Pray in One Accord
The Church is the household of God, the Body of Christ and also the.pillar and support of the Truth. Christ Himself built her (Matt. 16:18) and "purchased [her] with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). In our Lord's discourse about the Church, however, He emphasized only the authority He gave to the Church: 'Whatever you [the Church] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you [the Church] loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). He never taught us the methods for establishing and expanding a church, nor the techniques for examining and training a Christian. Such omissions are effectively telling the Church this message of truth: If she is willing to utilize the authority given to her, and if she appropriates God's boundless riches, then the wisdom needed for church growth will certainly become her subjective wisdom instead of an objective knowledge. The Bible has said:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to
all men generously and without reproach....(Jas. 1:5)
Our Lord has even further promised that,
...if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them
by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in
My name, there I am in their midst. (Matt. 18:19-20)
These promises are with conditions. If we desire our heavenly Father to answer our prayers or to be with us, a clear understanding of the following truths are a must.
The Plural Form Of "You"
The Roman Catholics have all along insisted that the "you" means the apostle Peter in Christ's statement:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you
shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall
loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matt. 16:19)
According to the context of this passage, we cannot deny that what they say is correct. But, the name "Peter" in this passage can possibly be the individual as well as a representation of the group.
God's revelation in the Bible is progressive; a later revelation usually clarifies an earlier one. The later revelation of this passage is found in Matt. 18:18:
Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you
loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Here the Bible uses the plural form of "you" ("to you"-plural; "you shall bind"-plural; and "you loose"-plural). It is clear then, from this latter revelation, that the pronoun "you" in Matthew 16:19 is not an individual but a representation of the whole. "Peter" is used to represent the whole Church!
To put it simply, our Lord has not bestowed on Peter, but on His own Church, the authority that binds and looses. His love for the Church allows her to be the one to initiate such an important decision on earth, as to "who should be bound and who should be loosed" in eternity; then our Father will pronounce the identical verdicts accordingly in heaven. On the other hand, if the Church on earth does not take any action, there will be complete "silence" in heaven. No wonder the prophet Isaiah says, "...You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; I And give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (Is. 62:6-7). If those on earth do not rest, He who is in heaven will not rest either. Hallelujah!
A Corporate Effort
People often say that it makes no difference whether you pray individually or with a group, nor does it matter whether you pray alone at home or together with brothers and sisters at church. Such a statement is merely a self-consolation of the lazy, or a plausible explanation of one ignorant of the power of prayer! See what our Lord says about this aspect of prayer:
...if two of you [Church] agree on earth about anything
that they may ask....For where two or three have
gathered together in My name....(Matt. 18:19-20)
Our Lord has emphatically reminded us that the utilization of this divine authority can never be achieved by the effort of one individual, but only through the corporate effort executed from the standpoint of the entire Church. In other words, only when Christians pray in one accord from the standpoint of the entire Church, can the Church then effectively use and enjoy such divine authority. The Church of the last days, however, cannot see the reality of this truth, nor remember the
proper procedure for the appropriation of God's power. What a great loss it is! She has the divine authority from heaven, but not the knowledge of its administration, yet she wants to bind the work of Satan, to loose the downtrodden, and to further experience the reality of God's presence. Alas, it cannot be done!
A Harmonious Chord
The Church has to practice reigning with Christ and having God's presence in order to grow. This dual blessing is attainable only when those who offer prayers have the correct perspective on their position, as well as a harmonious unity of their intent and attitude. Otherwise, laboring in vain is inevitable.
"In one accord" originally is a verb from which the English word "symphony'' is translated. For a piece of music to be enjoyable and pleasing to the audience, every musician in an orchestra has to obey the conductor. In so doing, each note and each chord may be played harmoniously in one accord to produce an exquisite melody.
A prayer meeting is similar. There is only one difference between a symphony and a prayer meeting that reigns with Christ and has God's presence. The former desires the harmony of sounds, while the latter, the harmony of hearts! No wonder the Chinese Bible translates "in one accord" as "with the same heart and the same mind." Therefore, for a prayer meeting to have God's presence, not only must all participants understand the importance and the reality of prayer, but they must also come with a sincere desire to reign with God, and offer petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings to God in one accord. The prayer meeting will then be successful and other ministries will also operate smoothly. Praise the Lord!
