Saturday, April 11, 2015

The "Oughtness" of Prayer

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought [το δειν] to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

“...the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should [δει, or "ought"]...” (Romans 8:26).

What is the “oughtness” of prayer?

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, “Give me legal protection from my opponent.” For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.”’ And the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-8).

How should be pray?
  • “ all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying” (18:1).
  • “...she kept coming to him” (18:3).
  • “...continually coming” (18:5).
  • “...His elect...cry to Him day and night” (18:7).
Jesus’ teaching is that our prayers should continually contain pleas for His righteous coming in judgment to make all things right on behalf of His elect against their "opponent." Not only is this is the “oughtness” of prayer, but it is the “faith” the “Son of Man” will be seeking when He comes in judgment.

Do we find this idea in the other passage that discusses the “oughtness” of prayer?
“...we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:23-27).
Paul says that we should “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for...the redemption of our body” (8:23). The context of our continual prayers for righteous judgment is “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18), especially considering the persecution described in the end of the chapter (8:33-39). This is the substance of the “hope” of 8:24,25, and the “perseverance” with which “we wait eagerly.” Paul teaches on this longing in the midst of unrighteousness, then transitions to prayer with the phrase, “in the same way” (8:26). It is then we learn that we learn of our incapability to “pray as we should” (8:26) and the Spirit’s continual help to pray not according to our desires and will, but according to “the will of God” (8:27). What is the source of our incapability? It could be our love for the world (not wanting the sinfulness to be judged because we still crave it), our confidence that we can fix things on our own through our own means, or a combination of the two. It could be a failure to read the Scripture (especially the prayer-book, the Psalms, where this theme is predominant) and apply the Word to our prayers (preferring to pray according to our desires). Regardless, we are in ourselves incapable of praying (as we ought) for the coming of Christ to judge.

The will of God is righteous judgment, the vindication of His people, and the all-surpassing and eternal glorification of His Son. This is how we must pray, and how God the Holy Spirit assists us in prayer at all times. “...according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

This is what it means to pray in the Spirit.

Consider: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). Gospel evangelism and missions is part of spiritual warfare (6:10-17), the conquering of the kingdom of darkness by the domain of the Righteous One of God, Jesus Christ.

“But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life” (Jude 20,21). The continual “praying in the Holy Spirit” is further explained as “waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” Holy Spirit praying is eschatological – a longing for the coming of Christ for righteous judgment and the avenging of the saints.

This concept is revealed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, as well:
  • The sort of prayer we have been discussing is part of the curses and wrath found on the two-sided scroll the Lamb opens: “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9,10).
  • Indeed, these very prayers are instrumental in the judgment of God: “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:3-5).

This is the “oughtness” of our prayer, and it is the prayer we know is empowered by the Holy Spirit at all times in believers. Father, through Your Holy Spirit restore this prayer in these days in Your Church to the glory of Your Son.
"Power of Prayer," by Toni Daniel (2007)
We wait and pray. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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