Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to Pray – 1 Tim 2:8

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. (NASB)

Praying Men

Paul previously urged Timothy to have prayers made for all men but especially for kings and people in authority. After reflection on the reasons for prayer – so that we can live quiet lives, that people will get saved and know the truth that Jesus is our only mediator with God – he continues the thought of prayer adding some important things. First of all, he is addressing men. This is not a generic request of men and women; he is speaking specifically to men. He has some specific instructions for women next. This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be praying or can’t apply this to themselves, but I think he had to address men because they were lacking in this area more than women were. It seems to me that this is still the case.

Most men are lacking in prayer. We do good job in public prayers but Paul is asking us to pray in every place, not just when there is a worship service and someone prays during the meeting. Matt 6:5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (NKJV) I fall into this trap all the time when I’m praying with others. I often pray hoping that what I say will sound spiritual and right to the others. I forget that I’m speaking to God and that the others are just listening. Even if I get past that trap, I then have a problem wanting to impress the others in how well I know what God wants me to pray – how spiritual I am. I generally don’t have a problem praying long prayers as some do. They can go on and on but that makes me want to be able to do the same. I feel spiritually inadequate to continue as they do. Then there are those that can lace their prayers quoting Scripture. I can easily become envious of the way others pray.

Have you ever prayed a sermon? This happens when I have heard another pray or say something before prayer that sounds a bit weird, completely wrong, or admit to a sin. I feel the need in my prayer to correct the other’s theology, rebuke, or instruct him in godly living when I pray. Am I any different from this Pharisee when I do this? Luke 18:11-12 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” (RSV) I’ve missed the point of prayer.

Does anyone else have problems like this when you pray? Do you want your prayers to be right, do you want to impress others with your spirituality; do you envy the way others pray; do you want to correct others? I wouldn’t be surprised if many do. The problem is that when I’m praying with any of these attitudes, then I’m a hypocrite. I’ve lost my focus on my Father in heaven and have put it on me. I’m more concerned with me than I am with communicating with my Father.

Places of Prayer

Paul said that in all places we should be praying. As I looked up some cross references to this verse, I ran across some interesting places that people have prayed. In 2 Chron 33:11-13, Manasseh prayed in his distress as a captive in Assyria. There are multiple places in the Psalms where the writer calls out in distress. Jeremiah felt he was in the depth of the pit when he cried to the Lord in Lam 3:55-56. Jonah cried out from the belly of fish in Jonah 2:1-2. The thief on the cross prayed at that last minute in Luke 23:42. In each of these cases, God hears and delivers. The thief didn’t get physical rescue, but eternal rescue. Jeremiah was given comfort and Manasseh had his kingdom restored. God is good!

One problem that men often have is that we only pray from a place of distress as these verses demonstrate. While it is quite appropriate to call on the Lord in our distress, that should not be the only time. We also need to learn to call on the Lord when we are blessed or when we are worshiping. 2 Chron 6:12-42 is Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple. Or consider David’s prayer, Ps 141:4 Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies. (NIV) As men, this may be one place where we don’t pray often enough, a place where we acknowledge our sinful hearts and ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptations.

Of course, there are also physical places we can pray. Many are accustomed to pray only when they are in church while others may be so legalistic that they will only pray in private. Matt 6:6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (NKJV) I certainly don’t think that Jesus intended this to mean that we never have public or group prayers. I think of Peter when he was sinking. He didn’t hesitate to call for help and Jesus didn’t rebuke him and tell him to call out in private. We should be praying wherever we are, whether it is at home, at work, relaxing, or any other place.

Another way to look at places to pray is with others, especially with our families. This is probably another place where most men fail to pray. I’ve talked to men who simply will not pray with their wives because they don’t want to reveal how they are praying for their spouses. If you can’t tell your spouse what you have asked God for on her behalf, then you have a serious problem in your marriage that needs to be resolved.

Men also may not want to pray with their children because they may appear flawed, weak, or hypocritical. Instructing your young son or daughter how to pray for forgiveness when we have sinned against them can be very convicting.

Holy Hands

God says that He will not pay attention to the prayers of people who are sinning. Isa 1:15-17 When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. (NKJV) This isn’t the case of an occasional sin but it is the habit and disposition of a person who is ignoring God’s clear direction in how to live.

What does it mean to have blood on my hands? Can I excuse myself because I haven’t killed anyone or maimed anyone? Jesus made it clear that this goes well beyond physically killing anyone. Matt 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (NIV) In this context, I have blood on my hands if I’m simply a person who is easily angered by another. If I’m so concerned about my rights and interests that I become angry when I don’t get my way or I’m inconvenienced or even insulted, then I am no different in God’s eyes as a murder. Saying “Raca” to someone was calling him worthless. Calling someone a fool calls into question his morality. In these verses, Jesus makes it clear that putting someone down in these ways is just as bad as murder. Angry, sarcastic, or verbally abusive people have blood on their hands.

When we entertain evil, we don’t have holy hands either. Doing evil is such a broad subject that God gave a few examples of how to do good. Note also, that He said we need to learn to do good. These things don’t come naturally. Our human nature is to do evil. Even after we come to Christ and have the Holy Spirit in us, we need to learn how to do good. We need to yield to the Holy Spirit and change our minds. Eph 4:23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; (NIV)

We have to change our minds about justice. We can’t just seek justice with our old minds or it will lead to more injustice. We have to understand and know what God teaches about justice. He has filled the Bible with expressions of how to do it. In Isa 1:17 above, He provides three examples. Rebuke the oppressor or as other versions state, encourage the oppressed. This is more than just giving a handout to a person in need. It is developing ongoing ways to help those in need and finding ways of helping them rise above their circumstances.

Defend the fatherless, those who don’t have a voice in society to help themselves. Plead for the widow or those who have no means of supporting themselves. I would plead with those who are wealthy beyond measure when compared to most of the world but are so afraid of paying taxes that they are willing to oppress those on the lower rungs of society. Please be generous.

Certainly, there are some who take advantage of government programs. However, eliminating or severely cutting back on programs for this reason hurts many who have no other sources of help. When the Word says to seek justice and to pay taxes, how can I justify cutting taxes when the need is so great?

Without Wrath and Dissention

Obviously, there are going to be different opinions of how to bring about justice, how to be holy in this corrupt world. Paul’s final words in his command are to pray without anger and disputing. I can make my opinions known, but I must do it without anger. Each of us would think that those who oppose our views are evil and that our anger is righteous, but I doubt it. To refrain from getting angry, I need to remind myself what David did. Ps 37:7 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. (NASB) Instead of becoming angry, I need to do what I can to relieve suffering and pain in the world. I continually need to tell people that God is in control and that when we fix our eyes on Jesus for our salvation, we will eventually see true justice.

When the majority establishes laws, I must go along with them unless it violates God’s commands and causes me to sin. I must support the government whether it is increasing taxes or cutting back on programs for the helpless. If I have the abilities and I’m called by God, I must work within the government or run for office. I certainly must examine the issues in view of God’s Word and vote with His worldview and not any of man’s worldviews.

Determining the difference between God’s worldview and man’s is probably the one thing that causes most of the dissention. I pray that someday we would all have the unity of the Spirit to be able to pray without dissention.

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