So next Wednesday I am speaking in my small group on meditation, prayer and memorization. I have had this post half written for literally 4 months (somewhere in that ballpark) and decided that i might as well just finish it since I’ll have to “study up” any way. I know this is REALLY long, but read till the end and you just my learn something. Soooo here she goes…
John Piper gave a sermon on this topic in 2003 called
Be Devoted to Prayer.
I encourage you to read it.
Let me also say before hand that prayer is not the only way God can speak to us. He speaks through His Word, our friends and family, our pastors, and even everyday occurrences that take place in our lives.
a devout petition to God or an object of worship.
It seems so simple; yet books can be written on this subject -big thick books =)
Prayer is a privilege.
It’s not some whimsical act that should be taken lightly. Why?
- You are talking to the God who created all things and desires our worship
- It is direct communication with God on a personal level
- We are commanded to do so (Colossians 4:2)
Before I begin quoting scripture here, I want to share what God taught me this past year. God in His infinite grace and mercy enabled me to go on a mission trip to Papua New Guinea over the summer. I was there for 10 weeks, preparing food for students there (Interface) and helping with maintenance around the campus when needed (the second half of the summer I participated in Interface). The staff there encouraged the hospitality team as well as the students to keep a prayer journal during our stay . I had never really kept a consistent prayer journal, but I thought I should give it a try. Thankfully, I was able to maintain my prayer journal (and still occasionally do). Well, a couple weeks after I had started journaling, I thought I would look back on what I had written, not to see if God had answered them, but just to reflect on thoughts and prayers that had been going through my mind earlier. When I started reading, I realized that not ONE of the prayers had gone unanswered! God had faithfully answered EVERY ONE of my requests! What an awesome God!! Starting with this experience, God would teach me that summer what prayer really is and how much weight it actually carries in our relationship with Him.
- Old Testament (pre-Christ)
Before Christ, the Israelites spoke to God through an Intercessor. These guys included Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and all the high priests of the Temple. Usually the communication with God was either hot or cold; complaints such as “We’re hungry and thirsty…so remind us why you brought us into the desert to starve to death…we were better off in Egypt,” were commonplace (Exodus 16:1-3, 17:1-3, Numbers 11:1-10, 14:1-4…and that’s not all); the occasional “Thank you Lord for delivering us out of SLAVERY,” was not (Exodus 14:29-33-15:1-21, 19:7 & 8). God of course would always provide for their every need, because he delights in providing, for, He is the Great Provider (Exodus 16:4 & 5, 17:5-7, Numbers 20:7-11, 11:31&32, Philippians 4:19). That’s a whole different topic, but this is a brief (VERY brief) example of the communication that commonly transpired between the Israelites and the Lord in the OT. They would complain to Moses (or whoever the leader might be at that time) and Moses would take their complaints to God. I will address the whole “intercessor” dealie a little later, but take note that Moses provides a detailed summary of Israel’s wants (not needs) to the Lord; not only does Moses let the Lord know what the Israelites are up to, but he also asks God to spare punishment on Israel (Numbers 14:17-20), asking God to spare them of their sins. Moses was the mediator between Israel and the Lord.
Another way in which the people of the OT communicated with God was directly. God would speak to them in dreams or even an audible voice as he did with Abraham, intervening before he sacrificed his one and only son.
God had commanded that once every year, a sacrifice be made for the sin of Israel. This sacrifice provided an atonement for the Israelites, a covering of their sin in the past year. There was no other way in which their sins could be forgiven, unless God had willingly credited righteousness to them as he did Abraham (Genesis 15:6), which was rare on account of the fickle beliefs of the Israelites. The observance of the day was an acknowledgment to God’s instructions and pormises and signified a belief and trust in Him. This Day of Atonement was to be an annual ceremony and was to be performed by the high priest Aaron (from the line of the Levites, one of twelve descendants of Jacob). So Aaron would take part in a ceremony ordained by the Lord in order that the Israelites sins be forgiven:
He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain…He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been.
