Saturday, March 8, 2014

Prayer, A Wonderful Privilege

Prayer!  What a wonderful, and often underutilized, privilege we have.  The creator and ruler of the universe essentially has an open door policy for his children.  We can come before our Abba (daddy) anytime we want, talking, listening and just spending time with him.  Good luck trying that with any human ruler that you might be under.

So why don't we take better advantage of this privilege he has given us?  I suspect fear is a part of it; it is God we are trying to talk to after all; and he seems distant and remote.  But feelings of inadequacy also get in the way; we don't know how to pray, or what to pray about. "I don't know how" is the most common excuse I hear for not praying.

In the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew, we find Jesus most extensive teachings on how to pray.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not 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.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

       “‘Our Father in heaven,
       hallowed be your name,
       your kingdom come,
       your will be done,
              on earth as it is in heaven.
       Give us today our daily bread.
       And forgive us our debts,
              as we also have forgiven our debtors.
       And lead us not into temptation,
              but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:5-15 NIV
The first thing Jesus tells us is that prayer is something personal between me and my Father.  In Jesus day it was common for some to look for public occasions to pray.  The more people who heard you the better.  I do believe there is a time and place for public prayer.  But these people were praying to draw attention to themselves.  Prayer should be directed to God, not to those who are listening, and not to get others to think more highly of you.

Jesus tells us instead, to find a private place where you can commune with God.  Get away from any distractions.  And be where you can be yourself without worrying about how others might be looking at you.  Falling on your face in front of a crowd is something that most of us will avoid, but may feel led to when it is just me and God.  Speaking aloud can also enhance intimate prayer, so long as there is no one else around to hear you.

Jesus also counsels us about our language.  When you listen to some pray in public, do you ever notice that they sound totally different than when they are just talking to you?  Sometimes it is in the vocabulary they use, and sometimes the whole tone changes.  And that would make sense if God cared about all that; but why would he?  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  I doubt that he will be impressed when we try and use our churchy words and voice when we talk with him.  Just be yourself instead.  He already knows what you need, and just wants to hear from you as his beloved child, not as a supplicant before his king.

And then Jesus gives us a sample, or model, prayer.  And that sample can be a good guide when you are alone in your private place communing with your maker.
  • Offer up praise to God, worship him, honor him as Lord and God.
  • Seek his will for yourself, your family, the church you are a part of, the world around you.  
  • Let him know what needs you have, as well as of others you are aware of.
  • Seek forgiveness for your wrongs.
  • Express forgiveness for those who have wronged you, even if they are not interested in it.
  • Seek help in your daily life, desiring to please God in what you do.

There is little in this world more rewarding than spending quality time with Abba.  That is how you will develop an intimate relationship with him.  Be like Enoch, and commune so closely with God that the transition into eternity will be seamless.

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