How Should We Pray?

Man in Prayer

“Grace” – by Eric Enstrom (1918)

“If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3)

My brothers and sisters, when God put me out in my spiritual wilderness in 1980 (about the time that Mount St. Helens blew one cubic mile of earth and ash across the states of Washington and Idaho), He shut down any sense in me that He was listening to my prayers. I prayed everything I could think of to get that nil-state to end in me. I would eventually find out after thrashing around over those many years which followed that He was not going to answer any prayers that were against what He put in my life to fix what HE was fixing in me. Or, as Bob Mumford put it, “If you fix the fix that God fixes to fix you, he will just fix another fix to fix you.” It wasn’t until many years of me trying fix His fix in my life that I finally gave up and He finally heard from me what He was waiting for. “Lord, I belong to you and if you want to leave me in this perpetual death and nothingness, that is your business. Once again I surrender “my life,” for what its worth, to YOU!” The purpose of this long lesson was to cause a heart change in me. I was to learn in my heart what Paul spoke of when he wrote,

Alone in the wilderness- web

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash

… for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am. I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want. I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency]. (Phil 4:11-13, AMP – emphasis added)

This is the secret to a happy and confident life IN Christ where we are focused and occupied with what is happening in heavenly places IN Him. I would like to include the following quote from T. Austin-Sparks that gets right down to where our real need is. Here he is using the type of Old Testament temple which speaks of our eternal lives in the NEW Covenant.

…[The] blood is always in the Scripture a witness against what is of the old creation, to cut it off, and to bring in a new creation; a witness against the earthly, the worldly and the fleshly, and therefore the satanic; a witness unto the heavenly, the spiritual, and that which is of the Lord. It means here that the blood of the sin offering being sprinkled on the horns and on the altar makes everything heavenly. Our prayer life has got to be on a heavenly basis. It is not enough just to be praying for our earthly affairs. It is so easy to get up in the morning and hurry through a few words asking the Lord to bless us and ours, and our earthly things for the day, as though these things of this life were all. Oh, no! The Lord would have prayer touching things heavenly, things spiritual, related to that which is not of time but of eternity, not of this world but in relation to His eternal, heavenly intentions. He would have us separated from the merely temporal. There is a place for bringing those before the Lord, but they have got to be lifted in relation to the heavenly and not be dealt with as things in themselves. The blood makes everything heavenly, separating from the old creation. There is a very great deal of the old creation in our prayers; it is [about] our convenience, our deliverance from inconvenience and discomfort, our salvation from what would bring us a great deal of trouble and sorrow. That is the motive behind a good deal of our praying. “Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today!”

But supposing the Lord would lift us into something altogether new through sorrow, are we then going to pray that prayer? No, our prayer must be: “Today, Lord, I want that which is of greatest account in relation to spiritual values and if that must be by way of trial and adversity, I do not pray to be delivered from it.” I say, “Lord, there is power to carry me through, and by prayer I come into touch with that power to carry me through the trials of every day in relation to the meaning of the trial.” That is heavenly praying. That is praying with your heart in heaven. “If ye be risen with Christ seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affections upon the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth, for ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Now the life of the believer is to be, therefore, one with heavenly interests always in view, and our prayer life is in relation to those interests.

Where prayer counts most vitally and effectually is in the heavenlies. Ephesians makes that perfectly clear: “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers… the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.” Then, providing for that warfare, he gathers it all up, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”. The warfare is in the heavenlies, and the prayer is most effectual there. That is where the power is indeed against the spiritual forces, and that blood brings us out there as our protection for a realm which is spiritual and therefore counts for most. The place of the altar of incense, the holding of it to the end till everything else has been brought in, gives to prayer tremendous significance.

Now one closing thought. There was to be a crown of gold round the top of this altar of incense (verse 3), and that crown speaks of the glorifying of the Lord Jesus as the Victor. “But we behold… Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour” (Heb. 2:9). The crown of the Victor over sin and death and the reason for that victory in this connection is in Isaiah 53: “He made intercession for the transgressors.” The implication is that by His intercession for the transgressors in His cross He won. There were transgressors doomed under judgement, and His cross was a great work of intercession for the transgressors — and we were among them. By intercession in His cross, His great ministry of intercession in giving Himself, He saved us. You and I are today in Christ, saved men and women, because of the intercession of the Lord Jesus. He triumphed in intercession for us, and as High Priest He ever lives to make intercession, and every day we are living in the benefit of His continual intercession. That is the point in the crown of gold, the crown of glory. Now the Lord is calling us into that ministry. It is not only to share the travail, but to share the glory, not only to share the humiliation but to share the crown, and the crown is not just some objective thing given to us but for the Lord to come and crown our lives. That is to be His seal upon us, and He will say, “Well done! As I have overcome so you have overcome; share with Me My throne.” If that can be because my life was a life of prevailing prayer, that is the glory of it; and even now to know what it is to prevail in prayer is glory; it is the crown of glory.

