All Prayer -- Jack Flanagan

PicJackFlanaganIIPaul uses a phrase in Eph. 6.18 that is striking.  He says ‘Pray at all time in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.’  I would like to consider ‘all prayer and supplication’ in our current context.  We’ve been speaking about worship and prayer at our gatherings recently and we have had prophetic input regarding ‘calamities’ (a time of challenge and uncertainty, personally and broader).   As a response the Lord has been insisting that we stay near Him.  The wider context for the above passage is our spiritual warfare, beginning with Eph. 6:10.  Paul, a veteran spiritual warrior, is giving us directions on how to prevail in trial and challenge.  Let’s consider the question of ‘all prayer’ together. First, I still have a clear sense the Lord is saying to us ‘Be near to Me, stay near to Me’

Remember the word ‘Be mine in 2009’?  Why?  Why stay near the Lord?  Look at Psalm 73 for insight on this:

For lo, those who are far from Thee shall perish; Thou dost put an end to those who are false to Thee. But for me, it is good to be near God I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Thy works. (Ps 73:27)

Now this is how the psalm ended.  But it didn’t begin that way.  There was a measure of confusion and dejection with him.  Look at verses 1 and 2:

Truly God is good to the upright,  to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

He goes on for some time reflecting upon the prosperity of the wicked (they are a sense of ease and increase in riches) and the pangs of the righteous (all day long I have been stricken and chastened every morning.)

He acknowledges that his soul was embittered, pricked in the heart. (Not a good place)

I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a beast to you. (Vs. 21-22)

Thank God for his honesty. 

The turning point comes in verse 16:

But when I thought to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God then I perceived their end.

Oh, in times of pressure and challenge, trial and confusion, dejection and feeling out of touch, how we need

to connect with God, to get His perspective, to see how He has been with us.  And to NOT accept circumstances as they appear to be. 

The psalmist shows us it is in his nearness to God that he maintains his life connection, godly perspective, patience in well doing, balance and so on.

The Lord has room for us in His sanctuary too! What do you think the psalmist experienced in the sanctuary?  What was going on in there?  The scripture is silent on this, but I suspect he experienced in God’s presence an ability to let go of his skewed perspective and to simply surrender.  Knowing that the Lord knows his heart, I suspect he was quiet and waited before the Lord and simply gazed upon Him.  Perhaps he simply pondered a portion of God’s word, awaiting light.  Later, the apostle Paul would say in 2 Cor. 3:16 that ‘when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed … and beholding his glory we are changed.’  Sanity and sanctity restored!  I suspect something like this was happening.  Thank God for the sanctuary!  The sanctuary can be our prayer closet, our church, any place where we can encounter the Living God.

What gets you out of touch with the Lord and skews your perspective?  Worry, fear, reversals, sin - things don’t play out as you hoped?  Rejection?  And how do you deal with this?  Do you go to the Lord in the sanctuary, to seek His heart and understanding? 

Now, let’s look at Ps. 30.  A strong start!

O Lord my God, I cried to Thee for help, and Thou hast healed me. O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from those gone down to the Pit. (Ps 30:1&2)

But look at vs. 6 and following:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ By Thy favor, O Lord, Thou hast established me as a strong mountain; Thou didst hide Thy face, I was dismayed.

What does he mean here by prosperity?  Well, it probably means his own sense of comfort and security and wealth.  Things are going well.  Perhaps a sense of ease, even well earned ease. Perhaps he just accomplished something important...

What’s the problem here? It seems he took confidence in himself – ‘I shall never be moved... established me as a strong mountain’ -- and not in the Lord.  God simply hides his face. In his experience God withdraws, and he becomes unsettled, dismayed, lost and in panic mode!  Has this ever happened to you?

Now thankfully the story does not end there; he does the right thing - he cries out to the Lord...

Hear O Lord, and be gracious to me!  O Lord, be thou my helper.

And God hears: (Vs. 11-12)

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing...

In Psalm 30, then, the psalmist gets his eyes off the Lord, to the apparently ‘good life’ of the wicked or onto his own prosperity and good life.  When he does this, his perspective on reality becomes jaded and skewed.  Only when he goes to the Lord, draws near to the Lord, when he turns to the Lord and cries out to Him and surrenders again, does he experience God’s presence and joy.  How necessary to keep our eyes and hearts centered on the Lord!

Doesn’t it work the same way for us?  We are given a wise caution:

Not to find consolation in our prosperity, but in the Lord. Not to find confidence, or strength, or hope in our favorable affairs, our good fortunes, our lots ... but in the Lord only.  Where must our focus always be?  On the Lord! And not to lose godly perspective in adversity.

What can we do to cultivate & live in a continual sense of God’s presence? How can we continue to center on the Lord?  To keep our focus on Him?  I suspect there are a number of answers to this ... Let’s go back and consider ‘all prayer and supplication’ from Eph 6:18.

Again, the context for ‘all prayer and supplication’ is our spiritual armor.  It has been noted that ‘all prayer and supplication’ is the buckle that holds our spiritual armor together.  All prayer baths us in grace and light so that we have ready access to divine help:

To stand against the wiles of the devil, To keep the truth girding our loins and righteousness as our breast plate secure To keep the gospel of peace fresh in us And to enable the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation be strong and be ready.

Paul is encouraging us here to keep in a disposition of ‘all prayer and supplication’ as much as possible, to be aware of the Lord’s mighty presence in us, and to do this through the Spirit - ‘Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.’

What is ‘all prayer and supplication’ then? 

praying in the Spirit (the first part of versus 18) but also bringing to mind scriptures and praying accordingly (see Psalm 1) praying with all types of prayer: contrition, thanks-giving, petitions, supplications, praise, worship and intercessions. It includes praying publically and privately, solemn prayer, singing, prayer closet prayer.  Pleas for help and guidance and counsel and wisdom. It is our heart united with the Lord, in communion and communication with Him through our days.

To what end or purpose?

To keep alert (attentive, watchful) - He will bring us His wisdom.  And when his wisdom comes or He speaks, we need to be attentive to absorb His word.  Usually, His word comes to us in our thoughts.  We need to focus then, lest they become fleeting.  We need to stop then, to absorb them, and let them enter our hearts deeply. So we can persevere in supplication for all the saints - for our needs are great. And for right action, as in witnessing (prayer needs to precede action, not follow.)

Brothers and sisters, He will give us His grace for this.  Not on our own strength are we to do this.  But by the power of His Spirit He will mightily inspire within us.  The Lord is inviting us to ‘stay near to Him’ and ‘Be mine in 2009’.  ‘All Prayer’ is one way we can respond to this word.

The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to, with confidence, ‘enter the sanctuary’ and to ‘draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.’ (Heb10:19-22)

How can we stay near?  In His great love for us, He gives what we need: His Spirit, ‘all prayer’, the encouragement to enter the sanctuary and to draw near in full assurance.  Ask Him for the grace, the gift of ‘all prayer’.