Prayer for Dummies-A Simplistic Privilege

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I’ve often heard of prayer being described as a spiritual discipline when in fact, it’s a holy privilege afforded us by the brutality and suffering of our Savior which we will be remembering in a few weeks.   There seems to be misconceptions about prayer, who prays better, what catch phrases to use to get God’s attention, the secret tricks to getting your prayers answered and so on. There is no mystery in prayer, no seeds of faith that must first be planted, no prayer hankies to purchase, no holy water from the Jordan River. It’s not snake oil, it’s simple and honest dialogue between us and our Father. Yet many remain intimidated at the concept or waiver thinking they don’t know how to pray.

What exactly is prayer?  Simply put, prayer is nothing more than communicating with God.  It isn’t something you have to study and learn, it’s not a dialect you have to master.  All my life I’ve heard people say they are not good at praying, or say something like “I wish I could pray like that person”, or “you pray, I’m not very good at it”.  I walk away scratching my head.  So, for all of you who may feel you don’t know how to pray, I’m going to give you the real secret.  If you can put words together is some recognizable form, whether vocalized or in thought, you have mastered prayer!

Do we fully grasp the privilege we have in approaching God directly in prayer? How did we came to acquire this privilege?  Before Christ, only High Priests were allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, a special place within the temple, to offer up prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people, and then, only at certain times of the year.  After Christ’s death and resurrection, we read that the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn completely from top to bottom, symbolizing our new direct access to the throne of grace, by anyone and at anytime! We can instantly be in the presence of God, on holy ground.

In many of the Catholic, Orthodox and other faiths, you won’t find a schedule of services-you’ll find instead a schedule of liturgies.  Liturgy  comes from the Greek leitos, the people of God, offering up their ergon, or energy and efforts to God in prayer.  There should be a compelling desire on the part of all Christians to be a people of prayer, to want to stand in the presence of our Lord and spend time with him daily in our personal life, and corporately in our churchesMartin Luther King Jr. said that being a Christian without prayer is like life without breath.

When I met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence all the time.  It wasn’t enough for me to stand in front of a picture of her and think about her, or call her up on the phone once a week for 30 minutes or read a biography about her written by someone else.  My days were brighter because I knew I could see her and spend time with her everyday.  And when I was with her, I wanted to talk to her, and to listen to her talk back.  I wanted to know what she thought about things-I wanted to know more about who she was.  I put in the time and energy to make this happen.  God desires our time alone with Him more than we could fathom.

In Luke Chapter 11, verse 1 we read “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he had finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray”. What do you think the disciple was asking him?  These disciples did life with Jesus-they watched him perform miracles-they listened to his teachings, and they observed his prayer habits.  They didn’t just want to know how to pray-they wanted to know how to pray like He did!  They watched as he spoke to his Father-they witnessed him bask in the glory of God’s presence.  The disciples wanted their prayer life to have the same impact on them as they saw on Christ.

At that point Jesus responded by giving us one of the greatest gifts we could ever ask for-the model prayer.  He responded to the request by saying, “when you pray, pray like this”.  After that, we read the Lord’s prayer, recorded both here in Luke 11 and in Matthew 6.  Note here that Jesus didn’t say, “pray this prayer”.  Jesus understood what the disciples were asking him, and he gave them a model to fashion their prayers around.  Let’s take a look at that model we call The Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer can be broken down into 5 parts, all important ingredients for powerful and effective prayer.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

  “Our Father in Heaven, hollowed be your name”.

It’s important that we recognize the deity of God.  It’s a beautiful thing to know that by virtue of the cross, we have been given the right to call him Abba, or Father, on the same level as our Brother, Jesus Christ.  But, oh, how important it is to remember that we are in the presence of Holiness when we approach God, and we need to express that gratitude reverently and in awe when we pray.

Any of you who have kids or in my case grandkids, especially girls, can relate to this.  When your little girl, daughter or granddaughter climbs up in your lap and throws her arms around your neck and says I love you Dad, or I love you Papa, you know that at that moment there is nothing in the world you would not do for her if she asked.  Why-because she just got your undivided attention.   Jesus said,” if you dads on earth know how to give good gifts to your kids when they ask, how much more does the Father want to give you good things when you ask of him”.

SUBMISSION

Your kingdom and your will be established on earth just as it is in Heaven”.

It is important that when we approach God, that he knows we want and seek his will for our lives, first and foremost-that regardless of what we are about to petition him for, we submit to his perfect plan for our life.  That’s a tall order.  Whenever we talk about “God’s will for our life”, we almost always assume it’s different than our will for our life, and few of us want to know that.  We need to remember Christ’s example when he prayed in Ghesthemane before his arrest.  He knew what he was about to endure and asked if there was any other way for this plan to unfold, that he wanted the choice, but prayed, “nonetheless, not my will but yours be done”.  If we are to be like Christ, we have to submit to God’s will.

In the very same chapter where we find The Lord’s Prayer, in verse 33, we read “seek first the kingdom of God, and then everything else will be added to you”.

PETITION

Give us our food for today

AFTER we have acknowledged God and his deity, and AFTER we have requested his will over ours, then can we make our requests of God.  Let’s go back to our little girl for a moment.  If you’re sitting there reading the paper and she comes in and knocks the paper out of your hand and says “Daddy, why won’t you buy me a new pair of shoes”, your immediate response would be for her to step off and remember who she’s dealing with.  But if she comes over and climbs in your lap and gives you a big kiss, and then asks you, you give in, even if you recognize the ploy, because she’s your little girl and you love her that much.  Remember, our emotions are God given-if it works for us, it must work for him.

