In the wake of the deadly bombings and shootings in Paris, France in November, the world, shocked and saddened by the event, used the hashtag #PrayForParis on social media, offering up their heartbreak and condolences to Paris over the horrific ordeal. Amidst the chaos, prayers were lifted up on behalf of all the people involved: from France’s president, François Hollande, to the victims and their families, an outpouring of cries and petitions to Christ were had, whether those who prayed did so to Him or not.
While less televised by the media, the country of Nigeria has been suffering huge, traumatic losses as well. In the last week alone, at least 41 people have died in suicide bombings– one during a procession of Shi’ite muslims, and one in a mobile phone market— both perpetrated by Boko Haram. Although less known about by the world, it is no doubt an event that stirred up much prayer to Christ as well.
It is no secret that in a time of calamity, the word “prayer” and the act of praying are talked about frequently, to express the direness of the situation and the helplessness of man to act. But in all reality, what is it to “pray”? And to those who do actually “pray,” do we believe, in this day and age, that there is anything to “prayer”– that is to say, that it has any power?
What is Prayer?
In the Holy Bible– known as the Word of God– God has much to say about prayer. Psalm 86, for example, is a prayer itself.
“1 Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. …11 Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. 13 For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.”
(Psalm 86:1-3; 11-13, NIV)
In this “prayer of David,” many things are said. But, what makes it a prayer, and not just a beautiful poem, letter, or narrative, is that it is said to someOne who is actually able to grant King David what He is asking: 1) to hear and answer him, 2) to guard his life, 3) to teach King David The Lord’s ways, and 4) to give David “an undivided heart” (Psalm 86:11). But this is more than just a “Higher Power.” As one can read, David is in fact stating his pleas to a Being that, while Higher in Power, is more than a force or power. Simply put, David is praying to a SomeOne, not a something.
Praying to Jesus, the God of the Bible
But David is not just praying to anyOne; He is One David knows, and, as the reader can infer from Psalm 86, He is One he knows well. Verses 12 and 13 not only highlight what David asks for, now. They highlight what this Higher Being, whom He calls “Lord,” has already done for him: “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.” Obviously, David and the Lord (which translates to the word “Adonai,” emphasizing His Lordship) have history together; history that causes David to both “praise the Lord [his] God with all [his] heart,” while encouraging David to desire knowing the Lord’s ways (vs. 11). But this history, and the relationship it has created, is not based on a cold or far-off, “you-do-for-me, and-I-do-for-you” business-like transaction. It is based on “Agape” (agápē) Love, or the Love that comes from God: primarily, the Love the Lord has for David, and the love that David consequently has for Him. 1 John expresses this Truth well: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). It is out of this Love relationship with God that David pours out his heart, stating both his needs and his praises to the Lord.
One will also notice that, just as stated above, David pours out his very heart to the Lord. His prayer is not listless or contrived; neither does he chant a saying over and over again. Jesus warned against doing this in Matthew 6:7, when teaching the disciples how to pray.
“‘When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.'”
(Matthew 6:7, NLT)
Jesus literally gets to the heart of the matter in saying this. While people of other religions believe that God will accept them based on religious ritual (i.e., saying a prayer “just right” or saying it enough times), God asks mankind to approach Him by faith through Jesus, and looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Approaching God by faith is not new. While God gave the Israelites many laws to follow, He initially asked Abraham to believe on His promises; “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). From the start, God wanted His people to come to Him by faith. Later on, as Christ came to die for the sins of the world, He fulfilled the law completely (Matthew 5:17). Because of this, mankind can become free from the law by “believ[ing] on the One whom he (God) has sent,” (John 6:29; 8:36 “God” mine). God does not want mere lip service, where the lips– the words– might be “near,” but the hearts and souls of those saying the words are far away. He wants a person’s whole heart, whole mind, and whole life; this can only be done by accepting what Christ did on the cross for all of our sins, and asking Christ to be the Lord and Savior of our lives (Romans 10:9). In doing so, God’s Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out– replacing mere religion with an honest relationship; a relationship where a prayer becomes more than a ritual or just “good vibes,” but the heart cry of the believer, seeking to converse with their Maker and Savior, Jesus Christ, in an intimate way.
Praying to Jesus, The God who Listens
The best part of all about prayer is that Jesus truly listens. Whether we are whispering it under our breath or shouting it from the rooftops, Jesus– Adonai– is near to every believer, and readily listens to every prayer and petition (Psalm 94:4; Deuteronomy 31:6). Because He listens, our prayers have power; they are words spoken to a God whose eyes “range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Ultimately, though, one must pray “not my will, but Yours, God, be done,” recognizing that while Jesus hears prayer, He might answer differently than what one might desire, and He knows best (Luke 22:42).
With this in mind, one who believes in Jesus as His Savior can be confident that Jesus hears their prayer, and is truly working all things together for good on their behalf (Romans 8:28). No matter how hopeless the situation, those who have heard and believe what Jesus has said about Himself can be sure that 1) Jesus “inclines His ear to hear them,” just as David prays for; and 2) works His Sovereign Will in our prayers. As Christ’s Word says by the Holy Spirit in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” With such a gracious Savior, and such a time of need in Nigeria, Paris, and other places worldwide, there is no reason not to.
Do you know Jesus?
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
(Hebrews 4:16, NIV)
The writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to “confidently approach God’s throne,” but it was not always this way. Before Christ’s death, a veil between God’s innermost dwelling place (the “Holy of Holies”) and the rest of the tabernacle/temple stood to separate the Israelites– and truly, all people– from God. The High Priest, allowed to enter in once a year for the “Day of Atonement,” was the only man able to enter God’s Presence in such a way.
The same book of Hebrews describes Jesus Christ as the Superior High Priest, “able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25, NIV). Jesus was also the Ultimate Sacrifice for all sin (Hebrews 7:27). On the day Christ died, He yelled out, “It is finished!”, signifying that He had done all that was needed to take away the sin of the world.
The veil was immovable and indestructible. But as Jesus breathed His last, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life…” (Matthew 27:51-52). From top to bottom, the veil was torn, ripping through religion so that relationship between God and mankind could finally be had. Meet the One whose death tore that veil– whose death means our life–– so that we could know Him personally, here.
Jesus prayed for others; and it is our joy to be able to pray to Him, doing the same.
Please be praying for:
– The Church in Paris. Pray that they would be used by Christ greatly during this time of grief.
– The Church in Nigeria. As Boko Haram continues to ravage the northern half of the country, pray that the Church would be used by Christ to win Boko Haram members, to love those affected by Boko Haram, and to ultimately destroy Boko Haram by Christ’s power.
– The men and women who have been first responders to these attacks.
– The world’s governments.
– The world’s leaders and presidents, especially in those countries affected by terrorism.
– The victims of these terrorist attacks, and their loved ones.
– The world at large, in regards to terror attacks.
Let us run to Christ during this time, lifting up our brothers, sisters, and fellow human beings, asking Christ to do only what He can in their lives.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1, ESV). Thank and praise Him for that! 🙂
**Please sign this petition, asking Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, to locate– and report– the whereabouts of the Chibok girls by April 14th, 2014. Jesus bless you all!**