July 28, 2013

On Prayer (Part III)

You are about to read Part III of a three-part series about prayer.  If you need to catch up or want to review click here for Part I and click here for Part II.

Backing Up a Few Steps to Clarify Something

I wrote something last week that I want to clarify before moving on with today's final thoughts on prayer.  As I reread the previous post, I noticed that I said, Jesus didn't give specifics about physical posture or exact wordings.  Either no one read this, everyone understood what I meant in the context, or you nice readers don't want to challenge me in the comments, because I read it and thought, but He did give us the Lord's prayer, which sure seems like exact wording, doesn't it?  What I mean by saying Jesus didn't give us exact wordings is this, though the Lord did instruct us how to pray by the Lord's prayer, there was no "magic" in it, so to speak.  Jesus did not instruct us to repeat specific prayers in particular ways to get God to do things our way or somehow earn His favor.  Jesus instructed us to pray to relate to our Father who is in heaven, rightly, sincerely, submissively, and trustingly.  Perhaps my clarification was unnecessary, but I wanted to get that out there before moving on to some concluding thoughts on prayer.  Here we go, then!

Hope and Encouragement for our Prayer Lives

As I thought about prayer for this seminar, I realized that what I want is for prayer to be formulaic.  Like getting paid for hours put in at work or getting candy for the coins I put into a vending machine, I want to know how long to pray and what words to say to get the desire result.  I want to be able to box it up real nice like.  But we all know prayer is not like that.
Prayer is dynamic because it's communication within a familial relationship, a familial relationship with the God of the universe.  As such, prayer is a means of spiritual transformation, not a business transaction.

Do you want it to be formulaic like me?  It seems  like it would be so much easier, doesn't it.  But then it would be just as moving and life-changing as punching a time clock at work or paying for my goods at Target.  In prayer, we submit to a loving Father, not to a tyrant demanding that we pray certain ways to earn his favor or to a stranger to whom we're stating our prayers in exchange for specific results.  We're talking with Our Father, in heaven who is holy and set apart from us, but who also calls us into relationship with him through His Son who (as we've seen in Scripture) showed us what a praying life looks like and instructed us how to pray.

3 P's for the Road

To some degree, we've only scratched the surface of what we can glean from Scripture about prayer.  This series is not exhaustive, but I do pray it has been an encouragement.  To help you have some mental hooks to hang on to when you think about prayer in the coming weeks, I want to leave you with three P-words:
  • PERSON - When you pray, you're talking with a person, God.  That's awesome, in the truest sense of the word.
  • POSTURE - There are many ways you can physically arrange yourself to pray, but when I say posture I'm thinking about heart-posture.  Let that posture be one of trust in the God to whom the prayer is addressed, believing He hears and anticipating how relating to Him will transform your life, others' lives, and the world in which we live.
  • PRAY! - To borrow from Nike: Just Do It!  We all have room for growth in our prayer lives, but no matter how awkward, hard-hearted, or inexperienced we feel, we need to pray.  God does the work, we show up.  It's not like going to class, it's a relationship!

Resources to Spur You On

What would a seminar be without some suggested resources?
  • The Bible - Nothing is better fodder for prayer than getting to know the Word of God!  The more we read, the more accurate picture we get of the real God, chasing away fantasies we have about what He might be like or lies the evil one would have us believe about Him.  We also find examples of prayers in the Psalms and instruction in passages we looked at through this series.
  • A Prayer Partner - Accountability to pray and knowing someone is praying with and for you is so uplifting.  My friend, Carol, who lives in a different state suggested we do this a couple years back, and it's been such a blessing to exchange prayer emails and mourn and rejoice together, though apart.  You could also find a local friend and meet regularly to pray together.
Some other books & a pamphlet:

If you have other great resources that have aided your prayer life, don't hesitate to leave a comment for me and fellow readers.  Thanks for joining in on this mini-series!

July 21, 2013

On Prayer (Part II)

Last Sunday I shared part one of a seminar on prayer that I facilitated in the spring.  I began the series with some thoughts about what prayer is and when we should pray by looking at Jesus and verses that tell us about His prayer life, coming to the conclusion that Jesus prayed about pretty much everything all the time because He was in a dependent relationship with God the Father, just like us.

Moving on from there, we can ask this question:  what does looking at Jesus prayer life mean for us?

In short, we should pray!

To which your response might be, Great, thanks, Heather.  I already knew that!

We know we should pray.  Yet we often find ourselves thinking, it sure it helpful to have some instruction, because I think I'm pretty bad at this prayer thing.  Thankfully, Jesus also thought His people needed some direction in this arena; He knows what we need!  So today we're going to take a quick peek (meaning I will not exhaust the topic, but give you some food for thought) at what Jesus taught about prayer.

There are two big passages that come to mind when I think of Jesus' teaching about prayer:  Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 18:1-17.  The Matthew passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount and includes what is commonly called The Lord's Prayer.  The Luke passage consists of two parables, one about a persistent widow, the other about a Pharisee and a tax collector.  I imagine these are familiar words for many of you.  If you want to refresh your memory, click on the references above to read the passages.  All I will do here is offer short observations and brief summaries of what I think the main point of each passage or story is.

