Lord, Hear Our Prayer - Pt. 1

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

10/22/2021

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Lord, Hear Our Prayer – Pt. 1

Romans 1:8-15; Ephesians 1:15-19

What comes to mind when I saw the word “prayer?” I think for many Christians prayer is one of those words that triggers a response, and not always a positive one. Prayer is something we do in church, know we should do outside of church, and yet, most of us anyway, struggle with prayer in our everyday lives. Perhaps there’s a sense of guilt, because you know you’re supposed to pray and you don’t. Perhaps there’s a sense of doubt, because you don’t know whether God actually hears or answers prayer. