Thursday, August 12, 2010

Private and Public Prayer

In prayer, there is a link between petition and thanksgiving. David wrote, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me,” (Psalm 50:15, New King James Version). There are other examples throughout Scripture where we see that when we ask for God's help, we should also give Him glory. Calvin writes, "In asking and beseeching, we pour out our desires before God, seeking both those things which make for the extension of his glory and the setting forth of his name, and those benefits which conduce to our own advantage. In giving thanks, we celebrate with due praise his benefits toward us, and credit to his generosity every good that comes to us." We should not limit our praise for God to when we are asking for something, because "we never lack reason and occasion for praise and thanksgiving." God is the Author of all good, therefore we ought to continually praise Him for what He has given us. Paul commanded us to, "pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you," (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, New King James Version). We should be in constant conversation with God, giving Him thanks for everything that comes our way even when we cannot immediately see the benefit.

Public prayer is necessary, but if abused can be dangerous. Public prayer can be useful in church at regular times. God is less concerned about the exact times and places of public prayer, but regular times are for man's convenience. We should not limit ourselves to particular prayers said at particular intervals. Even though we are told that "...all things be done decently and in order," (1 Corinthians 14:40, New King James Version), this "does not preclude each church from being both repeatedly stirred up to more frequent use of prayer and fired by a sharper zeal if it is altered by some major need." This type of proper public prayer has nothing to do with Christ's warnings, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward," (Matthew 6:5, New King James Version) and, "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words," (Matthew 6:7, New King James Version). As far as the vain repetitions that Christ spoke of, Calvin writes that we should not persist in long prayers (though not forbidden) in the vain hope of our "ability to wrest something from God by beating upon his ears with a garrulous flow of talk, as if he could be persuaded as men are." Later Calvin writes, "hypocrites, for the sake of show, pant after many witnesses, and would rather frequent the market place to pray than have their prayers miss the world's applause." Our Heavenly Teacher taught us, "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly," (Matthew 6:6, New King James Version). True prayer comes from the heart and it is easiest to pray when we are in a tranquil place. Christ showed us an example by often withdrawing to quiet places in order to pray. He prayed also in crowds if needed, but not to draw attention to himself like the hypocrites and Pharisees. The temple was often referred to as a "house of prayer." God meant for us to understand that, "the chief part of his worship lies in the office of prayer, and that the temple was set up like a banner for believers so that they might, with one consent, participate in it."

Calvin uses Matthew 18:19-20 as proof that God does not object to public prayer, "provided ostentation and chasing after paltry human glory are banished, and there is present a sincere and true affection that dwells in the secret place of the heart." But Calvin then warns against putting too much emphasis on church buildings. God is not limited to these buildings. Prayer uttered in church is no more sacred to God. He doesn't only hear us in church. But instead, "For since we ourselves are God's true temples, if we would call upon God in his holy temple, we must pray within ourselves."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.31-3.20.35

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