Dear URC family,
The feedback for these devotionals has been positive. So positive in fact that we’ve decided to continue them indefinitely, but in a scaled-down version.
So, since we are now back to in-person worship — Praise God! — our plan is to send out a new devotional every Monday. We hope these continue to be a blessing!
Prayer and Prepositions
by Brad Beals
“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6:11
When we are made God’s children – by grace, through faith – we begin a life that is not natural. So prayer, which for our part happens on physical knees, in actual time and space, can be very hard.
For example, the scriptures teach us that answers to prayer are not a function of our own mechanistic behavior. That can be hard for us. We don’t stand in front of a vending machine when we pray. We stand before the Throne of Grace where our loving Father sits. He’s a person. (He is original person-ness!) He sees, hears, and knows what we need before we ask Him. He knows us, which means He knows when yes is for our best, when no is for our best, and when wait is for our best. This might be the hardest thing about prayer – that it puts us in complete dependence on God, and we don’t like that.
We’re also promised affliction, and no one likes affliction. Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). And in Acts 14 Paul repeats Jesus’ teaching: “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Paul tells the Romans to rejoice in their sufferings (5:3) and to “be patient in tribulation” (12:12). This is a hard teaching. It is through and in tribulation that we’re to enter the Kingdom and to rejoice and to have patience. But we don’t like through and in. Our natural selves prefer words like out and from. We want out of affliction. We want to be delivered from tribulation.
But then we read about that too in the scriptures. The psalms, particularly, are full of deliverance out and from. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all” (34:19) “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (107:6). And in the New Testament, we’re reminded by Peter that “…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2Pet 2:9). This too is a hard teaching. We like the idea of deliverance – our notion of it, anyway – but we know that’s not always God’s will for us.
How then do we rejoice and patiently pray while we’re in tribulations, while at the same time crying to the Lord to be delivered from them all? How do we reconcile these things?
The answer is that for those in Christ Jesus, those things have already been reconciled. We can see this in lots of places, but my favorite is Philippians 4:6,7 where Paul says, “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6,7).
Here we see affliction (something has caused the anxiety), a crying out to God in response to it, and a welcome answer back in the peace of God. Paul wrote this from a Roman prison cell. He was eventually released to continue his ministry, but his deliverance from this trial had nothing to do with fresh air and freedom. The peace of God was already guarding his heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Deliverance was God himself! Paul reconciles peace in the midst of suffering and his deliverance from suffering by his identity in Christ Jesus. It is Christ himself who is his peace and deliverance.
Our way into prayer is supernatural: We must be born again. Our way through a life of prayer is also supernatural: We must be in Christ Jesus, for though he has promised us affliction, he has also made himself our peace in and through and our deliverance out and from. Will God heal that disease? Or lift that burden? Or remove that thorn? Ultimately, yes, He will. But if you are in Christ, whether that happens today or in the life to come makes no difference. God loves you as if you were Christ Jesus himself. He knows you perfectly. And He has a perfect answer for every prayer.