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The Priesthood of All Believers Manifested by Prayer

How many blessings have we missed through lack of prayer? We'll never know what might have been. But let's take it from here. Now is the time to get close to God in prayer.

We wish to reflect on a very sensitive topic: the matter of personal prayer. Prayer involves an intimate relationship with God. That makes prayer a very tender issue. Martin Luther, the Reformer, said "Prayer is the occupation of a Christian. As a cobbler makes shoes and as a tailor makes clothes so a Christian should pray. It is the trade of a Christian to pray."

Every Christian should know personal prayer. Without prayer there is no spiritual life.

This is the God-given task God's people have. This task has everything to do with what we call "the priesthood of all believers." For God calls every Christian to a life of prayer.

Kings, prophets and priests

We must place this task of prayer in a broader context. In the Old Testament we see that there were three offices among the people of Israel: kings, prophets and priests. They were all called by God. Think of Samuel called to be a prophet, David called to be king and Aaron called to be priest.

The task of the king was to rule over the people, to protect them from danger and enemies and to lead them into battle against their foes. The task of the prophet was to be God's spokesman to the people revealing them God's Word and will with the purpose that they would gain salvation. The task of the priest was to be a representative of the people towards God, and to bring sacrifices as a payment for their sins. The priest would pray to God on behalf of the people.

These three offices of prophet, priest, and king foreshadowed — the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the great King who battled the powers of darkness. He crushed the devil's head on Calvary. He established His kingdom forever. He is now gathering a people who will be forever with Him. He protects them and no one is able to pluck them out of His hand.

The Lord Jesus is also the great Prophet who came from Heaven to reveal to us God's will.

"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). Christ explained God's will to us concerning our salvation.

The Lord Jesus is also the great Priest. He stands in between God and His people. "We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Hebrews 8:1).

This Priest has brought the all sufficient payment for sin, His own Blood. "But Christ an high priest of good things to come; … by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:11). "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood" (Romans 3:23-25).

As a Priest He intercedes for His people. He prays for them and blesses them. "But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:24-26).

Then the New Testament goes on to explain that those who have been reconciled to God become prophets, kings and priests. They become kings to manfully fight against the devil and against sin and hereafter they shall reign with Christ. They become prophets in the sense that they proclaim God's Word, they become living witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. They become priests in sacrificing themselves and by a life of prayer.

They are not priests in the sense that they bring a payment for their sins. This was accomplished once and for all by the Lord Jesus Himself. He obtained eternal redemption for all His people. They are redeemed by His Blood.

Yet, God's people are still called to be priests. "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Peter is here addressing all Christians. They are called to bring a sacrifice of praises and adorations. "By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).

A Christian also gives to others in need. Those gifts of charity are also referred as sacrifices. "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Hebrews 13:16).

The Christian sacrifices himself, his whole existence to God:

Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, Thee!

He dedicates himself as a living sacrifice unto God. That means that he no longer lives for himself but he lives for the One Who saved him and delivered him from darkness. We read this in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

So we find in the New Testament the special Priesthood of Christ, who alone brings the full and perfect sacrifice for sin. Besides this we also find the priesthood of all believers. All God's children become priests. That is what we call the priesthood of all believers. There is no separate class of priests as Rome teaches. All God's children are called to be priests in God's service.

Priests at prayer

We will now consider one task of this priesthood. That is prayer.

An absence of prayer is a clear indication that there is no spiritual life.

Every Christian should know personal prayer. Without prayer there is no spiritual life. Just a form of prayer, a few lines thoughtlessly recited cannot be considered to be prayer. An absence of prayer is a clear indication that there is no spiritual life. There are no yearnings after the Lord, there is no keenly felt need of grace! No thirsting after the Lord and no need for adoration or confession! This is evidenced by the absence of prayer. In prayer we can distinguish various elements: Adoration, thanksgiving, confession, intercession and supplication.

I. Biblical Admonitions to Prayer

We find in Scripture that God's children were men and women of prayer. Many examples can be given. Abraham prayed for Lot, Moses prayed for the people, Job for his friends, Aaron for the people, Daniel for Jerusalem. "Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour" (Acts 10:9).

The Church engaged in corporate prayer. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women" (Acts 1:14). The Church in Jerusalem prayed for the release of Peter. "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him" (Acts 12:5).

The Lord Jesus Himself needed to pray. He Who was sinless and perfect needed to pray. He needed to seek communion with His Father. "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed" (Mark 1:35). "And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God" (Luke 6:12).

