FEATURE: Prayer, a Life-Attitude of Dependence by Adrian Varlack
07/26/2011 02:01:14 PM
Prayer: A Life-Attitude of Dependence
Prayer is an attitude of complete, consistent, and absolute dependence upon God; it is the rightful posture of every man and woman, boy and girl whom God has created; that is, all of us human beings everywhere! This true posture of creaturely dependence upon God was lost in the first man Adam and recaptured by the Second Man, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, who modeled it in His own life, work, and obedience as Son of God sent by the Father, and, vicariously for us, as God incarnate, Son of Man, our Redeemer.
“Who in the days of his flesh when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (because of his godly fear—marginal reading, Hebrews 5:7).
The Undoing of Satanic Control
It is not always prudent to begin a discourse of this type with a negative, but our negative situation (as human beings), vis-à-vis the purposes for which God created us, is the reality of our existence; necessitating in this case that we begin where we are. In revealing His plan to undo the fall of man, God embedded a promise in Genesis 3:15, namely, that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. God announced this as a part of His summation of the new situation Adam and Eve’s failure occasioned, the passing of their dominion to the control of God’s archenemy. The promise in this declaration is the first hint (the second being God’s clothing of their nakedness with skins, v. 21) of a redemption that would be costly but that would come through man, though not through man’s maleness.
When Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, satan[i] immediately recognized the threat that this man-child posed to his dominion and control. He sought to destroy the helpless babe through Herod’s murderous scheme (Matthew 2) after trying throughout the millennia, since Genesis 3, to thwart God’s plan to bring forth the Savior by means of His chosen people Israel. The glimpses we get of Jesus’ helpless dependence upon His earthly parents and upon His heavenly Father’s protection as Son of Man lets us know that, in human weakness and vulnerability, He came to destroy the works of the devil ( 1 John 3:8). Obviously, satan had been knowing of the seriousness of this threat and now sought to head it off before Jesus’ adulthood.
Once Christ was born, the kingdom of darkness and of man’s foul rebellion against God had been successfully invaded by the One who would unravel it from within by being both the truly God-dependent Man (where Adam had failed) and the God upon whom man should rightfully depend, the One who alone could provide salvation. The main point here, though, is that by coming as a helpless babe, our Lord began His identity with us in our helplessness and alienation, and placed Himself in position to be tempted in all points like as we are (Hebrews 2:18). He took on our form (human nature) so that He might in it become the perfectly God-dependent, obedient Man who would condemn sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3) and thereby undo the works of the devil (Hebrews 2:14–17). This “helpless dependence” is His chosen posture in reversing Adam’s original decision which admitted “sin” as a principle in the human race, a principle of absolute self-dependence which knows no need to pray. It is the opposite of the creaturely dependence which we were made to exercise.
About His Father’s Business
Jesus began His entrance into adulthood (age 12) by creating the conditions under which He had to be sought by His earthly parents (Luke 2:41–52). In response to Mary and Joseph’s sorrowful and concerned question after three days of searching for Him, He said, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not [Do you not know} that I must be about My Father’s business?”(v. 49). Thomas F. Torrance says of this passage, “At that point, as Jesus steps into adult responsibility as far as relations with God are concerned (that is, so far as he now takes the confession of God the Father upon His own lips, and lives His own faith and dependence upon the Father) we have a revelation of what he is sent to do and be. He is found in his Father’s house, about his father’s business, and yet, Son of God though he was, he remained in subjection as a son to his earthly parents…”[ii]
Jesus’ acute awareness of His salvific mission at so early an age is often highlighted in written works. And that is as it should be! However, in this interactive scene with His mother and legal earthly father, we see Him as an example of submission and grace, the obedient and dependent Son of Man to Mary and Joseph and the obedient and dependent Son of God as man, to God His Father.[iii] His human life’s pattern of absolute reliance upon God is in reversal of our self-dependent nature and was in fact the beginning of our true return to God. Man’s true business is the business or affairs of our heavenly Father and Creator. We were made by Him and for Him and therefore our true being is only realized in dependence upon Him (Colossians 1:16–17). The biblical sign and evidence of that dependence is prayer, understood as constant fellowship and communion with God in true dependence.
