Monday, February 28, 2011

Photoshoots with Jesus or something like that . . .

Below is the message I shared yesterday with Good Shepherd.  It was an abbreviated message as we spent a large portion of our worship time participating in prayer stations.  You don't get to do those with us, but hopefully there is still something of interest and value to you here.  

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (Common English Bible)

16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 6:5-15 (The Message)

5"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? 
6"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.  7-13"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: 

   Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are.  Set the world right; 
   Do what's best— as above, so below.                                                Keep us alive with three square meals.  Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.  Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. 
   You're in charge!  You can do anything you want! 
   You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes.
14-15"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.

Yesterday our family had the rare opportunity to participate in a photo shoot for a friend of Traci’s from High school – The Boys, Traci & I all had to dress in a certain way – this was a ‘no sock’ photo shoot!
Furniture & decorations were rearranged or put away.  Legs, arms, bodies and faces had to be posed and positioned in certain ways.  We even had specific actions to do – or pretend to do – at one time or another – they boys ‘surprised’ us, we were ‘reading’, at so on.
Julia – Traci’s friend – was very good with the boys and is a gifted photographer.  But the simplest and most accurate word to describe what we were doing yesterday is – Fake. 
A slightly less harsh way to describe the action yesterday morning is ‘staged’. 
All of the actions that were captured might have happened naturally, all of the situations and movements were prearranged, choreographed and coordinated. 
What does this have to do with prayer or anything related to faith, you might be wondering? 
I think it is a great metaphor or comparison to how we often view or approach prayer.
When it comes time to pray we think we have to talk a certain way – how many of us pray with words and in a style that is different than every other time we communicate, flowery language, overly formal, etc?  Be in a certain position – on our knees?  Standing up?  Eyes closed?
But hopefully in over the last month we have started to think about prayer in a slightly different way. 
Just like the actions in the photo shoot yesterday, there is nothing wrong with on our knees, eyes closed formal language prayer. 
But it is just the tip of the iceburg, just the beginning of the life of prayer that we are called to. 
What the photo shoot was missing – and what many of our prayers are missing is authenticity and a connection to what is really going on in our daily lives.
God doesn’t want a staged photo opportunity or a rehearsed speech.  What God wants is snapshot after candid snapshot of who we really are, where we really are and what we are thinking and feeling.  Right now.  
We are called to walk through our everyday lives open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. 
We are called to ‘pray without ceasing’ which really means to constantly be in a state of openness to God’s leading and to always be actively seeking God’s leading, direction and guidance. 
What this means is that every moment, every situation, every action is an opportunity – and a direct invitation from God – to be engaged in conversation with God, to be open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and to offer up our circumstances and ourselves to be used by God. 
The fact that every situation is an appropriate one for  prayer, that means that there are many different kinds of prayer:
You can read or say verses of Scripture as a prayer
There are ‘breath prayers’, where you offer up a moment of prayer to God in the time it takes to take a breath or say a single word – like amen, or a short phrase – like may your will be done, God.
We all know of the more formalized kind of prayer
There are many different forms for this type of prayer
The ACTS prayer is a good one: ACTS standing for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication
And, of course, we have spent some time over this last month looking at probably our best example of dedicated or formalized prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his first disciples and then us – The Lord’s prayer
At this point we spent about 10 minutes ‘doing’ prayer stations based on each of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer.  The last ‘station’ was an opportunity to rework the Lord’s prayer and sort of make it our own
Since you can’t participate in the prayer stations with us, I invite you to take a moment to look at the Lord’s Prayer – each of the petitions individually and see how you might be able to ‘rewrite’ it and make it your own. 
Petition One – Hallowed be your name:
Petition Two – May your kingdom come:
Petition Three – May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven:
Petition Four – Give us this day our daily bread:
Petition Five – Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors:
Petition Six – Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jesus is not a Crutch or a shortcut