An Uncompromising Faith
When our Lord was on the earth, He sighed and said, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). This verse means, "When Christ comes to the world, it will be difficult to find anyone who has faith." The word "faith" has been widely used in the Bible. Its exact meaning can only be defined after a careful examination of its context. The text before this verse is the parable showing that we ought to pray at all times and not lose heart, while the text following is the parable of the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector. Thus, the context of this verse clearly indicates that the word "faith" here refers to the faith in prayer. And our Lord's statement is a lamentation that His Church will lose the faith of prayer on the eve of His second coming.
The prayer meetings of many churches today are actually deserted. Encountering such a sorrowful state, quite a number of churches totally ignore this important warning and in their indulgence for self-gratification, cancel their prayer
meetings all together. It is truly the sign that the Lord's second coming is at hand! Nowadays, many Christians worship television more than their Lord who has delivered them from death into life. This is indeed sad!
There are two reasons why the churches of the last days exhibit such extreme apathy towards prayer meeting. These reasons are focused on Satan and the flesh.
a. The restraints by Satan
Satan fully comprehends that the only means of prolonging his evil life is by delaying the second corning of Christ. If Satan devises a way of keeping the personnel of God's kingdom from being ready, Christ has to defer His corning. When the bride (the Church) is not ready, the groom (Christ) cannot come!
For this reason, he employs his evil schemes with all his might towards restraining people from believing in Jesus-thereby keeping the personnel of God's kingdom from being produced. By the grace of our Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit, many of the restrained are still able to obtain God's enlightenment and receive Jesus into their hearts, and thus are protected from the hand f the evil one. They have not only been "called" but may also have been "chosen."
Satan then starts the second step of his sabotage among these Christians, that is, restraining them from devoting time and effort in prayer. Satan knows (though Christians may not) that prayer is the procedure for the appropriation of God's riches in heaven. If Christians do not appropriate these riches, they will become exhausted spiritually and weakened prematurely. Consequently, they can n:ever become the personnel for God's kingdom, and as a result, God's forthcoming kingdom is delayed. Therefore, the closer it is towards the eve of our Lord's second coming, the greater Satan's pressure will be against prayer!
Many pastors, evangelists and even seminary professors are falling under Satan's pressure so that they never pray after getting up in the morning! This situation will continue to worsen as time gets closer and closer to our Lord's coming. Unaware of Satan's control over them, these Christian leaders pridefully assume themselves as the spiritual pace setters of their time. The result is . both sorrowful and pitiful.
b. The deceits of the flesh
In the world there is nothing more deceitful than our flesh (Jer. 17:9). The Bible tells us:
...the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the
law of God, for it is not even able to do so....(Rom. 8:7)
Our flesh hates and opposes anything that is related to God, especially prayer meetings that work together with God. Therefore, it employs all its means and might to disrupt and paralyze such holy gatherings. The flesh is Satan's partner with a long standing relationship and the two of them often collaborate to do evil. No matter whether it was to Adam, David, the Israelites or even to us today, if it had not been for the help of the flesh, Satan could never have offered his temptations.
Our constant alertness towards man's deceitful nature has protected us from the harm of many frauds; but our relaxation towards the flesh has led us into many snares. For instance, we may feel light-headed when we first get up in the morning. With self-pity and compassion, we immediately decide, "Never mind! I will pray to God at noon!" When noon comes, we are busy about this and so concerned about that, that we think we can wait until the evening to say our prayers. In the evening, after a day of hard work, we are totally exhausted, so we console ourselves and say, "God understands. He does not mind!" Yes, God does not mind; but for a whole long day, we carried on without the appropriation of God's grace. It is our great loss.
The deferment of personal morning prayers is the starting point of backsliding and failure for many Christians. It is also the very first step of "falling away from the living God" for many Christians.
