In the School of Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

There is a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet plans to kill his uncle Claudius, but cannot because Claudius is praying, and Hamlet would not want Claudius’ soul to be cleansed and rise to heaven. Setting aside the unbiblical and misguided understanding of salvation, what has always resonated with me in this scene in Claudius’ comment after he rises from prayer. In great irony, Claudius has found no comfort in prayer, saying, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (III.iii.96). His prayers have been insincere, ineffective, and his soul remains unchanged in prayer.

Often have I shared this feeling when rising from prayer.  I draw near to the Lord, but feel my words have merely bounced around the room; never penetrating the roof, much less the throne room of grace. How can I be prepared for an eternity before God in His new Heaven and new Earth, when I grow weary after 15 minutes in prayer?

Spiritual disciplines require a similar approach in training as physical disciplines.  If you want to run a marathon, you start by running 1 mile. If you want to grow in prayer, then you must start praying.  Pray, seeking God’s Holy Spirit to give you the words to pray, to give you a spirit of prayer, to increase your passion for praying.  The old puritans taught, “pray until you pray.”

So I’ve decided this year to enroll myself in the school of prayer.  To sit under the teaching of God’s Word, reading and studying the prayers of scripture to increase my heart for prayer.  I’ve picked up a couple of books on prayer, and some collections of puritan prayers, and those will help – but the most important part is simply to pray.

I was reminded recently that prayer is not the work of the Church, it is the very heart of the Church. Without prayer there is no connection with God, no seeking His face, no being led by His Spirit. Without prayer, all the labors of the Church are in vain. So let us then ask the Lord to teach us to pray; and may we know the great power of prayer as it is working (James 5:16).

I’ve added here some of the bullet points from the opening chapter of D.A. Carsons, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Prioritiees from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Books, 1992, Grand Rapids, MI) Digital Copy.

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. we will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.
  2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift. Vocalize your prayers, pray over the scriptures, make prayer lists, journal your prayers – find ways to keep your mind focused on the act of prayer.
  3. At varies periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer partnership. Seek someone to teach you to pray, or someone you can teach. Prayer-partner relationships are as valuable for the discipline, accountability and regularity they engender as for the lessons that are shared.
  4. Choose models – but choose them well. Listen to others pray. Read books of prayer. Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction – but do not ape their idiom.
  5. Develop a system for prayer lists. Whatever the system, use prayer lists.
  6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many request as possible to Scripture. One of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. Public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying.
  8. Pray until you pray. Pray long enough and honestly enough that you get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attend not a little praying.

He Came for our Shame

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
(Genesis 2:25)

I seem to be raising an exhibitionist.  I want to protect his identity, so I won’t reveal which child, but one of my little boys (under 7) apparently has no sense of shame.  He’ll run through the house naked, having “forgotten” to bring his clean pajamas and underwear down for after his shower, never giving a second thought to his, ahem… current state of affairs.  I’m praying, hoping, that someday here soon he will develop a sense of modesty and dignity – we’ll see.

I only mention this because I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the story of the fall.  We read in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we are told that their “eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”  The next thing we know, Adam and Eve are sewing fig leaves together, hiding from the sound of the Lord walking in the garden.  They hid in fear, for they knew they had disobeyed God, and they knew the consequence of such disobedience: death.  They made loincloths to cover their shame, a shame they did not know up to that point.

Where did this sense of shame come from?  They were naked before and knew no shame.  God created them, male and female, and God called His creation good.  Why they are they ashamed of their bodies?  Was there some physical change that suddenly made them shameful?  Did the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil add 50 pounds, fast?  If that were the case, then all we would need to do to lose this shame is return to the ideal physical form, whatever that may be.  While I could stand to lose a few pounds, I don’t think that will take away my shame before God.  So what were they ashamed of?

Donald Barnhouse writes in his commentary on Genesis, “It was not skin nakedness that they discovered, but the nakedness of their dead souls… When sin came there was nothing left of righteousness and they were naked indeed.  We must not think of this as a change from blissful innocence of nakedness to a conscious knowledge of it, but from glory to nudity.”

Their shame came from the loss of glory, and while they had always been physically naked, now there was a spiritual nakedness, too.  This was not an embarrassment over a lack of clothing.  It came from deep within, from a fear of exposure, of being really seen, known as a sinner, a rebel from the ways of God.  I think this is a shame we all share.  We know our sins, they are ever before us.  While it would be humiliating to be exposed physically before others, to have my soul laid bare before God and man is truly terrifying.

D.A. Carson writes in The God who was There, “You cannot hide moral shame with fig leaves… You cannot undo the loss of innocence. It cannot be undone.  We cover ourselves in shame.  There is no way back to innocence.  In the Bible, there is only a way forward – to the cross.”

You see, even in the fall we have a glimpse of the Gospel.  God provides a cover for Adam and Eve’s sin and shame with garments of skin (Gen 3:21), presumably that of a lamb.  The first sacrifice for our sins was made by God.  And the final, perfect, sacrifice for our sins, to finally remove the guilt and shame, would also be made by God.

John tells us that in Christ, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  That very thing which brings us shame, the flesh, the body, Christ took upon Himself so that He could take our shame away.  1 Peter 2 says, “He has borne our sins in His body upon the cross.”  Isaiah 53:4 says, “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow.”  Every consequence of sin has been put upon Christ and has been answered in Him as well.  The debt has been paid.  Sin in has been atoned.  The dividing wall of hostility has been torn down.  The chains have been broken.  Death has been defeated.  Judgment has been satisfied.

He came in the flesh to take away our guilt and shame, not so that we can go back to being naked, but so that we could be further clothed in glory (2 Cor 3:18, 5:4).  The glory for which we were created, the glory we lost in sin, the glory whose absence is our shame, has been restored and magnified in our Savior Jesus Christ.  When we come to Him in faith, laying down the “fig-leaf” attempts at self-righteousness and trust in His perfect, complete, and eternal righteousness, then we will begin to know the freedom from guilt and shame deep in our souls.

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood;
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

SDG