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. 

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