The transfiguration was a special event in the life of Jesus. Shortly before His crucifixion and death, He had this time of encouragement in a special display of His Father’s love and then the Father’s special announcement of His delight in Him and His redemptive work. But as Alexander Wedderburn points out in one of a series of sermons on the transfiguration, before this time of blessing, Jesus prayed. Why, Wedderburn asks, did He usher in the transfiguration with prayer? Whatever it meant for Him directly, there are certain things He wanted His disciples to learn from it. In the following updated extract, Wedderburn sets out five things Jesus teaches us about prayer.
1. Whatever you do, begin with prayer
We find key figures in Scripture, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and others doing this. Why?
For one thing, this is the way to keep all our actions regulated and warranted by the Word, when we dare attempt nothing but what we can recommend to God by prayer. Joshua’s worst failure was in the covenant he made with the Gibeonites, when he did it without asking counsel of the Lord. Many strive for the things of the world in a measure that they would blush to pray for.
Also, this is the way to attain the thing desired with a blessing. ‘In all thy ways acknowledge God and he shall bring it to pass.’ What excellent success Jacob got, when he had to do with his brother Esau! He prevailed with God and then prevailed with men.
But perhaps we do not receive the thing we ask for. Still prayer is a way of quieting us, for, like a supplicant at court, as long as he gets a sight of the king, his efforts have not been in vain. If Jacob had got nothing more than his new name ‘Israel’ for his wrestling, it would have been worth it.
From this we can see that although God has declared and promised things, yet He wants us to come to Him and ask. So our first concern should be the matter of our prayers (the things we pray for). Then we should be fervent in prayer. And we should be diligent in prayer, every family apart (Zechariah 12:9–10).
2. Special sights of God are to be expected chiefly when we are doing our ordinary duties
As Christ prayed, He was transfigured. Likewise Daniel had his special visions when he was praying. It was the apostles after the resurrection were keeping the sabbath, that Christ came in their midst.
We must not expect special manifestations of God when we are sleeping but when we are doing! Just as God commands us to do things above our power in order to make us pray, so one reason promising special acts of grace is likewise to make us pray.
This reproves those who complain that they don’t get enough experiences of God at the same time as being negligent about their duties. There is no spiritual condition where some duty cannot be done. If you cannot rejoice, still you may trust. If you cannot trust, you may still desire to trust. If you cannot desire it, at least you may complain of your lack of desire. So there is always some form of duty to be done – and when all of them are neglected, no wonder there is no sense of God’s grace.
Therefore, if you want to be rich in experiences, follow your duty.
Yet, do your duty with these directions.
(a) Do not limit God to blessing you in any one particular duty. David found God in meditation, the Ethiopian in reading, the disciples going to Emmaus in Christian conversation, Cornelius in prayer in his own house, and so on.
(b) Do not idolise any duty so as to rest on it or expect a visit from God because of it.
(c) Do not undervalue any duty, however small. The child that Jesse thought least of was the Lord’s anointed. It may be a duty where you have often sought the Lord and not found Him, yet do what Peter did with his net, ‘Nevertheless at thy command I cast it down again.’
3. Even the things we know God has resolved to do, we must pray for them
Christ knew what God had decreed, yet here He prays for it. When Daniel understood by books the length of the captivity and what Jeremiah had prophesied, then he set himself to prayer (Daniel 9:1–3). When Christ tells the church, ‘Behold, I come quickly,’ they answer, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’
By prayer we submit to the order which God has appointed in His covenant, of making prayer a means of obtaining lawful things. The more faith we have of the thing we pray for – the nearer it comes to a well grounded assurance – the more acceptable is the prayer. ‘Believest thou that I am able to do this?’ is one of the things Christ searches for in the supplications of His people. ‘Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting.’
This is why we are wrong to think, ‘God will certainly do such and such things whether I pray or not, because He has promised.’ Yes, but you should take the promise and turn it over in a prayer. Even when your bread is in your cupboard, still pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ It is an acknowledgement of your dependence on God, and a ready way to engage your heart to prayer.
4. Humiliation is the way to exaltation
Christ is a supplicant immediately before He is transfigured – first He is humbled and then He is exalted. Job 22:29 and 1 Peter 5:6 are clear proofs of the truth of this: ‘When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person;’ ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.’
Though there is nothing meritorious in our humiliations to draw blessing after them, as the needle pulls the thread, yet in ordinary providences this holds true. The more humility, the more sincerity. The one whose heart is lifted up in him is not upright. God has a special delight in sincerity, ‘the upright man is his delight.’ This is the way He takes both in promises and providences, to ‘lift up the humble’ and ‘relieve the spirit of the humble.’ If we were humbled, who knows how near our deliverance would be. Many think of humility as the way to make us contemptible, but in the view of God it is not so. Never was Christ lower than the day before He arose again.
5. The Father and the Son mutually exalt one another
The Son by prayer first confesses His dependence, and confesses the omnipotence of His Father, that He was the only true God, that His deity is immutable, that He is faithful in promising, etc. And then the Father glorifies Him in the hearing of all on the Mount of Transfiguration, ‘This is my Beloved Son!’ No one ever lost anything by exalting God. Those that honour Him He will honour, just as He will forsake those who forsake Him.
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