Why Do I Pray?

Growing up in a Christian home, I learned to pray at a very young age.  Prayer was an important part of my family’s life.  Every meal we took turns thanking God for our food.  As the “baby” in the family my first prayers over meal time were memorized prayers like

God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food.

But as I started school it was expected that my prayer would become a “real” one prayed from my heart and not my head.

Before we went to bed at night we would all gather in the living room and pray together as a family.

So prayer to me is just a natural part of my life.

Lately, however, I have asked myself “why do I pray?”  Is there “magic” in prayer?  Does my prayer change God’s mind?  If I did not pray for someone, would their need still be met?  If someone’s request is answered, is it because I prayed?

Prayer is a mystery.  There have been times I believe I prayed and saw immediately a direct answer to that prayer.  There have been times I prayed and wondered if God even heard me.

So, since I have no real answers to these questions about prayer, what do I pray?  Why do I believe in prayer?

First I pray because of the example Jesus gave us.

  • And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
  • In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.

Even in his greatest moment of anguish He prayed.

  • My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as You, not I, would have it.

Second, I pray before Jesus told us to.

He gave parables about the importance of continuing to ask and not give up.  He also gave us specific things to pray about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This is one prayer I think the church may have forgotten as we hear such hateful language now directed toward those who disagree with us.

Several times in his teachings he used the phrase When you pray.”

Not “if” but “when.”

He told us to pray for laborers to share the gospel.  He told to pray that we would not yield to temptation.  In the Lord’s Prayer He made it clear that praying with unforgiveness toward someone else in our hearts will be a barrier to our prayers being answered.

But perhaps the main reason I pray is that it strengthens my relationship with God.  As I pray to God, I am again reminded of my need for Him.  I am encouraged to know I can talk to the Almighty and that He cares for me and my needs.

I think of my relationship with my husband.  Our closeness would not last long if we never communicated with one another.  A good marriage requires good communication.

As I pray I maintain that relationship with God.  Recognizing that prayer is for me one of the ways to keep my relationship with God thriving, I know my prayers must be more than just a grocery list of “God, do this and God, do that.”

Again, in my communication with my husband if I only spoke to him when I had a list of chores I wanted him to do, our relationship would not be warming and loving.

My praying to God helps me remember all the blessings I have received and to maintain a grateful heart and attitude.

Finally as I pray for others my heart is opened to their needs and I find myself not just praying for God to help them, but I often find ways that God can use me to be that help to them.  It opens my heart to others.

So I pray.  I pray with expectancy that I speak to one who is loving and powerful and that although I do not understand it all, prayer matters.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Were the “Them” in Jesus’ Prayer for Forgiveness?

Final notes from my husband’s Good Friday sermons.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that Jesus prayed from the cross “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  These words were among some of the last brief statements He made before His death.

Who exactly was He speaking to?

  • The Roman soldiers.  They were standing there gambling for His clothes at the foot of the cross as they watched Him die.  It was probably not the first crucifixion detail they had been assigned.  But this one was different.  This man claimed to be the Son of God.
  • Maybe it was the Jewish crowd that had gathered there that day.  They had seen him heal their sick, fed them on occasion and told them all types of parables and stories of God and His kingdom.  Now they had shouted:  “Crucify Him.”
  • Perhaps it was His disciples, especially the ones who had fled and were in hiding.  Only John was present at the cross with Mary, Jesus’ mother.
  • Maybe He saw ahead in time and saw the crowd that stoned Stephen to death.  That crowd was full of hate for Stephen.
  • Perhaps he looked further down in time when the early Christians were martyred in the coliseum of Rome by wild animals.  Surely their persecutors were included in His statement from the cross.
  • What about all the wars that have been fought in the name of religion, the Crusades, the Protestants against Catholics and the Catholics against Protestants?
  • Maybe he saw the barbarians throughout the world who have committed wholesale slaughter of whole groups of people simply because they were different.
  • Or, maybe he looked out to 2019 and saw us when He was there on the cross.  Was he speaking of us as He hung there?  Was it our sin that we have committed day by day, year by year without regard to our own eternity?  Do we realize the total sacrifice that was made for us that day?

Surely He was speaking of me also from the cross that day.

Seven Reasons to Ban the Lord’s Prayer

In 2015 the church in England had an advertisement which featured the Lord’s Prayer set to run before a Star Wars movie.  The cinemas banned the ad because they said it might be offensive to some.

In response Bishop Steven Croft wrote an article saying “from the perspective of the spirits of the age, there are very good reasons to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and culture and public life.”

Lord's sprayer

Here are Bishop Croft’s reasons:

  1.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”   –  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time….We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human being who are therefore our sisters and brothers.
  2. “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  –  The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish His kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  It invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.
  3. “Give us this day our daily bread.” – This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer for only what we need.  It teaches contentment.  This one restrains our greed.
  4. “Forgive us our sins.” – This teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  It offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily.  The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.
  5. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” – We are not meant to live in feud or hostity or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.
  6. “Lead us not into temptation.” – When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale.  We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the most challenging moments of our lives.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.
  7. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen.” – The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Our lives are to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, reminds us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, built resience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder many want to ban them from our consumer culture.

Hold the fort!

fort

Defensive mentality

An old hymn of the church which I always disliked tells much about the mentality of the church in years past.

