Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Why Pray and Read the Bible?"

(Friends: this is a bit longer than usual. Thanks for your patience).

I recently heard a fine Bible teacher say, "Read your Bible and pray every day." I agree very much with the sentiment and content of this encouragement, and I personally seek to fulfill this endeavor.

However, the thought also occurs to me that it is possible to read our Bible and pray every day without the heart, motivation, and intent that makes spiritual activities genuine.

"Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).

Why do we read the Bible and pray every day? If this question is not answered rightly, the exercise can actually deceive us into thinking we are relating to God when we are not. We must therefore consider both proper and improper motivations for seeking to personally commune with our Heavenly Father through His Word, and through the gift of prayer.

First, a mere sense of obligation and duty is not a good reason to read and pray. God has no interest in heartless obedience, as evidenced by a severe rebuke of Israel long ago: "Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things" (Deuteronomy 28:45; 47). "Serve the Lord with gladness" commanded the Psalmist, and believers are called to know "God, our exceeding joy" well enough that we approach Him with heartfelt sincerity (Psalm 43:4).

Our personal need for the Lord and His truth is also not a worthy enough reason to come to Him. Certainly we will avail ourselves to His supply as we read and pray, and God loves our requests and petitions. Such seeking also reveals that we are aware of our great need for trusting the Lord Jesus Christ in all things, a very good thing. However, merely coming to have our needs met can actually be the fruit of the flesh and its self-centered lust. God's abundant giving to us is based on far greater motivations and purposes than merely making us feel full and happy (although that is often the proper and joyful result). The glory of His Son and the blessing of others through us are far more His intent, and at the end of the day, far more the joy of our Christ-inhabited spirits.

Finally, we must be very careful that we do not read the Bible and pray for public display. Our communion with God is meant to be a very personal matter, and overmuch testimony and talk of "what God showed me in the Bible," or "God answered this or that prayer" is often a greater indication of desiring the praise of men than of true relationship with our Lord. The Pharisees were roundly chastened by the Lord Jesus for such unreality: "When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:5-6).

What are the proper motivations for reading the Bible and praying every day? One word answers this question (although the expressions and implications of the simplicity are infinite). Love. We read the Bible and pray because God loves us, and we love Him. "The prayer of the upright is His delight" (Proverbs 15:8). Amazingly, our fellowship is a precious thing to our Heavenly Father, so much so that He gave His beloved Son to the cross of Calvary to make it possible. Understanding the wonder that we matter so much to God will birth within us a sense of belovedness that fuels our desire to bless the One who has so blessed us. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Love begets love, and the more we understand the Bible's ongoing teaching of the love of God for us, the more we long to walk in the love of us for God.

The motivation is, of course, far more than simply emotional. It is deeply spiritual if properly grasped, and thus a matter of the most heartfelt conviction. We find ourselves enabled to make self-sacrificial choices as a matter of desire rather than obligation, and to commune with God because we increasingly realize that the heart of our being is God-centered and saturated. Indeed, conviction is a trait of true love that is often not considered enough, and leads to a trusting obedience that fills with the heart with a sensibility of rightness that may actually transcend emotion.

Finally, such motivation of love results in genuine desire to glorify and honor the Lord Jesus. Again, this does not mean that we often talk about our personal and private times of communion with Him. It rather involves the fact that relating to God changes us into His likeness. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18). Moses came down from the mount with his face shining with the light of God (Exodus 34:29-35). In an ever greater spiritual expression, our character, nature, disposition, and actions will reflect the fact of the One with whom we most live our lives. "They took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Honoring our Lord will be the natural result of time spent in His Word and prayer, and for the believer amazed by the love of God, and who desires to love Him in return, no greater result can be imagined.

"Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
(Psalm 16:11)

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