Someone has well said that prayer is to the life of the Christian as oxygen is to the body. In a moment of time, a newborn infant is brought into a brand new and strange environment, with a unique atmosphere, where he drinks in the first of billions breaths that he will take throughout his lifetime. So it is for the newborn child of God. He has gone from the environment of darkness, death and damnation to the God-intoxicated atmosphere of light, love and life. Thus the new believer cries out, “Abba, Father.” Things are now strange: He no longer feels that he belongs to this world.
Perhaps upon conversion there is even an initial experience of fear. When Paul experienced the grace of God, “he fell to the ground … trembling and astonished” (Acts 9:4–6). Many a newborn child of God will share this apprehension, but soon he is comforted at the breast of El Shaddai. As he begins to drink from God’s precious Word, his comfort and strength increase.
His first breath of “Abba, Father” is one of billions that will follow throughout life and eternity. This first prayer may be simple, inarticulate, and even underdeveloped. But it is the healthy starting point for what will become a daily practice through his earthly sojourn. Yes, just as physical life requires breathing, so the spiritual life requires praying. In fact, one who does not pray is no more alive spiritually than a body devoid of oxygen. Simply put, if you do not have a life of prayer, then you do not have the life of God.
However, for multitudes of regenerate individuals, prayer is erratic and highly underdeveloped because underemphasised. Prayer is often unscheduled, ritualistic and thoughtless. For many, it is neglected. In fact, a recent survey showed that the average pastor—a man who is called to prayer and the ministry of the Word—spends less than ten minutes a day in prayer! A few years ago, a survey was taken of some fifty students in a major evangelical seminary concerning their quiet times. All fifty were training to be overseas missionaries, yet the survey revealed that only three of these fifty aspiring missionaries could testify to having a regular, scheduled time of prayer and Scripture reading!
The evangelical church is known for many things, but sadly prayer is not one of them. Don Carson has said it well: “We are better at organizing than agonizing; better at administrating than interceding; better at fellowship than fasting; better at entertainment than worship; better at theological articulation than spiritual adoration; better—God help us!—at preaching than at praying!”
So, what is the problem? Why do we not pray? Most likely it is because with all of our theoretical knowledge of God, we lack a proper experiential knowledge Him. J. I. Packer writes, “I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face!” The saintly Robert Murray McCheyne said, “What a man is, he is on his knees before God, and no more.” The bottom line is that what we actually do reveals our true priorities. Thus if prayer is not a major part of our Christian life, both individually and corporately, then it is fair to say that knowing God is not our highest priority, excuses and rebuttals aside.
If knowing God is not a high priority for us, prayer will be just as insignificant. Furthermore, if knowing God is not our highest priority then a neglect of missions will follow suit. How can I say this? Because the purpose of the Great Commission is to make God’s name known where it is not known; to make His name known in every tribe, tongue, nation and people on the face of the earth. Thus, if we are not impressed with God enough to want to spend time with Him, there is no way that we will prioritise helping others to know Him. Jerry Bridges relates that, shortly after his conversion, he began attending a discipleship group. Though he remembers little of what took place the first time he went, he was struck with the motto that this group had adopted: “To know Him and to make Him known.”
This really sums up the mission of the church: We must seek to know God, and then to make Him known to others who do not know Him. But notice that “to know Him” precedes “making Him known.” Why is there such lethargy in the Western church concerning missions, concerning the Great Commission? Simply, because knowing God and worshipping God are not priorities. If we really have a proper grasp of God and His glory, we will want to tell others about Him.
If you have ever had an encounter with a new grandparent, you will have some sort of concept of this truth. You do not have to introduce yourself to new grandparents—they are quite willing to do the introductions. They want to show everyone the most beautiful baby that was ever born. They want to show you all the pictures, and they just know that you are as excited as they are. Because there is someone they adore, someone they love, they seek to make the little one known.So should it be in the Christian life. We should be so consumed with God that we cannot stay our lips from proclaiming His glory! Jeremiah said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name.” But in the same breath, almost before he had finished those words, he continued: “But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones: I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jeremiah 20:9).
What was it that led to the modern missionary movement, with the likes of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, William Burns, Hudson Taylor, and John Paton? It was simply that these men were God-intoxicated individuals who burned with a passion to know God and to make Him known. And what was also true of these men is that they were all men of serious prayer.
John Piper, in his fantastic book on missions, writes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” In other words, missions exists because there are those in every tribe and tongue and people and nation who do not worship our God. And the purpose of missions is to make worshippers out of these rebels. The primary goal of the Great Commission is not to rescue people from hell (though this is a wonderful by-product) but that God’s name will be hallowed, His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The goal is to be a part of God’s promised and sure purpose to have some from every tribe, nation, tongue and peoples singing praises before His throne forever and ever. That, my friend, is the purpose of the Great Commission, and until we grasp this, our participation in missions, and prayer for it, will be tokenism at best and total indifference at worst.
In sum, our major priority in life must be to know God. The result will be a burning desire to make Him known throughout this world with a determination to make sure that He is known. And the fuel for this goal is prayer. Prayer is perhaps the ultimate expression of worship. As McCheyne said, a believer is nothing more than what he is when he is on his knees. If you truly desire to know God, you must attend His theology classes on your knees. And if you want Him to be worshipped by others, you must be committed to sending forth the gospel from your knees. We must return to the throne of grace in repentance, giving prayer its rightful place in our lives—both individually and corporately.
Just how important is this matter of prayer? Luke gives us some insight into its importance in his record of the disciples’ question to the Lord: “Lord, teach us to pray” (v. 1). This is an interesting request. The disciples had been with the Lord for perhaps a little more than two years. They had witnessed His miracles and His compassion. They had heard His incredible and authoritative preaching. They themselves had been sent out on a successful evangelistic campaign (see Luke 10:1–17). Yet we do not read, “Lord teach us more doctrine,” or, “Lord, teach us better evangelistic methods.” They do not request insight into spiritual warfare. Nor do they ask Him to teach them how to perform miracles. They didn’t even ask to be taught to preach. No, these heralds of the Great Commission ask, clearly and simple, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
As we consider the passage before us, I want us to examine the Lord’s response to His disciples. As we do so, I trust that we will learn that the Lord’s Prayer is intimately tied to the Great Commission. In fact, praying this prayer is absolutely vital to a proper perspective concerning the Great Commission. Prayer is the vital fuel for this task. Perhaps we could title this message, “Lord, Teach Us Your Purpose,” for everything that the Lord taught the disciples here is God-centred and thus centred on His task for the church until the end of the age.
The Priority of Prayer
As the passage opens, it is clear that the disciples were impressed with the prayer life of our Lord. Luke records the question that one of the Twelve asked Him: “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’” (Luke 11:1). Without a doubt, they had noticed that prayer was a priority for their Lord and Master. As the Gospels reveal, the Lord Jesus Christ spent much time in prayer. Oftentimes He would spend all night in prayer, usually after a busy day of ministry (see Mark 1). Before His most stressful days, our Lord would rise early, before His disciples even stirred, and spend time in fellowship with His Father. He prayed before eating and before performing miracles. He prayed in private and in public. Clearly, He was a Man of prayer.
As they observed Him at prayer something had obviously struck them as to the importance, passion, and wonder of the communion with which Christ was engaged with His Father. They wanted to know how to pray.
They knew that John the Baptist was a man of God, and since he had taught his disciples how to pray they must have realised that prayer is to be a priority in the lives of those who follow the Lord. Christ was the ultimate Man of God, and since they desired to be men of God, they realised their need to be men of prayer. Thus they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Though “one of his disciples” asked the question, he undoubtedly asked it for all. Perhaps he was the appointed spokesman for the group. Perhaps he was burdened for both himself and the whole. Regardless, we learn from him that our concern for the priority of prayer must not be an individualistic concern—we need to have a concern for the corporate prayer life of the church.
