|RPM, Volume 11, Number 52, December 27 2009 to January 2 2010|
Mark Dever serves as the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. A Duke graduate, Dr. Dever holds a M.Div. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Th.M. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Ecclesiastical History from Cambridge University. He is the president of 9Marks Ministries and has taught at a number of seminaries. Dr. Dever has also authored several books and articles. He and his wife Connie live and minister on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.Prayer is a matter that most of us readily endorse but, in reality, think of too little. I'm not talking about prayer in general, but prayer in the life and ministry of the pastor.
In the only letter we have from Jesus' brother Jude, we find a passionate warning against false teachers who were invading and beguiling the church. Jude writes scathingly of them. After he describes and dismisses them, he turns in verse 20 to contrast the true Christians, and true leaders of the church, with these unspiritual men.
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in our most holy faith and pray in the Spirit."
Jude's great concern throughout this letter was that the church (or churches) be protected from false teaching and be built up in the truth. At the end of Jude, in verse 20, we read, "and pray in the Holy Spirit." There are many places in the New Testament where Christians are exhorted like this to pray. (See Ephesians 6:18; James 5:16; and Romans 8:26—27). Why is that? There must be a reason for such prayer to be so frequently mentioned and urged in the pages of the New Testament. It must suggest to us something of the importance of prayer.
Now, this praying in the Holy Spirit isn't a special kind of praying in tongues, or in particular ecstasy, that some Christians do and that others do not. This is, rather, the special kind of praying that true Christians do, that these false teachers do not. This is praying in light of the Holy Spirit's power and the Holy Spirit's will. This is praying in line with God's express desires and with the truth of His gospel. This praying is in contrast with the false teachers, who, according to verse 19, do not even have the Spirit.
The battle against such false teaching, such divisions, such sin as these Christians faced could not be won on their own. They could not simply argue the church into being built up. God Himself must be involved in building the church, and so they needed to entreat Him for His aid and guidance, His presence and power with them. Christianity isn't simply a mind game; it's not just convincing yourself through argument or emotion. Rather, it is a matter of genuinely and really living in God. We Christians don't look at the world through rose-colored glasses, ignoring reality, just hoping there is a supreme being. No! We live as we do because we are in fellowship with that God, because we know Him and live with Him.
Prayer focuses us on our dependence on God. Once, when Martin Luther's puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master. As Luther watched his dog begging, the dog's mouth open and eyes motionless, Luther said, "Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope" (Luther's Tabletalk, May 18, 1532).
Believing prayer praises God as faithful, trustworthy, caring, worthwhile, and good. It suggests that He has a real and important track record with us. It acknowledges that our ministry really has come from Him and will be returned to Him. It shows that we recognize Him as the Great Shepherd, that any flock we ever tend is His flock, and that we will, as Hebrews says, give account to Him for each of His sheep in that flock.
And in those times when you're discouraged, brothers, go to God. One of my favorite Christian books is John Bunyan's autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. At one point, Bunyan recounts Satan's attempts to discourage him from praying. Here is Bunyan's account, in his own words:
Now while the Scriptures lay before me, and laid sin anew at my door, that saying in Luke xviii.1, with others, did encourage me to prayer; then the tempter again laid at me very sore, suggesting, "That neither the mercy of God, nor yet the blood of Christ, did at all concern me, nor could they help me for my sin; therefore it was but in vain to pray." Yet, thought I, "I will pray." "But, said the tempter, your sin is unpardonable." "Well, said I, I will pray." "It is to no boot, said he." "Yet, said I, I will pray." So I went to prayer with God; and while I was at prayer, I uttered "Lord, Satan tells me, that neither thy mercy, nor Christ's blood is sufficient to save my soul; Lord, shall I honour thee most, by believing thou wilt, and canst? or him, by believing that thou neither wilt, nor canst?" Lord, I would fain honour thee, by believing that thou wilt, and canst.
May God give us such perseverance in prayer!
To build ourselves and others up in our most holy faith we, as pastors and ministers of the Word, should certainly and especially give ourselves privately and publicly and regularly to pray in the Holy Spirit.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.|
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