The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Prayer (page 1 of 2)

(Not) Praying in the Garden

On the night Jesus was arrested, the Gospels tell a familiar story (Matthew 26.36-46; Mark 14.32-42; Luke 22.39-46). Jesus, in great distress about what He knows will soon happen to him, takes Peter, James, and John with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be in prayer and then withdraws to pray by Himself.

Jesus’ prayer is famously filled with agony and desperation: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He comes back to check on his friends, and finds them all asleep. He rebukes them, and withdraws again, praying the same prayer. Then He returns to find them asleep again, and the pattern repeats again a third time.

After the third time, a mob arrives and arrests Jesus, and as He predicted, His disciples flee in fear.

Conjecture: might it be that Jesus was strengthened by His night in prayer with the Father, and was thus now steeled to face the ordeal of mockery, torture, and death that loomed before Him? And as the same time, could it be that in their slumber, the disciples deprived themselves of the means to remain faithful to Jesus during the hour of trial?

As Christians, we pray to change circumstances and events around us, but we also pray (or maybe even, we primarily pray) to change us. Prayer helps to bring our wills in line with God’s will, to strengthen our resolve, and to quiet our fears. I have a hunch that if Peter, James, and John had heeded Jesus’s request to pray with Him on that fateful night, their behavior during the trying times that followed might have been very different.

James A. Harding once said, “[Prayer] is an enormous power, the mightiest that can be used by a mortal, that few of us use as we could and should.”[1] When we sleep (literally or metaphorically) instead of pray, what transformation do we miss out on? In what moments of trial do we desert our Lord because our resolve has not been strengthened in prayer as it could be?

[1] James A. Harding, “Does God Answer Prayer?” Christian Leader and the Way 19 (September 19, 1905), 8.

Reaching Your Spiritual Potential: Pray!

Spiritual PotentialThis is the continuation of a series which began here.

Prayer in the Bible

The importance of prayer is a basic teaching of Scripture. In the life of Jesus Himself, we see the importance of prayer:

  • He often went off by Himself to pray.
  • He took time for the express purpose of teaching His disciples how to pray.
  • He prayed with His disciples and prayed for them in their presence.
  • In the night before His crucifixion, when He faced the most difficult time of His life, He spent the night in the Garden of Gethsemane in fervent prayer.

Elsewhere in Scripture we see the importance of prayer emphasized as well:

  • The apostles would use prayer to aid in the performance of miracles.
  • Philippians 4.6-7: “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.”
  • James 5.14-16: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let hem pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5.17: “Pray without ceasing.”

Prayer and You

What is your prayer life like?

A lot of very different people read this blog, and there are probably some who are reading who have an outstanding prayer life…who truly pray without ceasing…who spend a great deal of time in conversation with the Father. That’s great—keep doing what you’re doing. But I think a lot of us probably need to increase our efforts.

Some people go through most of their day (or most of their lives!) ignoring prayer, unless something really bad comes up. For them, prayer is like a parachute—something you only use in an emergency.

Others might have regular times of prayer—before meals, when they wake up, when they go to sleep—and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s a good and healthy thing to have regular times of prayer. But if we’re not careful, that can become just a pattern we fall into without much thought.

Sometimes we may struggle to pray because we feel like we don’t have a lot to say. You know, generally, when you look at your relationships, the closer you are to someone, the easier it is for you to talk to them (there are some people to whom it’s hard to say two sentences; with others you can go on indefinitely). I think the same thing is true when it comes to our prayer lives. At first, it might be hard to find things to talk about, but the more time you spend in prayer, the easier it gets.

And in the meantime, before you get “good” at it, there are plenty of things to pray for—the church, the leaders of your church, those who are sick, those whom you know who are lost, the government, the military, your family, that you avoid temptation, etc.

The Bottom Line

There’s no way that we can reach our spiritual potential and become mature Christians if we don’t regularly spend time talking to our Heavenly Father in prayer!

Make a commitment today to be a person of prayer. Set aside specific times to pray; be on the lookout for people and causes to pray for, and consider keeping notes or a journal to help you remember those things.


