4. Do you give yourself to prayer?

A relationship in which people do not speak to each other will not last long.  Silence is as deadly to a relationship as verbal combat.  Such basic wisdom is often not applied to our relationship with God.  He addresses us constantly in Scripture, and we must respond in prayer.  As we continue our spiritual check-up we ask: 4.  Do you give yourself to prayer?

1. The ‘WHY’ of prayer

Christians generally find prayer hard work.  We need solid reasons for making the effort and giving ourselves to prayer:

(i) God’s nature.  The power of prayer lies not in us but in the One to whom we pray.  Note:

God is sovereign.  ‘He does whatever pleases him’ (Psalm 135:6).  He is able to do all that he wills.  This is a powerful motivator – nothing we ask is too big.

– God is gracious.  We focus on Christ, in whom ‘we have everything we need for life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3).  Hence the promise of Philippians 4:19 ‘meet all your needs’.

(ii) Our need.  The greatest obstacle to a healthy prayer life is the lack of a sense of need of the Lord’s provision.  Paul asks, ‘What do you have that you did not receive?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7).  Both material and spiritual help come under the ‘daily bread’ of Matthew 6:11.  Prayer is not a substitute for work (where possible), but it acknowledges our need and mortifies pride.

2. The ‘WHAT’ of prayer

Verses such as 1 John 3:22 are not a blank cheque to obtain anything we desire.  Note John 14:14 ‘ask me for anything in my name’ – requesting what accords with his nature and plan.  His name is not a magic charm to get whatever we want.  Also we must pray ‘according to his will’ (1 John 5:14).  We may not know his will in the details of life, but Scripture directs us on the big issues.  It is not wrong to pray ‘if it is your will’.  Note ‘things agreeable to his will’ (S. Catechism Q98).  We have a vast field for prayer and that encourages big petitions.

3. The ‘HOW’ of prayer

(i) Confession.  Our disobedience blocks answers to prayer (e.g. James 4:3).  We must be as sure as we can of the purity of our motives.  Confession of sin is part of a healthy prayer life.

(ii) Faith.  Prayer expresses trust in Christ and his promises.  We rest in promises such as Philippians 4:19.  Praying by the Word strengthens faith and removes uncertainty.

(iii) Dependence.  We depend especially on the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18).  We are to pray empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, or prayer will soon flag.

(iv) Thanksgiving.  It is right and necessary to give thanks for blessings received.  It also encourages future praying – Philippians 4:6 ‘by prayer and petition with thanksgiving’.  If the Lord is the centre of our attention, thanksgiving will flow naturally.

3. Do you long to be like Jesus?

It is often striking how alike members of the same family can be.  They may share particular characteristics over several generations, including traits of character.  The family likeness can be quite obvious.  In the family of God, his children are to share God’s likeness, particularly Christ’s likeness.  So in our check-up we come to 3. Do you long to be like Jesus?

1. The pattern

Those who are saved by grace (see Ephesians 2:8) are to be – and will be – transformed.  Note:

(i) Jesus the perfect man.  The church must be careful to assert the full humanity of Jesus.  He still has a body and soul like ours, with the single exception of sin.  Thus in order to save us, ‘he had to be made like his brothers in every way’ (Hebrews 2:16), including temptation (Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus is everything that humanity was created to be, and so he is the perfect pattern to which we are to be conformed.

(ii) Jesus our example.  The redemptive work of Jesus is unique, but in all other respects his life is the perfect example of loving conformity to God’s law (1 Peter 1:19).  The desire of all God’s children is to be like their elder brother, Jesus.  Note 1 John 2:6 ‘Whoever claims to live like him must walk as Jesus walked’.  He is our ‘example’ (1 Peter 2:21).  This is clear in his command in John 15:12 ‘Love each other as I have loved you’.

2. The progress

Central to Christian living is the command of 1 Peter 1:15 ‘just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do’.  Holiness is to be understood in terms of likeness to Christ.  This is Paul’s theme in 2 Corinthians 3:18 – progressive sanctification as the Holy Spirit reproduces in us the likeness of the Saviour.  Ultimately this is God’s work: ‘it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’ (Philippians 2:13).  Galatians 5:22-23 on ‘the fruit of the Spirit’, describes for us the character of Jesus which is to be increasingly evident in us.  The Lord’s chief concern is with the heart – the centre of our being, including our thoughts, motives and feelings (see e.g. Proverbs 4:23).  God is concerned first with our being and then with the doing that flows from it.  What kind of heart do you have?  We must not fail to see that we have a duty to be active in this transformation, by the Spirit’s enabling.  We must use the means of grace that the Lord provides, including feeding on the Word.

3. The perfection

In our battle with sin, we have the encouragement that the Lord will complete his work:

(i) In the present.  Romans 6:14 ‘sin shall not be your master’.  Christ is our Lord and he will remake us in his likeness.  We are not doomed to perpetual defeat.

(ii) In the future.  Our souls are perfected at death – ‘spirits of righteous men made perfect’ (Hebrews 12:23) and at the Lord’s return ‘we shall be like him’ (1 John 3:2-3), body and soul.

