Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prayer As Worship (Part 1)

By John MacArthur 

    Jesus' long prayers were the ones He prayed in private. 
      His public prayers were perfect examples of  crisp, forth-
      right plain-speaking.

Study the exemplary prayer in Scripture and you cannot help but noticing that all of them are brief and simple.  Prayer that is heartfelt, urgent, and unfeigned must be of that style.  Verbiage and windbaggery are badges of insincerity, especially in prayer.  The prayer of the publican in Luke 18:13 is as short and to the point as possible:  "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"  Then there's the prayer of the thief on the cross: "Jesus, remember me when you come in Your Kingdom!" (Luke 23:42). Those prayers are cut from the same cloth as Peter's cry foro help when he was walking on water - sometimes cited as the shortest prayer in the Bible: "Lord, save me" (Matthew 14:30).

Scripture records very few long prayers.  Much of Psalm 119 is addressed to God in the language of prayer, and of course, that is the Bibles longest chapter.  Other than that, Nehemiah 9:5-38 contains the longest prayer in all of Scripture, and it can be read aloud with expression in less than seven minutes.  John 17 is the New Testament's longest prayer.  It's also the longest of Jesus' recorded prayers, just twenty-six verses long.

Now of course Jesus prayed much longer prayers because Scripture records several instances where He prayed in solitude for extended periods of time (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46). When it suited Him, He would even spend the entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12).  It was His habit thus to pray, both privately and with His disciples (John 18:2).  And the pattern was clear: His long prayers were the ones He prayed in private.  His public prayers were perfect examples of crisp, forthright plain-speaking.  

Listening to Jesus pray and observing His constant dependence on private prayer gave the disciples an appetite for prayer.  So they asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).  He responded by repeating the very same model of prayer He gave in the sermon on the Mount.  We call it "The Lord's Prayer." We ought rather to think of it as "The Disciples Prayer," because its centerpiece is a petition for divine forgiveness, something Jesus would never need to pray for.  Like all great praying it is both succinct and unpretentious.  There is not a wasted word, not a hint of vain repetition, and not a single note of ostentation or ceremony in the whole prayer.

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.  And lead us not into temptation'" (Luke 11:2-4).  That prayer was a pattern for the disciples to follow, not a mantra to be recited without engaging the mind or passions.  The various elements of Jesus' prayer are all reminders of what our praying ought to include:  praise, petition, penitence, and a plea for grace in our sanctification.  Those are not only the key elements of prayer, they are also some of the principal features of authentic worship.  The parallelism between prayer and worship is no coincidence.  Prayer is the distilled essence of worship.

That perspective is often lost in this era of self-focused, subjective, felt-needs-oriented religion.  Multitudes think of prayer as nothing more than a way to get whatever they want from God.  Prayer is reduced to a superstitious means of gain - and some will tell you that God is obligated to deliver the goods.  Religious television is full of charlatans who insist that God must grant whatever you ask for if you can muster enough "faith' and refuse to entertain any "doubt."  Faith in their lexicon is a kind of "positive confession." Doubt, as they might describe it, is any rational or biblical qualm about whether the thing you desire is in accord with the will of God.  Those, of course, are not biblical definition of faith and doubt.  Nor can anyone's prayer legitimately be called a "prayer offered in faith" (James 5:15) if it is contrary to the will of God.

Charismatics are not the only ones who see prayer as nothing more than a kind of utilitarian wish list.  Plenty of mainstream evangelicals and old-style fundamentalists seem confused about the purpose of prayer, too.  John R. Rice, an influential fundamentalist pastor, wrote a bestselling book in 1942 titled Prayer-Asking and Receiving.  He wrote, "Prayer is not praise, adoration, meditation, humiliation nor confession, but asking...Praise is not prayer, and prayer is not praise.  Prayer is asking...Adoration is not prayer, and prayer is not adoration.  Prayer is always asking.  It is not anything else but asking.


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