KEEPING COMPANY WITH GOD…
Here are the Basics
In last week’s message, we concluded with the conclusion that the true value of prayer is not about getting what we want–it’s about becoming what God wants us to be.
And yet, there are occasions when God works in mysterious ways to answer the deepest desires of our heart:
Dwight Nelson recently told a story about the pastor of his church. He had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc., but the kitty would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to the bumper of his SUV and pulled it until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.
And that’s what he did, attaching the rope, and inching slowly forward in his Ford Explorer. He then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten.
Unfortunately, as he moved the car a little further, the rope broke. The tree went “boing!” and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight!
The pastor felt terrible! He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they’d seen a little kitten. Nobody had spotted the poor little guy, so the pastor prayed, “Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,” and went on about his business.
A few days later he was at the grocery store, and ran into Marla, one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food … the woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, “Marla, why are you buying cat food when you despise cats so much?”
Marla replied, “You won’t believe this,” and then told him how her little girl Brittany had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days before, the child had begged again, so Marla finally told her, “Well, if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.”
She told the pastor, “I watched my Brittany go out in the yard, get down on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won’t believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A calico kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right smack-dab in front of her!” [writeathome.wordpress.com]
Never underestimate the power of a child’s prayer, and remember God indeed has a sense of humor!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of guy. If I’m going to do something, I prefer to have a handy set of directions on how to proceed. For example, my wife and kids often get a kick out of mocking me whenever we’re getting ready to go on a trip–they call me Clark Griswald–I’ll spend days poring over maps, charting a detailed route to our destination–even though the GPS is on the dashboard of the van!
And that’s why, given my OCD nature, I’m particularly glad Jesus gives us some essential advice on the basics of developing a meaningful prayer life-of keeping company with God. It’s helpful to know the fundamentals of prayer.
I. THE SETTING FOR PRAYER
5″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. 6But 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. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
As Philip Yancey notes, Jesus virtually invented private prayer. [Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference, p. 63]
All throughout the Old Testament, prayer is a formal, public thing–uttered by kings, priests and prophets in the company of many. No one in the Old Testament speaks to God as Father, but Jesus comes along and does so 170 times. Jesus has this spontaneous communion with God that has no precedent. His disciples are truly amazed, and beg him to teach them to pray with such intimacy.
And the first thing Jesus reminds them and us is that we need a proper setting for prayer. It’s true, you can pray anytime, anywhere–I did a lot of fervent praying in my desk at school right before an exam. But if you’re going to have a significant prayer life, you need to find a proper setting.
My wife and I are busy people. And both of us know that when we need to have a serious conversation about something–be it finances, family issues, whatever, we have to intentionally set aside a time and place to have that conversation–it can’t be done on the fly or in emails or text messages.
If prayer is a conversation with God, then we need to be intentional about setting aside a time and place to have that conversation–where interruptions are few and we can focus solely upon our Lord.
As Jesus reminds us, we need a refuge where we can bare our soul to God, where we can drop our hypocritical masks and pious words and simply level with God about what is going on with us.
In the 1998 movie The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays an intense Pentecostal preacher with a big heart named Sonny Dewey. Some of the best scenes in that movie are when Sonny is praying alone in the upstairs of his house or out in woods along a river–he rants, he raves, he goes toe-to-toe like Jacob, wrestling with God. And that’s the kind of honesty God wants from us.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye keeps up this running dialogue with God, giving credit for the good things but also lamenting all that goes wrong. In one scene he sits dejected by the side of his road with his lame horse.
“I can understand it,” Tevye says to God, “when you punish me when I am bad; or my wife because she talks too much; or my daughter when she wants to go off and marry a Gentile, but…What have you got against my horse?!” I’m sure God appreciates such honesty.
We also need a refuge where we can quiet our heart before God, a place where we can be still and simply know that he is God. A quiet place, where we can clear our congested, crowded souls and be in conversation with God.
Some of us are fortunate to have such refuges in our homes, on our property, where we can close the door on noise of the world. It’s not so easy for others. Many of you have told me that your commuting time back and forth to work is your refuge. You turn the radio off and you become still before God…that’s where your conversation takes place.
For your Father knows what you need before you ask him….that’s an interesting comment of Jesus. Why pray if God already knows? Philip Yancey states,
Jesus treat(s) God’s knowledge not as a deterrent but as a positive motivation to pray. We do not have to work to gain God’s attention through long words and ostentatious displays. We don’t have to convince God of our sincerity or our needs. We already have the Father’s ear, as it were. God knows everything about us and still listens. We can get right to the point! [Yancey, p. 133]
Yes, God knows everything about us and still listens. Prayer invites God into our world and ushers us into God’s. So be intensely intentional about finding a good setting to have conversations with your Maker.
II. THE BLUEPRINT FOR PRAYER
The disciples come to Jesus asking, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And what Jesus offers them is a blueprint, a template, a pattern–showing them how they might gain access to the dynamic presence and purpose of God.
Here it is:
9″This, then, is how you should pray:
” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.12Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive everyone who sins against us.
