Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus! This is certainly a busy season for many of us; sometimes in the midst of our “busy-ness,” it’s good to pause and remember the importance of prayer. I want to share something with you this month that I pray will encourage you in your daily walk with the Lord.
It was in July, 1588, that the feared Spanish Armada gathered off the coast of England to launch an assault that would determine who was the world’s greatest power and would forge the future of many nations. England was ruled by Queen Elizabeth and was being contested by Mary, Queen of Scots, who was supported by Spain.
Church bells all across England tolled as Elizabeth called the nation to prayer. Churches filled with earnest seekers as the Armada drew near. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, storms arose in the Atlantic with such force that more than one-half of the 130 Spanish warships were destroyed and 5,000 Spanish soldiers died. The English lost not a single ship.
Centuries after this event, Winston Churchill said, “The defeat of the Armada comes as a miracle. For 30 years, the shadow of Spanish power had darkened the political scene. A wave of religious emotion filled men’s minds.” Afterward, England struck a medal with the inscription: “God blew and they were scattered.” It was understood that prayer changed history.
Then in May, 1940, 300,000 of England’s finest troops and 35,000 additional allied troops were trapped in Northern France at Dunkirk by Hitler’s Panzers. The Panzers were made up of Germany’s most feared fighting divisions. Hitler’s Air Force was ready to destroy England’s elite troops as they sat helpless on the beaches of Dunkirk, across the English Channel from home.
On Sunday, May 26, the bells of English churches once again tolled calling the people to prayer for their sons and their future. Churchill was one of those who responded. He recalled that as he sat in his stall in the choir at Westminster Abbey, he could feel the pent-up emotion and the fear of the congregation for the ruin of Britain.
The next night, four things began to happen: Hitler’s Panzers stopped short because of a strange order to pull back and allow the Air Force to attack the British Army. Secondly, 850 small English boats crossed the channel to rescue their soldiers. Thirdly, the wind stopped and the sea became very calm for an entire week. This was unheard of ever before. Finally, a thick fog and cloud cover settled in, shielding the troops and their rescuers. All 335,000 troops were saved, preserving the army to fight another day.
LORD, TEACH US
In Luke 11:1, Jesus’ disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, and now the Lord Himself_the Great High Priest, the Son of God_would speak. He was uniquely qualified to teach them and us to pray.
As I write this letter, I have before me a classic book on prayer by Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer. It was given to my wife’s grandmother by her mother in 1898. The book is based upon the disciples’ request of Jesus.
Prayer is a great mystery; it is the link between humanity and the Sovereign God. It is the ultimate tool in the Christian’s array of means to accomplish His divine purpose. Its use goes back further than the historical examples I mentioned earlier, even past the days of the Apostles. It goes back to the garden when Adam walked with God in the “cool of the day.”
To see into this mystery rationally, or to sum up the successful prayers of our predecessors, is completely impossible. What we can do is learn how to pray from the very One who taught His disciples, and be inspired by the powerful answers that they received.
The fact that the Son of God prayed should tell us a lot. He relied on the Father. He often retreated to a secret place and sometimes prayed all night. He prayed with groaning on some occasions, as He asked for strength to do the Father’s will. But He was always conscious of the presence of the Father through the Holy Spirit.
In Mark 1:35, we see Jesus arising before daylight and going to a solitary place to pray. Jesus knew Psalm 91, and what it meant to abide “in the secret place of the Most High.” In Luke 3:21, Jesus prayed as He was baptized. In Luke 6:12, Jesus continued all night in prayer. Therefore, He was filled with virtue so that even those who touched Him were healed.
When Jesus fed the 5,000, He had actually been looking for a solitary place to pray, but the crowds followed Him (see Matthew 14:15). Finally, after the multitudes had left, He went on up into the mountain to pray. He even sent His disciples away, but later came to them walking on the water. His prayer must have transformed Him in the presence of the Father.
On occasion, Jesus took His disciples with Him to pray, as in Luke chapter 9. Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured. His countenance and clothing were changed and He became radiantly white. At the Last Supper, He prayed and blessed the bread and the cup. And afterward He prayed in the garden, sweating blood. On the cross, He prayed asking forgiveness for His torturers, and also as He released His spirit to the Father.
Among Jesus’ last words to His disciples were that they should go to Jerusalem and pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. The One who had lived in the presence of the Father, by the Holy Spirit, commanded His followers to find the same power that had enabled Him to so successfully carry out His mission.
It is apparent that Jesus did teach His disciples to pray. Prayer was not just a part of their success; it was the root and source of it. They were right to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It was a Spirit-led question. Jesus’ response to that question was to give them a model_we call it The Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9, Jesus said when you pray, you should pray this way:
“Our Father”: Jesus broke new ground in teaching the Fatherhood of God on a personal level.
“Who art in Heaven”: Literally, “The Heavens”. God is Spirit and high above all heavens.
“Hallowed be Thy Name”: God is Holy. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
“Thy Kingdom Come”: God’s government is in the Holy Spirit and is the object of our prayers.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”: God’s Kingdom is the manifestation of His heavenly rule in the earthly realm. It brings righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (See Romans 14:17.)
“Give us this day our daily bread”: God is the source of our provision, and trusting Him is a daily issue. We need not worry about tomorrow if we trust Him today.
“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”: Successful prayer hinges on our seeking forgiveness for sin and forgiving the sins of others.
“Lead us not into temptation”: Those who will not forgive may be led into places where they can better understand how others have fallen.
“Deliver us from evil”: We cannot deliver ourselves from the power of evil apart from God’s salvation.
“For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, Amen”: Many translators do not include these final words, but the truth of this is implied, regardless. It is all in Him. The prayer is no mere formula, but is a wonderful and powerful guide, leading us ultimately to a desire to glorify God and seek His Kingdom.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 includes other vital truths: Don’t pray to be seen; pray in secret; pray to the Father; don’t use unnecessary or insincere words; seek His Kingdom first; keep on seeking; keep on knocking; and keep on asking.
One of the most profound aspects of believing prayer is that the One who taught us to pray also helps us in prayer. He hears our feeble efforts and represents us with His own rights to the Father. We can come boldly to the Throne of mercy because of His blood covenant and because He is absolutely worthy. Hebrews 4:14 tells us that our Great High Priest has passed through the heavens. He carried with Him the knowledge of temptation and trial, having been tested in every way, yet without sin.
We know these things to be true, because He sent the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as He promised He would. And He continues to send the Holy Spirit to those who believe and ask. As Peter said in Acts 2, “The Promise is to you, those who are far off, and as many as God shall call.”
Perhaps the greatest inspiration for prayer is that the Holy Spirit could come to us in power as He did at Pentecost, and that we could see masses of people come to Christ, and they learn to touch God in prayer. The possibilities of prayer are innumerable. The answers to prayer are as many as the millions who have prayed in faith. Forgiveness, healing, provision, and guidance are but a few of the daily benefits that have come through prayer. History is still being shaped by prayer.
The great tragedy is that so many still labor for naught, ignorant of the mysterious but powerful resource that we call prayer. Seminaries teach aspiring ministers how to preach, but often fail to teach them how to pray. Worship leaders often know music, but little of prayer. When we preach, we get what preaching can do. When we pray, we get what God can do. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me all of you who labor and are heavy laden and find rest for your souls.”
May all of us find His direction and His peace in these days as we seek Him in prayer. Please continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. God bless you and yours today and always!
Charles V. Simpson
Scripture Reference: Luke, Mark, Psalms, Romans, Matthew, Acts