The Gospel passage in the daily lectionary (which can be found here: ) today is from Mark 12 and it contains a well known exchange between Jesus and some Jewish religious leaders that were attempting to trip Jesus up or get him in trouble by asking questions that lead to difficult answers, in this case should you pay taxes to the Roman emperor?  The point of the question was that if Jesus said yes, it might upset the people listening who were unhappy with Roman rule.  If he said no, then they could simply go to the Roman authorities and turn him in for inciting disobedience and encouraging revolt.  
Like is so often the case Jesus doesn't see things they way we see them, and as such offers an unexpected answer: Who is on the coin?  Jesus asks.  When he is told it is the emperor, he says' give to the emperor what is the emperor, but give to God what is God's.  
I think people in Jesus' time and people now - people from the beginning of time until the end of time - often look to God or religion in general (not to mention lots of other things) as a way out of what they don't want to do.  Packaged this way faith can be pretty appealing: Come to Jesus and your life will be easy!  Come to Jesus and you will get stuff!  Good stuff!  The stuff you really want!  You won't have to do things you don't want to.  
Some of those are unfair, right?  I mean most of us don't really think that is what we are signing up for when we start to explore our faith and believe.  But I do think many of us might believe or be looking for our faith and belief our relationship with God to mean that maybe, just maybe life would be fair.  That because of our relationship with Jesus that things would go better for us.  That somethings might 'go our way' based on that relationship.  I know I feel like that sometimes.  
But this is completely contradictorily to what Jesus told the disciples - Jesus time and again (check the end of the beatitudes) tells all that will listen that following him will lead to difficulty, suffering and persecution not the easy life.  
But we want the easy life.  We want the shortcut.  The people listening to Jesus must have wanted him to answer the Pharisee's question like this:  NO!  No paying taxes, your thanks to God for what you have been given is all you owe.
But that isn't what Jesus said.  Jesus says go about your life - do your work.  No shortcuts.  Jesus doesn't take any responsibility away, but rather (like he so often does) adds a layer of responsibility.  Here Jesus says to give to the government what is rightfully theirs', but to always give to God what is God's.  
Jesus doesn't offer us a shortcut or an easy way through life, trusting in Jesus doesn't offer us an easy way out of life's difficult situations.  
Instead Jesus offers us a way through both the good and bad times, highs and lows of our lives: our daily eating, drinking and going to work/school lives.  Jesus offers us transcendence.  When we give to God what is God's, by beginning with a disposition of thanks and gratitude for all we have and where we are.  When we look at each moment of our lives as an opportunity to do something (even if it is something 'boring' and uneventful like a exel spreadsheet or homework) for God.  When we life into the call in Romans 12:1 -  So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (MSG) 
God Doesn't offer us a crutch to hobble through life with.  Jesus doesn't invite us to follow him through the shortcut past life's difficulty, pain and sorrow.  Instead we are invited to follow Jesus through even the most difficult and painful parts of life, following the path that Jesus blazed.  A path marked by service and sacrifice and thankfulness.  A path marked by putting God first in all things and seizing every moment to use who you are, where you are and what you have to give glory to God and to share God's grace, peace, love and mercy.  
Not a shortcut, but an adventure.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

preparing for the Big day, big game, big moment

A bit of a different blog today.  As many of you know I am a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan - I don't want to talk about the outcome of the Super Bowl, but I am still thinking about it.  I am also a big Arsenal fan (for those that might not know Arsenal is a team - the best - in the English Premier League).  They have a very big game today against Barcelona in the Champions league (which is a playoff of all the best teams throughout Europe).  Barcelona is, by some accounts, maybe the best team ever assembled.  
This is a big game, and not unlike the Super Bowl, fans, players and media have been looking forward to this game for weeks, if not months (to give you an idea of scope some estimates are that close to 1billion people will watch this game tonight or almost 3 times as many as watched the Super Bowl).
So what is my point in all of this and what does it have to do with our faith?  

