Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Imitate Jesus: Prayer

Often skeptics speak of prayer as if it is no more than “wishful thinking…” (and too often we believers think the same thing!) But the Bible speaks of prayer in terms of “spiritual engagement.” There are three “prayer stories” in the life of Jesus where some very unusual things happen: at his baptism, on the mount of transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane. These are usually interpreted as isolated events that happened only to Jesus, but what if they are meant to offer ordinary disciples a window into what is really happening – physically and spiritually – when we pray like Jesus? The unusual things involve the presence of God, an influx of power from God, and a renewed sense of purpose for God’s mission. These are things that all disciples will agree we desperately need. Let’s notice these prayer times of Jesus. 

            When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22 NIV) Notice the unusual things that happened when Jesus prayed: heaven opened, the Holy Spirit descended as a dove, and a voice spoke from heaven. What if this is not an abnormal picture of what happens when believers pray, but is an unusual glimpse into what is the normal practice of prayer?  Then it may not be that Jesus was somehow special and different from us in ways that are not open to imitation, rather maybe Jesus was showing us what can happen when we are committed to prayer!

When Jesus was praying on the mount of transfiguration, he was visited by Moses and Elijah. These men were pioneer servants of God ushering in new eras of Law and Prophecy and they knew what it meant to suffer for being prayerful and faithful. Their conversation and presence with Jesus had to do with his approaching “departure” which he would bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem. When the disciples woke up (and sleep seems to be a major barrier to prayer!) they were amazed at what was happening. This was the most amazing thing they had ever seen. They wanted to “sanctify” the moment, but Jesus wanted them to sanctify the practice!

Of all the recorded pray times of Jesus, the garden of Gethsemane was by far the most intense for him. It was also the most difficult because the presence he experienced was not his Father or the Holy Spirit, but merely an angel. In place of a booming voice from heaven, there was only silence! Yet Jesus prayed himself to a state of willing obedience.

Jesus’ prayer life was one of the most striking things about him, and the source of power for his life and ministry.  When Jesus prayed there was spiritual presence: The Holy Spirit as a dove, Moses and Elijah, an angel strengthening him. When Jesus prayed there was an increase in spiritual power. When Jesus prayed there was a deepened commitment to spiritual purpose. Prayer, for Jesus, seemed to always clear his vision and renew his focus!

            Prayer is the place where the space between heaven and earth becomes very “thin.” It is always accessible to us – though usually without visual or audible confirmation. When we learn to close the gap between heaven and earth through our prayers, we will discover that the gap narrows in our lives as well.

- Kenny Payne

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