Note that in the model, we are to ask for our provisions for the day.  I think sometimes our petitions look more like a Christmas wish list than daily necessities.  Yes, James 4:2 says we have not because we ask not, but this is not to be understood as a blank check promise, but willingness to be blessed as God sees fit to better serve Him and His kingdom.

REPENTENCE

Forgive us of our sins as we forgive others”

This is a prerequisite to effective prayer.  Mark 11:25 says “But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive your sins too”.

Some in the body have been led astray by a false presentation of the work of Grace and eternal salvation.  The Apostle Paul had to address this even in his day as many thought they had a license to do anything because of a grace covering.  Paul said, “should we sin more so that grace may abound more?  No Way”.  A humble and repentive spirit is required for effective prayer. God’s mercies are made new and fresh every day because we need them every day!

DIRECTION

Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the evil one

Psalms 19:13 reads, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.  Then I will be blameless and innocent of great transgression”.

God does not put stumbling blocks before us-that’s the work of the evil one.  Sometimes, however, we put ourselves into positions or situations where we are tempted or attracted to doing what we know is wrong.  Prayer is a great weapon against the daily onslaught of the tempting situations we face. In Ephesians 6:11, we read “Put on all God’s armor so that you’ll be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the devil.” It then tells us in verse 18 to “pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit.” God knows what we’re up against, and has given us all the weapons we need, working together in prayer.

There is a final key to developing a reverent fear of God through effective prayer.  Quite simply, there are times when we need to know when to just shut up!  Psalms 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God”. It may be coincidence, but again maybe not, that both times in the New Testament when the Lord’s Prayer is recorded, there is no modeled ending to the prayer, no “amen”, etc.  I see this as my invitation to sit patiently in the Lord’s presence and listen for his voice.  His voice may come as a peaceful holy silence; it may come as an inner voice in your heart; it may come as an urging or sudden thought or inspiration.  One thing is for sure, it won’t be detectable unless you are giving God an opportunity to speak as you wait and listen.

“Pray without ceasing”; “in everything give thanks”. What an awesome privilege to spend time alone with the creator of the universe in intimate prayer.

 

 

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God’s Deafening Silence

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When I was much younger I heard stories about the 30 day nights that parts of Alaska experience each year.  I couldn’t in my wildest dreams fathom how a person could withstand 30 days of cold and darkness, even knowing that the darkness was temporary and that soon the morning sun would be seen again.  Now I know all too well what long periods of still darkness feel like and it is no less easy to cope with. All believers have been there-the periods of your faith journey when God seems to take a hiatus from leading us and leaves us to our own vices.  We may cry out to God in despair-we may dig deeper into The Word-we may fast, light candles, rise boldly with harsh words, fall on our face in submissive humility, and still nothing.  We knock with no answer, we seek but don’t find, we ask but are left with no answers.  The long periods of God’s extended Winter silence is cold and deafening.

When Mother Teresa passed on to her reward she left behind some letters that she had written in her 50 years of service.  Who among us could boast to have the heart of God that she spent her life displaying. One might believe that for someone to accomplish what she did in her life of service to the poor and needy that God must have been an ever present guide and companion. But her letters surprisingly reveal quite the opposite.  Listen to her heartfelt despair in some of her letters; “I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul, . And another, “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation. And again,  “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” And finally, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves but does not speak.” The are the words spoken by one of God’s true saints.  At no time in her journey does she ever confess a true disbelief in God, but in the silence she wrestled with the knowledge of His existence and involvement in her life against the tangible evidence that indicated otherwise.

As I read the Psalms I can hear in David’s voice his own personal agony as he sought God in his most desperate of times only to hear the sound of silence.  Does this sound like you?

“Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” “Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever”. “LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me?” And even Jesus, as He hung on the cross cried out to His Father, “why have you forsaken me?”

There is no recording in scripture of God answering even His own Son.  Are we to demand more than He gave His own Son? these times in our lives are the most trying, the most painful, the most difficult times of our journey.  And it seems like the times that are the darkest are the times when God seems to be the most distant. So how do we cope.  How do we tone down the deafness of God’s silence when we can’t sense, find or hear Him?  Don’t believe for a second that I have this figured out as I have been seeking God’s voice over a situation for many years with no clear response.  Yet as a long time believer these are the things I try to rely on to get through each dark day.  First, I have to disconnect my heart from my mind.  We all want to “feel” our faith, but most times we have to choose to recall and believe God’s Word and the promises He left for us.  Hebrews says that faith is believing in things not seen-I might add things not felt or heard as well.  We have to go by our knowledge that God can’t go back on His promise to love us, to guide us and to work all things out for our good, even when we can’t see Him doing so.  Second, I have to learn how to navigate the darkness.  Those who are blind and live by themselves learn how to navigate their dwellings by recalling where objects are and assuming they remain unmoved.  I can’t always see god but I know He’s there because He’s always been there before and I must navigate under the belief that I am not alone and that God has not been moved.  Lastly, and perhaps the most difficult, even though I can’t hear His voice, I must continue to communicate with Him in prayer. It may seem like more of a monologue than a dialogue, but through prayer the line of communication remains open and things are brought to mind that compel us to keep moving forward on our journey.  Once we stop communing with God, the darkness will overcome us and leave us vulnerable and defenseless to enemy attacks.

How I wish God taught us things using any method but silence.  To those like me it is the most excruciating experience imaginable.  Earnestly seeking God but not finding Him where we think He should be leaves us feeling much the same as it must have Mother Teresa.  But even when we can’t hear Him, we know He hears us. I exhort you today to keep fighting, keep believing, keep studying and keep praying to a sovereign God Who has already displayed His love for us in ways that requires no further response.