This is a thought that first occurred to me in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, as it struck me how both teams, most of the media (and not even just ESPN and other sports media) and many fans were solely focused on a single 3 hour time period of time.  Many players would in fact say that getting to that one game (that 3 hour period) was their focus not just for a few weeks, but for their entire career.  
I was reminded of this as I was scrambling around today trying to get everything done so that I could sit and watch the Arsenal game.  At one point I even considered picking up the boys early from school so they could watch with me - and so I wouldn't have to leave to pick them up before the game was over.  
Anyway, back to the point.  The players playing in this game, the media covering it and the fans watching it all know and have known exactly when and where the 'important' moments were going to come and they have all prepared accordingly.   No player is ever late to the Super Bowl or a big game.  The tv networks never miss the first 10 minutes of a game because they weren't prepared for it to start.  
This is not how our lives with Christ are.  This is not what walking in faith is like.  Instead, we are told in 1 Peter 3:15:  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
And then in Matthew 24:43-44: But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
As Christians we don't know when the 'big game' will be.  We are told, time and again, that God has a plan for the world and that we have a unique purpose within that plan.  What that means is that we are most definitely in the 'big game'.  What none of us - even Jesus - are told is exactly when and where that 'big game' moment is going to come for us.  
This isn't a movie with a climactic scene 5 minutes before the story ends, this isn't a football or football where there is a schedule published months in advance.  Today might be the 'big moment that God designed me for.  Today might be the big moment that God designed you for.  Your big moment or mine might not come for years and it might have already come and gone.  We may not even know in the moment that it is the moment.
What that means for us as followers of Jesus is that we need to listen to Jesus and we need to listen to Peter, we need to be ready today and everyday.  We need to be prepared to share with anyone and everyone the difference Christ has made in our lives and in the world.  We need to be ready to step up when our moment comes.  
Easier said than done, right?  Well, yes and no.  There is no way that any of us can really, on our own, constantly be ready.  It is an impossible task.   But the beauty of our faith and our God is that when we believe in Jesus Christ and trust in Jesus Christ, sometimes the impossible happens.  
The only thing we can really do is keep our eyes focused on God - as long as we are really, truly focused on Jesus then we will be prepared for whatever we are called to and we will be prepared whenever we are called to do it.    
Being ready for you and I as followers of Jesus doesn't mean hours in the gym or on a practice field, being ready for us simply means never taking our eyes off of the one that created us, the one that saves us and the one the prepares us for the calling we were designed for.  
Here is to hoping that with our eyes on Jesus we might see the impossible become reality in our own lives!  . . . . . . (starting with an Arsenal win today!!  Please!)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'I got this' and other lies we believe

Today as I was reading the daily lectionary passages (which can be found here: ) , I was struck by the beginning of the passage from Isaiah 6:
 7   I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, 
          the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, 
     because of all that the LORD has done for us, 
          and the great favor to the house of Israel 
     that he has shown them according to his mercy, 
          according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 
What struck me about it was the intent behind the verse, as spelled out in the first line, essentially, I will 'recount' or remember what God has done for me.  How often do we do that as individuals, sit down and actually think about and spell out, recount the things that God has done for us? 
Do we do that when we go to God in prayer?  How often do we do that in our churches or denominations?  Well, however often it is, I have the strong sense that it isn't often enough.  
If you read the thoughts here regularly you know that I have been, at best, inconsistent lately with the postings.  I have shared that it was some combination of busyness, mid-winter blues and who-knows-what else and that is true.  
But I think I have some idea of the 'who-knows-what' and it is with my lack of a habit of consistently remembering the grace and 'gracious deeds of the Lord'.  You see, for me when I get busy or when things get tough I find that one of the first things to happen is that I get away from my daily routine of devotion, prayer and study.  I tell myself that I 'will get to it later' or that I 'just don't have time right now'.  I think that I have too much other stuff going on to concentrate on God's word or on spending time in prayer.  I look at devotion and study of God's Word and prayer like they are some sort of sacrifice, like a penance to pay to God, like they serve no purpose other than to take up time in my day - time I could be using to get something done!.  
Of course if you ask me I would honestly tell you I don't believe any of those things, but yet that is how I act.  My first response when I get busy, when I find myself with a lot of things going on or a lot on my plate is to concentrate and focus on what I can do and what I can accomplish and truthfully prayer and bible study doesn't help with those things.  
But, this passage from Isaiah today reminded me that focus on me and what I can do is entirely misplaced.  If I am feeling down or overwhelmed or facing difficult tasks and/or decisions the most important thing I can do is to 'lean not on my own understanding' but to instead lean into God and begin to trust and rely on God more and more fully.  
Relying on God, trusting in God and seeking the will of God begins with remembering that it was God that has brought you through difficult times, been present with you and responsible for triumphs and accomplishments, and is always with us.  Remembering what God has done for us in the past is perhaps the best way to remember that it isn't all about us and that we can't to whatever it is in front of us alone.  In fact we can't do anything without God's presence  and help.
There is a temptation to feel scared or limited by this truth: I can't do it on my own.  But I believe that is the best news possible.  Even in my ordinary life there are moments I can look back on, accomplishments or achievements made that simply cannot be explained by my limited skill, gifts or abilities.  These are the witnesses and examples to me that God is present and active in the world and in my life.  
If we are to to have a right understanding of our place in God's mission and plan for the world and our lives, if we are to accomplish great things (or even important or simply ordinary things), if we are to do anything we need to remember that it is God working in and through us that is doing them.  
This begins, I think, with remembering the great and ordinary things that God has already done for us.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