Let's begin with Matthew 6:5-15.
  • Prayer is neither about impressing people nor about the content and delivery of the prayer. (v. 5-8)
  • Prayer submits to God's Fatherhood, holiness, and rule. (v. 9-10)
  • Prayer trusts in God's provision, forgiveness, and protection. (v. 11-15)
Summary Thought:  "Good prayer" submits and trusts.

Now, how about Luke 18:1-17.
  • Keep praying, Jesus says, because God actually cares about you! (v. 1-8)
  • The posture of prayer is humility, because the prayer recognizes their dependency on God's mercy. (v. 9-17)
Summary thought: "Good prayer" is ceaseless and submissive.

What I'm trying to draw out from the Word are overarching principles to guide us when we come to God in prayer.  What is it that we are supposed to do?  Jesus didn't give specifics about physical posture or exact wordings.  These teachings, instead, guide us to look to God, to consider Him, to surrender to Him, and to talk with Him.  Prayer is part of a relationship where God is the compassionate and trustworthy parent and we are His children.  We are not to concern ourselves with what others might think of our prayer or even what God might think of our prayer and how it's delivered.  We also are not to concern ourselves with how everything will work out or try to appeal to our own goodness to get God to listen.  To become a "good pray-er" we simply need to submit, to trust, and to keep on praying, yep, even those faltering, confused, I-don't-have-the-words kinds of prayers.

The bedrock for this faith is found in the story God is unfolding in human history.  We read our Bibles which recount His consistent and reliable fulfillment of promises from leading Israel into the promised land, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the one who teaches us to pray by the words He spoke and the life He lived.  We can trust God because He is faithful.

Breathe the Gospel in deep, friends, for it testifies to God's faithfulness, to God's mercy, to God's love for His people.  Remembering that God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life, encourages us to "bend the knee" of our hearts and open our lips to talk with our God.  If God went that far to rescue you, will He not hear your prayers when you talk with Him today?

*     *     *

There's some food for thought for this week; tune back in next Sunday for the final installment of "On Prayer"!

July 14, 2013

On Prayer (Part I)

A while back, I mentioned on Facebook that I would share the content from a breakout session about prayer that I facilitated in April.  Since things are a bit crazy around here these days, as we pack up to move in a few weeks, I though maybe now would be a good time to type up something already mostly prepared.  I don't want you thinking I've given up on this blog thing!  This week, in fact, I thought about buying myself this:
Rather be Writing Bumper Sticker

I miss hanging out here in my corner of the internet!

But aaaanyway, back to today's topic: Prayer

As I thought about the session one morning (in the shower, of course!) I thought, What would I want to tell these ladies about prayer if, for some odd reason, I was limited to sharing only one thing?  Almost immediately my mind replied, JESUS PRAYED!

We must remember that the Son of God prayed during His earthly mission.  In the midst of all of the miracles and teaching, Jesus set aside time to pray.  If Jesus needed to pray, how much more certainly do we need to pray?!  Now please, when you read the previous sentence, don't feel guilty.  No, I ask that question that we might take comfort, rather than be burdened.  Our Lord, who kinda had something going for Him given that He was the God-man, still needed to communicate regularly with His heavenly Father as He ministered.  Prayer, then, must be something far different than a crutch for the weak or simply wishful thinking.  It's good for Christians to consider this and learn - especially by looking at and listening to Jesus - how to pray.

The format of my time with the ladies of Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church fell into three parts:

  • The Ins & Outs of Jesus' Prayer Life
  • Implications for Our Prayer Lives (and what Jesus taught about prayer)
  • Hope & Encouragement in Summary

This evening, we'll begin with the first bullet-point: The Ins & Outs of Jesus' Prayer Life.  We'll get as far as seems reasonable for a single blost,* and pick up where we left of in the next one!

To observe Jesus praying, it is helpful to read stories about times he prayed.  There are many.  In fact, the ladies and I looked up several passages that mention Jesus praying.  I will list them below, if you'd like to read them all.**  Here is a terse summary: over meals, before miracles, early in the morning, alone, with others, in times of great distress, at important events in His life, for Himself, for others, and even for us.  Then, outside the gospels, in Hebrews 5:7 the Bible says, During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

After considering the passages and creating a nice list to complete the sentence, Jesus prayed _____, we moved on to thinking about these questions:

  • To Whom did Jesus pray?
  • What did He pray for?
  • When did He pray?
  • Where did He pray?

You can probably pull some answers from my quick list above, but this exercise was really fun for seeing the variety of things for which Jesus prayed and also the range of times and places He did so.  We're always addressing God in prayer, but we can talk with Him about so many things from wherever we are at whatever time of day or night!  What a comfort to consider Jesus example.

But one question remains.  WHY?  Why did Jesus pray?

The most concise answer is this: Jesus was dependent on the Father.  As Hebrews said, He was heard for his reverent submission.  Jesus knew His place and thrived there because He submitted Himself to the Father.

We are no less dependent.

So, what does this mean for our prayer lives?  Well, you'll have to chew on today's post for a little and stay tuned for On Prayer (Part II), where we'll dig into what Jesus taught about prayer!

*Blost is my personal abbreviation for blog post.  So much more efficient!  :)
**Mathew 14:19, 26:36; Mark 1:35, 14:32; Luke 3:21-22, 9:18 & 28-29, 11:1, 22:19; John 17:1ff