February 2010 - Vol. 37
Prayer Shaped by the Word of God
The Lord will prepare a banquet table for those who hunger for his Word
by Don Schwager
Words have power. They can build up and transform or they can tear down and destroy. Scripture tells us that God created the universe by his all-powerful word. That same word took flesh in Jesus Christ who was sent from the Father to redeem a fallen race: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). His words are words of life because he speaks what the Father has given him (John 8:28). His words not only have power to instruct, but power to heal, restore, and remake us in the image of God.
Paul the Apostle said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). What does it mean to have Christ’s word dwelling in us?
If you have a favorite author or two, you enjoy reading their literary works. Sometimes you can’t get enough, so you search for everything they wrote, even their letters and biography, because these can often reveal important things about the personal life and thoughts of the author. But the people we know the best are those we live with and share our lives with on a personal, intimate level.
God’s word alive
When we read the words of Scripture do we mainly seek wisdom and inspiration for living a better life? A good motive indeed. But God wants his word to not simply improve or reform us. He wants his word to transform our every thought and action.
Forty years ago the Lord taught me a vivid lesson in how I should approach his word. That lesson comes back to me time and time again as I seek the Lord in prayer and the study of his word.
At the end of my time at university I was 22 years old and at the crossroads of my life. As a student I had been actively involved in an evangelistic campus ministry and was serving in a local Christian community. As I approached graduation, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of how I could best serve God. I saw myself as a junior apostle – ready to go wherever the Lord wanted to send me on mission. My question was “Where do I start to launch out in mission? Perhaps I should move to another university campus where I could begin a new evangelistic outreach.”
“My thoughts are
not your thoughts”
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.I prayed long and hard that summer. What was God saying to me and how did he want me to respond? I felt convicted every time I read the passage from Isaiah 55. Do my thoughts – what I think God wants of me, how he wants me to live and serve him – really conform to his thoughts – what he thinks is best for me, and what his plan is for my life? How can I best serve him and bring him glory?
Finally one day, in exasperation, I sank to my knees and prayed, “Lord, I surrender! I surrender my thoughts, my ways, my plans, my aspirations. I surrender everything, Lord, into your hands. Show me your ways and lead me on your path.”
I felt broken, humbled, and spent of my own striving for success. I was like a young wild steed – charging ahead across every hill and valley I fancied to conquer. The Master had to stop me in my tracks in order to get my full attention. He wanted to take the reins and tame my racing spirit and mind, not so much to slow me down but to set me on the right course.
A full-time student
in the school of life
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).If we want to know God’s mind – his thoughts and intentions for our lives – then we must allow his word to not simply inform us but transform us as well.
Loving God through
In our daily prayer and reflection, we should allow God’s word to form our minds and change the way we think and live as disciples of Christ. Expectant faith and docility open the mind and heart to hear Christ’s voice and to learn from him.
One of my favorite prayers from Psalm 119:97-104 expresses the joy of the humble man who receives wisdom and understanding from listening to God’s word and then putting it into practice:
Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.Wisdom from the early fathers
The early church fathers were steeped in the study of the Scriptures and they passed on the wisdom which was handed down from the apostles, who were themselves taught by the Lord Jesus.(3) The fathers have much wisdom and experience to pass on to us as well. Here are a few quotes to illustrate how they approached the Word of God in Scripture:
You are reading [the Scriptures]? No. Your betrothed is talking to you. It is your betrothed, that is, Christ, who is united with you. He tears you away from the solitude of the desert and brings you into his home, saying to you, “Enter into the joy of your Master.”Hungry for God
God made us to know him and to be known by him as his beloved. He delights to be with those who hunger for him and who listen to his word. Let him draw you from the distractions of your cares and concerns so you can sit at his feet and listen to his voice. You will not be disappointed, even for a moment. He will refresh you and renew you and give you strength for your journey. Taste and see how good is the Lord (Psalm 34:8)! He will spread a banquet table for those who accept his invitation.
(1) M. Robert Mulholland Jr., professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, expands on this understanding of formational reading in his book, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, published in 2001 by Upper Room Books.
(2) For further reading, see essay Shaped by the Word, written by Brian K. Rice, Reformed evangelical pastor, writer, and director for Leadership ConneXtions International.[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.]
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