Master's level praying

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:12-14)

One of the tensions of the Christian life is that while salvation is so simple that even a five-year-old can have genuine saving faith, discipleship is so sophisticated that even the most devoted Christian will never arrive at perfection this side of heaven. While “faith like a child” brings us into a genuine relationship with God (Matthew 18:3-5), we will never come close to plumbing the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33).

In the same way, while it is accurate to say that on the one hand, prayer is as simple as “talking to God,” there are also heights and depths of prayer that are so much more advanced that than simple definition. When you read Jesus’ promises that He will do whatever we ask in His name, and then experience how often our prayers go unanswered, the conclusion is either (a) God is a liar, or (b) there is a level of prayer that we have yet to reach. Jesus often talks Master’s level praying, while our prayer life is still in grade school.

One of the “Grad School-level” instructors in prayer is E.M. Bounds, who lived from 1835-1913 and wrote many books on prayer. When I read the passage below, from his book The Reality of Prayer (published in 1924), I had the distinct sense that he was talking about a level of prayer that I was not close to reaching, but which I long to attain. But be warned: this is not an easy elementary school read, but graduate level stuff that Bounds is talking about. Read it slowly and thoughtfully:

“Christ was one with God’s plan, and one with God’s will. To pray in conformity with God’s will was the life and law of Christ. The same was the law of His praying. Conformity, to live one with God, is a far higher and more divine life than to live simply in submission to God. To pray in conformity, together with God, is a far higher and more divine way to pray than mere submission. At its best stage, submission is non-rebellion, an acquiescence, which is good, but not the highest. The most powerful form of praying is positive, aggressive, mightily outgoing and creative. It molds things, changes things, and brings things to pass.

Conformity means to ‘stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.’ It means to delight to do God’s will, to run with eagerness and ardor to carry out His plans. Conformity to God’s will involves submission – patient, loving, and sweet submission. But submission in itself falls short of and does not include conformity. We may be submissive but not conformed. We may accept results against which we have warred, and even be resigned to them.

Conformity means to be one with God, both in result and in processes. Submission may be one with God in the end. Conformity is one with God in the beginning and the end. Jesus had conformity, absolute and perfect, to God’s will, and by that He prayed… We often end praying just where we ought to begin. We quit praying when God waits and is waiting for us to really pray…
To have
no plan but to see God’s plan and carry it out, is of the essence and inspiration of Christly praying. This is far more than putting in a clause of submission. Jesus did this once in seeking to change the purpose of God [at Gethsemane], but all His other praying was the output of being perfectly one with the plans and purposes of God. It is after this order we pray when we abide in Him and when His Word abides in us. Then we ask what we will, and it is done. It is then our prayers fashion and create things. Our wills then become God’s will, and His will becomes ours. The two become one, and there is not a note of discord.”

Lord, teach us to pray, not just in submission to your will, but in conformity to your will! Amen.

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