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And so we will serve God by believing His promise of fullest joy and walking by that faith. We will not serve God by trying to put our power at His disposal for His good, but by doing what is necessary so that His power will be ever at our disposal for our good. And of course, God has appointed that His power be at our disposal through prayer: “Ask and you will receive”! So we serve by the power that comes through prayer when we serve for the glory of God.
Without doubt, this sort of serving also means obedience. A patient who trusts his doctor’s prescriptions obeys them. A convalescent sinner trusts the painful directions of his therapist and follows them. Only in this way do we keep ourselves in a position to benefit from what the divine Physician has to offer. In all this obedience it is we who are the beneficiaries. God is ever the Giver. For it is the Giver who gets the glory.
grace of God that is with us (1 Corinthians 15:10). Let us obey now, as always, but never forget that it is God who works in us, both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Let us spread the gospel far and wide and spend ourselves for the sake of God’s elect, but never venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through us (Romans 15:18). Let us ever pray for His power and wisdom so that all our serving is the overflow of righteousness, joy, and peace from the Holy Spirit. “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:18).
So the astonishing good news implied in the duty of prayer is that God will never give up the glory of being our Servant. “No eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4, RSV).
PRAYER PURSUIT OUR JOYAS THE OF Uniquely preserved in the act of prayer is the unity of two goals—the pursuit of God’s glory and the pursuit of our joy. So far in this chapter, we have meditated
on prayer as the pursuit of God’s glory, with John 14:13 as our starting point:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Now we turn to Jesus’ words in John 16:24: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Is this not a clear invitation to Christian Hedonism? Pursue the fullness of your joy! Pray!
From this sacred Word and from experience, we can draw a simple rule:
Among professing Christians, prayerlessness produces joylessness. Why? Why is it that a deep life of prayer leads to fullness of joy, while a shallow life of prayerlessness produces joylessness? Jesus gives at least two reasons in the context of John 16:24.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice.” Separation from Jesus means sadness. Restoration of fellowship means joy.
Therefore, we learn that no Christian can have fullness of joy without a vital fellowship with Jesus Christ. Knowledge about Him will not do. Work for Him will not do. We must have personal, vital fellowship with Him; otherwise, Christianity becomes a joyless burden.
In his first letter, John wrote, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3–4). Fellowship with Jesus shared with others is essential to fullness of joy.
The first reason, then, why prayer leads to fullness of joy is that prayer is the nerve center of our fellowship with Jesus. He is not here physically to see. But in prayer we speak to Him just as though He were. And in the stillness of those sacred times, we listen to His Word and we pour out to Him our longings.
Perhaps John 15:7 is the best summary of this two-sided fellowship of prayer: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” When the biblical words of Jesus abide in our mind, we hear the very thoughts of the living Christ, for He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And out of that deep listening of the heart comes the language of prayer, which is a sweet incense before God’s throne. The life of prayer leads to fullness of joy because prayer is the nerve center of our vital fellowship with Jesus.
Jonathan Edwards gives us an account of his early years to illustrate the
height and intensity to which this fellowship can rise:
I had vehement longing of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break.… I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the words, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.8 Prayer is God’s appointed way to fullness of joy because it is the vent of the inward burnings of our heart for Christ. If we had no vent, if we could not commune with Him in response to His Word, we would be miserable indeed.
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit.” The connection is clear between prayer and fruit-bearing. God promises to answer prayers for people who are pursuing fruit that abounds to His glory.
Verses 16–17 point in the same direction:
8. Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, ed. C. H.
Faust, T. H. Johnson (New York: Hill & Wang, 1962), 61.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” The logic here is crucial. Question: Why is the Father going to give the disciples what they ask in Jesus’ name? Answer: Because they have been sent to bear fruit. The reason the Father gives the disciples the gift of prayer is because Jesus has given them a mission. In fact, the grammar of John 15:16 implies that the reason Jesus gives them their mission is so that they will be able to enjoy the power of prayer: “I send you to bear fruit…so that whatever you ask the Father…he may give you.” Isn’t it plain that the purpose of prayer is to accomplish a mission? A mission of love: “This I command you, to love one another.” It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission (go and bear fruit), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general’s headquarters, and said, “Comrades, the General has a mission for you.
