[‘encouragement’, ‘exhortation’, for life and ministry]
In Part One of this series in February, I reminded you that God is constantly at work in our world and the universe.
God is constantly working, as he sustains the whole universe in Christ moment by moment, including all humanity; keeping us alive, and enabling us to live, function, and do all our daily tasks. If God in Christ stopped working for a moment, there would be no universe, no creation. ‘He sustains all things by his word of power’; ‘in Christ all things hold together’ [Heb 1:3, Col 1:17 NIV11].
His sovereign rule is marked by his providential care for his creation. He is intimately and immanently involved in every aspect of its existence. He sustains it and holds it together. Nothing exists or happens outside his care, his rule, his generosity, and his power.
Calvin describes God’s sovereign providence in these words ‘the universal activity of God whereby all creatures, as they are sustained, thus derive the energy to do anything at all’.
In Part Two, in March I reminded you of the great power of God’s word, still spoken by him through his Spirit.
God is powerful, so his words are powerful! God is powerful, so his word, the Bible, is also powerful!
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God … And this is the word that was preached to you [1 Pet 1:23-25].
Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified [Acts 20:32].
There are few greater encouragements in ministry than that of knowing the power of God’s words to achieve God’s purposes in us, in God’s people, and in God’s world.
This month, our focus is on how God’s power is exercised in our prayers.
Remember these promises of the Lord Jesus:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened [Matt 7:7-8].
‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’ [Mark 11:22-24].
Or think of his own example of prayer.
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ [Luke 3:21,22] … But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed … Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God … [Luke 5:16, 6:12].
Or the commitment of Paul and his co-workers to constant prayer:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you … For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you [Col 1:3,9] … We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers [1 Thess 1:2] … I thank God … as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers [2 Tim 1:3] … Epaphras … is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured [Col 4:12].
Or Paul’s instructions to pray:
Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful, and pray for us … [Ephes 6:18, Col 4:2,3].
Or his comments about the power of prayer:
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many [2 Cor 1:10,11].
I suspect that one reason why we doubt that God uses our prayers is because we have the wrong idea of heaven and earth. Christ taught us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven’, and we naturally think that if he is in heaven then he won’t be of much earthly use!
But God is present everywhere in his power, grace and compassion. God says, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ [Jer 23:24].
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast [Ps 139:7-10].
We are not asking a God who is remote from us to come into our world. He is already omnipresent!
We are not asking a God who is inactive in our world to intervene and do something. He is already omnipotently working in our world to sustain it, care for it, and achieve his good purposes in it. We are asking him to take note of our desires in the midst of his constant work in, among, and around us.
The omnipresence and omnipotence of God is the saint’s delight and the sinner’s terror!
God always uses our prayers, and rewards our praying, and sometimes he answers our prayers with a ‘yes’, sometimes with a ‘not yet’, and sometimes with a ‘no’.
I was recently asked by a woman whose husband had died, ‘What happened to all those prayers our church prayed for healing?’ I replied that God had used those prayers to sustain her husband in faith as he was dying [God did this], and will finally answer those prayers when he raises him on the last day, and gives him a glorious body, to replace his lowly body [Phil 3:21].
I often wonder whose prayers God used to convert me [there were no believers in my family]. I like to imagine that there was an elderly and arthritic Peruvian widow, who struggled down to her local church each day to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and God thought ‘I will use her prayer for my kingdom to come to convert Peter Adam’.
I have had the experience of seeing long-term prayers answered, with the conversion of my brother John 50 years after my conversion. I have also prayed fervently and constantly to God, with another request, and received the clear answer ‘no’.
Praying is so important for confident activists. It reminds us that if God does not act, we can do nothing.
Praying is so important of those who are well aware of their weakness, because it reminds us that we can trust in God’s power to work through our weakness, and despite our weakness.
Praying is so important for those in very difficult ministry situations, because it reminds us that it is God’s power that triumphs in this world, not our own.
God is loving, patient, attentive, forgiving, powerful, purposeful, forgiving, gracious, and rules the universe. God is our loving heavenly Father who loves to hear our prayers. His Son the Lord Jesus Christ prayed to his Father when he was on earth, and prays for us at God’s right hand. The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are children of God, prompts us to pray to our Father, and covers our ignorance in praying.
We have direct access to the presence of God through Christ our high priest and mediator, through his blood shed on the cross our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed. We pray ‘through Christ’ our high priest and mediator, and our prayers are enabled and carried by him. Jesus’ blood and Jesus’ presence at God’s right hand enable our direct personal access to our great God.
We have direct access to God because we are ‘in Christ’, and so we live and pray ‘in him’ as well as through him. God is ‘in Christ’, and we are ‘in Christ’ [Col 2:9.10]. God our Father hears our prayer ‘from the lips of his Son’ [John Calvin, Catechism].
Christ and the Holy Spirit intercede for us, so we attach our weak and spasmodic prayers to their powerful and perpetual prayers. So our prayers are not disabled by our weakness, our frailty, our sin, or our lack of knowledge.
Our prayers ascend to the presence of God. ‘The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand’ [Rev 8:4].
Remember: ‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty’ [Zech 4:6].
God is at work in your life. God was at work in the life of your church even before you became its minister. God has been at work in the life of everyone you meet. God is still at work in you and in your ministry! God is still at work in your church. Recognise what God is already doing, and don’t ignore it. And trust God’s daily and nightly grace-filled and almighty power.
With warmest good wishes and prayers for you. May you know and see God’s power at work within you and through you in the lives of others as you are constant in prayer.
Calvin, Institutes, 311. ↑