Scripture Reflections 2: Abraham Bargains with God

Scripture Reflections-01

As I mentioned before, this year I am writing a lot of notes in my journaling Bible as I do my daily reading, and I thought I would share some of those thoughts from time to time.

The end of Genesis 18 contains an interesting interaction between Abraham and God: after Abraham learns that God intends to destroy the wicked city of Sodom, he decides to intercede for Sodom, asking the LORD, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”, implying that there are some righteous people in Sodom who don’t deserve to be destroyed with the rest of the city.

And so, a bargaining process begins (my paraphrase of Genesis 18.24-32):

Abraham: God, will you destroy Sodom if there are 50 righteous people in it?

God: If there are 50, I will spare the city.

Abraham: Hmm, it’s not my place to tell you how to do things, but what if there are 45 righteous? Five can’t make much of a difference, right?

God: If there are 45, I will spare the city.

Abraham: What about 40?

God: If there are 40, I will spare the city.

Abraham: Don’t be angry with me for haggling, God, but what if there are 30 righteous people?

God: If there are 30, I will spare the city.

Abraham: Be patient with me; what about 20?

God: If there are 20, I will spare the city.

Abraham: OK, let me ask one more time: what if there are 10 righteous people?

God: If there are 10 righteous, I will spare the city.

And at that point, the haggling comes to an end.

This episode is interesting to me for at least three reasons.

First, it’s interesting to me that in Genesis 18.23, Abraham seems to mildly reprove God for being willing to destroy an entire city that might contain righteous people, and yet, it seems that Abraham’s mercy was exhausted before God’s was. At least, Abraham quit asking to lower the bar for how many righteous people would save the city. Would God have been willing to spare the city if five righteous people were found? Or three? Or one person? We don’t know, because Abraham quit asking before God quit agreeing. It’s a helpful reminder to me that God is always more merciful than I am.

Related to the first point, the things we ask of God have the potential to change His plans. Depending on where you are on the spectrum of how God’s sovereignty works this is a debatable point, but a straightforward reading of the text certainly indicates that Abraham’s requests were influencing God’s plans regarding the destruction of Sodom. And again, it seems possible that Abraham could have continued to bargain with God until He relented from destroying the city altogether. So this is helpful as well, because it brings about a certain degree of resolve in my life: if the deep desires of my heart are denied to me (like, for instance, the healing of my daughter), it won’t be because I am not asking God for them.

And finally, I’m left to wonder: why is it that we assume that God grows impatient with our repeated requests of Him? Abraham certainly assumed and feared God’s impatience: four times he apologized or asked for patience in some way. I think we often do the same thing. But over and over again God tells us to come to Him in prayer, and in the New Testament, Jesus praises the persistence of a widow and uses her as an example of how we should repeatedly come to the Father in prayer. So I am also reminded by this narrative that I should not project my impatience on God: he patiently (and eagerly) hears my repeated requests. 

This is a famous passage: what does it bring to your mind? Would you disagree with any of my reflections above?

The Best Prayers Are Short Prayers

Obviously the title of this post is not comprehensively true—there are certainly times when long, extended prayers are appropriate and necessary. The Bible teaches that, at times, Jesus went out and prayed for hours on end (Luke 6.12; Luke 22.39-46), and if He felt it was necessary to do so on occasion, how much more should we?

At the same time, I think we sometimes feel that brief prayers are less meaningful or less useful, and this certainly is not what the Bible teaches. In Matthew 6.7, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” He then goes on to provide a prayer as model which is not lengthy at all.

I mentioned that I am studying Hebrew this semester, and in class, my teacher shared with us the words pictured above, which comprise a Hebrew Table Prayer (i.e., a prayer that would be said before a meal by an observant Jewish family).