If its good enough from Jesus . . .

Below is the message on prayer that I shared yesterday with Good Shepherd.  Prayer, as important as it is, is a source of confusion and anxiety at times.  I try and address that, and I hope that in these words you hear God inviting you into relationship and conversation with him.  

Matthew 6:5-15 (Today's New International Version)
 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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 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. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
    9 "This, then, is how you should pray:
       " 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
    10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
    11 Give us today our daily bread.
    12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    13 And lead us not into temptation, [a] but deliver us from the evil one. [b]'
    14 For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Prayer: Lord, in your great wisdom you gave us prayer as a means of growing in our relationship with you and growing in our understanding of your will and our role in it.  We come to you now seeking to see your face, to feel your presence and to know your will.  Open our ears to hear your word spoken to us and embolden us to speak your word to others by what we say and what we do.  Now, I ask that you would hide me behind your cross, so you are what’s seen Lord, and speak through me, so you are what’s heard.  Amen.
          Last week we began our series on prayer.  We began by saying there are few things as central to our Christian faith as prayer is.  It is at the center of all that we do as a body of believers in worship, it is a guide for us as we work and meet together and it is our connection point to God in our daily, individual walks of faith. 
So, as in all things, when we need guidance about prayer or an idea of what our prayer life should look like, we turn to Jesus, who is not only our God, but our living example of what it means to live in response to God’s love, as he spent his life on earth centered on, buoyed by and marked by prayer. Simply put, prayer is at the center, the very heart of our connection to God and to what it means to be in relationship to God. 
            Last week we also noted that, although we all know that prayer is a central aspect of our lives as Christians, prayer is often a source of confusion, nervousness and even fear for many of us.  Some of us don’t know what to say when we pray, some of us aren’t sure of where and when we should pray, some of us think we have to have our eyes closed and most of us are, at least a little wary of praying in public. 
Even in Seminary, among those training to be full-time leaders of the church the number one struggle that people would claim was with their personal prayer life or in leading corporate prayer.  So let’s look closely at Jesus teaching on prayer to see what we can learn about what prayer should really be like.
In verses 5-8 Jesus is making it clear what prayer is about – and who it is about.  The first instructions Jesus gives are about praying in ‘secret’ and then about not making a show of your prayer in public.  The first instruction, about praying in a secluded, quiet place is about us – the focus isn’t and shouldn’t be on us when we pray.  It isn’t about what we say or how we say it or if our eyes are closed or if we are on our knees. 
Instead, when we pray the focus should be on God, presenting ourselves honestly before our God and listening to what God is doing in the world and how we are being called to participate in it.  The second instruction, about not praying in public the way the Pharisees do is for a similar concern – Jesus has already established that in prayer the focus shouldn’t be on us, it should be on him.  But he doesn’t want there to be any confusion.  When we pray, even if it is in public or corporate prayer – we are still praying to an audience of One.  The prayer and the words of the prayer are not for the people in the congregation or anyone listening to us, but they are for God and God alone.  To truly be in prayer, we can’t be  focused on ourselves or anyone else – except God, because it is God’s plan, his will and his working in the world that we are seeking to see, understand and participate in.
There are six petitions in the prayer Jesus taught us.  The first Petition: ‘Hallowed be thy name’ simply serves as a reminder of where we stand in reference to God.  We are the creation and he is the creator.
The second Petition:  ‘Thy kingdom come.’ This petition, along with the third, ‘ Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.’, gets at the heart of what prayer is about.  By praying for God’s kingdom to come on earth we are asking that God would use us.  That by connecting to God we would be allowed to participate in his will and work in this world and that we would do that to so fully, that Gods kingdom would be present on earth.
In the fourth petition we honestly ask God for what we need - ‘Give us this day our daily bread’.  We are asking for what we need, but we are also asking God to keep us focused on what he has put in front of us right now and not be caught up looking into the future, even if that future is only what we will eat tomorrow – we need to give our attention to what God has for us today – not worry about what we might be planning for tomorrow or next week or next year.
