Thursday, July 5, 2007

What about Prayer?

God has been teaching me a lot about how to communicate with him. It has been a struggle I have had for years (probably since the Holy Spirit indwelled me). I first did what every "good" Christian does - prayed every morning, every evening, over my meals, etc. That is what I was shown/told to do, so I fell in line. My prayers were usually filled with "God," "Lord," "Father" all over the place and all the time. I think it is pretty much what we do instead of saying "um." You have probably prayed like this... it sounds something like:

Father Lord God, Please, Lord, heal so-and-so, Father. Father God, bless so-and-so. Oh Lord, reveal your will to so-and-so, Father, God, Lord. Lord, Father, be with so-and-so, Lord God, as they do such-and-such. Father, thank you for such-and-such, Lord, God. I pray this in Jesus' Holy name. Amen.

A while ago I realized how silly that is. I mean, imagine if you were talking to me and you repeated my name at every pause. I would think you are nuts! So I made a dedicated effort to only refer to God one or two times during a prayer. So my prayers sounded something like:
Father, thank you for such-and-such and please be with so-and-so as they do such-and-such. Please reveal your will to us and allow us to accept it. Father, forgive us for such-and-such and protect us from the evil one. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

But then my prayers began to decrease. Why? Well because of my understanding of cause-and-effect and my understanding of God's sovereignty. I knew that we were suppose to pray, you know, "You have not because you ask not" and other verses that indirectly teach us to pray. So I did pray; mostly trying to be obedient, but in a way I thought it was futile because I knew that God knew what I needed and I knew that God was in control. In a way it was because I had faith in God that I did not really see the need to pray for things. But again, I did pray and did so out of obedience---I just wasn't really convinced it was necessary.

After a while I read a few articles and books on prayer to see what God was teaching others about prayer. I found them lacking and no real help to me. I already knew most of what they said and it did not help me weed out any of my beliefs. I waited, I continued to pray as I knew how, and then something "occurred" to me.

Regardless of what I believe about the world (cause/effect) and God's sovereignty. It did not stop me from having conversations with my friends and family. So why should it stop me from having a conversation with our father?

I am still learning and trying to understand prayer, but now I come at it almost entirely different. I still pray over some of my meals and ask God to bless them. I still pray for guidance, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, revelation, etc. I still pray that His will be done as it is in Heaven. But I also pray to him just for the sake of having conversation. I tell him what is going on in my life and what is troubling me. I tell him about the driver in front of me who must be drunk or stupid - and I ask that he help me not think things like that about complete strangers. Sometimes we talk about the things I see in the church that upset me or the things I see in myself that upset me. We talk about my two dogs. We talk about my lovely wife. We talk about the people who are discipling me. We talked about this blog post, past and future blog posts as well. We talk about sudden issues that happen to come up - a sickness, a death, an accident, etc.

You see, we have these conversations daily, throughout the entire day. As I sit and reflect on different things, I bring it to him. Somehow he has shown me how to do that. It was not anything I read from scripture, or anything anyone told me, at least not that I recall. Rather, I think it was just a realization that we are suppose to have a relationship with Him. How can I have a relationship with someone that I do not really talk to?

Where is God taking me now with my prayer life? I do not yet know, but I have been reading through Genesis lately and I realized something. When the people from that time spoke to God, they spoke to him with a boldness that I do not see today. I think this directly reflects what it means to have a true relationship with Him. So, now I try to approach him with boldness. After all, Paul does tell us that we do have a bold confidence to enter into his Holiest Place because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross (Hebrews).

I would love to know your thoughts on prayer?

8 comments:

Glenn said...

Hey Lew,
I really appreciate this post. Kristie and I have been talking about prayer quite a bit lately (as recently as last night). It reminds me of Piper's quote (I think you heard it the same place that I did).

So I do not tire of saying to our church, The number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of a believers is that they try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.

Until you believe that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for. Prayer is for the accomplishment of a wartime mission. It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission ("Go and bear fruit"), handed each of them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general's headquarters, and said, "Comrades, the general has a mission for you. He aims to see it accomplished. And to that end he has authorized me to give each of you personal access to him through these transmitters. If you stay true to his mission and seek his victory first, he will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send in air cover when you or your comrades need it."

But what have millions of Christians done? They have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance, no strategic planning. Just easy peacetime and prosperity. And what did they do with the walkie-talkie? They tried to rig it up as an intercom in their cushy houses and cabins and boats and cars - not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask the maid to bring another pillow to the den.


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Lew A said...