The apostle Paul prayed extensively for the churches. When we read his epistles we are amazed at how much he must have prayed.

"I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge" (1 Corinthians 1:4,5).

"Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy … And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Philippians 1:4 ,9).

"For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Colossians 1:9).

"Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power" (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

The apostle Paul was keenly aware of the power of prayer. He needed people to pray for him. He realized the blessing when others are praying for you. He did not underestimate the effect of prayer but he emphasized it and commended himself and his labours to the prayers of others. He writes to the Romans, "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" (Romans 15:30). Also to the Ephesians, "Praying for all the saints and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19-20). Again, to the Thessalonians, "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you" (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

And the Apostle often urges his readers to pray: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thessalonians 5:25). "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6: 18). "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (1Timothy 2:8). "Continuing instant in prayer" (Romans 12:12). "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2).

II. The Christian's calling to prayer

The calling of a Christian is to pray: "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer" (1 Peter 4:7). That is, to enter into a life of prayer with the Lord and to maintain that life of prayer. Through prayer we enjoy personal communion with God. It is through personal prayer that a child of God is made Christ-like. Through personal prayer a degree of personal piety is cultivated. That piety will be received in the way of personal communion with God.

In the [prayer] closet, decisions are made, battles are fought and won.

The secret place of personal prayer, the closet which we enter to pray, is like a mountain where one may be in the presence of God. It is the storehouse where a Christian is replenished. It is the fountain where he may return to drink in the waters of life. It is the upper room where he may commune with the Lord Jesus.

The closet is the mercy seat where the Holy Ghost may overshadow him and enable him to perform work and do tasks the Lord lays upon him. His closet is the armoury where he may be strengthened and become resolved to stand firm in the Lord.

In the closet, decisions are made, battles are fought and won. There the Christian grows in pity for perishing souls; he receives an unquenchable love for the Lord Jesus and an all-absorbing zeal for the glory of God, and love for the prosperity of the Church. In your personal closet you are linked to the inexhaustible resources of God.

In order to be faithful as a Christian you need the powerful working of the Holy Spirit. It is only by God's Spirit that the heart is filled with love to the Lord and with sanctified zeal for His honour. The Holy Spirit renews the soul. He opens the eyes of faith. He carves the image of Christ upon your heart. The way to be filled with the Holy Spirit is simply and most importantly, constant prayer.

It is a great encouragement that the Lord promises the Holy Spirit in the way of prayer. We think especially of Luke 11:13 — "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" Therefore, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).

Not a day should pass without laying this petition before the throne, wrestling with God, that the Holy Spirit would fill you afresh with His sanctifying influences. The Christian must pray for more of the mind of Christ, for more strength of Christ upon him, for more love and more joy and for a greater degree of holiness. By this anointing of the Holy Spirit there will be more power and joy in one's personal Christian life.

III. Intercessory prayer

A very important aspect of prayer is the prayer of intercession. That is to pray for one another.

The Lord hears prayer. He blesses and He inclines hearts of people. He converts. He renews.

It is necessary to pray for each other as Christians, as office bearers. Pray and plead for God's grace and Spirit upon your elders and deacons, upon your ministers. Mention the ministers of God's Word by name. Plead for them. Ask the Holy Ghost to dwell in them, to correct them and to bless them.

We saw how the Apostle requested people to pray for him. What blessing for a Pastor to have men and women praying for him! These prayers have power to promote his piety and these prayers cannot be overestimated. They can be richly ascending to God's throne even when the pastor is least expecting it. The effects of these prayers are felt in the study and in the pulpit. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 4:16).

People who so pray may not be aware of it, but their earnest prayers bring down the power of the Spirit upon the pastor when he is studying, when he is preaching, when he is visiting the sick and in the other solemn duties of his office.

This is all hard work. It takes time — sometimes more time than you had initially allotted to it! But it is most important. We cannot convert one soul. That is God's work. The Lord can do marvellous things while you are just looking. There are numerous examples in Church history. And it is still happening. The Lord hears prayer. He blesses and He inclines hearts of people. He converts. He renews. He blesses His Word. Therefore, "Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

Does God need intercessory prayer? God is independent of everything. The Lord fulfills His counsel. Yet God, in some deep manner wants His will to be sought by prayer. God incorporates the prayers of His people in His plan of salvation. He carries out His counsel according also to their prayers. He delights in their prayers and hears them most graciously. "Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them" (Ezekiel 36:37). "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

IV. Boldness in prayer

In prayer you are in direct contact with the Lord of lords. He is more than able and willing to grant you your requests which are to His honour. Pray therefore with boldness. Pray in the awareness that you are calling upon the greatest and most real power in existence, the power of God almighty, who through Jesus Christ has promised to be a most gracious God and Father to you.