If the Lord Jesus made prayer a priority, then we most certainly must do the same. He was, and is, God. He came to earth to fulfil the Father’s plan and mission. To do so, He knew that He would need the Father’s fellowship and power. He would not, could not, in His humanity do it alone. Since Christ clearly realised His need for prayer, why would we think that we do not need to pray? Our Lord spent much time in prayer before going out into the world to live His daily life. Yet we often seem to believe that we can coast by with only a few moments spent in devotion with the Lord every day. How foolish we are!
One thing that is clear from this passage is that the twelve received a lesson, not just about the priority of prayer, but also about the purpose of prayer. They received a lesson that, thoughtfully pondered, would enable them to understand what life is all about and the need to make prayer a priority.
Before we move on, let me ask: Do you see prayer as a priority in your life? The early church did! In the very first chapter of Luke’s record of the beginnings of the church, we read that the early followers of Jesus “all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14). Later, we read that the first church in Jerusalem “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). When it became clear that the apostles could not spend as much time as needed on the administrative affairs of the church, they told the church to choose seven men, whom they would approve and set as deacons in the church. The apostles, on the other hand, chose to give themselves fully “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). When the church had selected the seven individuals (adhering to the guidelines the apostles had given), they brought those nominated before the Twelve. The apostles agreed to these men, “and when they had prayed,” they appointed them to their ministry (Acts 6:6). When Herod beheaded John, he realised that killing Peter would increase his popularity with the Jews even more. “Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). If you know the story, you will be aware of the miraculous deliverance that followed.
Why was the early church so consumed with prayer? For the simple reason that they understood their purpose, which was ultimately God’s purpose, which required God’s provision, pardon and power to accomplish.
John Piper, commenting on prayer and missions, turns his attention to the prayer life of the New Testament saints. He writes, “Consider the amazing scope of prayer in the vibrant missionary life of the early church. How greatly was God glorified in the breadth of His provision!” Pointing out that “God was sought in everything,” Piper goes on to highlight several specific requests for which the early church turned to God:
- They called on God to exalt His name in the world (Matthew 6:9).
- They called on God to extend His kingdom in the world (Matthew 6:10).
- They called on God that the gospel would run and triumph (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
- They called on God for the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19).
- They called on God to vindicate His people in their cause (Luke 18:7).
- They called on God to save unbelievers (Romans 10:1).
- They called on God to direct the use of the Sword (Ephesians 6:17–18).
- They called on God for boldness in proclamation (Ephesians 6:18–19; Acts 4:29).
- They called on God for signs and wonders (Acts 4:30; James 5:17–18).
- They called on God for the healing of wounded comrades (James 5:14–15).
- They called on God for the healing of unbelievers (Acts 28:8).
- They called on God for the casting out of demons (Mark 9:29).
- They called on God for miraculous deliverances (Acts 12:5, 12; 16:25–26).
- They called on God for the raising of the dead (Acts 9:40).
- They called on God to supply His troops with necessities (Matthew 6:11).
- They called on God for strategic wisdom (James 1:5).
- They called on God to establish leadership in the outposts (Acts 14:23).
- They called on God to send out reinforcements (Matthew 9:38; Acts 13:2–3).
- They called on God for the success of other missionaries (Romans 15:30–31).
- They called on God for unity and harmony in the ranks (John 17:20–21).
- They called on God for the encouragement of togetherness (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
- They called on God for a mind of discernment (Philippians 1:9–10).
- They called on God for a knowledge of His will (Colossians 1:9).
- They called on God to know Him better (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17).
- They called on God for power to comprehend the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14, 18).
- They called on God for a deeper sense of assured hope (Ephesians 1:16, 18).
- They called on God for strength and endurance (Colossians 1:11; cf. Ephesians 3:16).
- They called on God for deeper sense of His power within them (Ephesians 1:16, 19).
- They called on God that their faith not be destroyed (Luke 22:32; 21:36).
- They called on God for greater faith (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17).
- They called on God that they might not fall into temptation (Matthew 6:13; 26:41).