In the fifth Petition, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ We recognize that in order to be used by God we must seek forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings.  And we also acknowledge that this is one of the first places where we can participate in God’s redemptive work in this world, by forgiving those that have wronged us.
All of which leads us to our last Petition : ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’  Here we lift up all of our requests with the understanding that we don’t have the power to do this alone.  It is only through the grace and peace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in us that we are lifted out of bondage to sin and freed to participate in God’s mission in the world.
Jesus gave us a great model for what prayer should look like and how we should understand and approach it, which can go a long way in alleviating our anxiety about how to pray.
But, maybe even more perplexing for us than how we are to pray – is how God responds to prayer.  We all know the stories of miraculous healings and of events unfolding in ways that we would describe as impossible and when these things happen we say – it was God, it was our God, answering prayer. 
And that is a great witness.  But what about the other side of those stories, and we know those as well.  The miracles and the healings and the changes of heart that we prayed and prayed for but never came – what do we say about those?
Does God answer prayer?  Does he answer it sometimes?  Or as I have often heard it, does he always answer but sometimes the answer is no and sometimes the answer is wait.   If we look at how Jesus understands prayer, he wouldn’t accept the premise of those questions. 
Contrary to what we often think and how we often act prayer is not about getting something that we want or even really getting ‘answers’ to our questions.  Prayer is about seeking to be in God’s will and to know God’s plan and your role in it.  It is about being in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and living in, dwelling in that relationship.
We talk a lot about ‘answered prayer’, but - as we have seen – prayer as taught by Jesus isn’t so much about getting ‘answers’ or results – checking off items on a list; as it is about allowing the Holy Spirit and our relationship with God to color our understanding and interaction with the world.  It is through prayer that we can begin to see the world as God sees it; it is through prayer that we can see ourselves, each other and all of creation through Jesus’ eyes. 
Pastor and author Rob Bell says it this way, ‘when Jesus prays he is tapping into this divine creative energy’ – that is what we can do too.  That is what prayer is designed for, it isn’t for us to share our laundry list of wants and needs with God or to remind him of things that he should be doing anyway.  Prayer was created, it was designed to allow us access to Gods creative and redemptive work in the world and allow us to become co-creators with God and instruments of his redemption of the world\ 
We are looking and hoping to come into the will of God and the plan of God through opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.  Prayer allows us to get in line with God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit
It’s not about us saying the right things or saying them the right way or in the right place.  Prayer is about being open to the Holy Spirit and connecting to the creative and redemptive power of God in our lives.
God is constantly pouring out his love and grace in the world – in us and through us, if only we will listen and respond. 
            Prayer is about being transformed.  It is about being changed by our relationship with God so that we begin to look at the world, to see, experience and interact with it in the way that God would.  It is through prayer that we become Jesus eyes and ears so we can see and hear the world as God has and know where God has planned for us to participate in his mission in the world.
            It is only after we have experienced the world through God’s eyes and ears are we able to become his hands and feet: bringing his peace, hope and grace to all and shining the light of his love into every dark corner of our world.  This is what prayer is about, this is what Jesus was inviting us to participate in when he taught us how to pray and this is what he is calling us to today. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again and a word on prayer

So, I can't really put a finger on why I have been so absent from the blog for the last two or three weeks.  Part mid-winter blues, part legitimate busyness, part I don't know what.  Anyway, I have missed the engagement (forced at times) with the scriptures in this way everyday.  So today I am posting last Sunday's message, given at Good Shepherd, and then making a pledge to be back to every weekday blogging starting next Monday.  
The message below is the first on a series on prayer.  Hope you hear in in God's call to actively be in relationship and conversation with him.  God bless.

