Ways of Worship: Prayer

For two weeks we’ve looked at ways of worship that are essential to our growth as disciples. Things like scripture, studying, tithing, and Christian service not only teach us about faith but they form us into competent Christians. Disciples who know how to do these things are those who are capable of furthering the mission of the Church and being a genuine witness to a lost world. But something’s missing. We must be more than competent. True success for the Christian rests in a deep and abiding relationship with God that feeds the soul and undergirds all of the other disciplines we’ve listed. That relationship is prayer.

To begin, I don’t ever want you to be afraid to admit your ignorance or lack of depth in prayer. As your pastor I’ll admit right up front: prayer is a mysterious and deep practice. The disciples didn’t fully understand it. We read in Luke 11.1 that the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray…”. They had prayed their entire lives but there was something about Jesus, about his prayers and his praying that stirred within them something that said may be they were missing something. You see, prayer is more than talking and listening, more than a human conversation because it involves a much deeper level of intimacy. In fact, prayer has more to do with being than anything else. Therefore, it is safe to say that prayer is actually a relationship.

Now, I want us to clear up the popular misconception. Prayer is often seen as an opportunity for us to unload a list of things onto God for him to take care of. It’s almost like we’re sending God to the Spiritual grocery store like an incompetent husband to pick up the things we need in one area of life while we turn our attention toward other things. I learned something early on in my marriage: if your spouse is going somewhere, go with them. A deep relationship is about presence, it’s about the time you spend together. In the end, the goal is to be happy doing just about anything with your loved one, not just specific things. God is no different. If we are interested in God only for specific reasons, like him doing certain things for us, then our relationship will be self-serving and short sighted. We don’t summon God like a genie and then go enjoy our blessing, only to come back to him later like some cosmic vending machine. A relationship is about presence, where we communicate and commune.

COMMUNICATION
Let’s look at this from the communication side of things. A lot of people see prayer or ‘talking to God’ as a one way conversation, like God is there to listen while we speak. Well, that’s only half true. God is always there to listen and it’s very important that you speak to him. I love what the Psalmist said in Psalm 55.17, “17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.” Three times a day the Psalmist prays to God, complaining and grumbling. But God is there, ready to hear your moans and your complaints. Look at the lives of several of the prophets in the Old Testament, as they lamented and complained over their mission and the wickedness of the people. Read the Psalms, as David and others proclaimed, “How long, O Lord…” in the midst of their strife.

So do it! Go to God with the ugly in your life. But here’s both an encouragement and a warning: let God have a turn to speak and be prepared for him to speak back, especially in ways you didn’t anticipate. Prayer forms us, molding and changing us as we communicate with him and he with us. But this happens only if we are open to a two-way conversation. God will speak back to you. How, you may ask?! That’s a great question, but one that can only be answered through your participation with God through prayer.

One of my favorite examples of God’s many ways of speaking comes from 1 Kings 19.11–13. Elijah is on the run as Queen Jezebel seeks to kill him. Elijah is stressed and worried about how his life is taking shape but he still leaves room for God to speak. God says to Elijah, “11 …Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice…”

For Elijah, the voice of God didn’t come in the great wind, in the mighty earthquake, or in the consuming fire. God revealed himself in a sheer silence, a simple and still moment. God held Elijah accountable in this instance and separated him from both the world and his cares and placed him in a position to experience God, not just hear him.

God did this for others. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He spoke to Balaam through a donkey, and even to Peter during prayer through a vision. The temptation for us is to expect God to speak to us the way we want or prefer. Know this, that God will determine how he must speak or communicate with you in order for his will to be done. This means, though, that we must change our ordinary and one-dimensional way of thinking about prayer and understand that prayer is much broader than bowing our heads and closing our eyes. Prayer has more to do being prayerful, which allows our hearts and minds to experience God both at rest and in motion. If we limit prayer to stopping, dropping, and sitting still, then many of us would never pray. Know that God is calling you to communicate with him prayerfully, that you speak to him at rest and en route; while you are at peace and while you are under fire. This way, we can come to God at all times and in all ways.

COMMUNION
Now let’s look at prayer as communing with God. Communication is essential to any relationship, but we all know that every deep and intimate relationship must be based on more than conversation. Talking with God is one thing, but being with God is another. Take this scripture for example. Jesus says when speaking about prayer, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” If this is true, then why pray? Because prayer has more to do with loving God and spending time with God than it does going to God with a list of needs. God wants you to pour your heart out to him, but he wants you to enjoy him and the relationship that he has for you, too. This understanding is strengthened and realized through prayer. If we make prayer about only needs, then God really will become a vending machine, with prayer being the quarters.

Jesus recognized the importance of spending time in prayer and set an example for us in that. While ministering to others he frequently stepped away to be strengthened by God in prayer. Before and after curing diseases Jesus can be found praying in the gospels of Mark and Luke often. But there is also the famous prayers and time spent with God before his passion, as he prayed for his disciples in John at the Last Supper and then later as he communed with his Father in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew that only through the strong relationship he had with God as maintained through prayer would he ever be able to prepare for his crucifixion and do what only he would be able to do, which was taking upon his shoulders the full weight of the world’s sins. Prayer is power. Prayer is growth. Prayer is relationship.

Leave here today knowing that prayer is about communicating with God and communing with God. Talk with him—listen to him. But more than anything, spend time with God, always creating the time and the space to enjoy his presence through prayer. Amen.
_______

R
ev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church
www.newlibertyumc.org

Devotional Blog – http://devoblog.posterous.com

Sent from Whit’s iPad

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