- They called on God that He would complete their resolves (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
- They called on God that they would do good works (Colossians 1:10).
- They called on God for forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 6:12).
- They called on God for protection from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).
Piper concludes, “God’s ultimate goal will only come through prayer.”
Until we grasp why we are here, prayer—proper, biblical prayer—will have little priority in our life. Until we understand some fundamental truths, we will not be too interested in, “Lord teach us to pray.”
Eugene Peterson, who pastored a church in Pennsylvania for twenty-nine years, relates how, six years into his pastorate, a lady came to his study and asked him to teach her how to pray. Peterson says that that request changed his life. It forced him to examine his own prayer life, and resulted in many changes as he sought to conform his own prayer to the pattern set forth in Scripture. He tells of his realisation that, while he was getting by and having “success” in his ministry, and while he was preaching the Word faithfully, his prayer life was not what it should have been. This realisation forced him to reprioritise.
As I said from the outset, prayer is to the Christian what breathing is to the body. I know of no one who has to be taught to breathe. In fact, breathing is so natural that it only becomes a problem when we do begin to be conscious of it. This is often an indication that we have stopped breathing in a normal way. So, in one sense, the believer will be naturally praying all the time.
Many Christians claim that they pray “all the time.” “I always speak to God,” they insist. “When I’m getting dressed, when I’m driving, when I am at work, etc.” I have little reason to doubt this, and I certainly agree that the believer must always be in communion with God. But this is not what I am talking about when I speak of a prayer life.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they did so because they sensed purpose in the praying of Jesus. When Jesus prayed, they sensed that He was caught up in something larger than His immediate needs. They sensed that His focus was on the Father and His will being done in His life and ministry on earth. John 17 clearly reveals that this was the substance of the Lord’s passion and prayer: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). In sum, the Lord Jesus made prayer His priority because He was aware of His purpose and thus of His need for God’s power and provision. Praise be to God, He did not need the Father’s pardon!
The Purpose of Prayer
The purpose of prayer is set out clearly in v. 2: “So He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In a sense, this is the beginning of the petitions. But in telling them what to pray for, Jesus was also telling them what to live for. He was telling them their life’s purpose.
If prayer will be our priority, both individually and corporately, we will need to understand our purpose. The Lord answered His disciples’ request to teach them to pray. He did that and more. He taught them how to live! He certainly gave them a pattern of prayer, for He commanded them to pray “in this manner” (Matthew 6:9), but He also showed them the pattern for their lives. His prayer was not merely a liturgical tool, but a life-guiding truth. Our Lord told them that they would only pray properly, passionately, purposefully and productively if they lived purposefully.
When the disciples asked the Lord to teach them to pray, He first pointed them to the purpose of prayer, which is to glorify God’s name and to ask for divine help to accomplish this goal on earth. This was both wise and necessary, for if the disciples did not understand the purpose of prayer, they would most likely fall into the same errors that we often do: asking only for personal wants and needs to be met. The disciples needed to understand that if their prayer life was simply a consumer-type approach to God, their devotion to God would never be deep. For the moment a need is met, what further reason is there to pray? “Lord, meet my financial needs.” “Lord, please save my children.” But what happens to our prayer life when the bills are paid and the children have made a credible profession to faith? Too often we grow superficially content and believe that there is no more reason to pray.
Too often our prayer life suffers because our motivation to pray is weak, if not entirely wrong. I believe that commitment to a course of action is closely tied to the motivation behind that action. For example, if I want to run a marathon, I will train a certain way throughout the year. If I want to win the marathon, and if there is a financial incentive to do so, and if I depend on running to make a living, then I will be highly motivated to train. So it is with prayer. If I live my life totally focused on myself and on my needs, I will have little burden to pray once those needs are met. Solomon understood this concept, and wrote under inspiration: “Two things I request of You (deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7–9). If you pray only selfishly, one of two things will happen. Either you will see those needs met, and declare, “Who is the LORD?” (i.e. “What need have I of the Lord?”) or you will not see your immediate needs met, and conclude that God is not concerned with you, and thus you will “profane the name of [your] God.”