Now you see there is a glory connected with prayer. The Lord calls us, then, to consider our prayer life, because everything depends upon it. It must be the time for trimming the wick, the works of the flesh. It must be the means of keeping the light clear and strong against the darkness and it must be the means of power, the ground of power, and of prevailing. The Lord use His word, then, to bring us back, if needs be, to the strength of a full prayer life. ( emphasis added by me. “The Altar of Incense” http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/003691.html)

(I would like to thank Becky Johnson in Colorado for bringing this fact of our spiritual life IN Christ to my attention once again through her blog article, (https://occupiedwithchrist.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/a-tried-heart-flooded-with-light/ )

 

Spiritual Learning

my sheep hear my voice

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Heb 1:1-2, ESV2011)

The apostle Paul wrote the most concise description of how we mature in Christ if we are truly spiritual people and not just carnal people wanting to appear spiritual or wanting to heap to ourselves teachers who will tickle our ears.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Cor 2:9-16, ESV2011)

Let’s look at this passage piece by piece. “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”  What no eye has seen… this includes reading and watching teaching videos, etc.  Nor ear has heard… This includes all human teachers and preachers that stand before us with their words of wisdom. Nor the heart of man imagined… Why can’t the imaginations of our hearts be trusted? Because the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things. The carnal man loves to delve into spiritual things, but because of his lack of the Holy Spirit within, these things always come out twisted and bring more bondage because of his ignorance. Peter wrote about this problem regarding Paul’s New Testament teachings.

….our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2Pet 3:15-16, ESV2011)

What God has prepared for those who love him. These spiritual things are for a spiritual people. They are not meant for those who approach Him with their carnal minds. God feeds those who love Him with His spiritual food and spiritual gifts both now and in eternity.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. His Spirit speaks to and teaches us through our spirits. If either one is missing there is no heavenly connection. It is like using two-way radios–they must both be turned on with the volume up and set to the same frequency or we cannot communicate. We must first be “born of the Spirit” if we are to have the transmitter/receiver in us that can hear Him and communicate with Him. This is why Jesus’ words to the Bible-smart Nicodemus fell on deaf ears (see John ch. 3). All he could do was reply, “How can these things be?” When the human mind that has not been renewed by the Spirit (see Romans 12:2) takes hold of the Spirit’s teaching, it always comes out twisted and confused, missing the point of what God has said.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. God has appointed His Holy Spirit to be the one who teaches us. Father sent Him to us as a gift so that we would not be left alone without a Teacher on this earth after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus spoke of this gift.

These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:25-26, KJ2000)

He will teach us all things because He searches the depths of God’s thoughts. Do we get all of His thoughts at once in a massive download? If we did our pride would rise up and we would become like Satan on this earth. God teaches us the things that we need to understand as we go through experiences in our daily lives. This converts what might have been mere theory into practical life applications that make our spirits grow step by step and not just our natural minds. God is after spiritual sons and daughters, not carnal people with massive intellects

temptation of christ by vasily surikov- 1872Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. Notice that this world has a spirit operating in it as well. The word world is from the Greek word kosmos. It speaks of not only the earth, but Satan who is the god of this world, the spirit that is in it and rules over it. The New Testament uses the Greek word ge when speaking of this earthly planet upon which we live. The earth itself was created by God as good. It is Satan who has defiled it with his influence, power and presence. Notice that there are two realities for those who live on the earth. We are either under the power of the prince of the earth if we live as fleshly souls or we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit as spiritual men and women. Adam and Eve gave Satan an open door when they rebelled against God and this evil presence working on our minds and hearts has been with mankind ever since. Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Like Nicodemus to whom He was speaking who was born into Judaism, many Christians today have been raise up in the churches or convinced to attend them, but they are still fleshly people without any spiritual understanding. Being born of the Spirit is not optional in the Kingdom of God (see Romans 8:5-17).

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. This right here is what makes the difference between your average Bible teacher and those who teach spiritual truths by the Spirit. If you are born of the Spirit, you can discern the difference. Even when the Bible is being preached from or taught and the Spirit is not doing it, these words are like chewing on a bone stripped of its meat. You just can’t swallow it because it gets caught sideways in your spirit’s throat and you go away empty and sometimes confused. Learning to discern the spirits that are in church leaders and teachers might take time and a lot of suffering, but once we rely on the Spirit’s gift of discerning of spirits, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and confusion from following the wrong paths.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Once, as a young born again Christian, I submitted to a man who had a strong personal charisma and a working knowledge of the scriptures. But the problem was that he added his own natural thoughts and desires to the words of God and used them to take and keep us captive to his will and intellect. This is called the power of the soul and many people use their souls to influence us to do what they want. Take an encounter with a smooth talking salesperson as an instance. Remember, Satan often cloaks his lies in 99% truth.

