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Prayer: No Place To Hide
"Souls without prayer are
like people whose bodies
or limbs are paralyzed:
They possess feet and
hands but they cannot
~Teresa of Avila~
Once upon a time, a man was stranded in the desert. His life was about survival. Shelter, clothing, food, and fresh water were all that mattered, but he was ill-quipped and ill-prepared for the tasks.
The hot sun burned him. There was no water that he could find, only miles and miles of sand in every direction. He moved across the barren landscape, with each step depleting him. The days were terrible, the nights horribly lonely and frightful.
By high noon of the fourth day, parched and blistered, he could see his end in sight. There were big, black vultures circling and squawking above him. His body ached. His tongue was swollen, his eyes were slivered squints. He was crawling, and then in a spasm of exhaustion he sprawled forward facedown.
The man’s breathing was coming in labored hitches. He floated in a hazy stupor between consciousness and unconsciousness, with death lurking close by.
The man’s plight illustrates that when we do not cultivate our prayer life we choose to be stranded in the wilderness; we choose to die a slow, lingering spiritual death.
Prayer is an ever-present oasis in every desolate desert we face; prayer is our source of strength connecting us to God. How’s your connection? Is it active, vibrant, and alive or frayed, frazzled, and shorted out?
How’s your prayer life? Is it real and honest or hollow and empty?
"Don't pray when it rains if
you don't pray when the sun
"Heaven is full of answers to
prayers for which no one
ever bothered to ask."
"Prayer does not change God,
but it changes him who
"We have to pray with our
eyes on God, not on the
Essence Of Prayer
Here’s how we routinely approach prayer: We mess up, we make mistakes, and then want God to fix things, to pull some strings on our behalf. If he doesn’t work it out to our liking, we wonder what’s wrong. After all, we go to church every Sunday.
Too often we expect God to fetch and carry for us like some celestial waiter because we leave generous tips in the offering plate.
Or, more often than we care to admit, we treat God like a spare tire to be used only in an emergency. We keep him tucked away in some dark space beneath all the clutter and confusion of our lives until we need him.
We never consider him until we’re stuck and have no other options. Then, he better be there for us; he better be pumped up, in good repair, and ready to rescue us.
Those inclinations toward God are seldom expressed aloud, but sometimes, that is exactly the way it is, which is completely contrary to what prayer is all about.
The scientist and educator George Washington Carver figured out the essence of prayer: “My prayers seem to be more of an attitude than anything else. I indulge in no lip service, but ask the great God silently, daily and many times a day, to permit me to speak to him. I ask him to give me wisdom, understanding, and bodily strength to do his will. Hence, I am asking and receiving all the time.”
How intensely profound: Prayer as an attitude, a perspective, and lifestyle.
Consider some words Jesus had to say about prayer in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. In this passage Jesus teaches us what to do and what not to do. He draws a distinct contrast between accepted Pharisaic behavior and the expected behavior of a disciple.
"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your
will be done on earth
as it is in heaven."
~Jesus of Nazareth~
Matthew 6:5-8 - NIV
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
"Christianity has to be
because it is not a mechanism
for accomplishing all our
human ambitions; it is a
mechanism for subjecting all
things to the will of God."
"He who prays fervently knows
not whether he prays or not
for he is not thinking of the
prayer which he makes, but of
God, to whom he makes it."
~Frances de Sales~
God Not Man
Jesus made clear that the focus must be God not man.
Very simply, we are not to engage in ritual showmanship because that is flat-out hypocritical. We need not babble on and on and on, because God isn’t hard of hearing and he understands human language just fine, thank you very much.
For the Pharisees, prayer was a three ring circus performance to be seen by others as a demonstration of their righteous piety. It revealed how wonderful and good they were. Their prayers were not actually directed to God but were put on display for those in the audience.
The Pharisees loved long, eloquent, repetitive phrases that highlighted their righteous standing before men. It mattered not what a holy and omniscient God required. Outward appearances of faithfulness motivated the Pharisees. Like the praying mantis, they took on the posture and went through the motions of prayer.
Our culture is riddled with the same kind of hypocrisy. We pander to celebrity, position, and power. It may be manifested differently in present-day Christian circles, but it is hypocrisy nonetheless.
"In prayer it is better to
have a heart without words
than words without heart."
Is Christ's teaching on prayer all about integrating kingdom values into our daily lives?
Call Me Crazy
Do we buy into kingdom theology? Do we really believe that this world is not our home? Do we walk in faith knowing that we are citizens of heaven?
Will we have a kingdom mindset or culturally correct mindset? Here’s the kicker question: Which mindset will our lifestyles reflect?
To me, when Jesus talked about prayer, he was addressing lifestyle issues. He was talking about integrating prayer into how we live; he was talking about applying the values and principles of God’s kingdom into our daily lives.
That requires grace and discipline; God’s grace and our discipline. It is God’s grace and our discipline working together that allows us to confront and rise above the accepted hypocrisy of our culture.
At the risk of being labeled a kook when it comes to prayer, here are some prevalent examples of hypocrisy that many of us readily accept, condone, and practice.
We pray for traveling safety, then violate the speed limit or drive recklessly.
We pray for our food to be blessed, then proceed to munch on junk food that has questionable nutritional value or grumble about what’s on the table.
We ask God for help financially, without ever applying stewardship principles as we spend unwisely or self-centeredly.
We pray for good health, while indulging in unsafe or unhealthy habits.
Call me crazy, but in teaching about prayer, Jesus castigated hypocrisy and taught us not to be hypocritical. Why do we so easily make allowances for our hypocrisy?
"Every time we pray, our
horizon is altered, our
attitude to things is
altered, not sometimes,
but every time, and the
amazing thing is that
we don't pray more."
Simply & Unpretentiously
Be real. Recognize that Christ calls us to a higher standard. Be authentic and straightforward; be honest and understand that who you are when you are alone with God is exactly who you are. With God, we cannot pretend to be someone we’re not.
God is not deaf, blind or weak. He understands heart language. Prayer is a heart issue. It truly is all about what’s going on in our hearts. God receives us just as we are, warts and all. He accepts our frail, feeble sounding heart-cries.
God doesn’t require eloquence from us; God doesn’t expect systematic theology to be displayed in our prayers. Like children before a loving father, God desires that we open our hearts to make our prayers and petitions simply and unpretentiously.
God knows our hearts. We can appear to have our stuff together. We can say all the right words and do all the right things, keeping up pious appearances. We can fake everyone out by masquerading as a praying mantis, but no matter how convincing, God will not be fooled by our act.
Psalm 139:1-6 - NIV
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
"Father, I abandon myself
into your hands. Do with
me what you will, whatever
you do, I will thank you.
I am ready for all, I
accept all. Let only your
will be done in me, as in
all your creatures, and
I'll ask nothing else, my
Lord. Into your hands I
commend my spirit; I give
it to you with all the love
of my heart, for I love you,
Lord, and so need to give
myself, to surrender myself
into your hands with a trust
beyond all measure, because
you are my Father."
~Charles de Foucauld~
Communication, Communion, Relationship
In genuine, heartfelt prayer there’s no place to hide. There are no magic words, phrases or incantations to soften or cushion the truth.
God knows our wants, needs, desires, struggles, private hells, and secret dreams. We need to be honest with him, but before we can do that we need to be honest with ourselves. He knows us inside out, and despite our failings, flaws, and sins, he loves us with an everlasting love.
What’s up with prayer is this: Prayer is communication, communion, and relationship with God; prayer strengthens, challenges, invigorates, releases, and changes us. And here’s the awesome, life-altering reality: God continually invites us into communication, communion, and relationship with him.
For us to cultivate that earnest connection we cannot indulge in Pharisaic games. Rather we must recognize that Christ calls us to a higher standard. By God’s grace and our discipline we are to strive and press on to get there.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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