Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
Prayer is something God has given the Christian. As we learn about prayer and put that into practice, it becomes a valuable discipline for life. That value will be our emphasis in this first installment. Four passages will enable us to review this discipline.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Concerning the book of Hebrews, the Christians who first received this epistle were living under intense pressure of persecution. They were being tempted to move away from Christ; to drift away and to neglect their initial commitment; in some cases, to just walk away, back into their former religion of enslavement.
Well here is something God gave them that they were able to do for help and strength – and this implies and certainly includes prayer.
Look with me at the last phrase in the verse: “….help in time of need…”
I don’t know anybody who can’t identify with this phrase: “HELP IN TIME OF NEED.”
Whatever the specific personal need is, there is this discipline God has given to His people with this invitation, to draw near to the throne of grace.
The need may be a very visible physical illness or injury. It may be some interpersonal conflict that just doesn’t seem to arrive at any resolution. It may be a nagging evil thought. It may be internal pressure to compromise.
It may some burden we carry concerning people we love, who are hurting … or who are lost in sin. I can’t possibly list all the needs, all the issues and problems that nag at us inside. The stress and worries and temptations and wretched fear we may suffer.
God says to His people – Tell me about it! Through Christ – you can approach Me! By the way, ancient peoples did not commonly think of approaching kings. Certainly, not with any boldness or confidence. But that’s what the faithful can do, because of our participation and response to Jesus Christ. We are Christians!
While maintaining a healthy fear and reverence, we are able to approach this throne of grace. God gives us this as a discipline we can use every day. In time of need there is help from the highest source. As to the nature of that help – mark these two words in the verse: “grace” and “mercy.” It is not just a verbal rant, or an unleashing of rage or merely some imprecation. It is not like modern therapy – where you spill your guts and feel better.
God offers Grace and Mercy, to help in time of need. To receive mercy, in this context – is to get help, though you never deserve such consideration – GOD IS GRACIOUS TO HIS PEOPLE. It is a spiritual discipline God provides for us that is always available.
The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray. - Samuel Chadwick (1832–1917)
Here’s the way I want us to think about this. Think of a suffering prisoner, who is the victim of hostile persecution writing a letter to you, to tell you how to cope with your stress!
Let that sink in. You are being counseled by a prisoner. Paul wrote from prison to Christians, with instruction for real life; real life back then in Philippi and real life today, here.
“Do not be anxious about anything.” Now – if Paul had just said this much, we wouldn’t take it well! Have you ever had sometime tell you: Just get over it!
Like hearing those four words is some sort of powerful remedy? How do I get over it? What specific measures can I take? And we may sometimes want to say to people who are so free with their quick advice - - Don’t just tell me not to do something; tell me what I need to do instead!
Paul doesn’t just say, “Don’t do this.” He says, “don’t do this …. instead, do this.”
Now look back at the verse: “do not be anxious about anything …. BUT, in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
Don’t just sit there and marinate in your anxiety. God has given you this discipline – “by prayer and supplication …. let your requests be made known to God.”
I want to tell you – and I suspect you have discovered – the book of James is loaded with practical instruction for good discipline … when practiced, it takes us to maturity. Well, here is another reference to maturity; the discipline of prayer – that God has given to us. And in this text – the emphasis is on the power of this discipline: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.”
Prayer is not like any help we are able to get on earth; nothing has the power of taking our petitions to the Father. You may hear someone say – well, you have prayer. I’ve got my own coping methods.
Nothing compares to prayer to God!
Nehemiah knew this well. He said, at the beginning of a great undertaking with lots of risk …
LORD God of heaven, you are great and fearsome. And you faithfully keep your promises to everyone who loves you and obeys your commands.
That’s Nehemiah’s version of what James said, that the prayer of a righteous person has great power! God gives us this discipline. Are we using it?
The 107th Psalm is a piece that centers on praise to the Lord containing examples of deliverance. Cases where men failed; men could provide no redemption. Only God could help.
Now, I am not certain of any specific historical context for this. It is generally taken as great promise, for believers who suffer perils of the sea.
The ancient mariner faced a high measure of risk and uncertainty and mystery, navigating the sea. Before the navigational technology we enjoy.
Yet still today – with all our navigational tools and instruments and radar - often hear of tragedies on the sea.
Think of life as a voyage, that involves the business of danger and risk and unforeseen trouble. Like the ancient mariners, we who follow Christ – have this benefit, this discipline; something God has given, we can do, based on our trust in Him.
We are able to talk to the Creator of the seas. We are able to state our case to the One who can still the storm. He can quiet the waters. He can provide the navigational providence to get us to safe harbor.
Prayer is an effort of will on our part – connecting us to the will of One with infinite power, whose mercy can calm us. The last verse in this chapter says: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”
One of our basic
spiritual disciplines as Christians is prayer. Read these passages over again.
Memorize them. And, put these promises into your heart and life. One good result
will be discipline.
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 23.1; January 2016