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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why and How Do We Pray?

What is a prayer? The simplest definition is a conversation with God. What do we talk about when we're talking to Him? Lots of people work hard at making their prayers sound a certain way, like the examples in the film clip. The style is not important. We should not be trying to put on a public display to gain accolades for ourselves. I would venture to say that sometimes, even the specific words aren't that important. sh

Have you ever felt the need to have a talk with God, and all you could summon up were tears? God knows what is on our minds and in our lives. He doesn't need for us to recite a laundry list of needs and wants. He wants our hearts. He wants us to know Him. As we grow in prayer we discover that prayer is more than simply asking God for things, a selfish means to an end. Prayer is not an attempt to force the hand of God, but an act of submission to Him, with the understanding that God’s answers are wiser than our prayers. Prayer is an opportunity to commune with God and that should be sufficient for us.

Rather than Matthew's version of this text (Matthew 6:9-13), I will refer to Luke 11:1-11:4. The disciples approach Jesus and say, "Lord, teach us to pray." Luke mentions that Jesus was already "praying in a certain place" (11:1), when the disciples approached Him concerning prayer. Seeing the deficiency of their prayers, the disciples ask for help.

For many people, the Lord’s Prayer is simply a prayer to recite, just something to say. But as we look more closely at this prayer, we can find this model prayer to be a life-changing experience. There is no magic in praying a mechanical recitation because that would be empty and meaningless. Jesus discourages us to "not keep babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their repetitive prayers" (Mt 6:7). But as we truly pray this prayer, with understanding, we may find it changes our lives. All the petitions in this prayer are intentional and intense.

Some people view prayer thesame way thy do their seatbelts. They’re glad it’s there, but they hope they never have to use it. In prayer we rely on God; prayer is our steering wheel, not our spare tire! Those who don’t pray are trusting in their own, limited resources. Some people turn to God only when their lives become a mess, or faced with circumstances beyond human contrl, or their fragile foundations are shaking.

And we all struggle with God's answers. The writer C.S. Lewis once confessed that he was grateful God hadn’t given him everything he wanted: "I don’t know where I’d be if I’d gotten all I asked for!" Prayer may not change our situation, but it changes us. It should give us time to slow down examine our motives and examine ourselves! In John’s first epistle he cautions that our prayers need to be "according to God’s will" (5:14).

There are no frills in the Lord’s Prayer. It avoids pompous, high-sounding phrases, sticking to simple, meaningful concepts. The Lord’s Prayer is God-centered, not me-centered. It highlights the primacy of God.

Jesus waste time discussing the posture of prayer; people prayed kneeling, sitting, standing and laying face down. He doesn’t dictate the place, we can pray anywhere. He does not discuss the manner of prayer, nor does Jesus specify the time of prayer.  When we live in a God-conscious state of mind and being, we begin to recognize the presence of God around us, which opens up the channel of communication with our Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer is a blueprint for prayer, a flexible model, not a rigid formula. It is appropriate to pray these words because in them we unfold the entire message of the Bible and a summary of our relationship to God.

But its a risky prayer to pray. I cannot truly say "our" if I’m living only for myself. I cannot say "Father" if I don’t try to act like His child. I cannot say "Who art in Heaven" if I am not laying up treasure there. I cannot say "hallowed be Thy Name" if I am not striving for holiness. I cannot say "Thy Kingdom come" if I’m not doing my part to hasten that day. I cannot say "Thy will be done" if I am disobedient to His word. I cannot say "in earth as it is in Heaven" if I’m unwilling to serve Him here and now. I cannot say "give us this day our daily bread" if I’m not relying on Him to provide. I cannot say "forgive us our debts" if I am holding a grudge against someone. I cannot say "lead us not into temptation" if I deliberately place myself in its path. I cannot say "deliver us from evil" if I refuse to put on the whole armor of God. I cannot say "Thine is the Kingdom" If I am not loyal to the King as His faithful subject. I cannot attribute to Him "the power" if I fear what other people may do.
I cannot ascribe to Him "the glory" if I am seeking honor for myself instead.

If we want to become people whose lives are devoted to prayer, we must begin to do things by prayer. This means we begin with prayer, not tack prayer on as an afterthought, calling on the Lord after we have already made our decision, then seek God's stamp of approval. To be devoted to prayer means that we give priority to prayer, and we are never too busy to pray. Our level of commitment to Christ is measured by the character of our prayer-life.

Prayer is not a gift for a select few. All who have trusted Jesus for salvation can pray as He taught. True prayer will not be achieved by human effort; it is a gift of God. Prayer is grace. If we are followers of Christ and we want to learn to pray, Jesus stands ready to teach us.

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