How Not To Pray

That was the night I learned how not to pray
God does what God wants to any way
And I never did tell my mother, I kept it from my sisters and all my brothers
That was the night I learned how not to pray

Chorus to song by Iris Dement

When I heard this song I took a different meaning than when my wife heard it. I’m  not sure what meaning she took away – she was always more of a concrete literalist. When I heard the song (it’s about a little girl praying for her younger brother who has fallen down the stairs and is rushed to the hospital – he doesn’t make it) I understand the lyrics to be about someone growing up and deciding that prayer isn’t about trying to tell God what to do. I think my wife thought the song was about getting mad at God and giving up on prayer. There are a lot of people I know who have gotten mad at God. Many more who have given up on praying. I’m not sure why I haven’t.

As I’ve grown up, praying has changed in many ways for me. It has become a much larger territory to explore. It has kept me alive and kicking during times when I was ready to lie down and never get up again.

During my whole life of faith has involved prayer. Here’s what prayer has never accomplished for me:

  • I never had all my problems solved (not even most of them!)
  • Financial problems always remained – although I did often get mysterious money in the mail – but it was never more than just enough for that moment
  • My difficulties and situations at the different jobs I had were never easy or solved just like that
  • My wife eventually died from cancer that had moved into her brain – countless people prayed for her to be healed

“The wise man in the storm prays God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear.”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Prayer has always been a method of survival for me. It’s a practice that keeps my center, my sanity, a longer perspective. Praying keeps my feet on the floor and my head above the waves. Quick fixes, even long solutions are external and eventually pass away. Instead, prayer is the path I take through each obstacle. Sometimes things get fixed, sometimes they don’t. Prayer is the method of transformation that is taking place in my eternal life.

I have prayed in all kinds of ways:

  • laying on the ground with my face to the floor
  • holding hands with others
  • out loud in front of a group
  • when hearing a great song (usually in the car, alone)
  • nowadays, each time I walk out of Starbucks
  • alone on a long walk
  • in writing
  • with someone on the phone
  • while writing on the wall of a room
  • when worshiping with the church
  • laying hands on someone
  • joining with others to compose a single prayer out loud

“When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person.”  ― Philip Yancey

Praying is a private activity. There is also a very public dimension. I pray with others all the time. I pray on behalf of others out loud. Sometimes just one or two come together and pray about personal matters. Praying is a social activity as well as an intimate relationship with God.

I know that prayer isn’t a

  • private internal meditative practice
  • a religious ritual
  • some way that I have to earn God’s love and favor

Instead, for me, prayer has always been centered around relationship. One that I have been building with God and a way I can help people I know and love. Praying for other people (intercession) is wonderful way to build relationships and to keep myself from being too stuck in my own problems.

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.” ― Corrie ten Boom

Why have I never stopped praying?

  • I have always heard words of comfort, guidance, correction and assurance when I pray
  • Because I have grown up with a lonely soul and needed someone to talk to
  • It seems the only way for me to maintain this essential relationship in my life
  • When I pray, I receive answers – I know that God is listening and responding to me

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of  the one who prays.”  ― Soren Kierkegaard

In an American society that has taught us all to want results now and to take charge of our own lives – prayer is usually a last resort. It’s not a habit that reflects how we’ve been raised to approach life. The practice of prayer demonstrates dependence, waiting, and following. Praying shapes our self into another direction, a different way of thinking.

Each crisis I have faced in life – betrayals by closest friends, the bottom falling out of my life’s work, cancer destroying the only person who loved me – so far, I have survived these only because I was able to pray. I was never alone in any of these terrors. I didn’t know how to escape, but I knew I wasn’t alone. God keeps walking me through the darkness.

“No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.”   ― Martin Luther

Why Do We Pray? Part 3

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians 6:2-3

One of the best ways to know someone’s heart and mind is to spend time praying for them. Once you make that kind of commitment, to invest yourself into someone’s life, you begin to fulfill the law of Christ. Instead of just talking about love, praying for someone “puts your money where your mouth is.”

Why is intercessory prayer so important?

When someone asks me how they can pray for me it takes away a part of the burden. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a friendly exchange, like “what can I do to help?” or “we’re here if you ever need anything.” But other times I can see (by someone’s persistence) that they mean it, they want to pray and help share in the burden I’m hauling around. And it works.

When you tell someone you want to help by praying for them, take a hold of their arm, look him/her in the eye closely and say in a determined voice – I am going to pray for you, tell me how. Why not stop right then and there and just pray?

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.  -Ephesians 6:18

When others are praying for me, it’s a constant reminder that when I’m going through the storm I know I’m not alone. Maybe that’s most of the terror – the darkness of being alone while suffering. Practicing our faith means being faithful to pray for others AND to go public with this practice. Being faithful means being accountable. When I promise to pray, I’m also making a commitment to stand with someone through their storm.