“Hold the fort, for I am coming,” Jesus signals still;
Wave the answer back to Heaven, “By Thy grace we will.”

For many years the church has seemed to view the return of Jesus and our future home in heaven as the primary goal of the Christian.  I remember attending several Bible conferences where people taught eschatology using material from authors like Hal Lindsey and his book “The Late Great Planet Earth.”   A few years ago people were fascinated by the “Left Behind”  series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

While I totally understand the need to study Bible prophecies of the future, it seems to me that while the church taught of the return of the Lord and often suggested that time was very soon, it made little difference in how the church members actually lived their lives.  The general feeling seemed to be that we needed to make sure we were ready for the return of Jesus so we could go to heaven.  Maybe we should also warn others that if they did not get right with God, they would be going to hell.

But our daily lives were not really changed.  We were basically living in a fort, trying to defend our self from the sin of the world and waiting for Jesus to come and rescue us.

I often have wondered “Is this what being a follower of Jesus is all about.  Living a defensive life against Satan and hoping I can hold out until Jesus rescues me.”  I remember hearing testimonies (at the time when churches actually had a time for members to “testify”) of how rough the week had been, how hard Satan had attacked them, but thank God they were hanging on.

As I wrote earlier this week, I believe the church has not truly understood that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are asking for God’s kingdom to be present in our lives now.  Active Anticipation

God’s Kingdom is here!

Through God’s Spirit in us we are to live out the Kingdom values and teachings now in this world.  That means we need to live together as brothers and sisters of God – not separated by race, gender, economic status or any other barrier.  When we get a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelations we see that there are people from every “tribe, tongue and nation” worshiping before the throne of God.  If we cannot do that now, how will we be able to do it in the future?

That means we do not live defeated lives, but through God’s Spirit we find the strength, the courage, the determination we need to not only overcome difficulties in our lives, but to reach out and be a source of strength, courage and determination for others who are struggling.  That does not mean we will not have times of weakness and discouragement.  But I think it should mean that we always recognize we are children of the Kingdom and have God’s resources to draw on in times of need now.

The best defense is a strong offense!

This statement or basic concept has been attributed to George Washington as well as others and is often used by football teams.  While it is not always true in all situations, I do believe the church would benefit by recognizing that God’s Kingdom is in us now.  If we would more actively study and follow the principles of God’s Kingdom that Jesus taught while he was on earth and begin to allow God’s Spirit to strengthen and guide us, then we could really show the world what God’s Kingdom would really look like.   As the world saw us truly love others, truly work to heal the hurt of others, truly enjoy the peace of God, they might began to want to be a part of this Kingdom also.

David’s example

In 1 Samuel 30 we find a great example of allowing God to strengthen and give us victory.  David and his men had gone into battle.  When they returned, they found that a band of Amalekites had burned their town and taken their women and children captive.  The men wept until they could not weep any more.  They became angry with David and began to talk of killing him.  What a time of discouragement.  But I love what the Scripture says about David in this time of great distress.

David found strength in the Lord his God.

Like all his men, David no doubt was worried.  He had wives and children that were also taken captive.  His leadership was in question, even his life in danger.  But David called on the strength that comes from God.

He then asked for direction from God as to what he should do.  I love what God spoke to him.

Go after them.  You will surely recover everything that was taken from you.

My prayer in this Advent season is that we as the people of God will seek God’s direction for the difficult situations in our lives.  Then, with His guidance let us begin to go on the offensive and pray prayers of faith to reclaim what Satan has taken from our church, our family, our nation.

Let us “get out of the fort” and interact with God’s love, wisdom and strength in this world and show them what God’s Kingdom is all about in the here and now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Active Anticipation

 

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Saying the Lord’s Prayer once again

Beginning my devotions for this third week of Advent, I read once again the Lord’s Prayer. Growing up in a Christian home I cannot began to count how many times I have heard this prayer, how many times I have recited it.

But today I wondered how much I really understood that part of the prayer where Jesus said

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So many times I must confess I have prayed this with anticipation of that day when Jesus would return to earth and set up His kingdom.  What a glorious day when God wipes the tears from our eyes, when sin and temptation no longer are a problem, when there is truly peace on earth.

According to the dictionary anticipation means a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen in the near future.  Often I think that is how I – and perhaps others – have viewed this part of the prayer.  Sometime – hopefully in the near future – Jesus will return and set up his kingdom.  To have God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven is a future event – something Jesus will do – while I sit and wait with excitement.

But today as I reflect on these words, I realize once again that Jesus was not calling us to anticipate this future event.  I believe it was calling us to make that true today – right now.

Not anticipation, but ACTIVE anticipation!

To truly pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, I am asking God to manifest his kingdom in me today.  I am called to be an active participant in the answer to this prayer.  I am not to sit idly by waiting for someday.  I am called to make myself available to God’s Spirit and to allow God’s will to be manifest in me (obvious, clear, plain, noticeable).

While I wait with great anticipation for the return of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of all the wonderful promises of the complete defeat of evil, I must wait with active anticipation recognizing it is my responsibility to see that God’s will is done today in my own life.  It is my honor to surrender to God’s Spirit now and be a witness to what God’s will on earth really is all about.