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The heart of prayer

October 2015 | by Barry Loeber

The Lord’s Prayer or family prayer, which our Saviour taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, goes straight to what the heart of prayer is.

Calling upon God as ‘Our Father’ shows us that prayer to the Christian is never a cold, abstract form, but an intimate encounter with our father God. This is what prayer is all about; it is the heartbeat of the Christian life.

We may live the outward life, but are we living the inward life? We may be actively involved in the works of the church, but are we actively involved in the work of prayer? We may spend lots of time in the church building, but do we spend lots of time at the throne of grace?

These may be searching questions, but we need to be serious with our souls. Almighty God has been pleased to saturate us with his mercy and grace, and to give his only Son as a sacrifice for our sin. The least we can do is to show and express our thanks and appreciation to our heavenly Father in prayer.

There seems to be so many ‘celebrities’ today receiving knighthoods and other awards, but, we have received something far greater than these. We have been granted ‘sainthood’ through the merits of our Redeemer’s work on the cross. What an honour and blessing!

We who once were far off from God have been brought nigh by the blood of Christ. And will we not draw near to our heavenly Father and give him the praises of our hearts?

Walking with God

How close are we walking with God this very day? Are we close enough to hear that ‘still, small voice’, or are we too far off and living at a distance?

Is the fire of love ablaze in our hearts, or have we allowed it to become a smoking flax? I believe my family and friends would start talking if, every time they saw me walking with my wife, they observed that I was always 100 yards in front.

They would count it a strange thing and surely start to question our relationship. They would without exception be concerned for us and our marriage.

Well, what about us and God? Is it not the case that we are often walking ahead of him? Are we lagging behind in communion and fellowship with him? Are we so busy in our lives that we are not being still and knowing that he is God?

Have we allowed the affairs of life to interfere with our relationship with God? Are we looking out for our brothers and sisters in our fellowship? Are we noticing those whose Sabbath attendance has become irregular?

Are pastors and elders observing those who are gradually drifting away from the work of the Lord? Are they allowing worldliness to creep into the house of God?

Are we Christians slow to realise that so many buildings where the church once gathered to listen to the Word of God and sing God’s praises are now just a blot on the landscape, or being converted into houses and flats?

We must not be so naive to think that it could not happen to ‘our church’. Let us maintain our relationship and walk with God, whatever the cost and consequences.

Relationship to heaven

Our Saviour tells his disciples (us) to pray to ‘Our Father in heaven’. Jesus Christ laid down his life to secure for us a place in our Father’s kingdom. He is now preparing us a room or mansion in our Father’s kingdom.

When we come to prayer, we are temporarily leaving the things of this world behind and concentrating on things far higher and greater. We may be praying in a room of our home, but real prayer brings us into the court of heaven.

Fervent prayer forgets our surroundings and fills us with the wonder and splendour of heaven. The seeking of God’s face in prayer is surely a great remedy for the spirit of worldliness that can sap each one of us.

We are deceiving ourselves if we say that the things of this life do not easily drag us away from the place of prayer. I am not here talking about legitimate things, of course. But, even legitimate things must have second place when it comes to prayer.           

Prayer breathes life and vitality into our spiritual being. Without constant prayer we will become second-rate Christians. Some of us spend much time looking after our car. We endeavour to make sure it receives proper maintenance; we clean and polish so that it sparkles and shines. Well, prayer helps us to be purposeful Christians. It makes us ‘shine like the stars in the universe’.

Having the right attitude to prayer enables us to find the balance between heaven and earth. We will make every effort to do the things that are pleasing and honouring to our heavenly Father while in this world. We will ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ and live to please our Father in heaven.

Reverence to God

Acknowledging almighty God as ‘our Father in heaven’ will also foster the reverence towards God that we need to be expressing in our Christian lives and in the life of the church. Whenever we enter our Father’s company, we should do so in an appropriate manner.

Stuart Olyott says: ‘We need to ask whether our own generation takes such teaching seriously. There is now hardly a church anywhere which has not imported into its worship some element which is not approved by God’s Word.

‘In our worship we should not be in a hurry to speak. We should solemnly recall the enormity of what we are doing. God is in heaven; we are nothing more than creatures on earth.

‘When we remember this, we will quickly see that there is no merit in pouring out words of worship. A few sincere words are much more in keeping’.

C. H. Spurgeon says: ‘Our Father and yet in heaven: in heaven and yet our Father. May his name be treated reverently, and may all that is about him — his Word and his gospel — be regarded with the deepest awe’.

Reverence is certainly lacking in many churches today. Sadly, young Christians in many of those churches are not being set the right example; and this will continue to spread down the generations.

Let us stop the rot from continuing, by living reverential lives. Reverence is needed in greater measure by us all. A right understanding of the heart of prayer will help remedy this condition and will bring the solution that our Christian lives, churches and society so desperately needs.

Barry Loeber is deacon of world mission at Gateway Baptist Church, Burgess Hill