Spiritual Disciplines Ep. 2: Prayer

Show Notes:

  • Matt: Today we want to talk about our second spiritual discipline. This time, prayer.J.D., there’s a lot to be said about prayer, and you’ve written books on it, you have several Ask Me Anything episodes on it, but I want to start with a listener question from Stephanie, who asks, “How does prayer ‘move the hand of God?’”J.D.: Wow, strong start. Yeah, Matt, I have spoken a lot about prayer
    • Can’t do it enough
    • 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting. We always want to be a praying church, but we set aside times throughout the year to really emphasize it in our church and our own lives.

    So, to Stephanie’s question, why do we do that? Why emphasize prayer? Does it really change things?

    • Let me give you three quick points about why we believe prayer “moves the hand of God.” First, the Bible makes it clear that God’s purposes are unchanging.
      • Verses like Numbers 23:19 are clear: God is not a man. He never learns anything new. He doesn’t wise up with experience or change his mind.
      • He knows the end from the beginning
    • So, it seems clear that God’s purposes are unchanging, but, like I said, we have to hold this in tension with another truth, which is that God’s plans are unfolding.
      • There’s a story in Exodus 32 says that God changed his course of action based on Moses’ prayer. But here’s the irony of the story: God is the one who tells Moses to go down and see the situation (v. 7). Moses didn’t know the people had corrupted themselves. God showed this to him.
      • Furthermore, the very thing that Moses uses to “change God’s mind” was God’s own promise. (And God, of course, hadn’t forgotten his promises.)
      • God had put Moses into a situation so that he would see the problem God already knew about, remember God’s promises, and petition God to change his course of action. Moses’ prayer itself is a result of God’s plan. God wants Moses to ask this, so he sovereignly puts him in a situation where he will ask for it.
    • But here’s the key: Our prayers are instrumental.
      • The text is clear: Without this prayer, God would have destroyed Israel. The prayer was instrumental in getting God to change his course of action. And that’s consistent with the pattern of prayer throughout Scripture. As I’ve heard it said, “Prayer moves the arm that moves the world.”

    Now, many people might ask at this point, “Well, what if Moses had refused to pray? Would that mean that they would not have been saved, and would that mean that it was not God’s will to save them after all? And what does that mean if I fail to pray for something God wants me to pray for? Does that mean that the thing that I didn’t pray about wasn’t God’s will after all? Or would God have just gotten someone else to pray it?”

    You may begin to feel your head aching. It’s understandable.

    Those kinds of questions are the wrong ones to ask about these situations. Scripture never teaches us to think about the will of God that way.

    • The 19th century Princeton theologian A.A. Hodge put it this way (my paraphrase): “Does God know the day you’ll die? Yes. Has he appointed that day? Yes. Can you do anything to change that day? No. Then why do you eat? To live. What happens if you don’t eat? You die. Then if you don’t eat, and die, then would that be the day that God had appointed for you to die?
    • “Quit asking stupid questions and just eat. Eating is the pre-ordained way God has appointed for living.”
    • So, when I wrestle with this, I tell myself to quit asking stupid questions and just pray.

    You see, however impossible it is for our puny minds to understand, God has sovereignly placed us in certain situations for the express purpose of praying his promises and “changing his plans,” so to speak. He wants us to employ divine power to create a different destiny than the one everyone is heading to.

    That’s why we say God’s Word is not just a textbook to be learned but a book of promises to be claimed. 

    • Like Moses, we are supposed to say, “God, remember you said …” Don’t just read your way through Scripture. Pray your way through it.
    • And trust in the Spirit of God to guide you as you pray, to show you where and how to extend God’s kingdom. He is willing and waiting and wanting to answer!
    • Fed by word/led by Spirit

    Matt: You mentioned praying through Scripture, which leads me to another question, this time from Sivad: “You mentioned praying through the Bible. This may sound silly but what does that look like?”

    • Not silly at all! There’s no other book that we “pray through.” At first, it seems foreign: How do I take these written words on a page and pray through them?
    • But the key is to take what you’re reading and keep the “line of communication open” with God through prayer.
      • If you’re reading through the 10 commandments, for example, you could confess wherever you’ve broken them to him, and ask for strength to keep his commandments.
      • If you’re reading through the Psalms, they’re almost written as if they’re prayers (some of them are prayers), which makes the connection a little easier.
      • If you’re reading a narrative passage, you might struggle to see how to pray that passage – but that has to be done as you’re applying whatever you’re reading. It’s there for a reason – what is that reason? What is the text trying to show or teach you, about yourself, God, etc.? Ask that and then pray that way. 
    • Donald S. Whitney’s “Praying Through the Bible” is a good resource.

    Matt: Claire asks: “J.D., what are your thoughts on meditation?”

    • Well, it depends on what kind. Later in this series, we’ll talk about the spiritual disciplines of solitude. 
      • Prayer and solitude go hand-in-hand, at times. Jesus did it. .
    • The Bible mentions meditating on Scripture over and over again.
    • BUT, I do want to point out that there’s a cultural version of “meditation” which could be confusing to some people. 
      • Practices like mindfulness, or meditating while doing yoga (which you do every day, right, Matt?), or repeating some mantra – that’s typically what people think of today when they hear “meditation.” 
      • Our minds need to idle sometimes, nothing wrong with that.
      • But that’s different from biblical meditation – which is time spent alone with God, meditating on his Word and who he is
        • Meditation and stillness can be a replacement for the gospel?
          • Tim Keller: ”A lot of modern contemplative spirituality holds out a direct encounter with God apart from the gospel of grace. These kinds of mysticism call for us to find God through purgation or self-purification, kinds of self-salvation.” Christian spirituality is not just ‘be still’, but ‘be still and know that I am God.’
        • Best when it works like jazz. Some promises you are interacting with, as you let God move in your spirit.

  • Matt: Starting next week, we’ll dive into a series of eight episodes focused on the spiritual disciplines—the basic practices of the Christian life. Don’t miss the first episode in that series next week as we talk about what a healthy prayer life looks like.
  • We’re now on YouTube; subscribe to @J.D.Greear.


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