Confidence in Prayer

It is an inexpressible delight to know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has invited us into his heavenly throne room. Though prayer is a marvelous gift from God to us, it is not always easy to do. For the reflective soul, the realization that he is actually coming into the presence of deity can cause uneasiness and trepidation (cf. Isa. 6:5).

Yet, it is comforting to know that God has made it possible for us to approach him in prayer confidently and boldly. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). This confidence is possible because of the divine help accessible to us when we pray.

Picturing the Work of Christ

The Holy Spirit sometimes powerfully conveyed ideas by choosing words that create mental pictures for the reader. The verbal portrait of what happens when Christians pray is thrilling.

Scripture affirms this amazing truth: Jesus lives to serve us. “He always lives to make intercession” for us (Heb. 7:25). He is our “advocate” (1 John 2:1). And he is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11). He was willing to surrender certain privileges of his divine nature in order to personally identify with us (Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 Cor. 15:28) – a concept we may never fully appreciate. And this Jesus ascended from earth to heaven “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). “In the presence of” translates a Greek phrase meaning “to (before) the face of God” (Alford 181).

Draw this picture in your mind: Jesus is often presented in the New Testament as being “seated” at the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:8, et al.) ruling over his kingdom. But when I need His mediation and advocacy in prayer, the writer of Hebrews changes that picture from Jesus being seated at the right hand of God to him standing before the face of God on my behalf – as if he has taken a place standing beside me as I “draw near to the throne of grace.”

Picturing the Work of the Spirit

In addition to the help that Jesus gives, the Holy Spirit is also actively assisting. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). In the Greek text, the word translated “helps” is a compound word in Greek, consisting of three important parts. The root word means “to take hold.” The two prefixes mean, respectively, “together with,” and “against; opposite; or, reciprocally” (Vincent 358; Earle 180-181; Robertson 376). Putting these three component parts together, Wuest explains the meaning this way,

The word speaks of the action of a person coming to another’s aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the other person in his endeavor (Wuest 140).

Draw this picture in your mind: you are on one end of a heavy weight and the Spirit of God is on the other end, and both of you lift it together. Amazing, isn’t it? When my human weakness manifests itself in not knowing how to express myself to God, the Holy Spirit, who knows my heart because he lives there (Gal. 4:6), steps up and takes the inexpressible groaning of my heart and communicates them to God for me. In that way he “helps” me lift the burden that I cannot lift by myself.

The Whole Picture

The complete picture is mind-blowing. When I prayerfully enter into the throne room of heaven, standing on one side of me (figuratively speaking, of course) is the Holy Spirit saying to the Father, “I have a special relationship with this man. He is struggling to express his innermost feelings and I am here to communicate what he cannot.” On the other side of me is Jesus saying, in essence, “I, too, have a special relationship with him, Father. I’m delighted to call him my brother, and I’m here as his supporter and advocate.” When you and I approach our Father in prayer, we do not do so alone. We are accompanied by Christ Jesus himself and God’s Holy Spirit, each fulfilling special roles of support just for us.

If that does not give us confidence in prayer, what will?

References

Alford, Henry (1976), Alford’s Greek Testament: An Exegetical and Critical Commentary, Vol. 4 Part 1 (Grand Rapids: Guardian Press).

Earle, Ralph (1974, 1986), Word Meanings in the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers).

Robertson, A.T. (1931), Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Broadman Press).

Vincent, Marvin R. (1888), Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers).

Wuest, Kenneth (1973), Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company).

Intense Prayer

Has anyone ever watched you pray silently and concluded that you were drunk? It has never happened to me. However, it happened to Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:9-18. In the past I pictured Hannah’s prayer as coming from a prim and proper June Cleaver-ish young lady sitting up straight in a chair, hands folded and gently placed in her lap. Given that picture, I struggled to understand how Eli could watch a woman sit basically motionless (except for the slight movement of her lips) and presume that she was intoxicated. A deeper consideration of the text (a novel idea, right?) caused me to adjust my mental picture.

Ponder the terms that describe Hannah and her prayer: “deeply distressed” (v. 10), “wept bitterly” (v. 10), “troubled in spirit” (v. 15), “pouring out [her] soul” (v. 15), and “great anxiety and vexation” (v. 16). With those descriptions of this devout woman and the intensity of her emotions, I find it much easier to understand Eli’s response. A silent, practically motionless woman would not lead another to conclude that she was inebriated. But such a conclusion is understandable if that same woman were animated by the heaviest of burdens and looked like she was carrying on a tear-soaked, bitter conversation with no one.

That must have been one intense, deep, and passionate prayer.

The pen of Paul writes of another example of this kind of prayer. In Colossians 4:12, we read,

“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

Consider these thoughts from the prayer-life of Epaphras.

His prayers were constant (“always”). His prayers were personal (“on your behalf”). His prayers were purposeful (“that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God”). And his prayers were intense. The word translated “struggling” is from the Greek agonizomai, which means to fight or to compete in an athletic contest. When an athlete competes to the best of his ability and exhausts himself in the contest, reporters have been known to say that the athlete “left it all out on the field.” In other words, the player held nothing back. When he left the field of play, he did so knowing that he had nothing left to give. He gave it everything he had. That’s what Epaphras did when he prayed. When he was finished, he had nothing left in the tank.

When I think about Hannah and Epaphras (and Jesus in Gethsemane, Luke 22:44), I’m ashamed that so many of my prayers lack intensity. How easy it can be for our prayers to turn into little more than the recitation of words and phrases memorized long ago. Most of us can probably pray on auto-pilot without ever digging deep into our souls. The words may be there, but the heart isn’t. It seems I remember Jesus addressing that phenomenon (Matt. 15:8).

Spend some time in God’s presence today, but don’t merely recite old phrases. “Pour out your heart before him” (Psa. 62:8).