We should cultivate the habit of pleading God's promises in our prayers.

Think of Jacob pleading with the Lord at Peniel. "And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Genesis 32:26). Think of Daniel pleading: "0 Lord, hear; 0 Lord, forgive; 0 Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, 0 my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name" (Daniel 9:19).

We should cultivate the habit of pleading God's promises in our prayers. David prays: "And now, 0 LORD God, the Word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said" (2 Samuel 7:25).

In this boldness in prayer think of how Moses approaches the Lord and Moses in all deep humility and desire for the honour of God's Name: "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did He bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people" (Exodus 32:12).

Think of Joshua pleading with God to defend Israel: "For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land shall hear of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth: and what wilt thou do unto thy great name?" (Joshua 7:9).

The man who is mighty in prayer may be a wall of fire around a country, a church a family. The enemies of the Gospel feared more the prayers of John Knox than a whole army of soldiers. John Welch, I believe a son-in-law of Knox was known to get up in the middle of the night and to plead with the Lord in prayer. His wife at one occasion fearing that he would catch a cold, followed him into the room into which he had withdrawn himself and she heard him pleading in broken sentences: "Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland?" Let us also exercise boldness in our prayer.

V. Perseverance in prayer

Important also is perseverance in prayer. That is to do it not just when we feel up to it but to persevere on, in season and out of season. When the apostle said: "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), he did not mean that we would always be on our knees. But our prayer life must be just like the fire upon the Temple altar. It was not always consuming burnt offerings, yet the coals were always glowing. At set times in the day the fire would consume the burnt offerings, but the fire never went out. That is how our prayer life must be, to have daily continual access to God.

We need to be faithful in prayer. This faithfulness is a matter of our whole life. We cannot be faithful in one necessary matter and neglect another. Faithfulness is a virtue that spreads over the whole of man's life. It is a Christian's duty to fight against the subtle inroads of apathy and lethargy. We must be faithful in all the work the Lord gives us to do, but above all in prayer.

James Fraser was a missionary in West China among the Lisu , Kachin and Hmong people in the 1910's and 1920's. He was there often alone and he learned much about the power and the value of prayer. He experienced that a strange and sinister shadow fell over his whole spiritual life. He was perplexed and found himself in a deepening gloom. What was the cause of this: Isolation? Poor food? A continual exposure to rain and mist in the mountains of West China? The cause lay much deeper. He was assailed by deep and treacherous doubts. The doubt: 'Yea hath God said?' That question came to him again and again. Questions like: `Your prayers are not answered. No one wants to hear your message. You better leave it all.' He was repeatedly suicidal. The powers of darkness had him isolated.

Then James Fraser found out that deliverance from the power of the evil one came through prayer by definite resistance on the ground of the Cross. This worked. "Resist the devil, and he shall flee you" (James 4:7). The whole cloud of depression dispersed. The obsession collapsed then and there, like a pack of cards, to return no more.

Fraser found relief by repeating out loud appropriate verses of Scripture, and they came crashing through the opposition he had felt. Prayer is the only weapon to drive back the forces of darkness. Fraser experienced that he could have victory in the spiritual realm whenever he wanted it. As the Lord Jesus Himself resisted the devil vocally, His servant James Fraser rebuked Satan using promises of Scripture as a weapon, this all in humble dependence on Christ.

Helpful in our perseverance can be the composing of a prayer list. Fraser writes:

"Personally I feel the need of trusting Him to lead me in prayer as well as in other matters. I find it helpful to make a short list before every season of prayer. The mind needs to be guided as well as the Spirit attuned. I can thus get my thoughts in order, and having prepared my prayer, can put the notes on the table or chair before me, kneel down and get down to business. Let us not claim too little in faith, but let us not claim too much either. "

To persevere in prayer we must be focused upon the Lord. Fraser writes:

"You may be so entangled in the things of earth that your spirit cannot rise above them. The devil knows this and pours earthly things upon you to keep you down, so that you go under and not over when the battle comes."

Concerning unanswered prayers Fraser writes:

"Unanswered prayers teach me to seek God's will and not my own. Many good desires proceed from our own uncrucified selves. Those who live nearest to God are the most likely to know His will. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him."

Is it worth persevering in prayer? Says Fraser:

"Why prayer is indispensable we cannot just say, but we had better recognize the fact even if we cannot explain it. Do you believe the church would be alive today but for the high priestly prayer of Christ? I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel that prayer should have the first, second, and third place and teaching the fourth."