Romans 8:26-27 (New International Version, ©2010)

 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Prayer: Lord, we trust in your grace and love and in the power of your Holy Spirit, guide us by that Spirit as week seek to know and do your will.  Open our ears to hear and our eyes to see that which you have put before us.  As we come to you now, hide me behind your cross so you are what is seen and speak through me so you are what is hear.  Amen.
Prayer is so central to what it means to be in relationship with God and it is intended to be such a simple act, but for many of us, it is a source of anxiety or confusion. 
One of my favorite illustrations of this is from the movie, Meet the Parents.  In the movie Ben Stiller stars, as a young man anxious to impress his soon to be father in law, Robert Di Niro, a very wary, over protective and suspicious Father.
Shortly after arriving, they all sit down to eat.  Just before dinner Di Niro takes the opportunity to put Stiller’s character on the spot asking him to say the prayer before they eat. 
This is a relatively simple task – or at least it should be.  But the combination of nerves and lack of experience combine to produce a truly funny and cringe worthy scene that ends with Ben Stiller’s character closing the prayer by quoting the song ‘Day by Day’ from the musical Godspell. 
As funny as it is, the scene resonates because there is a shared emotion or experience there – when we are asked to pray, especially in public and out loud, but really any time, for most of us there is real fear or anxiety that comes along.  Just like Ben Stiller’s character, I think we are really concerned about getting it right.  I think that somewhere along the line we picked up the idea that there was a right way and a wrong way to pray and none of us want to be caught praying the wrong way. 
Instead of scoffing or rebuking us for being unsure of how or what to pray, this morning’s Scripture passage agrees with the sentiment.  ‘A similar thing happens when we pray, we are weak and we don’t know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words.’ (Voice Romans 8:26)
Here, Paul – writer of 2/3rds of the New Testament doesn’t know how to pray either?  That sure seems to be what the passage says.
The verse begins with this phrase ‘ A similar thing happens when we pray’  Similar to what?  For that we have to go back and read a little earlier in chapter 8, starting at verse 19. 
19 Everything God made is waiting with excitement for God to show his children's glory completely.20 Everything God made was changed to become useless, not by its own wish but because God wanted it and because all along there was this hope:21 that everything God made would be set free from ruin to have the freedom and glory that belong to God's children. 22 We know that everything God made has been waiting until now in pain, like a woman ready to give birth.23 Not only the world, but we also have been waiting with pain inside us. We have the Spirit as the first part of God's promise. So we are waiting for God to finish making us his own children, which means our bodies will be made free.24 We were saved, and we have this hope. If we see what we are waiting for, that is not really hope. People do not hope for something they already have.25 But we are hoping for something we do not have yet, and we are waiting for it patiently.
The idea of hope is what is central to this passage.  God has created us – and all of creation, with a longing to be made complete in Him.  While we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are not yet fully made complete in Him – we have been fully freed from the bondage to sin by Christ’s life of love and act of sacrifice, but that freedom is not fully effective as we are still bound to our earthly bodies and living in this fallen world. 
It is in the promise of our salvation and our redemption that we place all our hope and trust.  Paul makes the clear – and obvious – point that hope is only involved for things that are yet to come.  And this is the direct tie in to prayer.  Just like we are hoping and trusting in God for our salvation – something that Christ has already won for us – but something that we have not yet fully and completely experienced.  In prayer we are asking for, looking for and hoping for something that has not yet fully come to pass. 
            Specifically we are looking and hoping to come into the will of God and the plan of God through opening ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.  Simply, prayer allows us to get in line with God’s will through the power of the Holy Spirit – this is how we know what to do and when to do it in prayer.
This part is kind of hard for us, because it means that even prayer is not about us – it’s not about us saying the right things or saying them the right way or in the right place.  Prayer is about opening yourself to the Holy Spirit to the point that our words are not even necessary because the Holy Spirit literally prays for you.
While this seems to run counter to what we have all been taught about prayer, it really makes perfect sense.  God isn’t sitting around waiting for us to ask just the right question or to say our prayer ‘just so’ before he doles out his grace and love
