I'm learning more and more about prayer, simply because I have been desperate to pray.
Sometimes it can rub me the wrong way when people speak of "prayer" as though it is a mysterious phenomenon that must be studied and analyzed. It seems to me there was a children's song once which simply expressed that prayer is talking to God.
Prayer is talking to God.
Obviously, the better we know Him, the more fluently we can talk to Him. Yet, how do we get to know Him, except by talking to Him, and listening to Him, and reading His word in pursuit of hearing from Him?
In any relationship, you have to start somewhere.
***It's going to seem as though I am digressing for a minute here.***
I lean towards Amillennialism. I'd say that I'm about 85% Amillennial. There are a few points of the position that, for me, don't seem to stack up. However, for the most part I operate as an Amillennialist, and in practical terms, that means I believe this:
1) We should expect to suffer. I believe that the Bible teaches that Christians will be present for the times of tribulation at the end of history (not mysteriously "raptured" away). This calls for preparation to persevere through times of difficulty and persecution (John 16:33). We should expect to suffer, and if we don't end up suffering, we can be exceedingly grateful, but in any case, we should be prepared. We must not panic in times of suffering, but hold firm in our faith in God's sovereign power and perfect plan, which He will bring to pass for His glory and our blessed benefit.
2) God's people are defined by their faith. In case that isn't clear, I'll say it again, in a slightly different way: Faith is the defining attribute of God's people. I believe that true believers are The Church, which is also the same as True Israel: those who walk by faith in God. There are many who call themselves Israelites who are not people of God by faith. There are also many who claim church affiliation who are not people of God by faith. The people of God are people who believe that He exists (Hebrews 11:1, 6), that His promises are true (Psalm 145:13), and that the culmination of His promises is found in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Whether you have a drop of Jewish blood in your genetics, or you were baptised as a baby, confirmed in a church at age 12, or have your name on a genealogy or a membership roll somewhere, these things are basically immaterial in terms of whether you are counted as one of God's people. God's people are defined by their faith (see Romans, especially chapters 2-4 and 9-11, or try Galatians 3:29).
3) The Holy Spirit is God's manifestation of Himself to us in this age. I believe that the age in which we are now living is very likely (although not definitely) the Millennium. By that, I mean that we live in a special situation unlike any other past situation in history: we have access to God, fellowship with God, at all times, through the Holy Spirit who is among us and actually dwells inside the bodies and minds of those who have placed their faith in God through Jesus Christ. Christ reigns in glory, having overcome the power of evil through His death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:19-23). We are somehow, mysteriously, spiritually seated with Jesus in the heavenlies now (Ephesians 2:6). We reign with Him right now, in a hard-to-perceive spiritual sense, through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit, who anoints our hearts and guarantees our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13-14), while giving us a foretaste of the glory to come (Romans 8:23). This may be hard to understand, particularly because it isn't the way many churches have taught it for the past 175-200 years (which is sort of a long time, but not really, when you consider that Jesus lived 2000 years ago). However, I believe that the age of the church is the promised age of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27, John 16:5-15, Joel 2:28-32, Ezekiel 36:25-27), and quite possibly the Millennium as well. It seems to me, that the reign of Christ in the Millennium could be the reign of the Holy Spirit of Christ in the world, through the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), after His victory has been won, but before He has drawn the curtain to close history and bring an end to opportunities for people to receive His great salvation (2 Peter 3:9).
Now, all this talk of eschatology may seem esoteric and impractical when I am really supposedly talking about prayer. But hang with me, because it isn't impractical at all, and it absolutely should not be esoteric.
It's about the Holy Spirit.
We are so ignorant about the Holy Spirit. Of course, this plays right into the enemy's hands; it's exactly the way he wants us to be: ignorant of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our key to victory! The Holy Spirit provides access and communion and fellowship with God. The Holy Spirit is our source of power, wisdom and strength. The Holy Spirit enables us to understand what the Bible says. The Holy Spirit is God, as He makes Himself manifest to us in the age in which we live. Of course the enemy wants us not to understand the truth about the Holy Spirit!
In my observation, it seems there are two ways that churches approach the idea of the Holy Spirit--
The first is a sensationalized approach. Some groups seek all kinds of exciting and dramatic events where the Holy Spirit supposedly comes into a fellowship and makes people shake, fall down, holler out strange sounding articulations, jump up and down after miraculous healings, click, beep and faint. Now, I am not going to say (as some folks do) that all supernatural activity has ceased in our time, and the Holy Spirit never does anything sensational. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit heals people, even today, and I figure He can do anything else He cares to do, sensational or otherwise. However, I believe God is most pleased with orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). I don't think God's purposes are generally best served by seeking drama and sensation rather than truth and love. It is good to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit, but He should be appreciated for the truth He reveals about Christ (John 16:14-15), not for circus tricks.
This leads us to the second way that churches approach the Holy Spirit, which is to say: they don't. They see the odd behavior of the people who are always trying to conjure up a healing, or speak in tongues, or be slain in the Spirit, and they say, "Nope. We don't do that. No Holy Spirit here. We just stick with Jesus."
The travesty, then, is how they discount Jesus' own teaching before He died, that it was best for Him to leave, so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7). Jesus died to cleanse us by His blood so that the Holy Spirit could be loose and at large in the world, whereas before the Great Sacrifice, God's presence had to remain hidden in the deepest recesses of the temple. Jesus died to atone for sin, so the temple veil could tear and the Holy Spirit could come out. This was better because Jesus, clothed in the flesh of a human body, was limited by time and space, but the Holy Spirit has no such limits. He is omnipresent. He is with and in and around every believer, and He will never leave nor forsake any one of us.
The Holy Spirit is God with us, our Immanuel in our age. He is unfathomably important! He is our Comforter, our Advocate, our Guide. He is the Spirit of Christ in us, the light that shows us the way, the bread that nourishes us, the power and the hope that sustain us.
Jesus promised that the Lord would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Him (Luke 11:13). That is a specific promise from the mouth of God. You can take that one to the bank. If you pray and ask the Lord to give you the Holy Spirit, to fill you with His Holy Spirit, He will. He flat out, straight up, absolutely will. He may or may not give you a job, or a good grade, or a spouse, or a child, or a vacation, but He will give you the Holy Spirit if you ask Him to.
(Are you starting to see what this has to do with prayer?)
I wrote, not so long ago, about all Jesus' promises to give us whatever we ask in His name. I pondered on these verses, these promises.
My meditations led me to a breakthrough in my prayer life. This is it: I can pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me, pour into me and help me and lead me. When I am at my wits' end, I can get alone with God and simply pray Romans 15:13, and wait for His presence to envelop and comfort me. And then, then when I am surrendered to Him, breathing His words, focused and waiting, then I can ask Him to lead me by His Spirit to pray for what it is that He wants to give me. When I do this, I know that He will give me what He leads me to ask for, just as He has promised.
And pray in the Spirit
on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert
and always keep on praying for all the saints.
~Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)