VI. How to pray

How should we practice the life of prayer? How can we fulfill our priesthood as believers in prayer?

… seek the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in your personal prayer …

There is no strict rule as for time. Some may desire to have a time of communion with the Lord at night, others even during the day. Our schedules at night can be so taxing that we physically have a hard time getting out of bed at 5.30 or 6:00 in the morning. In Scripture you find David praying at midnight but also in the early morning. Peter prayed at noon.

Combined with prayer is the soul's daily feeding on God's Word. The careful meditation of a portion of God's Word is the foremost to the edification of your own soul.

Be alone in your prayers. That is a clear calling from Scripture. That can be a lonely place; it can be outside. Often in our busy society it will be in a secluded room or in your study. James Fraser found what he called prayer haunts in the fields, different ones for different weather. He had the habit to walk up and down, praying aloud, taking as a man talks to his friend. He often used a hymn book, praying aloud the words of hymns.

It is important to be alone. "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:6).

Never forget the importance of humility and reverence in prayer. We are but little, sinful men before God. When Abraham spoke before the Lord he humbled himself confessing that he was but "dust and ashes." "Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

Seek to pray spiritually. That is, seek the grace and power of the Holy Spirit in your personal prayer. We need to be guided and led by the Spirit in our prayer. Often you will be praying for matters you never intended to pray for, because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must be careful not to get into the motions of delivering beautiful words even from Scripture while the heart is not in it. How we stand in need of the Spirit of prayer and supplication!

Be particular in prayer. Mention issues by name. Be explicit in laying these needs before the Lord. Be particular in praying for people by name and mentioning their needs. Specify your own wants before the Lord and His throne. Explain your needs and wants.

In prayer be thankful. Lay all your needs before the Lord with an expression of true thankfulness. The Lord is good and very worthy to be praised. He has blessed you and remembered you in many ways. You will need the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit in opening your eyes to see the reality of Gods goodness. We need grace to number our blessings and to lay them before the Lord.

Try to have order in your prayer. Prayer is not just saying all kinds of thoughts that just at random pop up in your mind, but it is an orderly well-structured laying down of petitions before the Lord.

VII. The blessings of prayer

Prayer is a most blessed exercise, and it has many blessings.

Through prayer a text of Scripture can be unlocked to you and fresh insights …

There is a sweetness connected to personal prayer that you will taste nowhere else. It is at times a foretaste of heaven itself. To be familiar with the mercy seat is a great privilege. There is nothing that shall be so formative to the people of God than familiarity with the mercy seat. It provides you with spiritual refinement.

Through prayer the Lord can show you spiritual truth that you could never so clearly see from God's Word otherwise. Through prayer a text of Scripture can be unlocked to you and fresh insights to His Word may flow to you.

Through prayer the Lord can show you deficiencies in your own character. Through prayer you can scrutinize yourself and your shortcomings. You will see your own weaknesses, your besetting sins, deficiencies in one's character and try to combat them. You must confess these sins before God and seek grace to fight against them.

Through prayer you will be drawn close to the Lord. There will be unction upon your spiritual life. The Lord will mature in you greater love to His name. You will receive strength and courage also in difficult days. The Lord will enable you to carry on so that you will find, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be" (Deuteronomy 33:25).

Through prayer other people around you will be blessed. Family, relatives, your congregation will be revived through prayer. God is the God Who hears prayer. We need God's reviving work amongst us as churches. The Lord is pleased to hear humble prayer for His honour and glory.

Be such as those who claim the rich blessings attached to prayer. How many blessing we have missed through lack of prayer we can scarcely guess. None of us can know how poor we are in comparison with what we might have been if we had lived habitually closer to God in prayer. But now, these vain regrets are useless.

Instead, let us earnestly resolve to amend our ways of neglect. We must become people of prayer. Let us strive in prayer; let us agonize in prayers. And let us say with David, "I will not offer unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing" (2 Samuel 24:24).

Let us all as believers fulfill our priesthood in Christ, and pray. Then our churches and our nation will be blessed.

Rev. Gerald Procee pastors the Maranatha Free Reformed Church, Ancaster, Ontario. He delivered this address at Greenway Chapel, Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto, at the Fall Reformation Rally of the Canadian Protestant League, November 16, 2003.

Originally published in The Protestant Challenge, Issue 3, 2004.
For more information, contact The Protestant Challenge, 14-4218 Lawrence Avenue East, Suite # 100, Toronto, ON, Canada M1E
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