13And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one,
For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.’”
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name…”
The Aramaic word for father is Abba–Daddy. Jesus at the outset reminds us we are not conversing with some cosmic, amorphous, impersonal New Age force far removed from our lives. We are praying to a God who loves us with the tender love of a parent, who is intimately invested in our lives and well-being.
“Hallowed be your name” – Yet, this God who loves us is the same God who crafted the most magnificent galaxy of stars and the most miniscule strand of DNA, who is above all, before all, through all and in all there is. This God cannot be confined to the shallow boxes of our comprehension. He is worthy of infinite adoration.
As the psalmist puts in such timeless prose:
When I consider the heavens, the works of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? Psalm 8:3-4
Dennis the Menace was saying his bedtime prayers. With a grin on his face and his eyes looking upward, he exclaimed, “That was an awesome sunset tonight, God! Thanks for letting me stay awake long enough to see it!”
Our God is an awesome God! And we should always acknowledge this. Begin your prayers with reverence for the one who is Holy Other.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
We then proceed to intercede on behalf of the needs of others. To pray your kingdom come is to pray that God’s perfect will–his perfect love and wholeness–would permeate the lives of all people.
One day that kingdom will be fully realized on the day of Christ’s return–every tear shall be dried, every hurt healed. But until then, we are God’s partners in helping bring about the purposes of his kingdom in the world about us.
He compels us to not simply pray the prayer, but to be the prayer!
Yes, we pray for the sick and hurting, but we can also help bring about God’s healing for them by going and sitting by their bedside in a hospital room.
Yes, we pray for the poor and helpless, but we can also help bring about God’s care for them by picking up a hammer and repairing their roof.
Yes, we pray for the lonely and despairing, but we can also bring about God’s presence to them by inviting them to join us for a meal at Cracker Barrel.
Don’t just pray the prayer…be the prayer!
Yes, long for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and to be a partner in those purposes.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
After acknowledging God and others, the third step of prayer is to ask God for our own sustenance. We pray that God would help us provide for our basic needs–food, clothing, shelter, employment. And I believe multiplies resourcefulness and skills to accomplish this.
But note, Jesus says our daily bread–our needs for this day–not our wants or pleasures. What was it Janis Joplin used to sing about–”Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I really don’t think God is concerned about our desire for luxury transportation.
But God does care that we have the necessities of life. And he will empower us to provide for them.
Yes, the 3rd step of prayer is to trust God for present needs, and be thankful as those needs are met.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive everyone who sins against us.”
Our God is a merciful God, and only he can enable us to truly put the past behind us. Only God can bathe us in the waters of forgiveness, cleansing us and giving us a new beginning. And so, the 4th step of prayer is to take a long hard look in the mirror, and confess our sins to him–those things that we have done and left undone that hurt God, our neighbor and ourselves.
But here’s a great paradox that Jesus throws into the mix: God can never forgive us until we have forgiven others. Why? Because bearing unforgiveness, grudges, spite, hatred toward another human being erects a wall of kryptonite through which God’s Spirit cannot penetrate.
The most sickly, miserable, downcast people I encounter in my line of work are those who spend their lives keeping a database of persons who have wronged them. You gotta let it go…
Jesus tells us to seek God’s mercy for past sins, while extending that mercy to others.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one”
This is the final leg of Jesus’ blueprint for prayer…petitioning God for guidance and strength for when we meet those testing situations that may come our way in life that would erode and even destroy our fidelity as Christian people.
We live in a world that constantly bombards us with the seduction of sex that is safe, drugs that are recreational, divorce that is no-fault, crime that is white collar…The list is endless. We owe it to ourselves to indulge, or so we believe.
The world tells us the end always justifies the means. So do whatever it takes to gain a step up on the other guy, even if you have to stomp on him.
But is this the highway God calls us to drive on? I think not. His way is a narrow way, filled with responsibility and right living. He leads us from grit to grace, from sin to sanctity, from lowliness to holiness. And he delivers us from the evil one, if we keep company with him daily.
The 5th step of prayer is to appeal for God’s guidance and strength in dealing with future trials.
Well, there you have it–a blueprint for prayer–the Lord’s Prayer…
• Have reverence for God
• Long for God’s purposes to be fulfilled, and to be a partner in those purposes.
• Trust God for present needs, and be thankful as those needs are met.
• Seek God’s mercy for past sins, while extending that mercy to others.
• Appeal for God’s guidance and strength in dealing with future trials
Find a refuge where you can hash these matters out with the Lord, and you will be well on your way to a meaningful prayer life.
But there is one final note: Remember that prayer is a conversation! You must take time to listen for God’s response. God may speak to you in a serendipitous Bible verse, a strange compelling or nudging in your heart, the wise advice of a Christian friend and in a myriad of other ways. But you have to be attentive and sensitive to hearing his response. Don’t be like the preacher in this video clip:
[show Coffee with Jesus]
Prayer: Lord, you are always waiting to hear from us. You always desire to keep company with us. Instill in us the desire to be in conversation with you. We come, just as we are, to share with you, and to listen for your response. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the