Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Getting What You Pray For

Last week I shared with the family at church that pray is primarily not about asking, about giving God a list, but rather about developing and deepening our relationship with our heavenly Father. My sermon, "When Prayer Doesn't Work" dealt with how we often just settle for giving God lists, and then wonder why our prayers are not answered, or our conversations seem distant and cold.

We began by looking at two little videos, that were sadly humorous. "Coffee with Jesus" and "The Couch" both dealing with giving lists. Actually, they proved to be convicting to me!

I used the Lord's Prayer of Matthew 6 as my key text, but only going through verse 10. This week I want to move from developing and deepening the relationship to the working out of that relationship in that aspect of prayer we call "petition."

Again, the Lord's Prayer gives us the keys to our living relationship with the heavenly Father. The asking for bread, forgiveness, and protection. What is notable is that this "asking" is based in our ongoing relationship with God, and is borne out in our relationships with others. Prayer, though to be done in the non-attention-gathering place of our closets (Matthew 6:6), is not to be kept there. Prayer, like any positive and growing relationship must hit the streets sooner or later. It is the old, "rubber meets the road" phenomenon.

Too often for me, prayer discontinues when I get off my knees. But, as the Word of the Lord tells us we are to pray without ceasing. I see this again best in the reflection of marriage. Marriage is not just about the intimate moments, as important and vital as that is, marriage is about always living in light of the "other." Whether physically in their presence or not, I must make all my decisions based not upon how things will work best for me, but how they affect my wife, and in relation to that, my family.

Thus, I guess as I think about it right now (and I may need to think about this some more), prayer is not about me, it is about the "Other" and about "others." Even in the receiving of my daily bread, my ongoing forgiveness and my moment-by-moment protection, it is not just about me.

O Lord, teach us to pray! O Lord, teach us to live!


Anonymous said...

On one hand, I enjoyed that video “having coffee with Jesus” very much. Didn’t most of us laugh because we saw ourselves in that video? On the other hand, I have to admit that I always feel frustrated when I see church skits that while humorous because our common human frailties are indeed amusing, too often seem to stop short -- without going on to give an example, in this case, of the right way to pray.

Certainly, we must both talk and listen in order to have a relationship with someone and I loved your sermon and especially the comparisons you made regarding the marriage relationship. I also thought you had a very good point about how one can spend time with someone they love just enjoying the silence. Truly just time alone with God when no one is speaking can be a sweet time of very fulfilling fellowship. Excellent point.

But one does need two-way communication in any relationship so we do need to talk to God as well so I would have enjoyed that “skit” much more if they had gone on to demonstrate a modern day example of someone praying correctly.

How would we talk to a “friend” who we trusted completely and unreservedly? Someone we knew was not there to judge us and certainly not someone who was sitting there critiquing our prayer technique, but instead someone who loved us so much he gave his very life for us? Someone who came into the world to save the world, not to judge the world?

I wonder if instead of casually saying, “I’m not a big fan of the assistant pastor” what would have happened if he had really gotten to the bottom of why he didn’t want to hear that particular pastor’s sermons? Did that pastor make him feel too convicted? Or did he legitmately feel the pastor was not representing the gospel accurately? Either way, God could get to the bottom of the problem and either guide him back on the straight and narrow or help him pray for the pastor to be led by the Holy Spirit or maybe even help him “constructively” try to communicate with that pastor regarding his concerns.

I look at the difference between Moses and the children of Israel and notice Moses got real with God. He opened his heart completely and shared his reluctance, his concerns and fears. And God addressed each and every legitimate concern and reassured Moses. That’s how Moses developed his relationship with God. That’s how he learned to trust and rely on God.

Moses, for instance, was sincerely pouring his heart out when he said to God, “LORD, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

Pretty heartfelt, fervent prayer there. Moses wasn’t messing around casually grumbling about this little thing or that little thing that sort of rubbed him the wrong way.

The children of Israel on the other hand had lists and expectations. They had a preconceived idea of exactly what God should do to set them free and exactly how God should do it. But why were they really grumbling? Something seemed to always be missing, for them didn’t it? They were so lost as they wandered around the dessert. If only they had meat. When God gave them meat until they were sick of it, was he trying to punish them? Is that why God brought them out of Egypt - to punish them?

Or did he bring them out of Egypt to set them free – to really set them free. To teach them that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?

I believe God was frustrated and gave them meat until they were sick of it because he wanted them to wake up and realize what they were really hungering for which was God himself.

That’s why lists are so silly. Because if God took care of everything on every one of our lists, we would be in control instead of God (which is how mankind got lost in the first place) and we would still be just as lost and miserable as the children of Israel. The aching, gnawing emptiness inside would still be there.

Only Jesus can satisfy our souls. That, I believe is what God wanted the children of Israel to figure out after they realized the meat didn't leave them feeling truly fullfilled and why you are so right about the most important aspect of prayer being about developing a “relationship” with God.

gentledove (aka bloghog)

Pastor Randy said...


Very good insights. Thanks!

Yes, it would be nice sometimes if the little videos would neatly wrap things up, but alas, they are often left open just for the reason, to make us think, and hopefully, a good pastor, on a good day, will lead his listeners to right action. ;o)

Yes, prayer is about relationship and yes that relationship demands communication in both directions.

What I am learning lately, is to see Jesus as already interceding for my needs and the needs of other, as we read in Hebrews. As I come to prayer, I see in my spirit, Jesus already kneeling in prayer, He lifts His head and sees me arriving, and then says, "Randy, it is so good to see you, I was just praying for some things that might interest you, would you care to join me?"

This helps to me remember that our gracious Lord is already at the work of prayer, on my behalf long before I get to it. I am not asking Jesus into my prayer, but He is asking me into His. How cool and humbling is that!?

Thanks again for writing, I appreciate your insights. May you be drawn deeper in love with the Lord, who has loved us first!