Monday, February 06, 2006

Responding to Prayer

I want to take some time to respond to all the responses in the last post…so here it goes…Obviously many people believe in prayer. But we are challenged by prayer at the same time. Prayer is communication, but somehow we struggle with prayer more than just talking to somebody we know in a real intimate way.

When believers gather together for a meal someone is always asked to pray. Those can be anxious moments because people think about what they are going to say. Not everyone wants to pray. Prayer creates some challenges. Jesus' disciples expressed the same challenge when they said to him, "Teach us to pray." I'm sure they sounded awkward. So Jesus gave the prayer that today we call the Lord's Prayer. He did not give it as a formula. I don't believe that Jesus ever pictured that we would repeat it again and again and again. But he was saying, "Here is an example of how you pray." How Jesus taught us to pray was a lot different than our own attempts. Jesus said that prayer is extremely personal.Most people, when they think of prayer, equate it to a formal situation, like a gathering, a church or a religious organized situation. Jesus said, "And when you pray, don't be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by other people." That's the only time some folks pray. “But when you pray, go into your room . . ." In other words where you hang out, where you live, not in a religious place. ". . . close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what has done in secret, will reward you." Prayer is informal. It's where you live. It's where you hang out. It's interesting that Jesus said when you pray go to that place where you feel comfortable and pray to your Father.

A lot of times we think of prayer as a repetitious ritual. But all of us have meaningful repetitious rituals in our life. Prayer is like a repetitious ritual that you love, where you really love somebody and you make the space and you make the time. If you struggle with words it doesn't matter as much as making the space and time to be alone and aware of the presence of this friendship with God.Jesus said prayer is simple. "And when you pray, don't keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Sometimes people think you have to pray a long time to convince God about your needs. Your Father knows what you need before you even ask him. It doesn't take a lot of words.

Some people have a religion that is so heavenly, it's no earthly good. Jesus said let it be done right here on earth, where you live, exactly as you planned it in heaven. We have a tendency to separate spiritual and material. A lot of times we look at physical things as being real and spiritual things as less real, so it is easier for us to focus on what is seen. But, everything that you can see or touch is temporary. Everything.

I am also reminded of my dependence as I pray, and for the great needs I have in my life to become the whole person that God created me to become. There are three needs that are true of every one of us. They deal with our past, present and future. The first great need I have is forgiveness. Forgiveness deals with my past, and the need to truly forgive myself. A lot of us have so much subconscious unforgiven junk we're dealing with. And as long as we have that going on in our lives, we can never be free from our past to focus on the future. Prayer is tied to forgiveness. Do I want to have God's attention? Do I want to have God's blessing in my life? Then forgive me my junk if I also forgive the junk that those folks have done against me. So my forgiveness, my experience of God's love and forgiveness in my life is tied to my willingness to love and forgive other people. Until you forgive that person, you will never be emotionally free to focus on your future. Forgiveness. To go forward, we have to deal with our past.
"Give us this day our daily bread." Daily bread has to do with what I need today physically and spiritually to attain the success that will honor God and that God created me for. When I pray, it reminds me of Jesus' commitment to provide me with every daily resource I need…physical, spiritual or material. Whatever I need, I can ask for.

What about the future? Temptation. Free me or protect me from the things that can derail me from God's purpose in my life. I know many people who started off great and they hit that place of temptation. They compromised and were derailed in their marriage. They were derailed in their career. They were derailed in the respect that they lost from their children. To fully attain the future that God has created me for, I need protection from temptation.

So, I have put my thoughts out there what are you thinking?

15 comments:

filletofsoul said...

"Prayer is communication, but somehow we struggle with prayer more than just talking to somebody we know in a real intimate way."

......How many people actually talk to another person in a real intimate way? Even many husbands and wives seem to struggle with this.......

johnniecomelately said...

Soulpastor,

Have you ever wondered who, in the bible (Luke 10:38) was the better pray'er... "Mary" of "Martha"? One, being a meditator, listener and worshiper. The other, a busy-body, who seems to rarely have time to reflect. We all probably choose "Mary" because of the way she is described as a model of what my denomination would term... Godliness.

However, as I began to think about the relevance of this before mentioned Godliness - in our culture, I must admit that I see (including myself) alot more "Martha's" hustling and bustling around, trying to juggle God, spouse, kids, carreer - than any "Mary" could ever have coped with.

I certainly can identify with "Martha", as everytime I try to sit down and pray, a hundred incompleted tasks seem to bombard my thoughts, and they necessitate action... interupting my greatest intentions.