2. Do you feed on Scripture?

As we pursue our Spiritual Check-up, God does not leave us in the dark regarding the marks of a healthy Christian life.  We are not to be influenced by the attitudes and values of the culture around us, or we may come to think that the busier we are, the healthier we must be.  Today we turn to consider something that is vital for growth: 2.  Do you feed on Scripture?

1. Why should you feed on Scripture?

Once new life has begun by the work of the Holy Spirit, we are to grow spiritually, and in order to grow we need food.  The Lord has provided spiritual food for his people in Scripture (Psalm 111:5).  Two reasons why we should feed on Scripture:

(i) Scripture is God-breathed.  We feed on Scripture because of the kind of book the Bible is.  The Bible is utterly unique – ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16).  The entire Bible has its origin in God.  As 2 Peter 1:19 tells us, the written word of Scripture is even more sure than the voice of God on the mountain of transfiguration.  Note 2 Peter 1:21 ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’  What Scripture says, God says.

(ii) Scripture is transforming.  That is so in 2 fundamental ways:

  1. In conversion: Often the Spirit uses the Word in vital ways as he brings sinners to conversion (see 1 Peter 1:23).  He applies the Word to awaken and draw sinners to Christ.
  2. In sanctification.  As the Spirit transforms us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18) he applies the Word powerfully to stir a hatred of sin and a desire for holiness.  Psalm 19:7-8 describes the practical transforming effect of the Word.

2. How should you feed on Scripture?

(i) With prayer.  This is essential.  Much of Scripture is beyond our natural capacities (see 2 Peter 3:16) but we have the ministry of the Spirit to enable us to understand and obey.  Prayer is a cry for the help of the Spirit.  Psalm 119:18 is a good prayer to use before Bible study.

(ii) With humility.  We come as humble learners, not as masters of the Word.  This means submitting our intellects to the authority of Scripture, not setting ourselves up as judges of what we are willing to accept.  We should take Samuel’s words in 1 Samuel 3:10 as our own.

(iii) With eagerness.  It is a mark of grace in our hearts when we delight in God’s Word.  There are many examples in the psalms – such as Psalm 119:97.  There is to be no half-hearted engagement with the Word.  Our attitude to Scripture shows our attitude to God.

(iv) With obedience.  Obedience is frequently commanded in Scripture.  James 1:22 ‘be doers of the word, and not hearers only’.  To be a hearer only is ‘deceiving yourselves’.  It is dangerously easy to substitute listening alone for receiving and acting on the Word.  There ought to be increasing obedience alongside increasing understanding.  This is rooted in love: ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands’ (1 John 5:3) – a good test of spiritual health.

1. Do you love the Lord?

We have been living through testing times, internationally, nationally and personally.  We have the assurance that God is sovereign in these events.  As professing Christians we may have found our faith challenged and tested.  We may well have had fresh experiences of God’s grace.  As we begin a new, and different, season of work, this is a good time to take stock.  In the coming weeks we will undertake a Spiritual Check-up, examining ourselves in the light of God’s Word.  We begin with 1. Do you love the Lord?

1. Do you love him because he saved you?

In Psalm 116:1 the psalmist recounts his experience of God’s grace.  When he was at the end of his resources, he cried out to the Lord who heard and delivered him.  We are right to apply the psalmist’s words to the great issues of sin and salvation.  The biggest question we all have to face is – are you saved?  This is a matter of eternal life and eternal death.  Whatever our bodily and mental health may be, the Bible tells us clearly that spiritually our natural condition is death: ‘dead in your transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1).  Into this grim situation comes the Good News of the gospel – ‘believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31).  The work of the Son of God in his life, death and resurrection has provided all that is necessary for sinners’ salvation and it is the fruit of God’s eternal love for sinners.  1 John 4:19 tells believers, ‘We love because he first loved us’.  As we experience God’s love in Christ, we are set free to love him (and others).  Any claim to be a Christian is empty unless it is accompanied by love for the Lord.

2. Do you love him because he provides for you?

Christians are able to address God as ‘Our father in heaven’ (Matthew 6:9).  As a perfect father, he knows and provides for all the needs of his children, much more than an earthly father (Matthew 7:11).  This is ‘God who provides us with everything for our enjoyment’ (1 Timothy 6:17).  In response we are filled with love and thankfulness for the supply we have in Christ (Psalm 31:23).  The test of the genuineness of our love is – do we love him when he disciplines us in love (Hebrews 12:6).  We do not love only when his provision is easy to accept.  This is true also in trials – James 1:2.  In all circumstances God’s promise is ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Are we growing in love for him?

3. Do you show your love for him by obedience?

The Bible makes clear that a profession of love for the Lord is empty unless there is solid evidence for that claim.  That evidence is obedience.  The Bible never sees any tension or contradiction between loving the Lord and obeying him.  Jesus tells his disciples, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (John14:15).  In one sense this is a statement – this is what will flow from loving him.  It is also a command, coming with the full authority of the Lord – this is what we must do.  We must not fall into the error of the Pharisees.  They were outstanding keepers of the law, yet Jesus condemned them (Mark 7:6).  Mere outward keeping of the rules is insufficient.  The obedience the Lord requires flows from love (1 John 5:3).  Here is a good test to apply as we take stock spiritually: is our love shown in obedience?