PRAYER AS FELLOWSHIP
I have a good and growing collection of classic, (as well as lesser known books) on the subject of prayer. The best books I’ve ever read- that is to say the most influential in my life -have been on prayer. I encourage every believer to read about prayer. (For this reason I am including a “recommended reading list” at the end of this Blog entry.)
Having said all of that, and intending in no way to diminish the importance of these books, I’ve noticed an absent subject in the discussion on prayer. We need to talk more about prayer as fellowship. Last week, in preparing to preach, I searched the table of contents for such a chapter in some of my favorite books and came up empty.
There are chapters on intercession, confession, praise, how long to spend in prayer, what posture to take in prayer, supplication, petition, warfare prayer, the mystery of unanswered prayer, great men and women of prayer, and the prayer life of Jesus. There are chapters on prayer and evangelism, prayer and fasting, group prayer, praying the Word, and praying for your pastor, but we need more on the subject of prayer as fellowship! In one sense, we readily acknowledge every great book on prayer is, in a general or larger sense about fellowship with God, but the time has come for us to insist more specifically on this subject. Without a focus on this primary subject, prayer may become a “got to” instead of a “get to” exercise!
What is meant by “prayer as fellowship“?
A BIBLICAL EXAMPLE
At some point in King David’s life he was in life threatening trouble. While David was still a young man, the jealous, half crazed King Saul hunted David across the Judean desert intending to kill him. Decades later, when David was firmly established as King, his overly ambitious son Absolom pulled off a coup that forced David out of Jerusalem and into hiding while the armies of Absolom hunted him. Only the miraculous intervention of God saved David in both instances. During one of those terrible, vulnerable seasons, David wrote Psalm 27. In 14 brief verses he mentions opposing armies, enemies, and adversaries at least 10 times!
In spite of the dilemmas he faced, David’s desire was centered, not on claiming or reclaiming his throne, but instead, on “one thing.” The “one thing” he prayed for was a return to unhurried worship in the presence of God!
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4 ESV)
Notice how David hoped to spend the days of his life- “gazing upon the beauty of the Lord…” (v.4). Then he expressed a second, similar longing: “to inquire in His temple.” These phrases describe two aspects of prayer as fellowship. Both phrases focus on intimacy with God through praise and prayer. David sought the presence of God so he could enjoy fellowship with God.
Were there times when David prayed for other reasons? Of course! He interceded, confessed, praised, petitioned- David knew the power of prayer. He was one of greatest prayer warriors in Scripture! But in a clarifying moment, David desired to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord,” which suggests pure praise and loving fellowship. To “inquire” in the temple isn’t a way of suggesting how to ask from God, but instead to study God Himself. The word translated “inquire,” in the ESV, is from a Hebrew word rarely used in connection to God. It’s basic definition has to do with finding something lost. The use of the word in connection to God and prayer, however, seems to mean something akin to our word “investigate.” In other words, King David expressed a desire to “investigate” or “study” God. If that is the way the word is intended, as I believe it is, then the thought of the phrase is not about inquiring of God but inquiring about God! The equivalent New Testament thought is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he said “I want to know Him….” (Ph.3:10). For King David, the deep longing of his heart was not for what God would give Him through prayer, but for fellowship with God through prayer!
TAKING OUR PRAYER LIFE INTO HIS PRESENCE
Asking, confessing, thanking, praising, and interceding are all appropriate aspects of real prayer and we should exercise our privilege of prayer in all of these ways. But one thing I want to avoid in prayer is a “prayer life” that looks more like a mercantile exchange than an intimate fellowship. If we focus only on a kind of unspoken spiritual “scorecard” of answered prayers (as if prayer is only about receiving the results we seek in prayer), we have reduced prayer to less than it is. Jesus did instruct us to ask, and God does promise that if we call upon Him, we should expect Him to do “great and mighty things.” But if that is all prayer is to us, it might be like a husband returning from a work related trip and his wife’s first words to him being, “Did you bring me anything?”
After more than 35 years of prayer, I can testify that the greatest “answer” to prayer I have ever received is the privilege of prayer itself. In prayer, we meet with God-nothing could be better than that. To put it another way, it isn’t the “presents” of God in prayer, but the “presence” of God in prayer that brings me back to prayer every day. In fact, I am going to slip away for some fellowship with God in prayer right now!
To expand on this theme, I have included a recommended prayer reading list, and the video of the Sunday message from Psalm 27:4.
APPENDIX: RECOMMENDED READING LIST
WATCH SERMON “UNLIMITED LIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD”