I’ve been in the midst of a move the last couple of weeks and I just now had time to slow down & reflect, so I’ll be getting caught up.
On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts on sermons I hear. Today’s entry was inspired by Mark Matlock’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church, the 5th in our series, “Whatever.” This one is titled “How We Pray Matters.”
Pastoral Confession Upcoming: Prayer is the most frustrating component of my spiritual life.
I’d love to say that I was a prayer warrior who got up early and climbed the prayer mountain and saw the face of God and then go about my day in an amazing felt power and earned the nickname “camel knees” due to the callouses I developed and wore ruts in the hardwood next to my bed.
The truth is more like I’m a middle school football player who can’t figure out how to put on the protective padding who’d rather stay in bed who feels frustrated by doing most things with little spiritual awareness whose knee issues are due to a middle-aged payment for games caught/pucks stopped whose pillow has more ruts than my floor.
But it’s not because I don’t *want* to be a person of prayer. I do. I truly do.
Apparently, I’m not alone, man. As Mark Matlock pointed out in the sermon a couple of weeks ago:
For some people prayer becomes so mysterious…I typed in prayer into Amazon. I got 192,822 results typing prayer into the search stream for Amazon. That was just in general. That was everything. When I looked at only books, there was 87,371 titles that had prayer in the title…That’s a lot that’s been written on this subject. 44,000 came in the category of “religion & spirituality.” 13,000 are from “Christian Living.” So, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and what prayer looks like, did Jesus go, ‘Oh, wow. There’s a lot of books on this guys? Did Jesus say, ‘Prayer is a super mysterious thing?’…No, let’s take a look at what Jesus said in Matthew 6…”
I’ve read a lot of those books, too. And I’ve tried it all.
I’ve gotten up early.
I’ve typed out my prayers according to an A.C.T.S. method one guy taught.
I’ve paced when I pray.
I’ve said my prayers out loud.
I’ve turned off my car radio/Mp3/CD player and multi-tasked.
I’ve asked friends to hold me accountable.
I’ve made lists.
I’ve prayed with my kids and realized I learned more about prayer when they did it at ages 3 and 5 than I did in seminary classes.
I’ve tried to pray with my wife out loud.
I’ve prayed on mountain peaks and beaches thinking that nature would help.
I’ve prayed in 500 year-old chapels in Europe and modern American arena church stages.
I’ve prayed with 1,000 people in a room and a friend in a coffee shop.
Mostly, all the things I tried were by some design to stay focused. I start out well and then my mind goes a zillion different directions and the next thing I know I’m reliving a great moment from high school or figuring out the next logical step to solve the problems in the Middle East or wondering what I need to grab at the grocery store.
I’ve learned that all the books have things that have helped. I’ve also learned that all of the books cause more frustration because they all make it seem so easy. And none of them seem to touch on that testy little passage in 1 Thessalonians that tell us to pray without ceasing.
Pray without ceasing? If you mean, “Pray for a minute or so and then think about the Arab Spring for five” then I pray without ceasing. Even worse, would God want us to do what we can’t seem to do?
Thankfully, Mark touched on the simplicity of prayer when he talked about the Matthew 5 passage and noted that Jesus didn’t refer them to noted scholars lengthy treatises on prayer. He gave them a simple model, which more or less highlights what I’ve learned over 30 mildly frustrating years of prayer:
Our Father…. We are His children. I’m reminded of the beauty and simplicity of my own kids’ prayers to remind me that all I have to do is share what’s on my heart at any particular moment. Mostly it’s family and friends and the things I’m going through, whether it’s praying for my toys or puppies or grandma and grandpa. Don’t fancy it up. Just say it.
Who Art In Heaven…A nice little reminder that He is everywhere and above and beyond and knows it all and sees it all and can be right beside me and still have full knowledge, understanding and control of that tricky Middle East thing as well as where the kid next door needs to go to college and anything and everything in-between.
Hallowed be Your Name…Yeah. He’s God and I’m not Him. Best leave the answers to the Professional rather than thinking I’m the Parent. Better to approach Him like my kids…well, like one of His children.
Your Kingdom Come…He has a plan and is working to bring all of history to culmination and somehow we should try to figure out what our moment-by-moment means in all that. He’s writing The Story and we are living it out and it’s nice to realize that all we have to do is trust Him to lead us as we help our neighbor see that Kingdom.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…Tricky, because I’m not precisely sure what is going on in heaven. I’m pretty sure it all is focused on God and giving glory to Him, though. So, maybe prayer is an attitude of seeing the things of this world through Kingdom colored lenses, and sometimes we verbalize those things in that way. That’s the closest I can come to any semblance of figuring out how to pray without ceasing.
Give us this day our daily bread…Know and rest in the reality that we can bring him our concerns for our now.
And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…A way of realizing that we’ve missed the mark and relationships, both with God and with our neighbor, are paramount…and worth humbling ourselves to maintain in love.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…As I read Scripture we are tempted when we are lured by our own desires, so to pray that our own desires are in submission to the Spirit seems the smart way to avoid evil and the consequences therein. If you knew my own desires in any given situation, you’d likely be terrified.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever…I love the way The Message translates this: “You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty!” I may kick against that, but when I give Him His rightful place, and see what He does, frankly, it’s beautiful and I should slow down and see it that way rather than trying to figure out why He didn’t do it the way I thought would work best. And it will be that way forever so I may as well start learning that now.
Amen. So be it. Just a way of agreeing positively.
So, really, all I know is that we should pray, I try to pray remember that it’s an attitude of trying to see each moment as God sees each moment that I sometimes verbalize, and that it needs to be childlike & focused on God and His ultimate glory. Beyond that, it’s all just an educated guess.
So, that’s a few things I’ve gathered regarding prayer over the years as a traveler on the path and if you’d oblige me with yours, maybe we could help each other out. Your thoughts in the comments, maybe?