the ball is solidly in our court. Personally I want to develop my fellowship with the Father this year by spending more time in prayer, listening to His voice, mediating upon His Word and then by His grace living out that Word prayed.

Copyright © 2010 Robert S. Liichow

End Notes

1. I use the word “proper” because I have seen “prayers” that contain biblical passages, however these passages have been totally taken out of context and thus become misused even in a prayer! For example one cannot take a test on famine and use “cleanness of teeth” as a proof text to stand upon for good dental hygiene, as is taught by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. Make sure what you are praying written by others is biblically sound.

2. When I say “listening” I do not want people to gain the wrong impression that I am sitting alone waiting to hear an “audible” voice. No, God speaks according to His Word and Jesus has stated that as His sheep I will hear His voice. Ergo, I simply trust the Holy Spirit to get across to me whatever is on the Father’s mind regarding my situation or those I am praying about. Anything, subjective leading I may experience must be subjected to the Word of God.





The Discipline of Prayer

14 10 2009
Truth Matters Newsletters – February 2007 – Vol. 12 Issue 2 – The Discipline of Prayer – by Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Discernment Ministries International

The Discipline of Prayer

By Rev. Robert S. Liichow

Like so many other genuine expressions of Christianity, something as seemingly simply as prayer has been turned into a set of rules, principles, keys, and methods by various aspects of charismatic extremists. Allow me to cite a few examples from the books in the growing DMI archive:

The Prayer of Jabez, Bruce Wilkinson

Releasing the Ability of God through Prayer, Charles Capps

Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting, Derek Prince

Praying to Get Results, Kenneth E. Hagin

The Interceding Christian, Kenneth E. Hagin

Prevailing Prayer to Peace, Kenneth E. Hagin

The Art of Intercession, Kenneth E. Hagin

I Prayed, He Answered, William L. Vaswig

Prayer Fasting, “Apostle” Kingsley A. Fletcher

Practicing the Prayer of Presence, Adrian van Kaam & Susan Muto

Prayer Your Foundation for Success, Kenneth Copeland

Praying Beyond God’s Ability The Enigma of Unanswered Prayer, Roy Hicks

Prayer Hindrances, Fear Worry Doubt, Charles Capps (3 tape series)

Atomic Power With God Through Prayer & Fasting, Franklin Hall

Moving the Hand of God Putting Memorial Prayer to Work for You, John Avanzini

These books, and many others I did not cite involve techniques which can be condensed into the simple belief that through using these techniques you can get God to do whatever you want Him to as long as you can find a snippet of a Bible text to quote back to Him. The majority of charismatic books on prayer are little more than tracts about confessing the answer you want from God, which makes prayer more or less a practice of positive confession.

Naturally, there are a whole host of books written about the benefits and necessity of “praying” in other tongues. Almost every charismatic Christian believes that it is the will of God for each of His children to have their own prayer language. The emphasis on this is so strong that for fifteen years 90% of my time spent in prayer, was done by me in my private prayer language. I once took some time in seminary to figure out how many hours I had spent praying in other tongues and I came up with over 5,000 hours (keep in mind at one point I was single and used to pray 3-4 hours a day in tongues). The sad reality was brought home to me while studying First Corinthians taught by Dr. H. Wayne House at Michigan Theological Seminary. I learned that exegetically I had no leg to stand on regarding a private prayer language, there simply is no such thing taught by the Apostle Paul. Yet all the prater meetings I attended and led were basically groups of individuals praying loudly or softly in other tongues…because after all we ere speaking mysteries in the spirit realm and thus Satan could not know what we were saying to God, ergo, he could not inhibit God’s work on our behalf. What was troubling to me is that when the scales of ignorance dropped off of my eyes I realized three important facts: First, I did not know either what I was praying about, since it was just as much a mystery to me as it was to the devil and his demons. Secondly, since I really had no idea what I was saying, or who I might have been praying for I had no way of knowing if my prayers were even answered by God. Lastly, even though I’d leave those times of praying in tongues feeling GREAT, the truth was that I was not developing any real communication with my Lord. When I stopped praying in tongues I realized that I was nearly speechless before the Lord as far as genuinely pouring my heart out to Him in prayer. In short, I honestly did not know how to pray much at all. Oh I thought I was pulling down principalities, powers and dominions over neighborhoods and cities. I could go on for hours “in the spirit,” yet when it came to being transparent with myself before my God I was at a loss.

