Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teach Us To Pray

Prayer. Such an integral, essential activity as part of our relationship with God. At the same time, such an easy activity to forget or forego in our daily itenerary. Why is that?

Maybe it's that we have so many other things going on that we put prayer off until later. Maybe we don't know how to pray. Maybe we simply forget. Maybe you're like me and get lazy. Whatever the reason, most of us are stuggling in the prayer department, myself included.

So, what is prayer? Prayer is simply a conversation between ourselves and God. It may seem a little one-sided at times, since we don't always get answers right away, but it's a conversation nonetheless. It's not limited to when we wake up in the morning or go to bed at night. Neither is it limited to worship services when someone gets up and prays on the behalf of the congregation, after which the crowd responds with a hearty "Amen." It's not limited to times when our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed, either. It's just a conversation. Those of us (in typical American culture) who have (or had) good relationships with our parents know that we don't have to bow our heads when we speak to our folks to show them respect and love. It's the same with God. He gives us every opportunity imaginable to talk to him. We don't even have to speak aloud. He knows our thoughts, and if our thoughts are prayers, he still answers us.

Matthew and Luke both give instructions and examples on prayer. Luke sets the instructions up with a request from one of Jesus' disciples. He says, "Lord, teach us to pray..."(Luke 11:1) Now the context of this request implies the word "how," as in "Teach us [how] to pray." I like to look at it differently, though. Leave the implied word out of the sentence. "Teach us to pray." A lot of our problem is that we just don't pray...at all. Some of us need to be taught to pray before we are taught how to pray. I often need a reminder to pray. I know how. I just don't do it when I should. Sometimes I need to be taught (or retaught) to pray.

When your entire world comes crashing down around you and you don't know what to do or where to turn, that's when God is saying "Talk to me. Tell me about it. I'll fix it if you let me." Whether it's the porn addiction you just can't kick, or the ungodly relationship you have no business being in, or the drugs that have you by the throat, or the dirt you heard about "Jimmy Sue" that you just can't keep to yourself, or whatever it is. That's God saying "I want to hear from you. Please, just let me work in your life. I can make it all better for you. I've done it before for so many others. It's your turn. Take your turn. It's time for you to be blessed." That's God teaching you and me to pray.

Of course, Jesus gave us a great example of how to pray. I'm sure we have all heard it, and most of us have said it, a thousand times. "Our Father, who art in Heaven..." Some call it "The Lord's Prayer" and some call it "The example prayer." Whatever you call it, you know that it's what Jesus instructed us to do. It's not so much about how you do it, or the words you say. It's a matter of your heart. Let your words to your Heavenly Father be from your heart. If your heart is happy, then rejoice and praise God. If your heart is heavy, then lament and call out to God. If your heart is angry, then wail and cry out to God. He knows we struggle and that it's not all puppy dogs and rainbows for us. Take David, for example. His psalms are a mixture of all those emotions, and then some, and God heard his cries and answered him. Need another example? Try Job. He prayed for his kids when they had parties, just in case they had done something wrong. When Job was struck down with painful sores, after his kids were all killed and he had lost everything he owned, he told God how he felt. Obviously, he didn't feel any joy, but because he was faithful to God, he was healed and given more than he ever imagined. Jesus did it too. The night before he was captured and crucified, he prayed, telling his Father he didn't want to follow through with the pain and the death. He knew, however, that he had to do it because it was God's will. Turns out that Jesus had done the right thing by talking to his Dad because he was raised from the dead three days after he was buried, and he's in Heaven getting ready to take us home with him!

Pray because it is your custom. Pray because it is a part of you. Pray because it is what you do. Don't expect immediate answers all the time. God answers every prayer and he answers them when he is ready to answer and how he wants to answer. There is no such thing as an "unanswered prayer." Maybe God says "No. I have something else in store for you." Either way, he always answers.

So take this opportunity to some praying. If you're not the praying type, right now is the best time for you to become the praying type. If you are, right now is the perfect time for you to increase your conversations with Dad. Whereever you are, just talk to your Father. He will listen. He will answer.

Peace, Love, and Chocolate