This article was originally written by Lowell Snow. Snow serves on the ABSC Task Force on Prayer, Revival, and Spiritual Awakening.
In this series of five articles, we will consider God’s plan for praying in times of difficulty. The five installments will be:
- The Great Commission of Prayer
- No Purer Motive
- No Greater Ambition
- No Stronger Fellowship
- No Higher Power
In times of difficulty, we must take our eyes off our problems and look to Jesus. How often have you been taught that truth? But what does it mean and how do you do it? Matthew chapter 18 is a complicated and seldom taught passage that contains some principles and promises that you desperately need to understand if you are going to experience the power of God in these difficult times.
As a follower of Christ, you’re on a pilgrimage of faithfulness very much like the twelve apostles. Like them, you probably struggle to understand what God is doing much of the time – especially when things go wrong. Consider the following familiar words of Jesus?’
“Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matt 18:19-20 NKJV
I call these verses The Great Commission of Prayer. Like the Great Commission (exactly ten chapters later) Jesus gives impossible instructions made possible because He will be with those who follow them.
Do you remember the context in which Jesus made these powerful prayer promises? It wasn’t the Sermon on Mount. In fact, He never said these things in public. They are repeated at other times, but always in a private session with those who are actively following Him.
These verses come right in the middle of one of Christ’s most poignant rabbinic teaching sessions. He’s gathered the apostles and their families in Capernaum, probably the courtyard of Peter’s home. In the previous two weeks, Jesus has done His best to show them that He was not the conquering ‘king’ of the millennial prophesies, but the much less exciting ‘suffering servant.’
When Jesus opens the floor to discussion the very first question has nothing to do with the suffering servant concepts He’s been teaching and everything to do with conflict among the apostles caused by pride, jealousy, and the desire for wealth and power.
In response, Jesus launches into a powerful sermon about the foundational principles of what it means to be a church. With one of the apostle’s children standing in front of Him, He exclaims, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 18:3-4 NKJV
Surely that got their attention, but what does it have to do with you praying in difficult times? Jesus knew these families would soon face more struggles than they could ever imagine. In this passage, He lays out a strategy for staying on task while dealing with the most difficult kinds of problems. Your difficulties may not be just the same, but these principles will certainly apply to you and/or your church.
What’s number one on your prayer list right now? Jesus almost certainly sees that issue differently than you do because He’s not only seeing your struggle, He’s also seeing Kingdom opportunities. The apostles’ assumption was that Jesus would become king of the world and they would be rich and powerful as leaders in the new world order. Then all their problems would be solved.
Do you tend to think and pray along similar lines? Maybe not world domination, but prosperity and power over your situation is likely high on your wish list. It is easy in hindsight to see how far off the apostles were. Have you ever considered that you may be just as far off in your understanding of what God is up to in your life?
The apostles weren’t dumb. They were just immersed in their own culture and needs. They tended to see everything from their own perspective. If you are to reach the kind of powerful prayer that Jesus teaches in this passage, you will have to start where those apostles had to start. You must get your understanding of life in line with His. That’s where we’ll start next time with No Purer Motive – Do you want what Jesus wants?