Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent II - Growth Through Prayer

Second Sunday of Lent
Part 2 of “So…Why” Series

Part II: Growth through Prayer

Today is the second in our Lenten Series entitled, “So… Why?”

Luke 6:46 records Jesus’ question of his disciples and other followers at the time:
“So why do you call me ‘Lord,’ when you won’t obey me?”

Some time ago, I heard a three-step formula for success in the Christian life:
Pray – Listen – Obey

Pretty simple. Not easy, but pretty simple.

Prayer is the environment; it is the medium of relationship with God. Just like conversation is the medium of relationship with each other. Last night we had our REZZERS’ Dinners – the point of the evenings together is to foster conversation. Because why? It is through conversation that we enter more deeply into relationship with each other. And it is through prayer that we enter more deeply into relationship with God… and incidentally, at least in my experience, most deeply into meaningful relationship with each other in the Body of Christ.

Prayer is the act of talking with God.

Jesus warned that it not be used as a platform, or done for a show. His instruction specifically was that it be done in a closet! That it be unseen; that it be “in secret.”

Isn’t it interesting that so much of what we deal with in our world has to do with people’s “secret” lives – our “deep, dark” secrets eventually have a way of oozing out into our public lives. The stories of fallen leaders are myriad. What might happen if the “secret” of our lives was a place of “saturation” in the Presence of God?!!

The one time that Jesus got “hot” publically was in the temple, in the midst of a people who had turned the activity of prayer into an opportunity to turn a buck. If fact, it was in that instance that Jesus reminded them of the calling and purpose of the Temple in God’s mind: “My House will be called a ‘House of Prayer’ for all nations.”

The “secret” of the Christian’s Life; the calling and vocation of the Christian Church is prayer. “So…Why,” Jesus asks, “do you call me Lord and you won’t even come talk to me?” For many of us, our lives are so busy, that prayer gets ‘bumped’ off the table. We live in a culture that is militant against “margin.”

Our lives and activity schedules crowd out prayer, in most, but its most cursory forms. We say ‘grace’ at meals (most of the time) and occasionally we will have time to read a devotional and/or a bible passage, and then ask God about some of the needs of the day, but rarely do we endeavor to “set aside” a specific and significant block of time for this most important of activities.

What could be more important and empowering than entering into ACTUAL relationship with the God of the Universe?!! Have you ever been “IN LOVE.”

What does that phrase conjure up for you? Do you have some memories of lingering dinners – of long phone conversations – of spending inordinate amounts of time with the LOVED ONE? And that’s not to mention the time spent THINKING about the Loved One!!

This is EXACTLY the model – or better, the reflection of the model – that we are going after here. Actually our relationship with God is to be that model! The spending – the investing of time with God each day, each week, and in sufficient quantity that it counts as a ‘relationship’ in some meaningful way. Have you ever noticed when someone is “with you” but they’re really NOT WITH you? How do we say it? We say, “Their mind is … “a thousand miles away.” How does God feel when we approach Him similarly? Probably the same way.

Jesus spoke often in terms of human relationship in this regard: His model of persistent prayer was the neighbor who came at midnight asking for bread who would not give up, till finally his neighbor got up and gave it. His model of prayer was the persistent widow asking justice from the unjust judge, who granted it because of her persistence. His teaching about God the Holy Spirit was illustrated with the story of sons asking for things of fathers. HOW MUCH MORE is God willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?

He taught his disciple to pray, based on his own prayer “life”. Do you have a “Prayer Life” or do you just pray? And do you pray in a place each day or just “on the way?” In the gospels we continually see Jesus drawing aside specifically for prayer – sometimes all night, when faced with great trial or when facing great decisions. Isn’t it funny how our circumstances assist our prayer life? Do you wonder why life is so HARD sometimes? Have you considered the volume of prayer that come out from “Under The Circumstance!!?”

So how do we do it? How do we balance our prayer life and “real” life. There is the real issue isn’t it? We need an attitude adjustment – a mind set shift. We still live in a world that has been bifurcated into the “sacred” and the “secular” – where priests pray and lay people … um… lay. We are trained to believe that because we are not professional, that we are not qualified or competent. It’s a lie!!!

There is no competency needed here, friends. Jesus made the model of prayer for his disciples the action of children who loved to come and climb up into his lap!! Jesus went further and said that no one can come into the Kingdom, unless they come just like a little child. My favorite times as a DAD were when my girls would run to greet me at the end of the day, from the time they could walk to the time I could no longer catch them in mid air, I loved to get ‘bowled over’ by two little girls jumping into my arms. That what God wants!!

