The Driving Force of Prayer
by Ted Schroder
Corrie ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” In other words, is prayer automatically a central part of your life, that enables you to get through each day, or only called upon when you are in trouble, when you have an occasional accident, or an emergency? We clutch the steering wheel as though life depends on it – and it does! If we neglect the steering wheel when we drive, we will end up in the ditch or worse. We rarely give the spare tire a thought. It is there only when we need it, if ever. Are you a steering wheel pray-er or a spare tire pray-er? I want to explore with you how St. Paul was a steering wheel pray-er, and how he made prayer the driving force in his life.
In 2 Thessalonians 1 he gives us an example of how central and urgent prayer was to him. He begins and ends his remarks with an acknowledgement of our complete and utter dependence upon God for everything. The word he uses to describe this dependence is “grace”. It means an unmerited gift, something that is given to us without our deserving it. Life itself is such a gift. So also is peace, forgiveness and salvation. The Gospel is the good news of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. Grace drives prayer. Grace makes Christian prayer possible.
He begins by saying “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Message paraphrases this as “Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.” Therefore, prayer begins with an awareness that everything we need, and the power to achieve everything we’re meant to be, comes from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer begins with expressing this truth. We come into God’s presence acknowledging our dependence: “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:35,36)
He concludes this section with an acknowledgement that all is possible “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.12) Or as The Message states it, “Grace is behind and through all this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely.”
Charles Wesley wrote “Grace Alone”:
Every promise we can make, every prayer and step of faith,
Every difference we will make is only by his grace,
Every mountain we will climb, every ray of hope we shine,
Every blessing left behind is only by his grace.
Every sorrow we long to reach, every heart we hope to teach,
Everywhere we share his peace, is only by his grace.
Every loving word we say, every tear we wipe away,
Every sorrow turned to praise is only by his grace.
Grace alone which God supplies, strength unknown he will provide.
Christ in us our Cornerstone; we will go forth in grace alone.
Acknowledging this dependence is a form of worship. It is the awareness of the greatness of God and the greatness of our need. It leads most naturally
into thanksgiving for all that God gives us that we need, and the power he gives us to achieve what we’re meant to become. Such acknowledgement puts our lives into their proper perspective. What looms large for us and creates such anxiety in our minds, is reduced in size to where it can be managed with the help of the grace of God. Our focus shifts away from ourselves and our problems to the enabling power of God. We look beyond ourselves to the provision of God.
We also look beyond ourselves to the community of faith to which we belong. We see the faith and the love of others and how they are growing. This awareness of our Christian community causes us to be thankful for the encouragement we experience in their midst. “You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks. We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:3,4)
What drives our prayer life? - Thanksgiving for the encouragement of others? - Thanksgiving for the growth of faith and love? Faith and love are not static, fixed spiritual commodities. They grow as they are exercised. They develop as they are stretched. They deepen as they are applied. There are degrees of faith and love. You can have little faith, or great faith; meager love or generous love. You can starve faith and love, or you can feed them. When you see their growth in the lives of others your own faith and love are encouraged.
On my vacation I visited my former congregation in Orange Park. They had moved into a new sanctuary the previous Sunday. We arrived a little late and there was no room to park except on the side of the road. The sanctuary was packed with young families. Over 600 were in worship. Antoinette and I were so encouraged to see the growth in faith and love over the years.
This is also a community in which faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. It is a cause for thanksgiving. When you see what is going on in the lives of others whose faith and love are increasing you are thankful to be part of such a family of faith. We need to see the good that is in each other as a result of the grace of God. We do not need to be self-congratulatory, as though we should be proud of each other for our own efforts. We don’t want to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, to get complacent or flattered at the expense of the glory of God. St. Paul thanks God for his friends. By so doing he affirmed and encouraged them in his prayers.
He is no Pollyanna in his understanding of the difficulties his friends face. Their faith and love are growing despite the suffering they experience. “You’re steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you…All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the kingdom.” Tropical storms and hurricanes will come. There is no way we can avoid difficulties. But all the hard times, when they are endured with faith and love, will be proof that God’s grace will be sufficient for you.
When a spouse or a child is abused, when you feel that you are coming apart at the seams, when depression afflicts you, when grief overwhelms you, when events spiral out of your control, when people are cruel to you, when disease threatens your health, when your children neglect you or take advantage of you, when tragedy strikes, you are tempted to believe you are alone, that you are a victim, that you are being unjustly punished, that life is not fair, that there is no justice in the universe. But Paul writes that, it is at that very moment, when life seems overtaken with sadness, that God will take care of you, and your suffering will be vindicated.
“You’re suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with his strong angels, he’ll even up he score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we’ve been waiting for.”
Suffering can be endured in the present because we know that it is temporary, that those who afflict us will be punished. The prayer of thanksgiving is possible because it is made in the light of the future Judgment. Paul can be thankful of his fellow-believers because he is only too well aware of the context in which we live – the world of cruelty, selfishness, indifference and unbelief. Prayer becomes important because eternity is coming. This is not a game we are playing. The new life Christ offers by grace matters. People who have hurt us, people for whom we are praying, even our enemies, have choices to make which will affect their future. They can choose to belong to God, and his way of love, or they can reject him and instead opt for exclusion from his presence. Our choices have consequences. There is a heaven, and there is a hell.
“Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they have done. Eternal exile from the presence of the Master and his splendid power is their sentence. But on that very same day when he comes, he will be exalted by his followers and celebrated by all who believe – and all because you believed what we told you. Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-11)
Prayer is driven by the prospect of eternity. We pray for those who would otherwise refuse to know God and refuse to follow Christ’s gospel of love, those who are self-centered, who worship themselves. If we care enough for our friends and family members who have ignored God or turned their backs on him and his love, we will be praying for them every day. We pray that their eyes would be opened to the truth of the gospel. We pray that they may turn from their egocentricity to the Lord and seek his face.
Prayer is also driven by the promise of seeing God, marveling at the majesty of his power, being changed, transformed into his likeness. If we want to be prepared for that great occasion we will be praying now that our lives will be ready for his appearing in glory.
Each day we will be praying that God will “make you fit for what he has called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that our lives will amount to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11,12)
If we want our lives to amount to something we will be praying without ceasing for God’s Spirit, his divine energy, to fill us and fuel us, and those whom we love, for the journey ahead.
September 7, 2008
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