He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end He has authorized Me to give each of you personal access to Him through these transmitters. If you stay true to His mission and seek His victory first, He will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send in air cover when you need it.”
CAN WARTIME WALKIE-TALKIEA
BE DOMESTIC INTERCOM?
A Could it be that many of our problems with prayer and much of our weakness in prayer come from the fact that we are not all on active duty, and yet we still try to use the transmitter? We have taken a wartime walkie-talkie and tried to turn it into a civilian intercom to call the servants for another cushion in the den.
There are other examples in Scripture of the wartime significance of prayer.
In Luke 21:34–36, Jesus warned His disciples that times of great distress and opposition were coming. Then He said, “But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of man” (v. 36).
In other words, following Jesus will inevitably lead us into severe conflicts with evil. This evil will surround us and attack us and threaten to destroy our faith. So God has given us a transmitter. If we go to sleep, it will do us no good, but if we are alert and call for help in the conflict, the reinforcements will come, and the General will not let His faithful solders be denied their crown of victory before the Son of man.
Life is war. And “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Therefore, Paul commands us to “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:12, 17–18).
So we see repeatedly in Scripture that prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing our conveniences. The point of prayer is empowering for mission: “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3). “Strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf…that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints” (Romans 15:30–31). “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1). “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
The fullness of joy we seek is the joy of overflowing love to other people.
No amount of getting can satisfy the soul until it overflows in giving. And no sacrifice will destroy the soul-delights of an obedient people on a mission of love from God, for which prayer is His strategic provision. So the reason we pray is “that our joy may be full.” Fellowship with Jesus is essential to joy, but there is something about it that impels us outward, to share His life with others. A Christian can’t be happy and stingy: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Therefore, the second reason a life of prayer leads to fullness of joy is that it gives us the power to love. If the pump of love runs dry, it is because the pipe of prayer isn’t deep enough.
PR AY E R Love is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and the Spirit is given in answer to prayer (Luke 11:13). Love is the outworking of faith (Galatians 5:6), and faith is sustained by prayer (Mark 9:24). Love is rooted in hope (Colossians 1:4–5), and hope is preserved by prayer (Ephesians 1:18). Love is guided and inspired by knowledge of the Word of God (Philippians 1:9; John 17:17), and prayer opens the eyes of the heart to the wonders of the Word (Psalm 119:18).
If love is the path of fullest joy, then let us pray for the power to love “that our joy might be full”!
THE FINAL JOY GOD’S PEOPLEOF What will be the final joy of God’s people? Will it not be the day when the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the waters cover the sea? Will it not be the day when our mission is complete and the children of God are gathered in from every people and tongue and tribe and nation (John 11:52; Revelation 5:9; 7:9)— when all causes of sin and all evildoers are taken out of Christ’s kingdom and the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:42–43)?
And is not Frontier Missions9 a road to that ultimate joy? And is not Frontier Missions quickened and carried by a movement of prayer? This was the conviction of the early church (Acts 1:14; 4:23–31; 7:4; 10:9; 12:5; 13:3; 14:23;
and so on) and of the seventeenth-century Puritans10 and of the eighteenthcentury European Moravians11 and American Evangelicals12 and of the nineteenth-century student and laymen’s movements.13 It is also the deep conviction of mission leaders today.14
9. I use the term “Frontier Missions” to refer to those mission efforts that labor to break through a cultural barrier to plant the church in a people group for the first time, as distinct from mission efforts among those who already have a long established church, even though a person has crossed a culture or an ocean to do it.
10. Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1971), 99–103.
11. Colin A. Grant, “Europe’s Moravians: A Pioneer Missionary Church,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 3rd ed., ed. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey, 1999), 274–6.
12. Jonathan Edwards, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth..., in Apocalyptic Writings, ed. Stephen Stein (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977), 309–436.
13. David M. Howard, “Student Power in World Missions,” in Perspectives, 277–86.
14. See especially David Bryant, Concerts of Prayer (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 1984); idem, Messengers of Hope:
Becoming Agents of Revival for the 21st Century, Dick Eastman, The Hour that Changes the World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1978); and Patrick Johnstone, Operation World: When We Pray God Works (Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster, 2001).
HOW GREAT AWAKENING CAMEA Rightly so. For history testifies to the power of prayer as the prelude to spiritual
awakening and missions advance. One example from New York City history: