Why should our talks with God be any different than our talks with friends?
|I awoke on Sunday with the pressing thought that I must write about prayer. Usually when I’m prompted to write about some matter of faith, it’s because that particular matter is something that is lacking in my own life. As a preacher once told me, "When you’re preaching and pointing your finger towards the congregation, there are four fingers pointing back at you." Indeed, while I pray throughout the day, like my present pastor, I don’t often take the time to find a quiet place where I can listen for His voice. He shared that, in fact, also on Sunday. Not surprisingly, after I felt so compelled to write about prayer, my own pastor’s message was on prayer. That just reinforced my own need to write about prayer.
by Marilyn Mackenzie
I used to be one of those who could pray to God privately, but if asked to pray corporately I panicked. I worried about what others would think of my prayers, forgetting that prayers were meant for God and not for man. Fortunately, I think I’ve grown in that aspect.
What is prayer? It’s simply talking with God and listening for His response. The method we use really doesn’t matter to God.
The Bible is the best source for lessons on prayer. Jesus taught us how to pray by offering us the best example in the Lord’s Prayer. Most Christians memorize that prayer, and many churches pray that prayer in each service. Memorizing God’s word is an excellent idea. His Word can be such a comfort in our times of need, and I’m told by emergency medical personnel that often dying persons will be heard mumbling the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
These words do offer us comfort in our trials, and by memorizing them we have something we can say to God when we’re found wanting for words.
Jesus gave a model of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer. The problem with that is that many “recite” the Lord’s Prayer without thinking about what they are saying. The words tumble out without much meaning. I read something recently about how we should all learn not to say the Lord’s Prayer, but to PRAY it. What an excellent idea.
No, Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t be something we just memorize. I believe that Jesus also meant the Lord’s Prayer as a model of how we should pray. That prayer has many elements that we should include in our daily prayers: greeting God with the reverence He deserves, asking for forgiveness, offering intercessory prayers, requesting God’s will.
For many, prayer is nothing more than giving Him a list of things they want to see in their lives. But that’s not how we talk to our friends. Why should our talks with God be any different than our talks with friends?
When we talk with our friends, we share the blessings and joys in our lives, as well as those things just not working like we’ve expected. We tell about what’s happening with other friends and with our families. Sometimes when we talk with friends, we ask favors of them. And, always, because a friendship is a two-way relationship, we listen to them talk as well.
Many folks think that prayers must contain "thee" and "thou" in order to have God listen, but that’s not so. We don’t have to speak formally to our friends; neither do we have to speak formally to God.
A few years ago, I attended a three-day conference on prayer. I went on assignment for our local weekly newspaper, but I participated fully as well. How exciting it was to see 700 people in attendance, many who had driven for two hours. Even more impressive was that there were people there from every local denomination.
The real reason for that conference was to encourage the people in our community to start a prayer chapel open and in operation 24 hours a day, like the one the seminar leaders started in Kansas City, Missouri – International House of Prayer. But even if that never occurred, the conference leaders just wanted to pass on what they learned about praying through the Scriptures.
Never in my experience as a mainline Christian had anyone suggested praying the Scriptures, but it was something that I had experienced nevertheless. The closer I felt to God, the more I was often compelled to read God’s word and meditate and listen for His instruction. And the closer, still, I got to God.
The ministry team was lead by Gary Wiens of Burning Heart Ministries and the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri. International House of Prayer - an intercessory prayer house open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - used the Harp and Bowl method of worship.
Intercessory worship was a focal point in the Hebrew tabernacle during the reign of King David in Israel. And, in Revelations 5:8 John wrote of seeing worshippers at the throne of God with harps and bowls full of the incense of prayer.
Often, people gifted as intercessors pray and become tired. The Harp and Bowl method of worship and prayer eased the strain of that constant intercessory prayer. A simple explanation is that the harp and bowl method was praying the Scriptures to music. But there was nothing simple about this method of worship and prayer. Ask any one of the over 700 in attendance that first evening of the conference, and simple wouldn’t have been a word used for the experience. The Spirit of God was in evidence! Peace, love and joy abounded, and there was a hunger and a longing for God.
At the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, worship and prayer included these aspects: praying night and day, city-wide praying, praying of Scriptures, and the weaving of prayers and praise and songs. Instead of having one worship leader, as most contemporary praise and worship services do, this model allowed each member of the praise team to pray and praise as the Spirit moved them.
The worshippers or intercessors at the event I attended also prayed the Scriptures, sometimes “orchestrated” by having certain Scriptures suggested; at other times they were asked to pray their own favorite verses. For the person used to a very structured and traditional method of worship, this might sound like it was chaotic. It wasn't with God present and in control. Often, the music leaders sang something that touched the hearts of all in attendance and their voices all raised to a crescendo in praise and prayer using that same phrase.
In the Psalms, David spoke with God often. His prayers often started with things about which he was concerned, but they usually ended in praising God. I used to think it was incorrect for me to feel angry at God about circumstances. Then, as I studied the Psalms, I realized that David was often discouraged and displeased about happenings to him or around him. Still, after telling God about his displeasure, he remembered to praise God too. Sometimes his entire prayers were words of rejoicing.
In the New Testament, Paul offers some advice on prayers as well, often in places where we probably just glance over his wise words. Not long after I arrived in Cincinnati last year, I attended a worship service at Jim’s church. His pastor reminded us about these lessons from Paul that we often ignore. The reason? They are placed at the beginning of chapters as greetings to those to whom Paul was writing letters.
Charles Stanley, in When the Enemy Strikes, also wrote about how we should pray for our families and friends, using some of Paul’s words found in Colossians 1:9-14 (NIV).
"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
What excellent advice! We should certainly pray these requests for our friends and family – that they be filled with the knowledge of His will, that they live lives worthy and pleasing to Him, that their good works bear fruit, that they are strengthened according to His might given endurance and patience, and that they joyfully give thanks to God. Imagine what our country and the world might be like today if we had bothered to pray these prayers each day for our friends and family and for all of God’s children.
Prayer shouldn’t be something difficult for us. It is just talking to God and listening for His response. He already knows what is happening in our lives, but He wants to hear it in our words. He wants us to lean on Him, to rejoice with Him.
If we have difficulty in praying to God, we can certainly take heed from passages in the Bible. And when we don’t have a Bible near by and just cannot think of what to say or pray, there is another answer as well. The Bible tell us that when we don’t know how to pray, that the Holy Spirit will help us.
God’s line is never busy. What is keeping you from calling on Him?