Our Lord clearly outlined the purpose of prayer. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The Greek verbal construction makes it clear that “hallowed be thy name” is a petition rather than a statement. R. C. Sproul explains:
We often confuse the words “Hallowed be thy name” with part of the address, as if the words were “Hallowed is your name.” In that case the words would merely be an ascription of praise to God. But that is not how Jesus said it. He uttered it as a petition, as the first petition. We should be praying that God’s name be hallowed, that God be regarded as holy.
In other words, we do not simply nod in acknowledgement that the Bible says God is holy; rather, everything that follows in the Lord’s Prayer serves the purpose of seeing God’s name being recognised as holy throughout the world. “Father, may the entire world recognise and praise You as holy!”
How will God’s name be hallowed? The Lord tells us: “Your kingdom come.” This is the theme of the Bible, from cover to cover. God’s kingdom is God’s reign. It involves His rule in the heart of individuals but it extends to His righteous rule through obedience to His rules. This is captured in the next petition, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Obviously, this can only happen as we take the message of the gospel to others. If God will reign in the hearts of men, we must take the message of the kingdom to those men.
God speaks to this world in general revelation. The entire creation manifests the glory of God. As a believer, I can study this universe and marvel at the awesomeness of an omnipotent and omniscient Creator. The unbeliever, on the other hand, will not ascribe greatness to God as he studies the universe. Unbelievers can certainly see evidence in creation of God’s existence, but they need God’s special revelation—the gospel—if they will come into a living relationship with Him. We do not point the unbeliever to Mars in order to bring Him to God—we point him to Christ. We do not teach him about Neptune in order to call him to salvation—we teach Him the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to do this for God’s kingdom to come, and for His will to be done in this world.
The bottom line is this: God is on a mission to be glorified, and His mission will be accomplished. All of history is progressing for the glory of God. Consider John Piper’s words concerning this: “The most passionate heart for the glory of God is God’s heart. God’s ultimate goal is to uphold and display the glory of His name.” He then gives us several biblical texts “to show us God’s zeal for His own glory”:
- God chose His people for His glory (Ephesians 1:4–6; cf. 1:12–14).
- God created us for His glory (Isaiah 43:6–7).
- God called Israel for His glory (Isaiah 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11).
- God rescued Israel from Egypt for His glory (Psalm 106:7–8).
- God raised Pharaoh up to show His own power and glorify his own name (Romans 9:17).
- God defeated Pharaoh at the Red Sea to show His glory (Exodus 14:4; cf. 14:17–18).
- God spared Israel in the wilderness for the glory of His name (Ezekiel 20:14).
- God gave Israel victory in Canaan for the glory of His name (2 Samuel 7:23).
- God did not cast away His people for the glory of His name (1 Samuel 12:20–22).
- God saved Jerusalem from attack for the glory of His name (2 Kings 19:34; cf. 20:6).
- God restored Israel from exile for the glory of His name (Ezekiel 36:22–23, 32).
- Jesus sought the glory of His Father in all He did (John 7:18).
- Jesus told us to do good works so that God gets the glory (Matthew 5:16; cf. 1 Peter 2:12).
- Jesus warned that not seeking God’s glory makes faith impossible (John 5:44).
- Jesus said that He answers prayer so that God would be glorified (John 14:13).
- Jesus endured His final hours of suffering for God’s glory (John 12:27–28; 17:1; cf. 13:31–32).
- God gave His Son to vindicate the glory of His righteousness (Romans 3:25–26).
- God forgives our sins for His own sake (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 25:11).
- Jesus receives us into His fellowship for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
- The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son of God (John 16:14).
- God instructs us to do everything for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; cf. 6:20).
- God tells us to serve in a way that will glorify Him (1 Peter 4:11).
- Jesus will fill us with the fruits of righteousness for God’s glory (Philippians 1:11).
- All are under judgement for dishonouring God’s glory (Romans 1:23; 3:23).