Years ago when I was preaching at a church in Hong Kong, a wealthy sister (who is with the Lord now) came to me after the meeting and confessed this: ''Many a time I would rather spend one or two days preparing a meal for my friends, than devote three minutes in prayer for them!" "To hate work, but to love pleasure" is natural. However, when we come to spiritual matters related to God, we would rather substitute pleasure with work, that is-"To hate prayer, but to love work." How strange it is! Such a reaction towards God is the nature of the flesh: "As long as I can act against God, I do not mind to work a little bit harder." May God open our eyes that we may truly know how our flesh works.
There was another incident. One day, the coordinator of the Ministers' Prayer Meeting (of a certain city in North America) telephoned a pastor to remind him of the prayer meeting on that following Monday evening. It happened that the pastor was out and his wife answered the phone. After learning the purpose of the call, that pastor's wife cursed the coordinator, saying, "In this age, you people still pray, pray, pray! You're wasting your time! You should hasten to work. ." She thought that praying was a waste of time! It is no wonder that soon after every appointment as pastor of a church, that pastor and his wife had to move on to another church. Pastors who do not depend on our mighty God, but on their own limited wisdom, will forever be "job-hopping."
Dear brothers and sisters, please keep in mind that participation in regular church prayer meetings is a condition for maintaining God's presence. A church that has a beautifully blooming prayer meeting, will never be in the midst of a heavy snow storm at the same time. On the other hand, negligence of prayer will cost us God's presence, and thus, all efforts put forth will either be striving after the wind or grasping for shadows. In the end, there is nothing. May God have mercy upon us.
A Serious Practice
The tabernacle and the holy temple in the Old Testament are types of Christ. It is recorded in the Gospel of John:
And the Word became flesh [flesh tabernacled
(in Greek)], and dwelt among us....(John 1:14)
Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up."... He [Jesus] was
speaking of the temple of His body. (John 2:19-21)
At the same time, the tabernacle and the holy temple (especially the holy temple), are also types of the Church. It is written in the New Testament:
Do you [the Church] not know that you [the Church] are a temple of God...
for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
...in whom the whole building, being fitted together is
growing into a holy temple in the Lord....(Eph. 2:21)
Christ and the Church in fact belong to the same body-Christ "is also the head of the body, the Church" (Col. 1:18), and the Church "is His body'' (Eph. 1:23). How wonderful and glorious it is!
Inside the holy temple, in front of the ark of the covenant within the holy of holies, there is a golden altar of incense. This golden altar is a type of Church prayer meeting because the incense burned on the altar represents "the prayers of the saints" (Psalm 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:4). A church that has no prayer meeting is like the holy temple without a golden altar.
God Himself taught Moses the special method of preparing this incense, as well as its application. We can meditate on these three aspects: the ingredients, the preparation, and the functions of the incense (Ex. 30:34-38).
a. The ingredients of the incense
There are four ingredients for making the incense: stacte, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense. In the lapse of time, we no longer have any good knowledge of what these spices are, except for pure frankincense. The quality of these ingredients, however, must be pure and of a soothing aroma, because our Holy God wants an offering with a soothing aroma (Lev. 1:9, 13, 17). No wonder that a prayer with impurities is impossible to please God (Is. 59:1-2). Although we have no idea what the other three Old Testament incense ingredients really are, we can see in the New Testament what all four of them represent. They represent four different kinds of prayer: petition (deesis), prayer (proseuche), intercession (enteuxis) and thanksgiving (eucharistia)(l Tim. 2:1-2).
Although from its connotation, especially in vernacular Greek, this word means "entreaty" or "supplication," yet in reality it is almost the same as prayer and intercession. In the New Testament, however, it often means "to concentrate on petitions" or "to pray earnestly." For instance, in the passage where Jesus "offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears" in the garden of Gethsemane, it is in fact, Jesus "offered up both petitions and entreaties" in the Greek original (Heb. 5:7). In another passage where Anna "never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers," the word "petition" is used in the original language instead of "prayer" (Luke 2:37). In the passage concerning spiritual warfare, we not only have to pray with all "prayer" but also with all "petition" (Eph. 6:18). And, in the promise that
"The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much," the word "prayer" is actually "petition" in Greek as well (Jas. 5:16).