I believe this is the same sort of experience the disciples had being around The Master during His earthly ministry. Jesus was (still is) a man of prayer this is plainly shown throughout all four Gospels.

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, Matthew 14:23

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. Mark 6:46-47

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35-36

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Luke 9:28,29

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. Luke 11:1

“Lord Teach Us to Pray”

This is where we begin our consideration of the spiritual discipline of prayer. It seems obvious that the disciples took note of the manner in which our Lord relied upon prayer as His “connection” between Himself and His heavenly Father. They saw their Master often either leaving them to be alone to pray, or rising early in the morning to spend time alone with His Father in prayer. In short, what they noticed was that the prayer life of Jesus was not (1) formal, (2) ritualistic, (3) repetitive, (4) dull and (5) nonproductive. Until the breaking forth of Jesus’ ministry none of the rabbis, scribes, or Pharisees ever referred to Almighty God as “Father” in their prayers or teachings. This was a radical concept which brought our Lord into conflict with the ruling religious minds of His day.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, o that your giving may be in secret. Then, your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:3-8

Jesus, in Matthew and other places in the Gospel, hammer’s home a point formerly unstressed to the Israelites, that of God being their “father.” Unlike today, back then most people knew they were sinners and that God was holy, thus their relationship to Him was not seen generally of a father relating to his children. God was wholly “other” to the average Israelite and to dare call Him “Father” was blasphemy and an attempt to rise oneself up to His level. The religious leaders understood perfectly that Jesus was declaring Himself to be God’s Son because of the familial terms He used of Himself and the god the Jews were supposed to be worshipping.

I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you tone me?” We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:30-33

It is vital to understand the times in which Jesus lived in order to realize just how radical the prayer He was about to teach His disciples was and still is today when it is really delved into. What we call “the Lord’s Prayer,” is really better named “the Disciples Prayer,” because they asked our Master to teach them to pray. It is really a very simple prayer which is broken down into seven petitions. Because of its seeming simplicity, the tremendous depth and majesty of what Jesus taught His disciples often goes unappreciated by many in the Church today. Sadly, from my own personal experience I know that the majority of charismatic congregations do not pray the Lord’s Prayer as a part of their worship service and virtually all of the so-called “evangelical” congregations do not do so either. In my studies I have found the commentary of Dr. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer to be the best available and I will be citing it almost exclusively.

The First Petition

“Hallowed be Thy name”

Jesus begins by teaching His disciples to pray in the following manner —”Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9). The first two words had to have blown the disciples minds; they had never dared address the Lord God of Israel in such an intimate manner, yet this is exactly how Jesus taught them to pray.

“hallowed” is just an Old English term for “holy.” First and foremost Jesus stresses that His disciples remember the Second Commandment in which we are told to be sure we do not take the Lord’s name in vain or profane His name in any way. God’s name is always holy in its nature, but often in our use it is not holy. So we are directed by God the Son to pray that His name become holy among us. How so?

Answer, as plainly as it can be said: ‘When both our doctrine and life are godly and Christian.’ Since we call God our Father in this prayer, it is our duty to always to act and behave ourselves as godly children, that He may not receive shame, but honor and praise from us…In the first place, then, God’s name is profaned when people preach, teach, and say in God’s name what is false and misleading. They use His name like an ornament and attract a market for falsehood. That is, indeed, the greatest way to profane and dishonor the divine name. Luther’s comments teach us that not much has changed regarding the battles raging around and within the true Church:

To hallow means the same as to praise, magnify, and honor both in word and deed. Here, now, learn what great need there is for such prayer. Because we see how full the world is of sects and false teachers, who all wear the holy name as a cover and a sham for their doctrines of devils (1 Timothy 4:1), we should by all means pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and cry out and call upon God against all people who preach and believe falsely.

Jesus begins by teaching us that God is our Father and as His children we want to do all we can to make sure that our Father’s name is honored and praised by all we do and say. Those who abuse God’s holy name for gain are to be exposed, openly rebuked and if unrepentant then shunned as blasphemers. ♦

To Be CONTINUED NEXT MONTH

Copyright © 2007 Robert S. Liichow