Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The Promise of Prayer"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Glimpses of Our God
Lesson 10: "The Promise of Prayer"
Devout Jews celebrate their day of atonement asking God to forgive their sins. It's much the same as Christians, only they ask Jesus Christ to forgive them. But there's not any sympathy with God's heartfelt need of "at-one-ment" with a special Bride-to-be. The prayers of Jews and Christians are all one-sided, What can God do for me? Christians in general are self-centered. Our prayers are ego-centered; bless me, and bless my loved ones.
Why do we pray? Does prayer move the hand of God so that He would do things that otherwise He would not do? If we change the "would" to "could," we get closer to the truth. God wills to do all the good things for us that we ask Him to do when we pray, even long before we pray. He wants to; but our prayers make it possible for God to do things that He wants to do. So it's not a matter of what God would do for us, but what He could do for us.
The question is, "Why?" Well, look at those people in Acts 12 praying all night for Peter to be released from the murderous hand of King Herod Agrippa I. He had been appointed king of Judea and Samaria by the Emperor Caligula of Rome. Rome was the ruler of the world. That had not been God's plan; in the new covenant God made with Abraham, Abraham's descendants should rule the world and there would not have been an evil empire of Rome; Israel would have ruled the world under the new covenant. But Israel had abandoned the new covenant and embraced the old covenant. So God was forced to respect the autonomy of Rome because Adam had sold out to Satan, so the latter is "the prince of this world," says Jesus (John 14:30).
But Christ legally wrested the sovereignty of this world from Satan by virtue of His sacrifice; therefore He can respond to prayers from His people who pray to Him in the name of Jesus. All the while Peter was in jail, God wanted to deliver him; now when His people seriously asked Him to do so "in the name of Jesus," He was free to act and He did.
Our prayers do not "move" God to do what otherwise He would not want to do or is too indifferent to do. They bring us into heart cooperation with God, they put us on the side of God in "the great controversy between Christ and Satan." The problem is, that same "cooperation" may mean much more than the tiny little thing we happen just now to be praying for!
On one occasion, Christ's disciples discovered, perhaps accidentally, a Christ-centered prayer. While He was talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, the disciples had gone to the local market to buy some groceries for them to eat, for they were on a long journey walking to Galilee from Judea. The Master rarely hears a prayer like this one--a prayer in reverse gear: "Master, You eat, because we can sense that you are hungry. You've had a long, hard journey today, and it's hot and dusty. Look, we've been to the shops in town and bought bread, butter, milk, raisins, figs, almonds--a tasty feast. Master, we've been thinking about you, and we understand how you feel. We know it's no fun to be tired and hungry. Master, You eat!" (John 4:31). Here, let us help you!
It's a rare child who thinks of giving his benefactors anything. He may give Santa Claus credit for his Christmas gifts, but he finds it hard to think in terms of Santa-centeredness. Fat, jolly Santa with his toy factory at the North Pole--how can Santa need either toys or food? And what else could he need?
It's almost as difficult for us to imagine the Lord Jesus as being in want. Since He is infinitely wealthy, who of us could give Him anything He needs. We give our little tithes and offerings, but who can seriously imagine that these trifles enrich the Lord?
The disciples' backward prayer, "Master, You eat," gives a glimpse of even more astonishing prayers yet to come from human hearts. The Father entrusted His Son to the hospitality of the human race. What it means is that the Father brought Himself to trust that our fallen human nature would escape the rut of its self-centeredness and respond to the needs of His Son.
This is what lies behind this backward prayer of the disciples. Sending His Son to this world presupposed on God's part a "backward faith" to begin with. Faith is what we usually think of as man's part to have. It is we who have faith in God. But what a staggering thought to realize that God has faith in man or He would never have sent His Son to us.
When John said, "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19), he could also have added, "We believe in Him because He first believed in us." Paul has the same idea when he says, "What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" (Rom. 3:3). Shall man's non-faith cancel God's faith?
If you were trying to evangelize a band of notorious kidnappers, could you bring yourself to entrust your newly born son or daughter to their arms while you left for an extended trip overseas? That illustrates what God did!
Look at the Baby in the cattle pen at Bethlehem. Most people in the town slept just as well that night, not caring whether He survived or not. But there were some who did care, and they proved that God made no mistake when He entrusted His precious Son to human hospitality.
Caring for the needs of Jesus is inspired by a faith which sees something. Seeing Christ crucified is something greater than any camera crew can capture. Paul saw something that the Eleven did not see as they witnessed the crucifixion: "We thus judge, that if One died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).
"If One died for all"--it is the same as saying that had He not died for all, all would now be dead. The life we live is not our own. With X-ray perception Paul saw you and me crucified when he saw Christ crucified.
The implications become staggering. We have nothing that we can truly call our own. What Paul says is that if Christ had not died for us, we would be in our graves at this moment.
This opens up the possibility that serious-minded followers of Jesus can develop a new level of prayer-consciousness so that He can hear prayers in "reverse gear." It's the same level as the Bride-to-be of Revelation 19:7, 8 finally "making herself ready" for the marriage of the Lamb; it's something she does on her own initiative, and it has no egocentricity mixed in with it.
This is how the cross shifts the focus of our viewpoint. In fact, vision just begins when our self-centered complex is overcome. We can begin to look at things through the eyes of Christ. We are able to perceive something impossible to see otherwise. It is this:
He has a need today that is greater than at any time in the past since the Father entrusted Him to us. Jesus is still hungry; and the hunger He knows is the unsatisfied, unrequited love of a Bridegroom hungering for His bride to yield Him her wholehearted, entire love. We are enabled to sense that He deserves a reward, not we! He deserves a human-heart response to the "travail of His soul" that has not as yet been yielded Him. She is finally thinking of Him and not herself. The biblical agenda says it's time for it.
--Robert J. Wieland
Compiled by Paul E. Penno
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