Series on Hebrews, VI Superior Piety, C Superior Prayer, Text:13:18-25. Title: Prayer: A Difficult and Dangerous Duty

Introduction:

In his concluding remarks the author of Hebrews imparts news and greetings but most importantly he pleads for prayer. In verse 18-21 he asks for prayer, and he prays for the people to whom he has written, Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon. May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. The author has literally crammed into 12 pages a treatise which opens our understanding of the whole Bible. The progressive character of God’s revelation, the finality of God’s revelation in Christ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ are uniquely displayed in this short letter. But as persuasive as his arguments are, the author knows that the persecuted Jewish Christians to whom he is writing cannot survive without prayer. The apostle Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 6 to put on the whole armor of God in our spiritual battle. He says, And pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. The armor is useless without prayer. What is prayer? To pray is to call upon Jesus asking Him to glorify His name in the midst of our needs. We  rarely recognize all of our needs, or  know all that will glorify his name. Nevertheless, if our hearts are open to God as our heavenly Father, prayer comforts us in spite of our finite and creaturely ignorance. Sadly that comfort is often lost to us because prayer is a difficult and dangerous duty.

I Prayer is a Duty

Verse 18 is an imperative, a command, Pray for us. The Bible is full of commands to pray. Jesus said watch and pray, Paul said pray without ceasing. The author of Hebrews says pray for us. The majority of exhortations to pray in the New Testament are urging us to pray for the work of the Lord, specifically for those who lead it. I’m not being selfish here: that’s the way it is. Much of the time we do not look at prayer as a duty at all. We pray for ourselves and our immediate circle only because we are forced to it and often we pray amiss. We need to see that activity alone is not what advances the kingdom. Prayer is the prerequisite to everything else. There is a passage in Matthew 9:38 in which Jesus says to his disciples, pray to the Lord of the harvest that he might send forth laborers into his harvest. I used to think this was a very narrow and specific request for more Pastors and Missionaries. And in addition, the Church experiences seasons in which there appear to be more candidates than we have positions! What a mistake. One need only read the preceding verse carefully. Jesus says in Matthew 9:37, The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. The entire problem of the advancement of God’s kingdom is addressed here. Jesus has a plenteous harvest. The fields are white unto harvest. If you’re a farmer with a successful crop what good is it if you have insufficient workers to harvest it??  The challenge of the kingdom is not to create a harvest, it is to bring in the harvest that is already there, and prayer is the key to put all the right people in the right place at the right time.. This is our duty. Paul says pray for me that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. I urge you brother, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Note that Paul ends this letter like most with personal notes in verses 22-25, Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter. I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all. These constant personal references show us Paul’s concern for people and assure us that he was praying for them. He recognized the duty in his own life. But prayer is also a difficult duty.

II Prayer is Difficult

The greatest difficulty is our failure to understand the last part of verse 18, We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. God has made peace with us through the cross and the blood of Jesus. As the author says in 4:16, Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. We know that the difficulties of prayer come from our sinful condition, our stubbornness, our selfishness, and our lack of discipline. But these can be overcome if we see what prayer is. Unfortunately we often misunderstand the nature of prayer. Perhaps you have been confused by misinterpreting what God is telling you. Consider these words of Jesus in Matthew 21, If you have faith and do not doubt you can say to this mountain be lifted up and cast into the sea and it shall be done. Or, how about what James says in James 1:6-8, Ask in faith nothing doubting: for he that doubts is like the surge of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. Let not that man think he will receive anything from the Lord. Were there ever more discouraging and intimidating words? This is a great difficulty and keeps us from prayer because we know we doubt. However let me remind you of the story of the man whose son was demon possessed in Mark 9: 14-29. The disciples could not help. Jesus says they were unbelieving. They brought the child to Jesus and the Father prayed, If you can do anything take pity and help us. Jesus said If you can? Everything is possible to him who believes. To which the father replies I believe help my unbelief. My assessment would be this man is getting nothing. But Jesus cannot resist the prayer. The boy is delivered and the disciples say why couldn’t we do it. Jesus answers, this kind can come out only by prayer. Obviously what they were doing was not prayer. The Father on the other hand recognized and confessed his unbelief. When he is helpless, Jesus is almighty. We persist in misinterpreting what faith is. Faith is not a mental image of success. Faith is not how articulate our prayers are, or how righteous we are and deserving of an answer. Faith is opening the door to an almighty Savior. It is useless for me to try to force myself to believe or to chase doubt out of my heart. I can bring everything to Jesus including my weakness. It is genuine faith which condemns my unbelief and opens the floodgates of blessing. I must realize that Jesus atoning sacrifice has removed any obstacle to my blessing and to the accomplishment of His will.

III Prayer is Dangerous

The concluding words are a benediction, and not a malediction.  May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Working what is pleasing to us ? Absolutely not because it is what is pleasing to God may not be the same thing as what pleases you! And the place you end up may not be the place you planned. Your life will not be ordered according to your insight. Prayer is not commanding God to do our bidding or telling God how to accomplish his will. The object of prayer is that He might work in us what is pleasing to Him. I cannot develop this point at great length, but It may be helped by considering that we find it easy to pray fervently for those things which we think God can fulfill.  Some people appear by disposition to be susceptible to the gospel, other do not. Which is easiest to pray for?  Some personal problems seem easier to fix than others. Sometimes people give up praying because they cannot see how God can fix the problem. Now, He may or may not. But when we think it  is a waste of time, we are playing God. It is not our concern. Such thinking defeats the purpose of prayer because what God intends is to work in us what is well pleasing in His sight .This is dangerous because it often leads to disappointment. But disappointment is His appointment. Prayer is a dangerous and difficult duty, but it is also the source of the greatest spiritual blessing and without it no progress can be made.