- Herod is struck dead because he did not give glory to God (Acts 12:23).
- Jesus is coming again for the glory of God (2 Thessalonians 1:9–10).
- Jesus’ ultimate aim for us is that we see and enjoy His glory (John 17:24).
- Even in wrath God’s aim is to make known the wealth of His glory (Romans 9:22–23).
- God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14).
- Everything that happens will redound to God’s glory (Romans 11:36).
- In the New Jerusalem the glory of God replaces the sun (Romans 21:23).
Even at that wonderful day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, it will be done “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Piper concludes: “God’s passion for God is unmistakable…. The chief end of God is to glorify God, and enjoy Himself forever.”
You see, one day there will be worshippers from every people group around the throne of God (Revelation 5:9ff; cf. Revelation 7:9ff). God has decreed this; it will happen. Since God said it, it will be so. This was Jesus’ passion (John 17) and it is to be our mission.
If we truly understand that we exist to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, then we will be men and women of prayer. We will continue in prayer regardless of how “well” things are going for us because we will see that, as of yet, not all is going well for God’s name’s sake, for there are still some who are not praising His name. One day the trumpet will sound and the Son will deliver up all the nations to the Father and then the mission on earth will be over. Then, and only then, will we have grounds to cease praying. For now, we need to see our purpose for living and our purpose for praying as intimately connected. It is all about the Great Commission!
How would you answer the question, “What is the purpose of the church?” To glorify God? To worship God? To fulfil the Great Commission.
Many would doubtless reply with the first answer, insisting that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Certainly, that is a good answer, for we are told to do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Others would reply that the second possibility is correct. Again, I would agree, for we are to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Sadly, however, few are likely to respond with the third possibility, for the Great Commission is something that many churches relegate to some or other committee within the church (or to parachurch ministries, for that matter). But the truth is, you cannot be committed to any one of these aspects without a corresponding commitment to the other two.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is revealed from Genesis to Revelation. As I have mentioned, 1 Corinthians 10:31 sums it up: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Certainly, this is a Scriptural assertion. But what does it mean to glorify God? The word “glory” or “glorify” comes from a root word that refers to weight or heaviness. To glorify God means to give Him the weight that is His due.
We know that all believers will one day be “glorified,” and the purpose of this is that we will be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. Christ alone fully glorifies the Father. Thus, the more we are conformed to the image (or glory) of the Son, the more we glorify our heavenly Father. This is inseparably linked to the Great Commission. What is the Great Commission all about? Contrary to popular opinion, it is not simply about preaching the gospel (“evangelising”). Evangelism is certainly part of the Great Commission, but it is only the first step, according to Matthew 28:18–20. The purpose of the Great Commission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ in all nations. We are to evangelise the lost (step one), baptise the converted (step two), and then disciple the baptised converts in order to see them conformed to the image of Christ as they follow Him more and more closely (step three). And as the discipleship process produces Christlike believers (i.e. Christians), God is glorified. Thus, it is simply all talk with no substance to insist that your purpose is to glorify God while at the same time relegating the Great Commission to a minor (or nonexistent) activity of the church or of your personal life.
What about those who insist that the chief end of man is to worship God? Again, this is a biblical assertion, but we must understand what it means to worship God. The word “worship” literally means to bow. Thus, it speaks of bowing in humble submission to authority. Worship is, in a word, obedience. We are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The believer who worships God in spirit and truth is committed to bowing to His Word and thus to His will. And as you do this, God in heaven is glorified. But I ask, can you truly be called a worshipper if you refuse to bow to His Word concerning the Great Commission? Since the Great Commission is clearly a command from the Lord Jesus Christ, and since we are clearly told to observe all that He has commanded us, it is patently dishonest to say that we are committed to worshipping God when at the same time we are not involved in making disciples!
You see, the Great Commission ties it all together! Do you want to worship God? Do you want to glorify God? Then be involved in making disciples of Jesus Christ in all nations!
