Midweek Fellowship – March 30, 2016
“The Burden of Prayer”
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
The word recently came down from the College of Archbishops of the CEC: It is time for every member of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church to intensify prayer. That’s good - but do we know what that means? Does it mean to pray longer, or louder, or more often? We could do all those things without intensifying our prayers at all.
One of my favorite descriptions of intense prayer is found in the life of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. In the midst of great struggles in life it says in 1 Samuel 1: 15 that she “poured out her soul before the Lord.” This elicits images of Mary of Bethany, pouring her vial of nard over the head of Jesus. It is an emptying, a using up of one’s self. It is, in athletic jargon, “Leaving it all out there on the field”, the giving of the mythical 110%. But I would use another piece of imagery tonight. I would equate intensity of prayer as taking up the burden of prayer.
We don’t like the idea of burdens. Mankind has applied a lot of effort over the years to making burdens easier to deal with. Some people work harder to avoid burdens than they would if they just went ahead and bore them. But I’ll give you some bad news tonight: you were not created to live without burdens. It is part of your makeup. God created you and designed you to bear a certain kind of burden. The question becomes, what kind of burdens do you go around carrying?
I believe that most people go through life carrying the wrong kind of burdens, and live a life of misery because of it. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the weight of sin is a heavy burden that can prevent us from completing the race of faith. The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 tells us that cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches can choke the word of God in our lives. They are burdens too heavy for us to bear. But that is because we are not supposed to bear them.
What burden does God call us to bear? Of course, we look to Matthew 11: 25: “Take My yoke upon you, for it is easy, and My burden is light.” Or, as Jesus said many times, “Take up your cross and follow me.” I have come to understand that “cross” refers, not to our problems, trials, or disappointments, but to our purpose. Jesus’ purpose was the literal cross upon which He was crucified. Our cross is the purpose for which God put us on this earth. Make no mistake about it, we all have one. And our cross, our purpose, is the burden we are to carry. And I believe that every Christian is born with a purpose of prayer. No believer is exempt from it. So if our purpose is the burden Jesus calls us to bear, and part of our purpose is prayer, then there is a burden of prayer for every believer. As Jesus said, it is light - much lighter than the burden of the things of the world. But it is oh, so intense.
A sense of purpose will lead us to the burden of prayer - intense prayer. When you come to realize that God has a purpose for His creation, for His Church, and for your life, you will not remain prayerless. In fact, if you do not have an understanding of your purpose, that should be your first item of prayer. You should pray until you know that purpose. It should become a burden to you - a divine burden. Intense prayer is birthed when we seek God’s purpose. A good example of this is the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It is no mistake that Christ asked us to pray this daily. It is a burden of prayer that He Himself took on.
Actually, we all carry a burden - either the burden of the things of the world, or the burden of prayer. And ironically, the way to get rid of the burden of the world is to take up the burden of prayer. This is what I mean when I say that most people go through life carrying the wrong kind of burdens. I believe that God sometimes allows us to take up the wrong kinds of burdens, so that it will drive us to prayer, and through that, to take up that right kind of burden.
Having a burden of prayer answers one question: how long do I pray about something? You pray until the burden is gone. This relates to an individual prayer session, and to how many times you pray a particular prayer. How many years have we prayed the Corporate Petition? That’s because the burden or prayer is still there concerning that issue. Our Protestant forbearers understood this. They had an expression called “Praying Through.” Basically, it meant praying until the burden of prayer was gone. One of them expressed it this way in a song:
Go on your way rejoicing,
Our God still answers prayer.
Rise up and leave the altar,
And leave your burden there!
Remember for them in this case, “Altar” referred more to the altar of prayer rather than the altar of communion. But they had an understanding of prayer. First they knew that, whatever the kind of burden, the altar of prayer was where it was dealt with. This is what we mean by intense prayer: prayer that doesn’t stop until the burden is gone.
I have already mentioned Hannah as a biblical character who practiced intense prayer, the burden of prayer. Her burden was so great, the high priest thought she was drunk. At times, intense prayer can look that way. But give Eli a break, he was old and had poor eyesight already.
