Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
January 4, 2015
In this month's newsletter article I noted that I want to increase our emphasis on prayer in our church this year; kind of like a New Year's resolution. With that in mind, I'm planning to do a series on prayer during January. I'm basing it on a book, called Before Amen by Max Lucado, who you've heard me quote often from the pulpit. I tell you that because I want to make clear I am not preaching from a position of expertise on prayer. I have done a lot of reading on prayer, I have revised and reviewed my prayer procedures throughout the years; but an expert, I am not.
That said, there are some common elements that go into successful prayer lives, some tricks you may have heard of. There is the acronym ACTS-adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. The 5 finger prayer: Thumb, people close to you-family and friends. Pointer, people who point the way, teachers, bosses. Long finger, people in authority. Ring finger, this is our weakest finger, pray for those in need, the sick, the poor. Little finger, your own needs. Just a system to organize prayers. A powerful book when I got serious about Christianity was this little handbook, Power Through Prayer by E. M. Bounds. He writes about the need the church has for people of prayer to bring the power of the Holy Spirit into play. An quote that has inspired me for many years is found in this little book where Bounds quotes Robert Murray McCheyne: “If the veil of the world's machinery were lifted off, how much we would find is done in answer to the prayers of God's children.”
Honestly, I haven't found one book or one form that fits everyone; or has even fit me as I change and grow in faith. But Lucado's book makes a lot of sense and it gives us a nice form that allows us to expand as the need arises. I believe we can all us his prayer book to help us grow closer to God in 2015.
Are you a praying person? I'm not asking for a show of hands, but do you pray?
And I have no doubt you do; Max writes that people pray on tearstained pillows, in grand liturgies we pray, at the sight of geese in flight , we pray. Statistics tell us that more of us will pray this week than will exercise, go to work or have sex.1 Surveys even show that one in five unbelievers will pray daily...just in case I guess.2
We pray when the Dr. bring bad news, when the money runs out, when our dreams are not being reached. But what I'm looking for and what Max is writing about is praying more...and better...and deeper; with fire, faith and fervency. I would hope that we all want that; better prayer lives, more powerful prayer lives; prayer lives that change things and change us.
But if you are like me, you have some real questions about prayer. It is curious. We speak or sometimes just think our prayers...seemingly into space. And we've all had unanswered requests, expectations that weren't met when we went to God with some concern. And just how do we influence God? Max calls it “the peculiar puzzle of prayer.”
But remember we are not the first to struggle with prayer. Look at some names that needed help in this area; the first members of the original Prayer 101 class—John, James, Andrew, Peter...the apostles wanted to know how to pray. They didn't ask Jesus to teach them how to multiply the fish and loaves, they didn't ask how to still a storm; they asked how to pray. So as we study this question this morning we are in good company. A company of men and women who observed the prayer life of Jesus. Jesus prayed. “He prayed before he shared the bread and cup. He prayed for the children. He prayed for the sick. He prayed with thanks. He prayed with tears. He is the Lord of angels and Commander of heavenly hosts, yet he prayed.” We can read where Jesus would disappear for long periods of time in prayer; entire nights would be spent in prayer. And so those who observed his prayer life asked him, “teach us to pray.” And Jesus taught them the Lord's Prayer. That's the prayer I often use as a guideline for my prayer time. Max Lucado simplified even the most basic components of the prayers found in the scriptures into what he calls a pocket prayer:
Father, you are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
Thank you. In Jesus' name, amen.
As I continue with this series on prayer, I'll be looking in more detail at this prayer, line by line, item by item; the very basis of all the prayers recorded in the bible are here. We are invited by God into conversation. You don't need to use this particular prayer by any means. But what we do need to do is engage in conversation with God. This may be a start. And rest assured that God is there ready and waiting for that conversation to take place. Max writes, “Don't think for a minute that (God) is glaring at you from a distance with crossed arms and a scowl, waiting for you to get your prayer life together. Just the opposite. 'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in...'” (Rev.) Praying is opening that door. When we invite God in, he comes in. He comes in bringing gifts of joy, patience, resilience, peace, faith, forgiveness, power.
Our opening the door begins with addressing God. Jesus taught us how to start...Father. We can make it even more intimate—Abba, daddy, dad. Not everyone has had a great relationship with their father, I understand that. But God is not your average father. Consider how children approach their dads when they are comfortable with them. They just jump right in with their news and their needs. For me, I talked to dad often, the older I got, the more I depended on Dad's advice and help. When a situation would come up where I needed dad's help, here's what I didn't say: “Oh most gracious Father, I come unto you seeking your most profound and wonderful advice. Please know of my deep gratitude for your most wondrous benevolence. Thou art most splendid in thy care and wonderful in thy help. I give thee thanks.” I guarantee I never had that conversation with my dad. And yet so often we think that is how we are to approach God our father. In my position as pastor, it is a temptation to pray from the pulpit in a dramatic voice with grand theological terms. It can be quite impressive. But when we approach God as a child approaches their daddy, the verbosity seems out of place. Jesus tells us we are to become as little children—trusting, excited, playful, carefree, accepting. Not prideful at our wisdom and word choice; it is hard to show off and call God Daddy at the same time. More instruction from Jesus, “When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and street corners so people will see them. When you pray, you should go into your room and close the door and pray to your father.” (Matt 6: 5) Prayer is not reserved for special people in special places. Not since Jesus came. Before Jesus, only the priests were allowed to meet with God. Now, each and every one of us are invited into his presence.
And don't worry too much about what you say when you pray...more words don't make better prayers. Jesus warned against that, “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” (Matthew 6: 7) In God's Word translation of this passage, it says, “Don't ramble.” I like that. Resist the urge to make your prayers long and complicated. Keep it simple. Prayers aren't graded in heaven by style and word use. Max says, “Just as a child cannot mis-hug, the sincere heart cannot mis-pray.” Keep in mind that the power of prayer does not come from us! If effective prayer depended on how I pray, it would be nearly hopeless. But prayer depends upon the one who hears and the one who hears is your daddy.
Prayer can be that simple. Let's resolve in 2015 to simply come to God with our thanks and praises and with our requests and hopes. No fancy prayer-language, no worries about how we speak; just be honest with God our father, God your dad. Paul reminded us in today's reading, “ (God) destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” We are God's children, God is our loving parent. We are invited to call him father.
And sometimes that's what our prayer will be...father, daddy. Fear, grief, guilt, stress, worry can bring us to our knees. And when we don't even know what to ask, we can come to our father and just be in the presence of God, God who loves you as a child, with greater love than we can understand. And God hears us in those moments, and God is with us in those trials, and Jesus intercedes for us when we don't know what to say and through it all, God continues to walk with us and love us. We are missing out if we are not connecting with our loving father in prayer.
So with the psalmist, let us seek the presence of God; “My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.” As we desire and long for the living God, God desires our presence with him even more. He is at the door, will you open the door in prayer and spend time with your dad?
403 PH What a Friend We Have in Jesus
1US News & Beliefnet Prayer Survey Results
2“Atheist Prayer: Religious Activity Not Uncommon Among Nonbelievers”, Huffington Post, June 26, 2013