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  Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. Revelation 1:3
   
 



In God’s Presence

It is considered a great honor and a rare privilege to be received in audience at a royal court, even though a hundred others are received at the same time. There is considerable rivalry among visitors to the British Isles to obtain the much-coveted invitation to a palace function where they are introduced to royalty. If invited, they spend much time preparing for the occasion. It is indeed the event of a lifetime. They read carefully the rules that govern their appearance, the proper way of addressing royalty, and what they may do or not do in the royal presence. The occasion is never forgotten; and if royalty addresses any remark to them, the words are ever cherished.

 

We need not attempt to compare or contrast such an occasion with that of appearing before the most high God in private audience. If the one is wonderful, the other is a thousand times more so. There can in reality be no comparison, only contrast; for God is beyond compare.

 

In prayer, we enter the presence of God, the audience chamber of the Most High. Not, as on earth, are we ushered into an outer reception room with hundreds of others, but into the throne room itself, the inmost sanctuary of God, for a private audience with the ruler of the universe. It is doubtful that even the greatest of the saints fully appreciate the honor thus bestowed. Moreover, this honor is granted the lowliest of men! Wonder upon wonders!

 

In private prayer, as in public worship, we often engage in communion with God as a matter of duty or custom and repeat certain phrases without thought as to their meaning. It is a pious practice learned from others or remembered from childhood. We cling to it as something we “ought” to do. We feel that if our prayers seem to do little good, at least they do no harm.

 

Such is a far cry from what God intends prayer to be. Prayer is not a common occasion for which no preparation is needed. It is an audience with God.

 

God’s Plan for Man

We need to understand more about prayer than we do. Why does God want us to pray? He knows what we need, so why does He simply give us what we ought to have? What are the conditions upon which rests the answer? What may we expect from prayer?

 

In God’s universal plan, men were intended to occupy a high position as co-workers with Him. To prepare them for this work they were to be subjected to certain tests to ascertain if they were worthy of their future high calling; if they stood these tests they were eventually to take their place as members of the household of God.

 

Such a plan involved a period of instruction and training that would demonstrate their capacity for learning the necessary lessons. During this time they would have the opportunity of deciding whether or not the life promised them by God as a reward for their work was worth the discipline necessary to meet the standard God has set for inclusion in His family. At any time they would be at liberty to terminate the agreement; and should they once more change their minds and wish to return to their allegiance to God, He would give them the opportunity until they at last had irrevocably settled the question for or against God. If their decision was against life, they would eventually return to the earth whence they came. If they chose life and passed successfully their period of instruction and the final examination, they would be invested with life everlasting and be officially installed as the sons of God.

 

In the beginning, there was open communication between man and his Maker. God was one with man, and the record states that He walked in the garden in the cool of the day. Prayer, such as we now know it, was unknown. Man did not fall to the ground when he talked with God. They communed one with the other as friends do and as Moses did later. “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Exodus 33:11. There was perfect fellowship, as between father and son, God talked with man, and man talked with God. After sin came in, this close fellowship ceased. Says God, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.” Isaiah 59:2.

 

While sin made a separation between man and God, and no direct communication was possible, man was not entirely shut off from God. A way of approach was opened through Christ, and in His name, man could reach the ear of God. Jesus Christ declared, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” John 14:6. “Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in My name, He may give it you.” John 15:16. According to this, the way to the Father, and the only way, is through the Son. Through Him, we may come, and whatever we ask in His name, we shall receive. This is the “new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” Hebrews 10:20.

 

This new way was first prefigured by the sacrifices to God in Old Testament times. These sacrifices were ordained to help man keep in mind that he was a sinner and as such deserved death, but that a way had been found by which he might come back to God and find access through the death of the sacrifice. Thus, we find that Cain and Abel brought their sacrifices to God, “in process of time.” Genesis 4:3,4. In thus bringing a lamb from his flock, the sinner acknowledged his guilt and admitted that he was worthy of death. As he slew the animal, he demonstrated that he understood that the wages of sin is death and that he was not worthy of life. The sacrifice also showed his belief that God accepted a substitute in his stead, and that the lamb died that he might live. Thus, the sacrifice signified two things: man’s acknowledgement of the justice of God in requiring punishment, and a demonstration of the mercy of God in providing and accepting a substitute to die in the sinner’s place. On the sinner’s part, it was an act of faith for him to accept the provision and follow precisely the rules for the offering of the sacrifice.

