Prayer Is Essentially Union With God
By Robert O. Bakke
Rather than communication or communion, prayer is essentially union with God. It is the dynamic, measurable act that helps define the Christian’s spiritual state.
Through prayer we pour our lives, our thoughts, our longings into God and receive the life, power, character, mind, and authority of God in return.
A generation ago E. Stanley Jones was a missionary to India. About this issue of union Jones wrote:
“The first thing [in prayer] is to get God. If you get Him, everything else follows. Allow God to get at you, to invade you, to take possession of you. He then pours His very prayers through you. They are His prayers – God-inspired, and hence, God-answered….
“Prayer is like the fastening of the cup to the wounded side of a pine tree to allow the rosin to pour into it. You are now nestling up into the side of God – the wounded side, if you will – and you allow His grace to fill your cup. You are taking in the very life of God.”
Jesus used a similar analogy when He spoke to His disciples the night before He died. The context in which these words were spoken mean that they are grave, weighty words, the words of a man about to die who is passing on the most important truths. It is the nature of dying words to be poignant.
I remember the last words my father spoke to me. He was dying of a brain tumor at the age of sixty-four. As a young pastor, I refused to believe that my father, my hero, would die – that God would not hear my prayers and raise him up. Every weekend, after preaching Sunday morning, I traveled from my small Connecticut church to my parents’ home in New Jersey. Sometimes when the house was quiet and my father asleep, I would kneel beside his bed, lay my hands on his feverish head, and pray for his healing. He was often too sick to be aroused by such a thing. When Monday night arrived, my wife and I drove home.
As I was leaving for what was to be the last time, suitcases in hand, I said good-bye to my dad – now a fading shadow of the man I had known and reverenced – and assured him that everything would be fine. I would see him again the next weekend. I talked fast and filled up all the parting moments with words so that no one could suggest anything different. While I was jabbering away, defending myself from the obvious, my father meekly raised himself from his bed and waved to me to draw near. I did so, still filling up the air with noise and false reassurances. I bent over as he reached up with the only arm he could use. Grabbing me behind the neck – I can still feel his arm trembling – he pulled me to his cheek. While I continued to talk, he wept. His tears fell down his face onto mine; his tears ran down my cheek. He whispered in my ear, “I love you. Good-bye.”
In his humbled, weakened state, his arm holding me tightly, he poured into me the most important words he had left, his breathless last words. Moreover, with those few words he poured into me millions of words unspoken but attached by thirty-three years of affectionately raising his third son. His words haunt me to this day, because in my denial of his impending death, I refused to hear him. I wish I could have just held him and cried with him.
“Remain in Me”
On the night that Jesus was to die, He gathered His dearest friends near Him. It was a moment for the most important things to be spoken. If He could have held them close to His cheek, I think He would have. Perhaps He did. Unfortunately, the words He spoke were ones that would haunt His disciples because of their denial; they refused to believe that their Master would die. Jesus said:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples” (John 15:1-8).
To fully grasp the weight of these words we must remind ourselves one of the ways Semitic languages make a word significant: They repeat it. For example, when Jesus said something particularly important, He often prefaced it by saying “Amen, amen,” translated by certain English versions as “Truly, truly.” This means “listen carefully!” Or again the angels in heaven who serve before the throne of God cry to God, “Holy!” But God is not just holy; He’s “holy, holy.” But even twice does not suffice; instead the cherubim identify God as “holy, holy, holy.” In other words, “You, O God, are enormously, stupendously unlike any other, holy.”
Well, Jesus on the night He was to die spoke to His dearest friends and said, “Remain in Me…remain…remain…remain…remain…remain…remain…remain…remain…remain!” Remain in Me; let My words remain in you so that you bear fruit – much fruit! – showing yourselves to be like Me, all to the Father’s glory. But if you don’t remain in Me, you’ll wither and die. Apart from Me you can do nothing.
The chief means given to us by which we remain in Christ and He in us is prayer. Union with God is demonstrable: We pray.
Giving and Receiving Life
Later on the night before His death, Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (John 17:20-26) strikes a similar note. Having prayed for the twelve disciples, Jesus prays for the rest of us:
“My prayer is not for [the twelve apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.
“Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they know that You have sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me may be in them and that I Myself may be in them.”
As Christ poured Himself into His Father, He received from His Father, too. Jesus declared forthrightly, “I and the Father are one.” But His prayers made the union manifest. Jesus, in these moments before the Cross, was involved in a measurable act called prayer that put on display the unity of Father and Son. It was also the instrument whereby God manifestly poured out Himself into His Son.
So the chief question regarding prayer is not about mouthing words (although words are important) or subscribing to an obligatory religious discipline that promises benefits over the long haul (akin to jogging or lifting weights), but about giving your life away to God and receiving the life of God in return. As E. M. Bounds noted: “Prayer is the contact of a living soul with God. In prayer God stoops to kiss man, to bless man and to aid man in everything that God can devise or man can need.” The very act of prayer, then, is our confession to Him that in Him we have all things – the world, life, death, the present, the future...all are ours because we are of Christ and Christ is of God (1 Cor. 3:21-23) – and apart from Him we can do nothing.
– Taken from the book The Power of Extraordinary Prayer © 2000 by Robert O. Bakke. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved. Bob Bakke is the teaching pastor of Hillside Church in Bloomington, Minnesota.