Last week I prayed about my kids finding a parking place at the long-term lot at the airport since they are often full to overflowing during the holiday travel rush. This morning I prayed for several people who are going through tough times in their marriages. I prayed for wisdom to lead the church that God has entrusted to my pastoral care. I prayed praise-filled prayers about the myriad joys of my life. Sometimes I pray while playing the piano and singing ‘made up’ songs to God. Sometimes I pray in the Spirit as I drive to share the goodness of the Lord with someone in sad circumstances.
Here’s the thing some might find strange; I seldom pray by getting down on my knees, clasping my hands, and turning my head towards the sky in prayer! I never put together long monologues addressed to the “One who filleth our lives with blessed beneficence, Whose Majesty we implore to rest mightily upon us.” I don’t agonize about finding the right words, posture, or time. I just talk with One Who loves me! I pray about most everything, just about all the time.
Our Father invites us to a continual conversation with Him. My adult kids were around for a few days and just listening to their discussions brought me such joy. Hearing them talk about their lives, their dreams, their disappointments, their successes and having the occasion opportunity to offer some advice made me happy. When they were in my care, they took my love for them and the fact that I would protect them and provide for them for granted, rightly so. They did not need to plead, bargain, or manipulate – though they sometimes did! They just had to demonstrate a real need and it was met!
In His sermon that is recorded in Matthew, Jesus spoke much of prayer. He did not create formulas that ‘guarantee results’ as I’ve heard some preachers do. He did not teach a method to ‘get what you want from God.’ He urged a lifestyle that included real relationship with the Father that sets us up to enjoy constant communication (prayer!) with Dad. He specifically warned about making prayer into a show. “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matthew 6:5, The Message) He warned about turning prayer into a rote recitation or empty ritual. “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.” (Matthew 6:7, NLT) He also connected our relationship with people with our ability to speak to God. If we are hateful or unforgiving, we sever the connection that lets us pray from our hearts. Two times in those short chapters he tells of the importance of letting go of the offenses of others which frees us to approach God without the weight of hate!
In words that are misunderstood too literally as a legal contract, He taught us to expect God to answer in the same way a beloved child expects the care of a parent. “For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matthew 7:8-11, NLT) He doesn’t promise that we get everything we want. That would be a disaster, given our short-sightedness, selfishness, and frequently foolish prayers! He invites us to be aligned with our Heavenly Dad’s heart, to ask freely and accept faithfully all that He provides.
Do I understand everything about prayer? No, and that is as it should be. God is God, I am not. He is infinite, I am not. He is all-wise, I am not. He asks only that I stay in right relationship with Him by being obedient to His Word and Spirit. He asks for a profound faith that trusts Him without question.
As we begin a New Year, my desire is that we learn to pray better prayers – not longer, not more eloquent, but truer to our heart, and consistent with what is happening in our lives. I hope that we will really converse with the Lord – crying with Him when our hearts are broken, pouring out our praise to Him when life is working for us, presenting our needs and requests to Him at His invitation, and most of all; resting in His promise to love us through it all!
“I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. (Ephesians 1:16-19, NLT)
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21, NLT)