How Jesus Frees Us for the Prayer Meeting

Access & Purity
I'm back after some technical difficulties, and thinking about prayer meetings. At the weekend I fear I committed the ultimate preacher error when it comes to the prayer meeting. I was up in Houghton-le-Spring giving a seminar on the Theology of Prayer at the Prayer Works conference (which is organised each year by Easington Lane Apostolic Church). And, in the course of my seminar, I did the wrong thing: in a side comment (after all, my topic wasn't actually prayer meetings) I told everyone they should go to the prayer meeting.

What's wrong with that? Well, it's only today that it's struck me, but so often we preachers, out of a great desire to see people come to the prayer meeting, tell people to go to the prayer meeting. We tell them what they need to do, and perhaps that leads to some people feeling guilty for not doing it, and perhaps some resolve to do better in the future. But that's all bad news.

You see, we give the imperative without any indicative. We tell people they must go, but we don't first give them good news. We give them guilt, but not grace.

So, today, I want to try and fix my omission, by thinking about the indicatives - about how Jesus frees us for the prayer meeting.

1. Jesus gives us access and confidence

We can pray because of Jesus. He is our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) who brings us to the Father's throne of grace with confidence and boldness (Heb. 4:14-16). It is because He has lived the perfect life for us and died the atoning death in our place that we have access to the Father. Through His death He has reconciled us to God and brought us into His family as adopted sons of the Father, by the Spirit, through Christ. As sons in the Son, we know that our Father welcomes our prayers, listens and promises to answer.

And we come before the throne in Jesus' Name (John 14:13-14; John 15:16): with His authority, with His merit and for His glory. That means that we not only know we have access, but we have confident access. For Jesus, the well beloved Son has the authority to ask the Father and have His requests answered; and we ask with His authority. For Jesus, the Son who fully obeyed the Father and always glorified His Name is the only Man with any merit before God; and we come relying on His merit, clothed in His righteousness. For Jesus is the One whom the Father delights to glorify, and we ask for Jesus' glory.

The message is not 'naughty Christian, you must come and pray', but 'beloved Christian, the Father invites and welcomes you and gives you access and confidence to come, pray and be answered; so come.'

2. Jesus perfects and purifies our prayers

As our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) and Intercessor (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25), Jesus offers up our prayers to the Father. But don't think of that like forwarding an email. Jesus doesn't simply hand over our prayers, but also perfects and purifies them. You see, we don't always know the right thing to pray. We don't have the right words, or we know something needs prayer, but don't really know how. Thanks to Jesus our Mediator we don't need to worry. He takes our imperfect prayers and perfects them as He offers them up to the Father. He knows exactly what and how to pray, and He prays on our behalf. So even our most feeble-sounding prayers are made perfect by our Mediator.

And He purifies our prayers as well. Our motives in prayer aren't always pure. And that's especially dangerous in the prayer meeting. How easy it is to prayer for men's ears rather than God's! And worse still, we aren't even fully conscious of all our motivations. But Jesus is. And He cleanses and purifies. So, through our Mediator, our prayers are offered up pure and spotless to the Father.

The message is not 'fearful, tongue-tied Christian, you must get over that and come and pray', but 'precious Christian, all the perfection and purity you'll ever need are yours in Christ your Mediator, so come.'

3. Jesus binds us together

Not only does Jesus give us confident access to the Father and perfect and purify our prayers, but He also binds us together, so that it's not just I who have access, but we. Eph. 2:14-18 shows us how Christ has broken down the barriers  between Jew and Gentile and united both types of believers together in one Body. And that passage ends by saying: 'For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father' (Eph. 2:18). He unites us in one body and so together gives us access to the Father. The Body of Christ is a praying body. After all, Jesus teaches us the privilege of praying 'Our Father' (Matt. 6:9): He doesn't teach us to pray in an individualistic and self-centred way, but to pray with one another and for one another.

And that's the outflow of the power of the gospel at work in our lives. As we look to the gospel, the Cross demonstrates the love of God in Christ for all types of people. The Cross shows us God's love not simply for isolated individuals, but for the Body of Christ. We are washed in the same blood and pray to the same Father, so we pray together. The Cross displays God's mercy toward others, and so we show mercy to others by praying for them. The Cross demonstrates God's love toward others, and so we show love toward others by praying with them. (Acts 2:42 shows this outflow of the gospel in the life of the early church.) It's the Cross that calls us together in prayer.

The message isn't 'silly Christians, you must come and pray together', but 'beloved Christians, Jesus has come and purchased you as His Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), united you together in His love and mercy, and given you to one another as a blessing from Him, so come and enjoy that love and blessing as you pray together and for one another.'

Conclusion: Gospel Freedom to Come to the Prayer Meeting

As a pastor, I could exhort people to come to the prayer meeting in all sorts of ways. I could tell them that it's the New Testament pattern and so they should come if they want to be a New Testament church. I could tell them that the church that prays together stays together and so they should come if they want a united church. I could tell them that the prayer meeting is the boiler room of the church, so they should come if they want an effective church. I could say those things. But that won't do. Those are all imperatives - I'd really be saying 'feel guilty and then come out of duty, in order to feel better'.

Instead the indicative must come before the imperative. The Gospel comes first, and because of (and in response to) that good news, we come. The good news is that Jesus, through His perfect life and atoning death has given you access to the throne of grace; that through Him, we can come with boldness and confidence knowing that the Father accepts us, welcomes us, listens to us, and answers us because of what Jesus has done for us; that the strength of our prayers doesn't lie in the eloquence of our words, or even our knowledge of how to pray, but in the Mediation and Intercession of Jesus who purifies and perfects our prayers; that Jesus binds us together with our fellow-believers in love through His one sacrifice, and draws us into a shared interest in His mercy, grace and love. Now, because of all that, we can come joyfully and expectantly to the prayer meeting, knowing we're welcomed there, knowing we'll be heard, knowing we don't have to worry about our words or knowledge (or lack thereof), knowing that we're united together in Christ's mercy and love. Isn't that a better motivation to join together in prayer?