Instead God is constantly pouring out his love and grace in the world – in us and through us, if only we will listen and respond.  So God isn’t just sitting around waiting to ‘answer our prayers’, because he has already answered all of our needs an all of our prayers in the way that is best for us and for the world, all that remains is  for us to pray them. 
It is in praying for God’s will, submitting to God and inviting the Holy Spirit into our lives to lead us in prayer that God is then able to direct us into His will for our lives and  to use us to complete his will for our lives and, in fact for the world.  This is why we read at the end of Romans 8 . . . verse 28
28 We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to create something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. 
In prayer we are submitting to God’s will and God’s plan for the world and for our lives.  We are also hoping and trusting in that will and the fulfillment that it brings to each and every one of us – each of our individual purposes and calls woven together into the fabric of God’s plan for this world. 
Prayer is faith and hope in action.  It isn’t about ‘doing it right’ or ‘getting it right’ or saying it the right way or even asking for the ‘right’ or correct things.  It is instead about the one that we pray to – the hope, trust and faith that we have in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been given to us by God the Father through the work of Jesus Christ.
And likewise prayer is not about getting something that we want or even really getting ‘answers’ to our questions.  Prayer is about seeking to be in God’s will and to know God’s plan and our role in it.  It is about being in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and living in, dwelling in that relationship.
Two things happen when we pray: First, by praying for or about things we begin the process of giving them over to God.  And it is in surrendering our lives and our wants and even our hopes and dreams to God that we begin to see God working in our lives and begin to know, see and experience God’s will in our lives and in the world.  
The second thing that happens is related to the first.  Once we begin to see and know God’s will for our lives and for the world, we can begin to live into God’s will, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and begin to be transformed into the new creation God has called us to be.
So after we surrender our lives to God and allow ourselves to be governed by the work and will of the Holy Spirit we then begin to see that which we hoped for, realized within us and through us. 
When we truly surrender to God in prayer and open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit we begin to God’s plan for our world and the part that He would have us play in it. 
Praying, spending time in conversation with God, is central and essential to the life of a follower of Christ, and there is tremendous power in prayer – even if prayer ‘works’ differently than we might have believed.
Let me share a true story to illustrate the point: Arman is a young Iranian Christian.  He, his mother and his sister were converted to Christianity several years ago and as soon as they were converted began praying for their father who was a devout, strict Muslim.  After more than 2 years and 6 dreams where Jesus was calling him to accept and believe, Arman’s father joined the rest of the family and became a Christian. 
Once Arman’s father became a Christian, he realized that they could not keep their new faith from their neighbors and Iran was no longer a safe place for Arman and his family. 
With the help of the missionaries they were able to get visas to Tajikistan.  There was one major snag.  Arman was now 15 and once you turn 15 in Iran you must serve in the military before you are allowed to leave the country for any reason.  After much prayer they decided to try to go anyway.
Day of their trip comes: mother, father, sisters all make it through passport control.  They are now separated and there is the very real possibility that they will never see each other again, if they carefully inspect Arman’s papers and look into his record.  The whole family (not to mention the missionaries and their faith community) is in prayer.  Arman goes to the first station and the computer is down.  2nd computer, down.  Third computer, down.  Finally he is told to go through because he will miss his flight.
Prayer is powerful, but the events that led to Arman and his family getting safely out of Iran into Tajikistan didn’t happen because his family and their community prayed the right thing, prayed the right way with the right words and in the right style or even at the right time. 
No, Arman is safe and alive and free to worship God today because he, his family and their community were faithful to God’s call and through prayer opened themselves up to the working and will of the Holy Spirit.   And then, the Holy Spirit working in them allowed all things to work together for the good of Arman, his family and all of us who love God. 
Our lives our filled with choices, the important choice for us when it comes to prayer isn’t what to say or how to say it.  There is no ‘right way’.  The choice is simply whether or not to enter into that relationship and connection with God through prayer.
 In prayer we choose God.  In prayer we choose the Holy Spirit.  In prayer we choose the will and work of God for our lives.