Theme: Encouragement to Prayer
This week’s lessons remind us that because God is a God of grace, his throne is also one of grace, which is accessed by prayer through the work of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:16
There are at least two other reasons why prayer is often a problem for us.
We are too sinful. This strikes a bit deeper at our problem, though we do not like to admit it. We do not have trouble admitting that we are too busy. On the contrary, we are rather proud of that. We like to be busy. But to admit that we are too sinful and that unconfessed or unrelinquished sin is keeping us from prayer is terrible. Yet that is often the real problem. It was with Israel in the days of Isaiah. God had Isaiah write in Isaiah 59:1, 2: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.”
That is why real prayer must always include confession. Do you remember the little prayer acrostic using the word ACTS? “A” stands for adoration. We begin by reminding ourselves of who God is and praising him. “C” stands for confession. God is holy. So if we have really stopped to think of who he is and what he is like, we will become conscious of our sin and confess it. After this we have “T” which stands for thanksgiving, and “S,” which stands for supplication or making requests. In true prayer, supplications come last. Yet this is the point at which most of our prayers begin, as well as end.
One specific sin that keeps us from praying and certainly also keeps us from receiving what we ask for is an unforgiving spirit. That is why Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
We do not really believe we need it. When we speak of sin we are getting close to our problem with prayer, but even so we have not quite hit the target directly, at least in my judgment. Our problem is sin, but above all it is a specific sin which I would express as a proud self-confidence and self-sufficiency. In other words, it is pride. We do not pray because we do not believe we really need to pray. We think we can do very well in our own ability and strength, and by ourselves.
How the devil must laugh at us for our self-confidence! I think he must look at Americans especially and say something like this: “You Americans are so religious. You have big churches and large budgets. You have so many great religious works. But do you think I care about your big churches and large budgets and many religious works? I have no fear of them at all, as long as you are not praying. In fact, I will even use them to keep you from praying. Ha! Ha! Ha! Build your great church plants. Raise your millions. Start your great evangelistic enterprises. Launch your social programs. They will accomplish no more of lasting spiritual value than the work of secular agencies, and in time I will control Christian work too, as long as you are not praying. Do you think I fear you? The only one I fear is God, and the only power I fear is his power which is released through praying.”
It is hard to read Hebrews 4:16 against this background without realizing that it is meant to encourage us in prayer. The first way it encourages us is to teach that the throne to which we are invited to come is a throne of grace. This is not what we first think about when we think about God’s throne. The first thing we think about, and rightly, is that it is a throne of terrible judgment. This is what the throne of God stands for in the book of Revelation. As early as the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters God is pictured as seated on his throne to execute judgments. These judgments issue from heaven in a series of broken seals, sounding trumpets, and destroying plagues. Then, in chapter 20, before the final vision of the new Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth, we have the judgment of what is referred to as “a great white throne”:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled
from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and
small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened,
which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as
recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades
gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he
had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is
the second death (vv. 11-14).
This is a dreadful scene, one rightly to be feared. But when we come to Hebrews 4:15 we find that it is not a throne of judgment that is presented to us, but a throne of grace. Perhaps, if we know the Bible a bit better, we might think not of the throne of judgment presented in Revelation but the throne of God’s holiness described in the sixth chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah had a vision of God “high and exalted.” The “train of his robe filled the temple,” and there were seraphs who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 2).
The sight of God’s throne left Isaiah so overcome by an awareness of his sin that he cried out in anguish, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (v. 5). He wanted to flee from God’s holy throne. To stand before it was a terrible experience for Isaiah.
But our text is not speaking of a throne of holiness any more than it is speaking of a throne of judgment. It is speaking of a throne of grace.
Can you think of any other reasons why prayer is a problem for Christians?
Review the ACTS acrostic. How does each one contribute to a healthy prayer life?
What comes to your mind when you think of a king’s throne? How does the “throne of grace” add to your understanding of the kingship of God?
Application: How is prayer a problem for you? List all the things that prohibit you from praying as you should, and then write down the things you can do to correct each one.