Oftentimes our prayers lack spiritual power. Perhaps, it is because they are just empty slogans that mean nothing, except that the failure to practice is a dereliction of Christian duty. A spiritual brother perpetually having deep insights concerning God, once said, ''If our own hearts are not moved by our prayers, how can we then expect God's heart to be moved?"
This word appears 37 times as a noun and 87 times as a verb in the New Testament. When the intent is to emphasize on the need for prayer, the word "petitions" or phrases like "devoting yourselves to," "fervently," "with all" or "be on the alert," are often used in conjunction with the word "prayer." It is crucial to devote oneself to fervent prayer with great concentration for a particular need, but it is also vital to have regular prayer. We ought to pray regularly every day or every week for all our needs. A pastor in particular has to pray regularly (every day or every week) in an orderly manner for all the needs of his church. If some urgent matter comes up in the church, he then has to devote himself to fervent prayer with great concentration.
This word appears only two times in the New Testament in Greek (1 Tim. 2:1 and 1 Tim. 4:5). Some Christians oppose the practice of having one person say grace for a group of Christians, because they hold the view that each Christian should say grace individually. According to 1Timothy 4:5, however, God's revelation is for one person to say grace and the others to respond with "Amen." The original meaning of "intercession" is "to talk with confidence, without cringing or apprehension." In vernacular Greek its meaning also includes the submission of a written statement or a petition to his emperor. The connotation of this word clearly indicates that we should be bold in our intercession for all men, especially for kings and those in authority, because God is pleased with our intercession. In the Old Testament, God expressed His extreme astonishment that "there was no man-no one to intercede" in Israel! Does He have the same lamentation about our church today-"there was [is] no man ...no one to intercede"?
And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; (Is. 59:16)
The word "thanksgiving" has appeared 15 times in the New Testament. Its original meaning is "matters to be thankful for," and the word Holy Communion comes from this word. Therefore, Holy Communion is "a matter to be thankful for."
In 1983 the topic for the Chinese composition for the Taiwan College Entry Joint Examination was "Respect Yourself, Care for Others"; and for the High School Entry Examination, "Please, Thank You, Sorry!" Chinese are famous for concealing deep feelings. Though overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation, expressing verbal thankfulness is oftentimes difficult. As we enter into our new found Christian faith, we often bring with us this same unexpressive, imprudent subtlety which ill treats God and harms ourselves. To say "thank you" to relatives and friends for any favor or gift received is a teaching we always remind our children, but forget to train ourselves, especially in thanking our Father in heaven. For this reason the Bible reminds us to keep "alert...with an attitude of thanksgiving'' (Col. 4:2). At times we must admit that our prayers are indeed filled with petitions and intercessions, but lack thanksgivings. God's charge to us is to be alert to all matters that we ought to be thankful for, lest we fall short in our thanksgivings to our blessed Lord.
The best way of keeping alert in another person's prayer or thanksgiving is to softly follow the prayer and respond with "Amen" (1 Cor. 14:16). Spiritual maturity and godly virtues cannot be achieved by merely heeding a few sermons, but through the accumulation of months and years of earnest, painstaking practice. Thanksgiving is no exception. Only through continuous practice can we be the ones who "pray without ceasing" and "in everything give thanks" (1 Thess. 5:17-18).
b. The preparation of the incense
God has a patent for the incense formula which no one should reproduce. If anyone desires to reproduce any incense like this for his own enjoyment, he will meet God's severe judgment. In Exodus 30:37-38 God has clearly stated:
...you shall not make in the same proportions for yourselves;
it shall be holy to you for the LORD. Whoever shall make any like it,
to use as perfume, shall be cut off from his people.
This incense represents "the prayers of the saints" (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:4). From a study of the incense preparations, we can derive some spiritual insights as to how our prayers should be practiced.
