Our prayer life has got to be on a heavenly basis. It is not enough just to be praying for our earthly affairs. It is so easy to get up in the morning and hurry through a few words asking the Lord to bless us and ours, and our earthly things for the day, as though these things of this life were all. Oh, no! The Lord would have prayer touching things heavenly, things spiritual, related to that which is not of time, but of eternity; not of this world, but in relation to His eternal, heavenly intentions. He would have us separated from the merely temporal. There is a place for bringing those before the Lord, but they have got to be lifted in relation to the heavenly and not be dealt with as things in themselves. The blood makes everything heavenly, separating from the old creation. There is a very great deal of the old creation in our prayers; it is our convenience, our deliverance from inconvenience and discomfort, our salvation from what would bring us a great deal of trouble and sorrow. That is the motive behind a good deal of our praying. “Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today!” T. Austin-Sparks
We live in an unbelieving world. The god of this age has blinded the minds of the masses; the veil firmly in place preventing them from seeing the illuminating light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The work of removing that veil is not ours, though we may be brought into or participate in the work. We do not, we cannot, in our own strength and by our own effort of hard work, mental reasoning and emotional feelings, get a blind person to see.
A spiritually blind person can only find hope in earthly change; be it their own circumstance or world problems, for them there is nothing beyond what they can physically see. It is all right here and right now, nothing further, nothing else. Like the mentality of a teenager, they are unable to see beyond the limitations of time and emotion. This is not a judgment or even a criticism of anyone. We are all spiritually blind until we are given spiritual sight.
In recent history the greater opinion of this unbelieving world became wholly fed up with “thoughts and prayers” during times of tragedy and turmoil. These “thoughts and prayers” are obviously not changing anything; a headline of an internationally known newspaper had a 2015 headline, “God isn’t fixing this.”
If we narrow the scope from larger world issues to our own individual lives, what, on the surface of things, could we say that “God isn’t fixing,” no matter how much we beg and plead in prayer? Maybe a lot. If we’re honest and not attempting to make a glossy, social media, or church acceptable presentation of our life…there’s probably much in our personal circumstance that has gone unchanged, sometimes they may even worsen.
There is an ironic humor in the last sentence of Sparks’ quote above: Lord, don’t let anything bad happen today, because it would spoil our life today. The irony is that it’s true for many of us. The humor is that it’s true for many of us.
When Jesus began to speak clearly about His impending suffering & death, Peter was not going to let Him have it. Peter took Jesus aside and reprimanded Him for saying such things. Jesus’ response is alarming: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are in My way – an offense and a hindrance and a snare to Me; for you are minding what partakes not of the nature and quality of God, but of men.” (Matthew 16:21-23, Amplified Classic) We jump to Romans 8 to get the gospel or new covenant interpretation: Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set controlled by the Spirit finds life and peace. In fact, the mind-set focused on the flesh fights God’s plan and refuses to submit to His direction, because it cannot! (Romans 8:5-7, The Passion)
“Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves.” Every single human being who has ever lived has been motivated by their flesh. This is not something unique to one and not to another. This is all of us. Some are naturally more kind or understanding than others; some are naturally inclined to religion and its duties, others are more bent towards rebellion. Either way you slice it, it is the flesh that pursues what benefits ourselves, or as Jesus said, “what partakes not of the nature and quality of God, but of men.” It is Christ’s life in us that changes the narrative altogether. But how does it happen practically, in every day living? How does Christ’s life in us become more prominent than our flesh? We can follow the words on the page of Scripture and repeat over and over and over again, “I have been crucified with Christ – in Him I have shared His crucifixion; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20) But until that has been worked out in us by the sovereignty of God via the Holy Spirit, and our yielding to that work, we will be frustrated.
The Lord still tries you to convince you thoroughly that your estimate of your own strength is utterly false and exaggerated and to bring you to the place where it will be truly, Not I but Christ liveth in me. A. B. Simpson
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely and mortally sick! Who can know it [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart and mind]? Verse 10 answers with, I, the Lord, search the mind, I try the heart…
It is through the Lord’s trying us where we come to know our heart, deceitful as it is. We groan under the light, acknowledging what He shows us is true of our old fleshly nature; we worship in that same light, grateful that there is no condemnation, and that what is old has passed away and the fresh and new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It is through these initially unwanted, yet sovereignly unchanged circumstances, where we come to the end of ourselves, no longer being led by the flesh and seeking what benefits us, but walking after the Spirit and what will ultimately glorify the Lord. We can better hear the Peter’s in our lives, who are not minding what is of the nature and quality of God, when they reprimand us in some season of suffering we are yielding to; not in a fleshly submission to the suffering alone which leads to despair, but in obedience to the Lord in the suffering. Trusting that since Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8), we too shall learn. Having a determination like Paul to know Christ; to become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and clearly. And that we may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers]; and that we may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed in spirit into the likeness of Christ (Philippians 3:10).
Weaving the thread back around to bring this writing to its completion, Father, we admit that our prayers have been filled to the brim with our old nature, seeking what benefits us, whether it be for ourselves or for the self of others. We recognize that old creation prayers are no match for the battle, for we wrestle not against flesh & blood. It takes something altogether other to keep us standing in this day, when the rulers of the darkness of this world are stepping up their game. Lord we ask a heart seeking the downright reality of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17-19 be made good in us, for nothing else – no other thing – will suffice.
Father, we ask for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Flood our hearts with Your Light illuminating the mysteries we could never know when we were blind and behind the veil. We ask this so we can know and understand the eternal hope to which You have called us, and how rich is your glorious inheritance in the called-out ones. We accept that to continually experience the immeasurable greatness of Your power made available to us through faith we will be faced with naturally insurmountable odds. But that is, through us, the very epicenter to the world the same power You released when raising Christ from the dead, exalting Him above all things.
Thank you Father!