Friday, March 10, 2017

Discipleship and Prayer

The following commentary was published originally to link discipleship with prayer.  It explains prayer in a clear way, I believe.  

Discipleship and Prayer

John 17:20-21
20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 
21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

In the last lesson, we defined disciples in the light of scripture.   We read in Luke 14,

Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Luk 14:33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.

The implication here is that to be Christ disciples you bear your cross and forsake all and follow Him.  In John 15 discipleship is explained in the context of farming.   We read in John 15,

Joh 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Joh 15:8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

These two descriptions of discipleship are complementary.   If I remain in A, I cannot remain in B; thus I forsake B.  The bearing of fruit reveals that we are good soil in which the good seed sown and eventually germinated (Luke 8: 4 – 18).  The root found living nutrient and water.   Ellen White sums it up beautifully,

As a flower of the field has its root in the soil; as it must receive air, dew, showers, and sunshine, so must we receive from God that which ministers to the life of the soul.

The presence of God is guaranteed to the Christian … "As long as the members of the church shall through faith draw sap and nourishment from Jesus Christ, and not from man's opinions and devisings, and methods; if having a conviction of the nearness of God in Christ, they put their entire trust in Him, they will have a vital connection with Christ as the branch has connection with the parent stock" (Our Father Cares; 21 – 22).

How, then does prayer relate to this?  No one will deny the need for prayer.  In the words of Ellen White,

"Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him."—Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 93.

"Pray much. Much prayer is necessary to successful effort. Prayer brings strength. Prayer has "subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, turned to flight the armies of aliens."  {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 6} 

Notice how she ties faith (Hebrews 11: 33 - 34) with prayer.   Now, since we describe discipleship in the context of farming, can we explain prayer in the same way – or at least using biological imagery?  Ellen White does just this.  Let us read a passage where she does this,

"Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power. No other means of grace can be substituted and the health of the soul be preserved.  Prayer brings the heart into immediate contact with the Wellspring of life, and strengthens the sinew and muscle of the religious experience. Neglect the exercise of prayer, or engage in prayer spasmodically, now and then, as seems convenient, and you lose your hold on God. The spiritual faculties lose their vitality, the religious experience lacks health and vigor" (Messages to Young People, 249, 250.)

When we breathe, our body inhales oxygenated air and exhales air with Carbon Dioxide.  Our blood carries the oxygen throughout the body.  The blood returns to the lungs depleted of oxygen to fill itself with oxygen again; this is an automatic process.  Unless there are problems, no one chooses to breathe; you just do.  What happens if we choose not to breathe?  Most folk cannot hold their breath for more than three to five minutes without fainting.

We read in Luke 18:1:  "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint."  If we stop breathing we faint; likewise, if we cease to pray, it will not be long before we find ourselves fainting before the trials that inevitably come our way.  It is through prayer that we are braced for difficulties and trials that require strength far beyond our natural human capacity.

Through the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Christ has urged that His people pray without ceasing. This does not mean that we should always be upon our knees, but that prayer is to be as the breath of the soul. Our silent requests, wherever we may be, are to be ascending unto God, and Jesus our Advocate pleads in our behalf, bearing up with the incense of His righteousness our requests to the Father"  (TMK 78.3). 

This is how Jesus lived, "… Jesus lived in dependence upon God and communion with him. To the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty, men now and then repair; they abide for a season, and the result is manifest in noble deeds: then their faith fails, the communion is interrupted, and the life-work marred. But the life of Jesus was a life of constant trust, sustained by a continual communion: and his service for heaven and earth was without failure or faltering.  {SW, February 23, 1904 par. 7} 

Just like our whole body benefits from breathing, the body of Christ is to benefit from prayer.  Real prayer is by definition intercessory.  Prayer – in its real sense - links us to God and others.  Ellen White says,

"What does intercession comprehend? It is the golden chain which binds finite man to the throne of the infinite God. The human agent whom Christ has died to save importunes the throne of God, and his petition is taken up by Jesus who has purchased him with His own blood. Our great High Priest places His righteousness on the side of the sincere suppliant, and the prayer of Christ blends with that of the human petitioner"  (TMK 78)

When we pray for others, we become as vessel, conduits, or channels to distribute God's blessings to others.  We become as fountains springing God's living water so others can quench their thirst for righteousness (John 7: 38).  
Raul Diaz

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