Our church has just begun a three-week prayer and fasting campaign for our community. We long to see Christ exalted in our county. We are hungry for souls captured in sin to be set free. We are not blind to our own shortcomings either. So, in weakness, we submit ourselves before the Almighty in the hope of his all-sufficient supply to empower us.
Why are we praying? We are praying because the living God is real. We make no religious pretense about
prayer. We join no cultural cliché when we announce to someone, “I am praying for you.” What we mean by that line is nothing less than the fact that we have an audience with the king of the universe. Further, we mean that when we are granted access to his presence and even offered permission to speak to him, we will be sure to speak to him about their cause.
Imagine what we are saying when we say that we will pray. Have you ever met a very famous person? Typically, we live our lives and never get alone in a room with the people we admire most. How hard would it be to gain access to Peyton Manning, President Obama, or Sarah Palin? (I understand you may not want to have access to some or all of these, but stick with the point). It would be quite difficult for us to demand an audience with any of them, or with any of our evangelical leaders. Could we call John Piper or R. C. Sproul on the phone at any hour? Important people offer very limited access.
How much more important than any of these—or than all of these combined—is the God who created them and who sustains their every breath? If you were to speak with any of these mentioned (or with your own favorite person of fame), what would you say? You finally get alone in a room with them, and what will you ask?
I remember I once ended up in a bookstore with John Piper. I hated to interrupt him, knowing that alone time in public is probably a rarity for him. Yet I also knew that I would never be alone with John Piper again. So, I had to make the most of the opportunity. I decided I had to learn something from him. I had to gain wisdom from him in this instant, providential encounter. So, what would I ask him?
I asked him what I should do about people in the church who have no joy. Without being callous, his reply was simply that I had to outlast them. His point was that joy will spread, but it will also be opposed. Some folks are born as wet blankets, and they are very good at fighting fires. Their gifts are useful when the burning fire is destroying kingdom work, but their gifts are harmful when the burning fire is fueling kingdom labors. So, Piper’s counsel was that I had to maintain an unshakable joy that would eventually come to characterize the congregation. I remember he told me that leaven works both ways and that a little leaven (of joy) will eventually leaven the whole loaf.
Back to the point of this post, I have remained encouraged by the wonder-filled encounter I had with John Piper that day. When I gained his attention, I cherished it. I was determined to extract the sweetest nectar of truth from it. Yet, who is John Piper that I should be so in awe of his wisdom? He is a great man, but I already possess greater access than any chance encounter Dr. Piper could match. I have access to the living God through Jesus Christ. I have a great high priest who intercedes for me. I have been raised up and seated with him so that I can have an audience with Almighty Holiness. What will I say in His presence?
I will give over this awesome privilege to plead with him to show mercy to a few people with whom I intend to share Christ. These are not wealthy people. These are not influential people. These are not people who will enrich the kingdom or enhance the marketing image for kingdom advertisements (if there were such awful things). These are people no better than I am. These are people who have, in fact, rebelled against God. These are people with whom He is rightfully angry.
And yet, I am asking God not to be angry with them any longer. I am asking him to inject faith into their hearts to believe Jesus Christ. I am asking God to be gracious to them and not condemn them along with the rest of the world (which is condemned already). Why should God listen to me? Why should he give a care about my concerns? Why should he hear me and turn from his anger against them?
He shouldn’t. There is no reason I can think of which would explain why God should hear me on behalf of other sinners. And yet, I have his word that he will in fact hear me for Christ’s sake. I have his word that I can make my requests known to him and know that he cares for me as a father cares for his child. I have gotten word from him that I can call him “Abba,” or “Dad.”
And so, We now pray to him, as Jesus taught us, “Our Father in Heaven, your name alone is to be honored as holy…” We approach His Holiness as Our Father. Let us approach with trembling joy, making the most of our opportunity and being quite eager to get the most out of it–especially for unbelievers living without hope.