So, if prayer is so hard to schedule and is to be more than just a 5 minute ritual, before we hit the rack - then perhaps we must learn how to pray on the go... or?

I want to pray more... how can I increase my prayer effectiveness - in this caotic world that I live in? Even rising earlier - still distracts me.

Praying on the go may have some real benefits. In the car on the way to and from the office, while I eat my sandwich at lunch... hey I can "say a little prayer" anytime of the day... without disrupting my routine. And my prayer can be worship (for who God is,) intersession (for my friends who do not yet know God's goodness,) faith (for that sale I need to make,)thanksgiving (for my family clan,) etc.

However, now I feel stuck. How do I hear - what my heavenly Father is saying to me? My "Martha" personality seems far too busy to hear.

Well, err/umm... perhaps "Mary" is the right way to go! I, I feel that I must make time to hear from God - to be sure I am in tune with his will for my life.

Uh, maybe it is no co-incidence that this story has both of these prominent characters.

Can you tell me... in todays society, which one would be considered the better pray'er?

filletofsoul said...

Johnniecomelately....

Read John 11:1-44

Martha was also a woman of great faith. She believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God and declared it. I don't believe the story in Luke was meant to be a commentary on the character of Mary and Martha. They were both women of great faith. I believe that the mention of Martha's DISTRACTION is the key to understanding why this story is recorded. Martha (if she was the eldest) would have been obligated to honor her guests by making sure all the needed preparations were taken care of to make them welcome in her home. Like Martha we are all busy, but we need to remember where our focus is to be. Jesus said we should not worry or let the frustrations of the day blur our focus. The one thing that matters and that is needed, is to continually focus on Him and not allow distractions to overtake us. That's the message.

SB said...

Honestly, i dont think that not allowing distractions to overtake us is realistic.

Say your mom is dying, or your kids are in big trouble at school, while they may be extreme distractions, they are distractions nontheless.

It is extremely hard to focus on God is certain situations, realistically speaking i dont think that its possible to always do that, otherwise wouldnt distractions be all the time?

As for a solution to the problem, i have no idea. I would like to hear a "realistic" solution to the problem though, in this day and age!

SoulPastor said...

The better "Pray'er"

WOW, you tell me...how do we know what is in people's hearts? I can only account with myself.
Here is what I sent out to my leaders this week.

I would like to offer you a question. It is only three words,--"Do you pray?" This question is one that only you can answer. You may have family prayers and your family knows of these prayers, but this is not the prayer I ask about. I ask whether you pray in private, this is a matter that only you and God can answer. I would ask that you attend to this question over this week. You can not throw aside my question by saying that you say your prayers. It is one thing to say prayers and quite another to pray.

I ask whether you pray because prayer is absolutely needful for your salvation. Is to be prayerless, to be without God, without Christ, without grace, without hope, and without Heaven? Do You Pray?

I ask whether you pray because a habit of prayer is one of the surest marks of a true believer. All children of God are alike in this: From the moment there is spiritual life given to them, they pray! The first born sign of an infant is breathing, the first born sign of a Christian is praying. It is the first act of faith. Theologians have called it the reflex act to that act of God in planting grace in the heart. It is the first act of grace. Here is a challenge. Find me the life of a saint, from Genesis to Revelation, who was not a man or woman of prayer. It is a characteristic of the Godly that "they call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." My question is of great importance, "Do YOU pray?"

Finally, I ask whether you pray because there is nothing so neglected as private prayer. I would put to you that I believe the majority of professing Christians do not pray at all. This may startle and shock many of you. I wonder if prayer is that duty that we all talk about, because it is fashionable, and yet few of us practice. Here is why, it is a transaction between God and us, no other eyes see this take place and for this reason there is every temptation to pass it over. I believe that there are many who never pray at all. They eat. They drink. They sleep. They rise and go to work. They return home. They breathe God's air, see God's sun, walk on God's earth, enjoy God's mercies. But they never speak to God. Prayer is not natural. I cannot see your heart. I do not know your private history in these things. But what I see in the Bible and the world is the importance of the question, Do You Pray?

What are your thoughts on that?

snippyG said...

Soulpastor, I'm sure you were just throwing out ideas first, but in your last blog you said you thought that everybody prays ("because you got to"), and now you said that that majority of professing Christians do not pray at all. From my own experience, I don't sit down and "say my prayers" very often, and I don't even pray as much as God is telling me I should. I would tend to believe your latter statement. But, as I mentioned in a previous blog, our whole lives should be lived for Him, just as I believe that our very thoughts can be a continuous conversation with Him.