Another good example of intense prayer is Jacob. Recall with me the night He wrestled with the angel. Some translations say he wrestled with God. Remember, Genesis 32 says that Jacob would not let go until he got a blessing from the one he was wrestling. That’s intense prayer! Now, don’t be misled. That sounds selfish, but it wasn’t. Jacob was not looking for a material blessing of goods or cattle, he had plenty of that already. Jacob wanted one thing: safety for his family! He was about to encounter his twin brother Esau, and the last time he had seen Esau it was not a friendly meeting. In fact, Esau had vowed to kill him. So Jacob was not wrestling for riches, he was wrestling for the good of his loved ones. His purpose was to protect them, and that was the purpose he was ensuring in prayer.
The same was true with Hannah. Her purpose as a woman was to bear children, and the Lord had withheld that from her. Her purpose in prayer was not to get back at her rival Peninnah, Elkanah’s other wife. Her reason for prayer was to fulfill her purpose, and she went about it intensely. Guess what? She was heard!
Sometimes our most intense prayers are concerning our own needs. But that can be evidence that we are carrying around the burdens of the world. When we truly understand the burden of prayer, our prayers for ourselves and our own needs are not nearly as frantic as before, when we were praying for that “must-have” item in the shop window or e-store in the days when we were carrying the wrong burdens.
Actually, I have learned something over the years. Whenever I thought I really, really, really needed a financial infusion, and prayed a prayer like “Lord, I must have this today. If the bill is not paid, today, they will disconnect the __________”, I was disappointed every time. Never once did God answer that prayer. And never once was the _________ disconnected! But the more we learn to trust the Lord and take up the right burden, the fewer occasions we will have to pray those prayers.
I want to close this message with undoubtedly the greatest example of intense prayer the world has ever known. Fr. Obet mentioned it last Wednesday night in his great message on John 17. If you weren’t here or don’t remember it, it is posted on the website. Study it over again. If you were here and do remember it, study it again anyway. It is worth your time. But I want to look tonight at the prayer Jesus prayed before the one in John, the one recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
First of all, realize that Jesus Christ walked into that Upper Room as a man who was greatly burdened, one might say desperate. (Remember the word from the CEC Bishop: “Revival comes from desperation.”) Just look at the words He spoke in that celebration of the Passover: they reveal a man with much on His mind. As I paraphrase His statements from the four Gospels, listen to the desperation:
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer … I will never eat it again until it is fulfilled …One of you will betray Me. Just do it quickly and get it over with, Judas! Woe to him through whom it comes! You will all fall away. Simon, Satan is coming after you! Don’t be worried, I’ve prayed. Forget what I said before; find all the bags, purses, and swords you can find. Yes, I said swords! I tell you, men, it’s about to happen!” As John recorded, “Jesus became troubled in spirit.” These are not the words of a man at peace. Who would be?
Then they went to the Garden of prayer. Observe His stress: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and keep watch with Me.” And then the words of prayer: “Abba, Father, if possible, let this cup pass. But not My will, but Yours.” Make no mistake, this was no mere expression of “Bahala na.” Bahala na is the polar opposite of intense prayer, of a divinely burdened prayer. This was an expression of supreme intensity - so extreme, drops of blood formed on His brow.
His burden was not yet relieved, so He went back to His companions. Imagine His frustration. No, you do not have to imagine it, He expresses it: “Could you not watch for one hour? Don’t fall into temptation! Your spirit is willing, but your spirit is weak!” So He returns to His place of isolation. I’m sad to report, but intense prayer is usually lonely prayer. Luke records in 9: 18, “Jesus was praying alone, and His disciples were with Him.” It is rare to find a prayer partner for intense prayer. If you find one, do not let them go.
So, Jesus Christ goes back to prayer. To streamline the story, He prays through. He prays until the burden is gone. He comes to the place where He can leave the burden in Gethsemane. Notice, He could not leave the burden in the Upper Room, even in the much-anticipated celebration of the Passover. Sometimes ceremonies and rituals are not enough. Sometimes, only intense prayer will relieve the burden.
And now, His words reveal a man at peace. “Arise, let us be going. Put up the swords, it is enough! Friend, do what you have come for.” And, as John records, “This is My cup, My purpose. Shall I not drink it?” This is a man with no more burdens, except the cross. And, unlike the burden of the Upper Room, it is light. From now on every word; those in Pilate’s hall, those on the Cross, is an expression of purpose, of ministry, not burden. Even the 4th Word from the Cross is an expression of purpose and ministry, not burden, if you understand it properly.
He has exchanged the burden of prayer for the burden of purpose.
Calvary was the result of intense prayer, the burden of purpose. The burden of prayer.
So was the empty tomb.