We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.  And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.  – 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

God involves more of his church in his will for our lives when we participate in intercessory prayer. When the church received the Holy Spirit the first report was that they were of one heart and one mind. The more they prayed for one another, the stronger their bonds of love grew. They began to sell their possessions and give to those in need. When we pray for others, when our bonds of love grow our actions become shaped by God’s will. It becomes more normal for us to love God and to love others.

When we pray for each other – we are making the work of God here on earth that much more real. We are participating in heaven on earth.

I don’t know how people survive some of the disasters that come in life. I have said so many times that having this cloud of witnesses all around who are praying for me and with me every step of the way have kept me alive through thick and thin.

For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. – Philippians 1:19

“We never know how God will answer our prayers, but we can expect that He will get us involved in His plan for the answer. If we are true intercessors, we must be ready to take part in God’s work on behalf of the people for whom we pray.”  ― Corrie ten Boom

What should you do right now?

  1. Find people to pray for, tell them and make sure they know you mean it
  2. Check in regularly to find out how your prayers have been answered
  3. Be persistent in your praying – keep the burden in front of everyone’s eyes and in front of God
  4. Make praying an integral part of your daily routine – talk to God about all the people in your life – consider it a sacred duty.

“Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty.” – E.M. Bounds

A Greater Work

I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father.  – John 14:12 (The Voice)

I read a wonderful devotional in My Utmost for His Highest this week. What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that they would do greater works than those they had eyewitnessed?  Does this mean His followers will be doing greater signs and wonders than raising the dead or calming the storming sea?

What if this promise is about prayer? My devotional reading taught that prayer does not prepare us for a greater work, it is the greater work.

He lives His resurrected life forever. From such a vantage, He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.  – Hebrews 7:24-25 (The Voice)

Jesus has returned to His Father and is now interceding for all of us as we approach God’s throne of grace. When we pray, we now have complete access to our Heavenly Father. This is a new condition that occurred only after Christ ascended. There are no more sacrifices to make in order to gain access to the holy presence of God. That has been done once and for all by Christ.

Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  – Romans 8:34

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  – 1 John 2:1

Our prayers are empowered because they have the Son of God personally taking them before God on our behalf. Our prayers have the potential for even more earth shaking consequences. The work of prayer is a greater work because we have Jesus Christ joining forces with us.

But that’s not all. When Jesus left the earth He promised His followers that he would not leave them alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. – John 14:16-17

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  – John 14:26

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  – Romans 8:26-27

When we pray, we do not pray alone. We pray in a spiritual partnership with the very Spirit of God. In every place of weakness, ignorance, frailty and fear, the Spirit of God intervenes and fills in all of the gaps. He makes our prayers perfect. He empowers our prayer life by guaranteeing its effectiveness. With this kind of promise, why aren’t you praying all of the time? Why are you worrying? Why are your friends and family burdened with so many cares?

So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. – James 5:16 (The Voice)

Did you ever consider that failing to pray for others might be a terrible sin? Who wouldn’t fall on their knees knowing that what we can accomplish in prayer would be even more powerful than the great miracles performed by Jesus himself?

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” ― Oswald Chambers

He is Alive and Still Praying

Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  – Romans 8:34

jesus-gethsemane

 

 

 

 

 

 

I may have stirred everyone up today. I told people in my Sunday School department that Jesus wasn’t living in their hearts. That’s not a nice thing to say on Easter Sunday.

Lot’s of fidgeting around in their plastic chairs. I was racing to get it all in before members of the choir had to leave early and everyone else needed to exit in time to get a seat for the packed Easter worship service that follows. I wish I had slowed down and let people process what they were hearing. That always works best. It may be a lot to think about if you’ve grown up singing “Since Jesus came into my heart…”

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” – Luke 22:31-32

I had never noticed this before. As we were studying the life of Christ these past few years, I saw for the first time Jesus talking with Peter about His prayers and what He hoped the results would be. As I thought about this I wanted to remind my class that Jesus wasn’t living in their hearts (like our hymns might wrongly teach us) but he was still fully human, fully God and still fulfilling His mission in Heaven.

God has sent the Holy Spirit to reside in our hearts.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.”  John 14:15-18

Remembering that Jesus isn’t in my heart but instead is in heaven helps me to realize what He is doing for me there. He has ascended as victor over death and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is preparing a place for me. He is going to return one day as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now he is interceding for me as He did for Peter, pleading in prayer, that my faith would not fail.

Notice that he told Peter not that he was going to pray that all of his problems would go away nor that he would be able to avoid his trials with a happy attitude. He prayed for Peter’s faith, that it would not fail. Not that Peter would necessarily feel better about himself, but that he would have the maturity and wisdom to lift up his fellow apostles. Jesus was praying for Peter and his faith so that he could use that faith for the sake of others and in so doing launch the church. Instead of sinking into self-destructive despair because of his denial, Peter becomes one of the key leaders in the birth of Christianity.

Jesus was already praying for Peter as he prepared Himself for the cross.

Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. – Hebrews 7:25

He is alive, He has risen from the dead.

Jesus is now in Heaven and He is praying for me – He is praying for you.