Glenn,

Thanks for the comment. I am not really on board with Piper's wartime analogies. I do agree we are at a time of spiritual war but I do not see that prayer was specifically designed as a "war-time walkie-talkie." Especially after closely reading Genesis. It seems like when they communicated with God it had less to do with spiritual warfare and more to do with relationship.

You did not really say what you think about Piper's quote. So what do you think?

God's Glory,
Lew

Glenn said...

Hey Lew,
I appreciate Piper's comments in light of the larger article. I think our prayers (my own included) are focused too greatly on our own needs.

If we are in a spiritual war, and if God has given us the ability to communicate with him on a personal basis, it seems that more of our prayers should be related to that war.

You mentioned Genesis in relation to prayer not being 'war related' but relational. Were you referencing a specific passage? I also doubt that its possible to separate our relationship with God from the spiritual warfare going on around us.

Alan Knox said...

Lew,

Great post! And, I appreciate the interaction between you and Glenn. Prayer... wow... that's a big topic.

I once thought of prayer as a "hot line" to heaven. Whenever I needed to talk to God, I needed to get by myself (preferably), bow my head and close my eyes, and say a few words of introduction (Dear Heavenly Father...), and then finally get to what I wanted to say. This usually happened in the early morning - I think God must be a morning person. As you said, this is what I was taught.

Lately, something different has happened to my prayer life, something that was instigated by a friend of mine's insistence on "praying always" (thanks Maël!)

If God is always present (and he is), and if God desires to communicate with us (and he does), and if God can hear us (and he can), then prayer is not a "hot line" or a special devotion time, but it is constant communication with God as he is with me.

If God is a loving father (and he is), and if I am his son (and I am), and if he cares about me (and he does), then I can talk to God just as I would talk to my father or to a close friend. I don't have to use special phrases to "summon" God. I can just talk to him... anytime... anywhere... about anything.

More importantly... I think... I hope that as much as I am talking to God, I am also listening to Him. He is communicating... and not just early in the morning. Thus, when I'm talking to other people, I try to remember that God is there with us, and a participant in our conversation - just as he is when I'm alone with God.

Times of being alone with God are good and necessary. But they are a small fraction of the time that we are actually with God. So, to me, prayer is communicating with God always as I would communicate with a father or a friend.

-Alan

Lew A said...

Glenn,

No, I wasn't referencing any certain passages. Just basic observations I have made as I read what people were saying to God when they communicated with him.

I also agree, we cannot separate our relationship with God from the spiritual warfare that we are faced with. Just for the record, I was not trying to make a dichotomy of them or anything. Rather, what I meant was, that prayer does not seem to have been designed for the purpose of a wartime walkie-talkie - although it definitely can be and should be used as such. But we should not forget that our God is much more than just a General to us. He is our father and we need to communicate with him like we would our human fathers.

Alan,

Thanks for your thoughts on this subject. One thing that I have learned through my short time in the Kingdom is that I should talk to God and expect him to talk back. Which has taught me to be patient, to listen, and to allow him to teach me.

Thanks guys,
Lew

Aussie John said...

Lew,

I very much appreciated your post. I think our institutionalized approach to the community of believers has engendered the institutionalized, legally required praying of which you speak. Your experience was a carbon copy of my own.

As a young Christian I was intimidated by the praying of a faithful old man who prayed prayers filled with quotes from Scripture and hymns. He could pray for ten minutes, non-stop. The intimidation ceased when I realized his prayer was always the same prayer.

As with my own loved ones, I speak to Father when I have something to say to Him, to tell Him, or ask of Him. I pray whilst mowing the lawn, driving the car, walking through a shopping centre.

Formalism in prayer belittles our relationship with our Father in the same way as formalism does in attending church meetings.

The problem, I think, is that we focus on ourselves,the prodigal son, instead instead of the magnanimous, loving Father, who is with us always.

Brandon said...

Lew,
Great post!
Like John said, my prayer life was pretty much what you described in the beginning. I felt awful about missing my morning prayer time, I filled in the blanks with "Father God" and other spiritual sounding blather. I particularly like this thought-
"I mean, imagine if you were talking to me and you repeated my name at every pause. I would think you are nuts!" LOL!! That was funny!

I finally got tired of "having" to pray. It began to dawn on me that this is just not what God intended prayer to be like. My prayer life has become a natural part of every day life. I sometimes "catch myself" praying without consciously thinking about it. That might sound crazy, but what I mean is, it sometimes occurs to me that I'm just praying spontaneously.

I do still sneak away from time to time specifically to worship or pray alone. But the majority of the time my prayer life has become more of a moment by moment thing rather than a daily ritualistic event. Relationship versus ritual.

Again, great post!

Blessings to you...
Brandon

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