The First Recorded Offering

In the first sacrificial scene mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:3-15), “Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). “Unto Cain and to his offering He [God] had not respect.” Genesis 4:5. The difference between the offerings of Abel and Cain lay in the nature of their sacrifices. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord;” Abel likewise brought an offering of the fruit of the ground; but in addition “he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.” Verses 3,4. In bringing a lamb from his flock, Abel confessed that he had sinned and was worthy of death. He brought the lamb as a sin offering and asked God to forgive him and accept the lamb in his stead. Thus, he showed his faith in the true Lamb of God. The Bible declares that “the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” Verses 4,5.

 

In their simplest form, sacrifices were embodied prayers. It was at the altar that men met God, and here He accepted or rejected their prayers as they were symbolized by the offerings brought. Each offering had in itself the elements of prayer: confession of sin symbolized by the sacrifice; acceptance of the sinner’s prayer and repentance; and man’s faith in both God’s justice and His mercy. Sacrifices accepted meant sins forgiven. In each case where a sacrifice was brought and accepted, the record says, “It shall be forgiven him.” Leviticus 4:26,31,35; 5:10,13, 16, 18.

 

The offering of the sacrifices brought vividly to mind the seriousness of sin and the great cost of transgression; and the slaying of the victim by the sinner was intended to bring him to the decision, “Go, and sin no more.” If this was the result of the offering, the aim of the sacrifice and the sacrificial system had been accomplished.

 

The True Meaning of Sacrifice

To the informed Israelite it must early have become clear that the sacrifice of an animal could not take away sin, but that it was only an object lesson to make more vivid to the mind that sin meant death, and that what counted was the sinner’s attitude of repentance and confession. David understood this clearly when he said, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering.” Psalm 51:3,16. He then states God’s real desire: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” Verse 17. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18. To this the prophets agreed. See Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 1:10-20; Jeremiah 6:20; 7:21-23; Amos 5:21-24.

 

When Israel came to regard sacrifices in themselves as efficacious and forget that what God demanded was a humble and contrite heart, God abolished the sacrifices. He still retained, however, the vital elements – prayer, a humbling of the heart before God, a broken spirit, a contrite heart, and an intense desire to go and sin no more.

These are God’s requirements today. Not all believers in the Old Testament times confined their prayers to the occasions when they brought their offerings. They prayed as we do now, and God heard their prayers. The prophets understood clearly that sacrifices were only a temporary arrangement, one that could safely be ignored when further light came. Hence, we find prophets speaking lightly of sacrificial offerings while stressing spiritual attainments. Christ did not Himself bring any offering to the temple and He ignored all the temple ceremonies.

 

In the Old Testament times, it appears that prayer was more natural and unaffected than now. Men of old talked with God, and He answered them directly. Their prayers took the form of a conversion rather than of a formal petition. The prophets particularly appear to have been on speaking terms with God, generally getting their orders in dreams and visions, but also at times by word of mouth. While in some respects we may know more about religion than did the men of old, they knew far more about how to approach God. It is high time that we come back to communion with God and learn to “practice His presence.”

 

“The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Exodus 33:11. From one such interview with God, Moses came down from the mount and was not aware that “the skin of his face shone” while he talked with God. Exodus 34:29. This reflection of the glory of God was so strong that Aaron and the people “were afraid to come nigh him.” Verse 30. Therefore, Moses “put a veil on his face But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.” Verses 33-35.

 

That God spoke with Moses face to face became so well known that even the Egyptians heard of it. Said Moses, “They have heard that Thou Lord art among this people, that Thou Lord art seen face to face, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them, by daytime in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night.” Numbers 14:14. It would be well if God’s people at this time would come so close to God that men and nations would hear of it. The work would then be finished speedily.

 

Memory Verse:

 

“No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
John 14:6

Questions:

 

  1. Why does God want us to pray?


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  1. In our lesson, what are the elements of prayer?


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