Let me summarise. The purpose of our life is the purpose of our Father: that He be glorified throughout this world forever. To the degree that we buy into this purpose, we will passionately pray that this takes place. We will not let heaven rest until His name is established on this earth. As long as there is but one people group that have not been reached with the gospel, we will constantly pray and labour to see this group reached. Perhaps it sounds like I am making it the church’s responsibility to bring in the kingdom. Call it what you want: All I know is that Jesus taught the disciples that the purpose of prayer is that God’s name be glorified as His kingdom comes to the earth and His will is done in earth as it is in heaven. Until this takes place, I am to prioritise this petition in prayer—because it is my God-given priority in life.
Having laid the foundation for this, let me ask some soul-searching questions.
What is your purpose in life? Be honest! How do you really define it? Beware of empty religious talk as you seek to answer this.
Let me help you: If you want to know the answer to this, then examine your prayer life. What dominates your requests? Your own sadness, sicknesses, supplies, goals, and relationships? How often do you pray concerning knowing God and making Him known? When was the last time that you prayed for the spread of the gospel and its success? Even with regards to your missionaries, how do you pray?
When was the last time that you prayed for God to take your children and to send them as missionaries? Do you pray for opportunities to make disciples in the work place? Some insist that it is the job of the fulltime vocational minister to make disciples, and that those in secular vocations are not to mix Christianity and secularity. Consider Watchman Nee’s remarks in this regard:
Some ask, should they preach? or should they seek employment in a profession or trade? Are these two roads in front of a child of God? Where in Scripture do we find such alternatives: to preach or to find work? Is it a choice we are called upon to make? God’s people are a lamp for witness. Is there then a Christian that is not to witness? It cannot be that a few preach while in some mysterious sense all are a lamp. No there is a living witness for God on earth and for that I live. This is the one road for us all and there is no other. None can be the Lord’s and not testify to Him. All must preach Christ; that is the one big thing. It is a secondary question whether all the time is to be given to it or some spent on breadwinning. For everything turns on where our centre is. God cannot use one who adds preaching to business; he can use one who adds business to preaching. It simply depends which side the addition is on! God, not our business, is to be the centre of our lives.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to prayer and your concern for the Great Commission. You can be familiar with all the religious jargon in the world. You can study for every theological degree available. But if you are not involved prayerfully and practically in the Great Commission, you are deceiving yourself if you claim to be concerned for God’s purpose. The church is about making disciples at home and sending labourers to make disciples abroad. If you are passionate about God’s purpose, you will be involved in this both personally and corporately.
Does it offend you that most of the world is in rebellion against God? Does it bother you that half of the world does not have even a portion of the Scriptures in their mother tongue? If our purpose is to glorify God, then why does the average evangelical Christian spend more money each year on pet food than missions? Why does the average Christian in evangelical churches, according to another survey, pay more each month on the interest charges of their credit card than they give to missions? Don’t tell me that you have God’s purpose at heart if this is true of you! “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
If our passion is indeed that God be worshipped and glorified, why do we stay away from church prayer meetings? Let’s be honest: If we truly understand our purpose for life then we will be a people of prayer. And if we truly want to pray then we need to make sure that we are focused on our God-given purpose for living.
Your Purpose and Prayer?
I can certainly speak for Brackenhurst Baptist Church: This is where we must be. And, based on Scripture, I can say the same for all local churches everywhere. We must see that we have one purpose, and that is God’s purpose. Once we begin to have a passion for God’s glory, we will have a passion to pray. This passion will enable us to overcome the fear of man and thus we will not stay away from prayer meetings because of “shyness.” Once we have this passion, we will pray in spite of discouragements and seeming setbacks in our life. With a proper passion, we will schedule prayer as a regular part of our life. With a proper passion, we will find ourselves praying increasingly for the spread of God’s kingdom. In short, we will become believers with a vision for the world, globally concerned, globally committed and globally significant for the glory of God. We are a part of something great! God has afforded us opportunity to be involved in hallowing His name and seeing His will done in earth as it is in heaven.
Is this our all-consuming passion? Then, let’s pray like it; and if not, then let’s pray for it.