Prayer Scenes in the Life of Jesus
As we briefly review a few of the prayer-scenes in the life of Jesus, we will see His absolute and perfect dependence upon God the Father. This dependence was for man (vicariously in our place) and for His Father in perfect obedience as the Son of God made flesh, for the mission of bringing God and man together.
The first of these scenes is Jesus’ baptism by John, where, as he comes up out of the water, He prays and the Spirit descends upon Him (Luke 3:21–22). He is at once driven by the Spirit into the desert for His “mission-determining” confrontation with satan, a confrontation associated with His person and His life as man under God (vv. 1–13). There after His 40-day fast, the devil begins the first of several major assaults, the temptation not to assume man’s burden, or more directly, to forfeit His humanness and rightful dependence upon God as man by acting for Himself within His powers as Son of God. This would be an act of direct disobedience and a catastrophic denial of His singular role and mission. At each of the three attempts, satan is met with our Lord’s stubborn and glorious refusal to be selfish, His firm determination to live under God’s Word, as man rightfully should, to worship only God in place of the self which Adam had chosen, and His deliberate determination to humility—His conscious decision, under great hunger, in aloneness, and in a barren place, not to be prideful and self-directing although He had the power to do so! Jesus demonstrated that He would be absolutely God-dependent! In this encounter, satan had more than met his match for the first time in human history—a human being, a real man, who, in severe temptation to selfhood under ideal circumstances, consciously chose to be fully reliant upon God. This is the creature’s rightful role and obligation to the Creator and here it had been asserted in great power for the first time. Matthew’s gospel records the detail that when the devil left Him, angels came and ministered unto Him (4:11). Jesus, as man, and in our place, refused to serve Himself and remained God-dependent, reestablishing for mankind the true dependency the first Adam had spurned.
Put another way (for we cannot speak of this enough), the victory Jesus won there in the desert was not just for Himself or for His Father (in obedience to His Father’s will) but also for us. There He established Himself as the “Second Man” and the “Last Adam,” the Head of the new humanity (1 Corinthians 15:45–47); there our Lord turns us God-ward and begins the reversal of the fall. He makes possible our own God-dependence, the dependence for which we were first created and for which our hearts yearn even when we are in denial: “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature [creation]; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This newness is the beginning of our new humanity.
We have a window into the second prayer scene of Jesus’ life through our text from Hebrews 5. I believe Jesus’ prayerfulness was life-long, although the intensity of the description speaks of His passion leading up to the cross, in other words, His Gethsemane experience. We are told by several of the Gospel writers that, on the evening of His betrayal by Judas Iscariot (during and after His Passover time with the disciples) He began to be “sorrowful and very heavy” (John 13:21; Matthew 26:37-38). In the process He took away all restraints on evil so it could do its ultimate, dastardly deed, that of executing the only truly righteous man, our sinless Redeemer. This was satan’s final attempt to murder Jesus. Our Lord signified His submission to this deed by saying to His arresters, “… but this is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
Before His arrest, He is in prayer to His Father praying as the Son of God clothed in human flesh, exhibiting, for a few brief but significant moments, our fallen human tendency to avoid the pain of surrendering our self-dependency, the end of our self-assertion and rebellion, that trait that we treasure in contradiction to the God who made us to be dependent upon Himself. The words of reluctance were no doubt from our human side showing His genuineness as the representative man but He quickly overcame them with, “… nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). In the words of another passage, “. . . he became obedient unto death even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). This is ultimate dependence, ultimate surrender; it is the ultimate correction which humanity needed, to, as Torrance aptly says, “… [resist] its downward drag in alienation from God, and [convert] it back in Himself to obedience toward God...”[iv] And Jesus did it and did it victoriously and vicariously. He did it for love of His Father and for love of us. I can feel these two loves as I write in His presence!
“Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou my God shouldst die for me!”[v]
The last scene is upon the cross itself as He is utterly God-forsaken and man-abandoned, truly alone in the extreme of separation, in one sense, an eternal separation from the God upon whom His life depended. No other Man had ever been in this position, truly obedient to God, truly dependent upon God but, for God’s own purposes and for His own love of us, must bear the sin of every other man and woman, boy and girl, taking them as His own and suffering God’s eternal judgment against those very sins and against the overarching multi-headed principle of Sin, Death, and Hell itself. Our Lord cried out in this process, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He went to the logical end of our rebellion in the bearing our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). This is what WE (all human beings) deserved! God in His own mercy and plan had kept us from going there until Christ, His beloved Son, could go there for us! He truly “…spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
On the cross Jesus culminated His life of dependence for Himself and for us by confessing, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then He prayed the ultimate prayer of dependence and obedience even while His Father was putting Him through such unspeakable and unprecedented suffering and judgment because of us, because of my sins and yours, because of the original failure of Adam, because of God’s great love for us all.
Truly alone[vi] and without God or man, Jesus said with complete trust, “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46) and did the ultimate act of an honest sinner, dying as all sinners deserve to die (condemned and forsaken) in submission to, and acceptance of, God’s just judgment against sin—death! The book of Hebrews tells us that by the grace of God He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9) but at the same time He accomplished much more than this by destroying him who once held the power of death, the devil himself, the one who caused man to fall in the first place (vv. 14, 15). What a glorious victory our Lord has won! No wonder the earth shook and a non-believer involved with His crucifixion—a representative of us all—exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
Jesus was deliberately God-dependent until the very last—His dismissal of His spirit was into the custody of His Father. This was the last prayer of His full life of absolute dependence upon God as Son of Man. Oh, how much more we could write about this glorious deed of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, our wonderful Lord and Redeemer! But we must return to conclude our thesis: Prayer as complete, consistent, and absolute dependence upon God, the rightful posture of us all.
“Men ought always to pray and not to faint” [to cease] (Luke 18:1). Jesus made this assertion in the midst of His own dependent human life as Son of Man and Son of God. In other words, He demonstrated for us what and how God’s creatures should be. His statement is much more than something we “should” do; it is how we “ought” to be!
We were created for God-dependency. Prayer (or praying), without a true and consciously admitted sense of God-dependence in humility and trust (faith), violates Christ’s own spirit of prayer. I suppose this is what E. M. Bounds called “Prayerless praying.”[vii] Our praying must be “present continuous” flowing out of our true being, our dependency upon God in our daily and momentary living. Anything less demeans our true humanness, dishonors our God, and falls short of true Christian experience because its fails to imitate the example of our Lord. Christ has undone the devil’s control over us; He went about His Father’s business in His mission to save us; the prayer scenes from His life reveal His absolute dependence upon His Father for Himself and on our behalf as creatures made to depend upon God; His teaching that “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” places the onus upon us to follow in His footsteps. A. W. Tozer put it well when he titled one of his articles “The Whole Life Must Pray.”[viii] We are free to be whom God made us to be through Jesus Christ our Lord! The devil, sin, death, and hell are all defeated. Man has potentially been turned back towards God so that by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we may live in continual God-dependent prayer and service—our true humanity—for God’s glory. He alone is to be worshipped! He alone is to be depended on! His name alone is to be praised!
—Adrian Varlack, Sr.
[i] Author’s preference: I deliberately do not upper case the devil’s names.
[ii] Thomas F. Torrance Incarnation—The Person and Life of Christ, (Edited by Robert T. Walker) (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2008), p.121 (parentheses supplied for clarity)
[iv] Ibid, 205
[v] Words from the old Hymn “And Can it Be That I Should Gain” by Charles Wesley 1707-1788 (www.wikipedia.org, wikisource).
[vi] Jesus had said to His disciples that His Father had not left Him alone (John 8:29) but for this purpose He had to be left alone hence His cry “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?”
[vii] E. M. Bounds, Purpose in Prayer
[viii] A. W. Tozer The Root of the Righteous