Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Who do you think you are?" When our identity informs our prayer.

It may well be that one of the reasons we struggle to pray is that we misunderstand who we really are in Christ. As a church, we've been journeying through Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, exploring the new identities we've been given in Christ. I'm convinced that if we really prayed from these identities, our prayer lives would be drastically transformed. On the one hand our prayers would be full of wonder and reverence because we would be aware that our elevated status is wholly underserved, yet freely given by God's grace. On the other hand, our prayer would be full of confidence because we would be conscious that our relationship to God was based on Christ's faithfulness not on our own. The love that the Father has for His Son is now set upon us because we are in Christ. If we really understood this we would pray with such bold confidence that people might ask, "Who do you think you are?!"

We are accepted in God's beloved Son! Our confident access to God is because God has said of Jesus, "This is my Beloved Son. With Him I am well pleased." Our lives are hidden within the Beloved Son!  This is the primary identity from which we pray. We are adopted as beloved sons and daughters of the Father. This is why, when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to say, " Our Father, who lives in heaven, Holy is your name." His Father has become our Father through our adoption as children. This means that we are no less his children when we sin and no more his children when we are righteous. Adoption is an identity given, not earned. In many ways, beginning prayer like this is counter-intuitive. Andrew Wilson recently wrote of being on a flight that went through a vicious storm.  Everybody on the flight thought the plane was going to crash and many were calling out to God, shouting, "Help me!" Some were even confessing their sins exclaiming, 'Forgive me!" The plane didn't crash, but Wilson noted how strange it was that the Lord's prayer doesn't start with 'Help me' or 'Forgive me!' He noted that it began with worship from children to their Father, which seems backwards in terms of the urgency of our needs. He concluded though,  that  what we really need first and foremost, is to know that we are loved and forever accepted by our Father in heaven. Praying from our identity as adopted children will mean we will not just network God with our prayer list. We will engage our Father with grateful worship. This is what we really need. 

There is another Christian identity that powerfully informs our prayer. It is our identity as Ambassadors. Paul's closing request was for the saints in Ephesus to pray for him, "That words may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for I am an ambassador in chains."(6:19) He saw himself as a delegated representative of heaven with an official message from His King. This is what we are too. It requires boldness which requires prayer. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, 'Hallowed be your Name,' it was not just worship, it was an ambassadorial request that God's name would be hallowed in places and by people where it had previously been rejected. Worship quickly turns to witness when we understand our identity as ambassadors. Today as we fast and pray at 133, we are going to pray for a season of ambassadorial boldness in our lead up to Easter and our Alpha course: lets pray for bold invitations, bold proclamation of the gospel  and bold decisions for Christ in baptism! 

Finally, we pray from our identity as soldiers in a spiritual battle, "for our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against...the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.Therefore pray in the Spirit on all occasions" ( 6:10,18) Prayer as spiritual warfare is a much maligned, much misunderstood and much underestimated reality. Even if we don't fully understand it, we sense the spiritual darkness, don't we? At times it's palpable, this conflict between  powers, wills and kingdoms. Which is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done." Jesus has overcome satan, who stands condemned. But satan is making the most of the limited time and power he has through deception, oppression, intimidation and accusation. Let's pray that his power would be broken in ours and others' lives today and that Christ's kingdom would come. 

So who do you think you are? God thinks you are his adopted child, his delegated ambassador and his trusted soldier. Today and tonight, let's pray like we believe it.