-Leviticus 16:15 & 16a
The Lord was very specific when it came to the ceremonies that took place in the OT. He made sure it was understood that Aaron was to be the ONLY person in the Tent of Meeting (portable tabernacle) while he made atonement in the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies):
No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel. -Leviticus 16:17
In this way, and under God’s direct specific instruction lest we forget, Aaron made atonement for Israel’s sins. Moses and Aaron served as the “go-between” men for the Lord and His people. The Israelites could not come to the Lord whenever they pleased, or wherever they pleased for that matter; however, there is a stark difference and change in the way people would communicate with the Lord from the Old to New Testament (NT).
It is important to take note of the “Most Holy Place,” as I will be referring to it later on. It was also referred to as the Holy of Holies and is where God’s presence dwelt among the Israelites in the form of a cloud. The temple was made up of a courtyard where the sacrificial lamb was slain and where the priest could cleanse himself before entering the presence of God. Inside the courtyard was a kind of “building” that had two rooms. One called the Holy Place and the other the Most Holy Place. Between the two rooms was a thick curtain with a height of 18 meters and a width of 9 meters and about the thickness of a man’s hand which is about 4 inches. This was no ordinary window curtain. This was the equivalent to a wall; however, I will touch on this subject a little later.
- New Testament (post-Christ)
Having been sent to the Earth by God, Jesus Christ radically changed the way that man would communicate with Him and His Father. Christ says in Matthew 5:17,
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (OT); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Christ was sent to fulfill all that the prophets had written in the OT-concerning himself (Genesis 3:15) and concerning the way we would communicate with Him-and deliver the world from eternal separation from Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit – the perfect unified trio – by dying in our place.
So we understand that there are two types of communication that transpire with the Lord: one in the Old Testament, before Christ, and one in the New, when Christ comes down to Earth.
First off, as I quote the book of Hebrews, I want to say that it is a wonderful book to read for this topic and connects Christ to the OT in ways I couldn’t.
In the OT, the Lord spoke through an intercessor, as I mentioned earlier. He also spoke in dreams, through bushes, and even directly to people in the form of an angel or voice; however, after Christ fulfilled His mission to become the promised deliverer, this type of communication drastically changed.
There are so many verses that reveal the perfect picture of what transpired when Christ died on the cross. Remember the lamb that was to be offered as a temporary sacrifice in place of the death of the Israelites? In 1 Corinthians 5:7 it says
…Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
He was sacrificed on the cross, in place of us, so we wouldn’t have to die for our own sins, just as the lamb was killed in place of the Israelites. That’s why in Revelation 9 and John 1 it says “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” God was the priest and Christ was the sacrifice. But a quite different one than the temporary lamb that was used in the OT.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (this is after Christ, remember). But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. -Hebrews 10:10-12
The temple sacrifices became void of the ability to take away sin once Jesus became the perfect permanent sacrifice. Remember the Holy of Holies that the priest would enter to make the sacrifice? The Bible tells us that
Jesus called out with a loud voice,…”It is finished…Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last…he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:30
When he had done this
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. -Mark 15:38
Uh…tearing a curtain that is 4 inches thick is pretty incredible and totally supernatural; however, besides the externals, this event symbolizes so much more and brings me to my point.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…let us draw near to God with a sincere hear in full assurance… -Hebrews 10:19-22
In John Cross’ book The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, he puts it into layman’s terms. The “Scripture tells us that the Tabernacle curtain was a picture of [Christ’s] physical body. When he died on the cross, the curtain was ripped in two. No man could have tor the veil, but God tore it to illustrate Jesus’ body being sacrificed for you and me. As we put our trust in him, our sin is forgiven and we can boldly enter into God’s presence.”
Only was the priest allowed into the Most Holy Place. But when Jesus died and the curtain was ripped, God became accessible to all. No longer do we need an intercessor between us and Christ. No priest or pastor has to ask God for forgiveness on our behalf, as the priests did in the OT. We can now boldly enter the throne of God. That is what Paul means in Ephesians when he says
…you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. -Ephesians 2:13
As John Piper puts it in the sermon I mentioned earlier,
…The cross of Christ – his death in the place of sinners – is the foundation of all prayer. There would be no acceptable answer to WHY or HOW we pray if Christ had not died in our place. That’s why we pray “in Jesus’ name.”