Translated, the prayer goes something like this (words in [ ] convey additional meaning implied in the Hebrew):

Blessed are you, O LORD [God of covenant] 
Our God, [God of creation]
King of the universe [eternal king]
Who brings forth bread [food]
From the earth.
As this illustrates, the briefest of prayers can convey great meaning, and simplicity can possess great power:

As the God of covenant, we are reminded that God desires relationship with his people, and that it is through our relationship with him that all spiritual blessings come. As the God of creation, we are reminded that everything which exists exists because God made it—we owe Him our very existence. As the eternal King of the universe, we are reminded that God’s dominion and authority extends over all things, and throughout (and beyond) all times. And as the One who brings forth food from the earth, we are reminded that we are dependent on God for our daily survival; He is our Sustainer as well as our Creator.

Some very important reminders in just a few simple words. Don’t sell short the power of a short prayer; it can convey the deep truths of life and faith!

Big Lessons from the First Day of School

Today is the first day of school for a lot of people. As a youth minister, I’m very aware of this because my students were (generally) bummed about it yesterday at church. As a grad student, I’m also very aware of it because today I have taken the plunge and started the process of learning Hebrew. And if I wasn’t already aware that today was Back to School Day, I would’ve figured it out quickly once I checked Facebook this morning, as my news feed was blowing up with everyone’s pictures of their kids dressed up and ready for the First Day of School.

So for a lot of folks, today is a big day, and it got me thinking about some important lessons that the First Day of School reminds us of:

(1) We need to be prayerful on behalf of our students. As a youth minister this is something that I’m very aware of, but it is hard to overemphasize how difficult it is to be a young person today and to cling to Christian values, and how much our young people need our prayers and support.

I am not trying to make a political statement or start a debate on the issue of prayer in schools or anything like that; I am simply making the observation that our society is an increasingly dark place, and this darkness is absolutely manifested in our schools. Teens (and even those who aren’t yet teens) are exposed to all sorts of things that are contrary to a Christian worldview, and resisting those things can be difficult.

But there’s good news as well: a shining light makes the biggest difference in a dark place! Pray not only that our students resist the darkness, but that they shine their lights and point others to Jesus Christ.

(2) We should be thankful for educators. On the whole, I think teachers tend to get a bad rap. Certainly some teachers are not as good, or as caring, or as dedicated as they could be, but on the whole, teachers are people who care about young people and want to do what they can to help them (come to think of it, that entire last sentence could probably be applied to youth ministers as well!).

And really, they have pretty tough jobs: they have to do a lot of work to stay current in their field, they have to deal with children with significant behavior problems (and the parents who produced them!), they get to work long hours before and after school grading papers, working on lesson plans, and going to school activities, and often they spend significant portions of their (not always great) salaries to buy additional resources for their classrooms and students.

Be thankful for educators! Encourage them, tell them you appreciate their efforts, and try to be cooperative when they need something from you (helping your child with homework, getting a paper signed, coming to a parent/teacher conference, etc.).

(3) We should realize how quickly our lives pass by. My first day of Kindergarten was 25 years ago, a quarter of a century. But seriously, I can remember it like it was just yesterday! A repeated theme I saw on Facebook today was parents who couldn’t quite believe that their kids had gotten so old so fast!

I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but it really is amazing how quickly time flies. The Bible says that our life is like a mist, something that is here for a short time and then vanishes. And as I see pictures on my news feed of college students who I think should still be in high school, high school students who should still be in grade school, and kindergarteners who should still be in diapers, it really hits home.

Our lives will be gone before we know it; we must make the most of the time we have!

(4) We need to never stop being students. I’m not talking about formal education here, but rather that we need to always have the attitude of being learners—we should never think of ourselves as knowing all there is to know on a given subject and always be willing to learn more.

This is one of my favorite things about the preaching minister that I work with. He is in his 50s and has decades of experience in ministry, but he is always looking to learn new things so he can stay current. He reads constantly, and is always interested in examining things that I come across in my studies. What a great example that is!

I know so much more about life, ministry, and theology than I did two, five, and ten years ago. But I am by no means I finished product, and I hope and expect to know a lot more in two, five, and ten years down the road than I do now.

One of these days, if the Lord wills, I will finish my grad school education. But that won’t be mark the end of my learning, as I plan to continue doing that until the end of my life.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Did you think of an important Back to School Lesson that I left out?
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