Here’s my attempt to capture some of what Gary Millar spoke on during the recent Ignite Training Conference 2013. For various reasons I missed a couple of Gary Koo talks so I’ll post up those summaries when I get a chance to re-listen to those talks.
Gary Millar’s first talk: Learning to Pray in a Fallen World (Genesis 3).
Intro: Prayer is really hard! Even for a Christian of many years, prayer is hard. Almost everybody struggles with prayer. And this is not helped by the current strategy of most churches: agree to not talk about it, pretend that there’s no problem. For if we ignore the problem then we’ll feel less guilty about it.
Gary [Ed: towering man of God and preacher that he is] confesses also to being a prayer wimp.
We begin our journey into scripture by looking at Genesis 4, which isn’t a pretty place to start. Right after Adam and Eve are booted from the Garden we have human beings starting to kill each other. But by the end of Chapter 4 we have the birth of prayer with the birth of Enosh (4:26) – at this time people are calling on the name of the Lord.
Why are they doing that? Because people are beginning to understand the Gospel! They have got a glimpse of the coming of Christ.
How? In Genesis 3 there was a promised descendant of Eve who will be the snake crusher. But this doesn’t turn out to be Abel (because he dies) and it definitely can’t be Cain (because he’s the murderer). So by the time of Enosh people have started to get the fact that things will not get sorted out straight away – that God will not fulfil his promises right away. So they cry out to God, they acknowledge their hopelessness.
Prayer starts with the Gospel – only when you see that God is the only one who can fix this messed up world through his saviour then you can pray.
A. It would be easy try and develop a big ‘to do’ list of prayer as though this will solve the problem.
This would be an almighty waste of time. Ironically enough if you want to pray more, you don’t focus on praying! You focus on the God of the Gospel. Prayer should start and end with God – and this saves us from the ‘to do’ list mentality
B. It would also be easy to just wallow in incredible guilt.
But this is the point of Genesis 4:26 – if you wallow in guilt you haven’t got the message. The Gospel doesn’t leave us feeling guilty, it drives us to grace.
Here’s how John Bunyan understood this concept: Now I saw in my dream, that the highway, up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Here’s how John Calvin understood it: Just as faith is born from the gospel, so through it our hearts are trained to call upon God’s name in prayer.
Here’s some bad news:
Our generation is probably the most difficult to live in and be a prayerful person. We live in a fast paced, cynical, socially connected world. It’s not easy to pray – we need to take this difficulty seriously. Yet, struggling with prayer is not a new thing, it’s been around since the start of the church. (Gary quotes some guys in church history expressing their disappointment with non-prayerful people and giving their advice on prayer). If you struggle with prayer you stand in a long line of saints before you.
Again, why is it so hard? Because we live in a fallen world. We still have the desire for intimacy with God, but it’s really hard to pull it off. Getting through to God is also really hard, and we’ll try anything to get some sense of God (eg. all the various traditions and superstitions surrounding prayer).
Why does all of this matter? Understanding it all means we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we struggle to pray.
Here’s some good news:
Prayer is designed for a fallen world! God has designed prayer to work in a fallen world.
And remember: prayer is an interim measure. It’s temporary. In the new heavens and the new earth there will not be any more prayer, for we will see and speak with God face to face!
Prayer is also designed for this world where we feel discouraged and hurt, by our sin and the sins of others against us. But before we get despondent, let’s be encouraged with these three things:
1. God has made prayer possible through the Gospel.
Without the Gospel prayer just can’t happen.
Galatians 4:4 reminds us that because we are God’s sons we have the spirit of God which helps us cry out Abba, Father. Therefore the Gospel allows us to join in the original conversation in the universe – within the Trinity.
2. God made prayer good in a fallen world through the Gospel.
God says he will show up when we pray. Even when it feels like a rubbish time together, it is still good.
3. God has promised he will answer our prayers in a fallen world through the Gospel.
Like a child to their parents, we can ask anything and trust God with the answer. And because we can trust God we can ask of him *anything*.
There are some prayers that God will always answer positively.
- Prayer for forgiveness
- Prayers seeking to know God better – and since this is the whole focus of God in our lives (to grow our knowledge of Him leading to Christ-likeness) he will answer
- Prayers for wisdom – to know how to live for God
- Prayers for the strength to obey
- Prayers asking for the spread of the Gospel
Here’s how to be an advanced prayer:
- Become an expert asker
- Recognise that you are always so close to making a train wreck of your life
- Jesus says come to me you who are weary – so the criteria for coming to Jesus is to be weary – not those who are qualified in prayer