On one occasion I heard a preacher ask, ‘Do you think there will be prayer in heaven?’
It is a good question that took my thoughts to the Garden scene of Genesis 3. Immediately following Adam and Eve’s fatal decision to rebel against God’s command that they must not eat the fruit of ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:17), we read that they ‘heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ (Genesis 3:8). The text suggests that it was customary for God to speak with Adam and Eve in their state of pre-fallen glory. Created in the image of God, the high point of his creating work, relationship was an essential part of their existence. Conversation with God was one of their special privileges. It suggests that conversation will be part of our relationship with God in the age to come and, as in Genesis 3, it will be God who starts the conversation.
MARY AND MARTHA AS AN EXAMPLE
Following this line of thought, it is significant that Luke includes a conversation between Martha and Jesus immediately before the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.
In Luke 10:38ff we read that Jesus and his followers were entertained to a meal by his friends, Martha and Mary. The two sisters we learn were quite different. Martha seems to have been the type A personality – focused, active, and a responsible hostess. Mary, however, seems to have been more outgoing and sociable, wanting to be part of the conversation with Jesus.
Suddenly Martha’s frustration with her sister bubbled over. She burst into the room where Jesus and the others were, blurting out: ‘When will you tell my sister to come and help me?’
We can imagine the tension of the moment. How would Jesus respond? His reply is fascinating. We’d expect him to suggest gently to Mary that she ought to be helping Martha. But he doesn’t. This is surprising, not just because of the culture, but because it had not been long since he had told the story of the Good Samaritan, explaining ‘neighbor love’. ‘Martha, Martha,’ he chides, ‘you’re too focused on doing. Mary has chosen the better portion’ (Luke 10:41f).
Jesus wants us to know that there are times in life when the demands of people and the command to love our neighbor pale into insignificance when compared with the prior claim to be with God. The first command is, ‘Love the Lord your God…’; ‘Love your neighbor’, is second. Important though other things may be, we must not let busy-ness, sporting engagements, and social activities become excuses that prevent us from obeying the first claim of a loving God.
As this scene comes immediately before Jesus speaks on the subject of prayer, it suggests that the first thing we need to do when we pray is put aside our busy-ness so we can listen first to God.
We do this by opening the Bible and reading it. Over the years I have found the Book of Psalms to be a great starting point for my Bible reading each day. The Psalms are ruthlessly honest as they explore the realities of following God in a confused and messed up world. The Psalms also give me the freedom to ask questions of God, and learn from him. You may know the expression, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ I find that ‘a Psalm a day keeps the devil at bay.’
In Philippians 4:4-6 Paul the Apostle says: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice.’
This is very high-sounding advice. On what basis can Paul give it? Only on the grounds of his understanding of the Person and Character of God based on his understanding of the Scriptures – God’s self-revelation.
The 16th century English reformers understood this. Consider this prayer of John Bradford which is grounded in his understanding of God: “Dear Father,… I pray thee, remember even for Thine own truth and mercy’s sake this promise and everlasting covenant, which in Thy good time I pray thee to write in my heart, that I may ‘know Thee to be the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent’; that I may love Thee with all my heart forever; that I may love Thy people for Thy sake; that I may be holy in Thy sight through Christ; that I may always not only strive against sin, but also overcome the same daily more and more, as Thy children do; above all things desiring ‘the sanctification of Thy name’, ‘the coming of Thy kingdom’, ‘the doing of Thy will here on earth as it is in heaven’, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate. Amen.” (Bradford: Works, Vol. 1, pp.174, 175, 177, 189, 199, 200f, 204, quoted in PE Hughes Theology of the English Reformers, p.95)
How easily we put aside the special privilege we have of conversation with the Most High God.
© John G. Mason