“Pray for us, for we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, wanting to conduct ourselves honorably in everything. And I urge you all the more to pray that I may be restored to you very soon.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Why do we pray? What should we pray for? There is wisdom on this throughout the Scriptures. Here, we see a couple of things as specific examples. With only one more stop on our journey through Hebrews, this morning, let’s take a look at the author’s final prayer request and talk about prayer in our own lives.
The things we pray for can reveal a lot about us. They can reveal the state of our hearts. A prayer life that focuses mostly on ourselves can reveal a heart that is struggling with selfishness. A prayer life that is all requests suggests a heart that sees God mostly like a vending machine and not a person. A prayer life that avoids certain topics may point to some areas in our lives that we aren’t yet willing to give fully over to God.
As the author of Hebrews prepares to close out the letter in the next section (which, Lord willing, we’ll look at tomorrow and be finished with this journey), he shares a couple of prayer requests with his audience that I’m honestly not totally sure what to think about. As I run through my mental New Testament library, I can’t think of another prayer request quite like this, especially the first part.
The author basically says that he and his ministry partners are convinced they have a clear conscience before God in their work, and asks for prayer in light of that. At first read, this comes off to me as sounding a little arrogant: “We’re good with God, but pray for us just in case.” And yet, the more I reflect on this, I think there is actually a lot of wisdom here.
The author seems pretty convinced that he is in a good place with God. That’s not an arrogant thing to feel. That is something all of us should desire to attain. Within the culture of the church, there is a great tendency to give a lot of attention to the fact that followers of Jesus are sinners saved by grace. We sometimes put a lot of emphasis on our brokenness. And this is not without due merit. We are broken by sin. Apart from Jesus’ patient help, we fall to sin all the time. Our inertial drift is never in the direction of righteousness. At least, that’s the case when we are living out of our old nature.
One of the more profound declarations the apostle Paul made, though, is that when we are in Christ, we are new creations. Our old nature has gone, and our new nature has come. Now, we still struggle with sin because of the lingering impact of our old nature. Paul poignantly talks about this struggle in the second half of Romans 7. And yet, if Paul is correct (and given that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write that, I’m going to operate on the assumption that he is), our greater attention should be given not to what we were before Christ, but to what we are now in Christ. In Christ, we are no longer sinners, but saints. Our nature has been changed. We can stand with confidence and gladness before the throne of the holy God and give Him the praise, the honor, and the glory that He alone is due.
At some point, giving so much attention to who we were before Christ becomes counterproductive. It becomes an exercise in false humility. It becomes a means of excusing the sin we commit once we are in Christ. Athletes who are seeking to get better in their particular sport are wise to spend time watching film of past performances, looking for specific things they didn’t do right in order to improve on those. But if they give all of their attention to the past, they are likely to get stuck there and not ever get around to actually improving on the mistakes they made then. The bulk of their time and attention are given to practicing in the present in order to be prepared for the future.
For the author of Hebrews here to declare his conscience clear isn’t arrogant at all. Assuming he really has worked out all of his issues before God, it’s merely honest. It’s honest and we should endeavor with the Spirit’s help to come to a place where we can be similarly honest. At the same, time, though, he is fully aware that this is a present state of affairs and not yet a permanent one. So, he asks for prayer. This is an example worth our following. We should strive to live into the saintly nature we have in Christ, while yet never losing an awareness of the weakness of our flesh.
Perhaps the even more important observation to make here is that he is asking for prayer in the first place. This is an indication that he is striving to live out his faith and the righteousness of Christ in community. This is absolutely vital for us to grasp. The life of Christ is not something that we will ever manage to live successfully if we treat it like a solo venture. It was never intended to be that. We will only ever find anything remotely resembling success when we do it in community. If you are a follower of Jesus, you absolutely must be connected to a church community. A believer without a church is like a body part without a body. It may look okay for a little while, but it will very quickly wither up and die. You need to be connected to Jesus, the vine, and you will only ever have that connection as you should when you are connected to His body, the church.
So, what do we do with this? Two things. Strive to live in such a way that your conscience is clear. That should be your daily goal. Keep a short account with God. Learn to be sensitive to His Spirit’s prompting. Repent of sin quickly and completely and don’t go back to it. The second thing is to pursue this goal in community. You can’t do it on your own. You never will be able to. And if my saying that triggers a bit of pride in you to prove me wrong, you won’t. You’ll eventually fail and find yourself right back to where you perhaps are right now. You need a group of fellow believers who can help you on your journey and you them. You need the church. Get those two things right and much of the rest of the Christian life will fall pretty nicely into place.