“This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (and fasting)”
– Mark 9:29
Dearly beloved of the Lord,
Officers’ prayer is tomorrow at 7am and Men’s Ministry Breakfast will meet in the parking lot at 8am. Please bring your own coffee, breakfast, and chair. Jim Whitman will lead us in meditating on life in Christ.
I suspect that the economic slowdown due to the pandemic is of greater concern to most of us than the spiritual drift that plagues the church of Christ. Sure, we can camouflage that concern as a love for our neighbors, but we cannot gainsay the fact that mammon has a strong foothold in our hearts, competing with the Lord Jesus Christ. Pandemic, protests, primaries, political power are crowding out the saint’s first love characterized by prayer, piety, patience and perseverance. Fear and anxiety undergird this. But what’s underneath it? Cornelius Plantinga prophecies:
“[A]nxiety… is only the context for sin, not its cause. Our base problem is unbelief. Failing to trust in the infinite God, we live anxiously, restlessly, always trying to secure and extend ourselves with finite goods that can’t take the weight we put on them. We climb social ladders, buy securities, try to make a name for ourselves or leave a legacy…. We strive for raw power or for intellectual transcendence or for moral superiority. Alternatively, we try to escape all these strivings, calming our restlessness with flights into lust or drunkenness or gluttony. Unbelief… yields anxiety, which yields alternating pride and sensuality” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, pg. 61).
In short, he is saying unbelief begets anxiety and anxiety begets sin. Sin has two forms: pride and indulgence. The root cause is unbelief, unbelief in a God who sovereignly and graciously governs his world and his church, not from a distance but intimately as the Immanuel, the Wonderful Counselor – whose counsel we have sought less during this pandemic. This is no time to return to paganism, dear friends, strong as the drift is, but to remain vigilant and on mission. But how is that possible if we, the branches, are not abiding in the Vine?
Andrew will preach on abiding in God’s word this Lord’s Day evening. I’ve been asking the question: why don’t we pray? When we know that a prayerless Christian life is like driving your car on reserve gas, without air in your tires and also without a GPS to guide you in the ever-changing landscape of life. Not only will the engine start roaring and heating up, but we will be lost – coming to a halting stop in a strange place. To quote Ravi Zacharias again, “If you are praying Christian, your faith will carry you. If you are not a praying Christian, you will have to carry your faith and you will get exhausted.” I wonder how many of us are pushing our cars around rather than driving them.
Don’t let the guilt of prayerlessness overwhelm you but think with me for a moment. Why don’t we pray? When we need something, we drive, grab, swipe and bring it home. When we need information, tap, scroll, click and take it in. When we need to do something, we pull out a customized machine from our garage that functions as an extension of our body, including our cars, and we accomplish the task. When we want to communicate with someone, frequently we are relying on a device at our fingertips. Prayer is not only counter-intuitive in this world but also seemingly impossible to do for lack of time, desire and ability. We wake up feeling like super-humans but go to bed feeling dehumanized. Because this is ultimately a depersonalized life in which we live like independent consumers rather than dependent communers—the way God made us.
Prayer then is supremely humanizing, and humbling, for through it we confess our dependence on God and seek communion with him. Through prayer we align ourselves with God, his designs and purposes for our life. Prayer activates our faith—it is the most active demonstration of our faith. Prayer pushes out the encroachments of mammon and Satan from our heart’s territory. Prayer is a fight against unbelief. Because prayer releases us from depending on the finite to be united with the infinite—God himself. Through prayer we dispose ourselves to God and, believe it or not, God disposes himself to us! So, why don’t we pray!
How then shall we pray? I suggest these as a fellow struggler:
1. Firstly, setting aside times of prayer is important to “ensure that vague desires for prayer are concretized in regular practice.” DA Carson tells us that we don’t drift into godliness apart from grace-driven efforts. So, step one: set aside regular times to pray.
2. Secondly, feed your prayers with Scripture. We learn to talk to God when we listen to God talking to us. Combine prayer and Scripture meditation. Let them teach you how to pray. I identify verses that I need (not like) to meditate on and write them on cards for regular meditation.
3. Thirdly, what about the drift? We all know the mental drift that pervades our prayer time. Adopt a method to pray meaningfully.
4. Finally, live with a prayer-first approach throughout the day.
Brothers and sisters, “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Paul the apostle, Phil. 3:13-14).
In His Grip,