This is the kind of intimate, personal prayer that goes on with me during the day. Unfortunately, that mostly benefits just me. The Bible urges us to pray for others, and that is where I most lack. I do pray for others, particularly my family and close friends, or when people request specific prayer, but not nearly as much as I should. Praying for others is essential and commanded, and that is my biggest struggle. Worship and confessing sins come easily for me and so do prayers for myself. I guess basically, I'm selfish... I hope I'm not alone so I feel better about myself... heee heee (guilty chuckle) :)

SoulPastor said...

snippyg

Everybody does pray!
"GOD HELP!" is a prayer.

I am suggesting that the majority of Christians do not have an indepth prayer life. Remember, that is a suggestion.

I like your thoughts on "continuous conversation" but do we really have that in our personal relationships?

snippyG said...

God isn't the same as our human relationships, is He. I know a man who prayed out loud, just like he would to a person. It was confusing to talk to him when I met him on the street, let me tell ya!
Me: Hey Moe(not his real name),how's it going?
Moe: Good, good. I rebuke you in the name of Jesus.
Me: HUH? What did I do?
Moe: I take that thought captive right now. Jesus, I need your help. Oh hi SnippyG. How are you?
Me: Good... That thought wasn't about me, was it???

Anyways... So my point is, of course we don't have continuous conversation with people. And our prayers are not the same as human conversation. They better not be, as you can see from my example. (And that was nothing compared to the guy who really did this...) But with God, our spirit connects with His, and of course we can have a continuous conversation. There are some similar things between human/human relationships and human/God relationship, but it doesn't stretch that far.

Here are some verses that come to mind (I don't have a Bible in front of me, so if it's not perfect, please forgive me):

Psalm 91: "He who lives in the shelter of the Most High God will be kept safe by the Mighty One."
Notice it says "lives in". Not visits occasionally.

I John 1 or 2: "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanes us from all sin".
Fellowship means being together,spending good time together, right? "One another" in this verse means you and Jesus, not human relationships. So, if we are walking in the light, in the Spirit, we can continuously be in His presence, "communing" (to use Christianese). When we are doing what we are supposed to, I believe we can stay in that place. Of course, sin puts up a wall, but the Lord is quick to forgive, as you know.

Ephesians 3 (near the end of the chapter): "To Him who is able to do more than all we ask or imagine...."
I realize this does not mean that all we imagine is prayer...duh, but I think it shows that even our thoughts, our imagination, our hopes, and our dreams, can be prayers... Prayer is communication with God. If He can do more than we ask or imagine, than He obviously has "heard" our mind and heart.

And there is one more thing... Prayer isn't just talking to God. It's listening to Him too. And He is constantly speaking. So, despite my quickly thrown together ideas, I hope you see what I mean.

Oh yeah, one more verse... Somewhere in Thessalonions: "Never stop praying.", or in a different version, "Pray without ceasing". Does God demand the impossible? Of course not. Or does He mean that we should be in constant fellowship? Perhaps.

SoulPastor said...

Snippyg

Our relationship with God may not be the same as our human relationships, but you said that there is a similarity. I see prayer as a ‘conversation.’ Now, a conversation has many different dynamics to it, one being listening! Can people have a conversation have silence as a part of it? You mentioned about continuous conversation…to me that is a speech. A speech is an oral presentation that is directed at a person or a group and in a speech there is no room to hear the other(s) viewpoint.

The context of Psalm 91:1-6 refers to God being a shelter, a refuge when we are afraid. The writer’s faith in the Almighty God as Protector would carry him through all the dangers and fears of life. This should be a picture of our trust—trading all our fears for faith in him, no matter how intense our fears. To do this we must “dwell” and “rest” with him. So what does that means? Does that mean we sit quietly, do we communicate our fears? What? Also, by entrusting ourselves to his protection and pledging our daily devotion to him, we will be kept safe.

The context of 1 John 1:7 One asks the question of how does Jesus’ blood purify us from every sin? In Old Testament times, believers symbolically transferred their sins to an animal, which they then sacrificed (see a description of this ceremony in Leviticus 4). The animal died in their place to pay for their sin and to allow them to continue living in God’s favor. God graciously forgave them because of their faith in him, and because they obeyed his commandments concerning the sacrifice. Those sacrifices anticipated the day when Christ would completely remove sin. Real cleansing from sin came with Jesus, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Sin, by its very nature, brings death—that is a fact as certain as the law of gravity. Jesus did not die for his own sins; he had none. Instead, by a transaction that we may never fully understand, he died for the sins of the world. When we commit our lives to Christ and thus identify ourselves with him, his death becomes ours. He has paid the penalty for our sins, and his blood has purified us. Just as Christ rose from the grave, we rise to a new life of fellowship with him (Romans 6:4). As for the communication part GOD is quick to forgive, but we/you/I have to ASK for that!