We eventually became this man’s personal slaves in a religious cult on a remote piece of land in northwestern United States. Many of us had become born again in a move of the Spirit that swept through America in the early ‘70’s and had a hunger to know more about Jesus, but when we met this man (and others like him) with both our lack spiritual maturity and knowing the ways of God, we fell into his clutches. We thought that we had found a fast track to becoming spiritually mature (be very wary when men offer you a quick and sure way to become “spiritual”). By the end of that decade of being under his influence we were filled with confusion and depression. Finally, God opened our eyes to see that we had taken the wrong fork in the road years earlier by following a man and we had to start all over again. As long as we follow men instead of God we will be in constant “reset mode.” God always does this. He takes us right back to where we made the wrong choice and starts from there once again — teaching us HIS ways and not the ways of carnal men. Spiritual understanding often comes through the school of hard knocks (see Hebrews 5:14).

The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. The Greek word that was translated as judges and judged in this verse does not mean to pass judgment. It is anakrino which means; to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, discern and to determine. Properly translated this verse says, “The spiritual person scrutinizes all things, but is himself scrutinized (or discerned) by no one.” So the next time you discern that a man is a false teacher, don’t let a shallow Christian tell you, “But brother, we are not to judge!” No, we are not to pass judicial judgment (krino in the Greek) on that person and say to him, “You are going to hell!” Only God is our judge. But we are to scrutinize all things by the Spirit within us whether they are from our Father or not. Remember, Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR my voice and they follow ME.”

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. Do we dare believe we have the mind of Christ in us? Yes, by His Spirit being alive in us, we do! The problem is that when we start out, we are more dependent on our own minds as we have been our whole lives, and that mind wars against the mind of the Spirit within us. Paul wrote about this struggle.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6, KJ2000)

It is the mind of the Spirit in us that we must let operate without constantly overriding it with what we think is a better idea or the less painful way to go. This is imperative if we are to have His life and peace remain in us. When we feel His peace lift while saying or taking an action prompted by your carnal minds, that is a good indicator for us to stop and seek Him before we go any further. Listening to and acting according to what the Spirit is saying is our salvation from a life filled with grief.

May the Lord bless and keep you all as you are taught by His Spirit. Amen.

 

 

What is True Holiness?

Sunrise over Coeur d Alene Lake, photo taken by Michael Clark

 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (John 14:10, ESV2011)

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one.” (John 17:22, ESV2011)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1Pet 1:14-16, ESV2011)

I was about 23 years old when, out of desperation, I walked away from the Catholic Church never to return. I had been brainwashed by the nuns in Catholic schools about who Jesus is and what He required (abject obedience to the Church, its hierarchy and its laws), but I had no peace in my heart, nor did I know that God loved me or even the meaning of biblical salvation. I had a deep spiritual hunger that drove me to find peace with Him, so I ended up in what some call “a holiness Bible church.” We heard a lot of preaching on holiness there, but we saw very little of it. You see, true holiness is not walking around with our hands up our sleeves with an ornate cross hanging around our necks. Nor is it looking down our noses at all the sinners with a holier than thou attitude. I had seen both but what I saw of “the church” left me empty and did not satiate the deep hunger within me.

No one was/is holier than Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, and He was not like what I had seen at all. What set Jesus apart from the devout Jews that worshiped in their temples and synagogues was that He was touchable and in touch first of all with His Father and secondly with the common man and woman and the pains that they suffered. And He is still in touch with us today as our High Priest in heaven.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are… (Heb 4:14-15, NIV)

Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom 8:34, ESV2011)

Someone once said, “Christians seem to have a vested interest in the misery of others.” Much to the chagrin of many in this world who count themselves as “holy,” God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather that it might be saved through Him (see John 3:17).

Living a holy life is living a life that is wed to Christ within us. This unity with Him by His Spirit is why God can rightfully say, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Holiness is not something we have to generate on our own, but it comes through our unity in spirit with Jesus Christ just as He was in unity with His Father.

This unity with Him can often take us to that place where we pray as He did, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Paul wrote that the flesh in us wars against the Spirit and the Spirit against our flesh. Just as water wants to escape from being under pressure, there seems to be a constant temptation within us to take the easy road and not the path that God has set before  us to walk.