Its not complicated or theological. Its KID STUFF.
God is our FATHER. Remember the first two words of Jesus “MODEL” prayer:

Jesus came specifically to return us to this kind of relationship with GOD OUR FATHER! That is precisely the theological definition of “salvation.” -- being reconciled to God.

Of course Jesus had more to say, in response to the disciples’ request, “teach us to pray!” Let me break it down briefly, understanding that this is another YEAR LONG or LIFELONG study!!!!

OUR FATHER – We are being given back a relationship! Just like the one Adam and Eve had in the garden, walking with God, in the cool of the day. God is our father (and God forgive fathers who have marred this image for their children!): a presence of unfailing love and faithfulness, steadfast patience and caring provision, with discipline as we need correction along the way.
WHICH ART IN HEAVEN - This relationship is with the WHOLLY OTHER – the God of the Universe, who spoke it all into existence from nothing, and who knows our needs before we ask, but who still wants us to ASK!
HALLOWED BE THY NAME – Here we come to our knees or onto our faces, knowing what Moses knew: No one can come to a Holy God and live. We bow before the Presence and Revere the Name of God – this is the first commandment.
THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN – The work of prayer is first of all cooperation with God in His agenda! And here it is! Job #1. “Seek ye first the Kingdom and His righteousness,” Jesus said. Once you pray it, you become it!
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD – Jesus also said as he continued, “… and all these things will be added to you.” God knows of our needs and will be faithful to supply them if we will trust him first and do His will obediently.
FORGIVE US OUR SINS, AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US – Our greatest need after daily sustenance is God’s forgiveness! And He willingly forgives us, in the same way and measure that we forgive others! OUCH. In fact, Jesus specifically points to this need for his hearers telling them that if they don’t forgive, God CAN’T forgive! Daily, just as surely as bread, we need the washing of God’s forgiveness in our lives, and it comes as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL (THE EVIL ONE) – The other great need of our life is protection from falling back into what we have been forgiven for: the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil.
Only God can protect us from these temptations, and the most effective protection afforded us is in the simple act of asking for it.

Four Steps in Prayer

I want to close with something I feel sure you have heard, but I need to remind you and myself of this simple model. Four simple steps that can be done, the Navigators tell us, in “Seven Minutes with God.”

Prayer begins with an adoring heart. That is the feeling that I received when my girls would run and jump into my arms – or nestle into my lap and fall asleep. Pure unadulterated “adoration.” This is where we begin with Our Father, which art in heaven: Hallowed be Thy Name! God invites us into prayer through the gateway of praise, because He is worthy, and because the act of adoring, draws us close and makes us like the adored!! What could be better?

We need to tell God, out loud, of our mistakes. We need His forgiveness daily, almost hourly. Confession means we don’t have secrets from God (which is an oxymoron anyway.) But it is here that we come to the Cross and receive the great exchange that Jesus promises us: His righteousness for our sin!

Having received his forgiveness, I am filled with thankfulness – especially if I’ve unloaded the weight of my sins. The whole world is new! The colors are brighter, the birds are cheerier; there is much to be thankful for, as all of life is seen and received as His gift. Not to mention the million specific things He does each and every day to sustain us and to bless our lives – but we need to mention them, back to Him, in thanksgiving!!

And finally,
HUH? Asking! Asking God for daily bread… for Aunt Martha’s surgery… for the things regarding our day to day life and existence and the lives of others who are close and far off. Asking for salvation for friends and family or co-workers by name. Asking … Seeking … Knocking. And keeping on asking, seeking and knocking. If Jesus hammers home one tenet of prayer in His teaching it is this one of persistence and reward.

And for us in the Anglican tradition we have help!! So we are entirely without excuse!! The Book of Common Prayer is the world’s finest source of prayers. I believe that we need to go beyond the BCP, but making the prayers of the Prayer book “ours” in a real way, can be like adding a jet engine to our sputtering and faltering prayer lives!

When we feel at a loss for words, the prayer book can help, or there is always just being with the Lord! Sometimes, being together in silence, is the deepest form of prayer. So I invite you to begin – to go deeper – to go longer – to reach for more in your prayer “life”. When you do you will come to know Him better, day by day, and come to be a participant in His agenda, as you grow in your obedience after you spend time praying and listening to Him speak to you in your “secret” place of prayer.


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