As for the closing of Paul’s prayer, I agree with you that GOD knows all, after all it is part of his omniscient character. But, you still communicate those thoughts don’t we?

I agree wholeheartedly that prayer is more that yakking or babbling at GOD, there is the meditation, silence, listening, reading (Scripture- GOD’s words) etc… I wonder if I should start blogging on different spiritual exercises!!!!????? What do you all think?

Anonymous said...

yes. Like worship is it just music and singing or is it more then that.

fasting, and ofcourse"spiritual warfare"

snippyG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SoulPastor said...

Someone made a post that they thought was misinterpreted or could be percieved that way. At no time was I offended, actually, I laughed.

Anyway...keep the comments rolling!
This is a very important topic and we need not only talk about it, but also do it!

Vicki A. Davis said...

I am thankful that we worship a God who:

# Romans 8:26
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

Sometimes I am too overwrought to pray. Sometimes I cannot find the words. But as I kneel and try, or drive and cry, or sit and pray -- Jesus Christ meets me more than halfway.

Prayer is like breathing when Jesus Christ is as real as your own skin. Is it always easy -- no! Is it essential - yes!

Many people sit around and discuss all the things they need to pray for and turn it into a gossip session without ever bowing their heads.

I pray on the phone with my friends, pray with my students, pray in my classroom, pray over e-mail, and pray in my blog. I'm not so holy -- I just need to be close to my Lord who gave up everything for ME!

Nice posts!

ck said...

(In no way is this a complete response to any of the questions that have been asked here... but)

I find the Psalms useful as a model of prayer. I think it's easy to forget them as a source of expression of our emotions to God; the great thing is, it is guided prayer, with David (and others) as our leaders. David is a man after God's heart, so by praying his words we do not just relate to God, but we are taught how to relate to God. I've just started to memorise some of the Psalms and have been greatly encouraged by the process.

I know how easy it is to read a post like this and think, "Right... thanks for that nice, idealistic answer that doesn't describe where I'm at."

:) I'll give you that if you (whoever said that ^ in their heads) give this a try.

Praying the scriptures out loud is a powerful tool... What makes learning the scriptures any different from having the theme song of "Friends" memorised? Repeat, meditate, consider, ask, feel, breathe the Bible. God has not abandoned us to figure out prayer by ourselves, and in fact promises to inscribe his law on our hearts!

SoulPastor said...

Isa 65:24 "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. (NAS)
This is a promise to Isreal at the end of Isaiah. The nation had finally been broken by the silence of God in response to their disobedience. The Lord has been listening the whole time, but has been waiting for their hearts to turn away from their pride back to Him. The answer that Isreal hears is full of amazing promises of the millenium. The Father has so many good things in store for us, but we allow pride and our own agendas to get in the way. God does know our needs and our desires before we voice them, or know them ourselves. Some would say, "Why do I have to ask if God knows already what is best for me?"

If we automatically asked for what we need, we would be robots. God created man to have fellowship with Him. In order to have a relationship with someone, there are matters of trust and risk. With a robot, or computer, the response is predictable and consistant. This is not the case with creatures possesing a free will. Emotions, health, safety, etc. may color our reactions to others, even our dearest friends. From those situations we learn things about ourselves and our Provider.

If we were automatically given everything that was best for us, we would come to expect it. When things are handed to us, we become ungrateful and we do not learn anything. Some of the Isrealites rebelled against the perfect provision of God that came in the form of manna to eat. The entire nation had been provided for one day at a time for years. There was no sickness, no hunger, even their shoes didn't wear out! In the midst of this total care, they wanted something else.

Num 11:4-6 And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, "Who will give us meat to eat? 5 "We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna." (NAS)
Fellowship with God means spending time with Him. When children are very young their parents provide for every need. As they grow and learn to communicate, we begin to ask for things. At first, those things are often not really what we need or should have. Sometimes the answer is no, or wait. Learning what is good or bad for us is something that happens along the way. Sound very similar to growing as Christians. Learning to leave our pride behind and accept the good things God has for us comes with asking.

I Jn 5:14-15 And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (NAS)
There will be times when what we ask for is not the best. When we learn that what we have asked for is not what we had hoped it would be, we grow. If we grow, slowly our wills are conformed to match Jesus' will for our lives. This doesn't make us robots any more than learning how to choose as we grow up makes us robots. But it does equip us for life. Start asking, but listen for the answers.