God desires to reveal His Son in us and if He who had the power to do almost anything he wanted, denied that power, how much more should we in our weakness? Paul wrote,

“…it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me from my mother’s womb… to reveal his Son in me…” (Gal 1:15-16, ASV)

The outworking of Paul doing the good pleasure of God through His Son within was to grow into the place where he could say, “For me to live IS Christ and to die is gain.”  THIS dear saints, is what Holiness really IS. We give up our wills to our Father on a daily basis and He does the rest (see Hebrews 8:8-12).

the adoration of the golden calf

The Adoration of the Golden Calf 1633-4, Nicolas Poussin

We by nature are creatures that desire comfort, pain and suffering is to be avoided by all means. Yet, it is this very thing that God uses to weaken our self seeking wills so that Jesus might be more readily manifested in us. I am not speaking of self inflicted pain and flagellation here, but rather the pain and suffering that God allows in our lives that defies any quick fix. Many of us who have unconditionally surrendered our lives to Christ know this kind of walk. God uses many kinds of pain to accomplish His work in us and some of it is not just physical. Sometimes it is the pain of the loss or serious injury of a loved one. Sometimes it is sorrow for doing something we deeply regret later. Some of us end up marrying our crosses. We, like Paul, pray that we might be delivered from our “thorn in our flesh (even the thorn of our flesh),” only to find out that the more Christ reveals Himself in and to us in a very real way, the more suffering we encounter.

grow where you are planted

Root Out of Dry Ground- photo by Michael Clark

Remember that Isaiah prophesied of Jesus saying, “…as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

Yes, this life not only includes suffering and grief as Jesus freely lives in us, but rejection by our families, our fellow man and even by Christians. We need to contemplate such things before we glibly pray, “Lord, I just want to be like Jesus.”

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:19-20, ESV2011)

What I am sharing with you here is the message of the true gospel, not that of the prosperity preachers or professional “healers” who get rich and fat off the funds they can bilk out of the gullible who follow them by listening with their fleshly ears  to what they want to hear. Remember, Jesus said, “If you would be MY disciple, you must take up YOUR CROSS and follow Me.” I think it is obvious that many believe in Him as a historic figure, but few are truly His disciples. I question the depth of spirituality of those who have to run off to some temple, or big crusade or Christian conference or even go on a “Holy Land” tour so they can get a special touch from God (I was also a conference junky once in my immaturity). I wish it was all that easy to become holy, but it is not. Jesus warned us saying,

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. (Matt 24:24-26, ESV2011)

When Jesus first started to do miracles He had many who “believed in Him” but only in a fleshly way. They wanted their worldly desires fulfilled, but they did not want HIM as their Lord. The closer He got to the cross that was set before Him, the more they rejected Him. They wanted a Messiah that was a conquering king that met all their needs and expectations, not a suffering Savior that was crucified in weakness.

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, MANY BELIEVED IN HIS NAME when they saw the signs that he was doing. BUT Jesus …did not entrust himself to them, because… he himself knew what was in (the heart of) man.” (John 2:23-25, ESV2011- emphasis added)

Do we want to be entrusted by Jesus with the spiritual treasures of heaven and His very life being manifest within us? We need a NEW heart from God within not the heart of that old Adam we were born with (our carnal natures). This is what it means to be born of the Spirit and not just being born of a woman. There are “believers” and then there are those who BELIEVE– that is they; cling to, trust in and totally rely upon Him (read John 3:16 in the Amplified Version)! We can be “believers” in Christ on an intellectual or religious level and still not have that new heart with His daily commands written upon it, to whom His spiritual treasures are revealed. Hearing and obeying His voice is what a “holy life” is all about.

As I shared my thoughts about suffering with Susanne Schuberth on her current blog article (1) she pointed out that Christians are not the only ones who suffer, but suffering seems to be common to all of mankind. She is right. Suffering seems to be the lot of the human creature since the fall of man. The difference is the heart within us. Do we have a heart that has been made new by our Father or is it still that old heart that is a home for our adversary? A changed heart will only become more beautiful through all it endures, but that old adamic nature will only become more bitter and vile by the same suffering. The same sun that shines down upon wax makes it soft and pliable, but it makes clay hard and brittle. John wrote about a great company of people he saw in heaven saying,

revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14

Revelation ch. 7 vs.13-14, artist unknown

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” And I said unto him, “Sir, thou knowest.” And he said to me, “These are they which came out of great tribulation [Grk. thlipsis – pressure; anguish, burden, persecution, and troubles], and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:13-14, KJV- emphasis added)

In this life we are not only immersed in troubles, but we also come out of them and are a transformed as the filth of this world is washed away and are made His holy people by His blood.

“Father, do whatever it takes to completely transform us that we may also be found with this assembly who hears and obeys your voice before your throne. Amen.”

(1) Called to Live a Holy Life  (As I meditated on this recent article by Susanne Schuberth, this blog article I share here came to life within me. Thanks you Susanne for obeying Him.)