"To salt it"
In order for the incense to become pure and holy, aside from the four ingredients previously described, salt is needed. Salt has two meanings in the Bible. It represents God's faithfulness and trustworthiness, because the covenant He made with the Israelites was a covenant of salt symbolizing the permanency and incorruptibility of the covenant (Num. 18:19). It is also an indispensable requirement of a successful prayer to be at peace with others.
Our Lord's commandment is, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another" (Mark 9:50). Unless there is complete trust in God and absolute peace with others, our prayers will be in vain. In the kingdom prayer, our Lord neither emphasizes the kingdom nor His will, but presses home the requirement that protects our prayer. It is, "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12)-that is, to be at peace with others. This essential point has not only been mentioned twice in the constitution of the kingdom (Matt. 5:23-26; 6:14-15), but also with dual emphasis each time. In the Bible, when God wants to press home a certain truth, He always uses either a negative command (Matt. 7:6) or an affirmative order (Matt. 7:7) to stress its importance. In Matthew Chapter 6, however, He first emphasizes with the affirmative (6:14) and then with the negative (6:15). The paramount importance of "being at peace with others" in relationship to prayer is evident.
At the beginning of our faith, when we confess our sins and believe in Christ, our sins are forgiven. But after becoming a Christian, there is a condition for the confession of sins: "If we do not forgive others, then our Father will not forgive our
transgressions"! May God help us to forgive others, lest our prayers be hindered and our church be hampered from growth.
"To beat it very fine"
This second step of preparation explains why sometimes our prayers are not answered. Perhaps they are too sketchy. The prayers that God wants are those abundant in detail. The preparation word "fine'; is equivalent to the New Testament's "with all prayer and petition" as stated in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:18). God desires us to cast upon Him every aspect and concern for each prayer item, instead of merely _ naming our need. By praying for each aspect in detail, our front line defense on the spiritual battlefield will then be flawless and unbreachable. On the other hand, God 's power is likened to electricity and our prayers, to an electric wire. When there is a wire, electricity will follow wherever the wire leads. The action from heaven is the same. God's power will followour prayers on earth. The lack of manifestation of God's power in a certain ministry is because our prayers lack fineness in that ministry.
If we merely name our prayer items absent mindedly, how can we expect our Father in heaven to listen attentively? Perhaps some may say, "How about the tax collector in Luke Chapter 18? Wasn't his short prayer answered?" Yes.. it was. But please also study David's confession in Psalm 51, and Daniel's confession in Daniel Chapter 9. After reading these three confessions, which one has blessed you most? Furthermore, have not Solomon's prayer for the dedication of the holy temple (1 Kin. 8:23-61) and Christ's prayer for the unity of His disciples (John 17:1-26) told us that prayer has to be "fine"?
c. The functions of the incense
God has said, "put part of it [the incense] before the testimony in the tent of meeting, where I shall meet with you..." (Ex. 30:36). In the Old Testament, God and man meet in front of the testimony, for it is here that the radiance of God's glory shines from the mercy seat on top of the testimony. This radiance represents the Lord Jesus who is "the radiance of His glory" (Heb. 1:3) and only in Him there is true "Emmanuel" (Ex. 30:36). That is why we have to pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:14).
The general goal for prayer is asking God's consent to bless us with His grace, to heal the sick, to comfort the downhearted, to provide for the needy, to deliver those in trial, to help unbelievers believe and believers grow, and so on. In fact, all these requests are cures for the symptoms rather than for the root of the problem. Our Lord has already given us the cure for the root of the problem-His presence with us!
With His presence, all these problems will be resolved, darkness will turn to light, and calamity will become riches. That is the reason why He said in the Old Testament,
And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put
part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting,
where I shall meet with you .... (Ex. 30:36)
and in the New Testament,
For where two or three have gathered together in My name,
there I am in their midst. (Matt. 18:20)
Praise the Lord! He has promised to be with us through prayer. If we are willing to carry out the condition He ordered, the promise of His presence will then be fully realized among us. Hallelujah!
The goal of prayer is to have God's presence. If our prayer is for our own enjoyment and the satisfaction of our lusts, how can we then have God's presence? This is what James says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (Jas. 4:3).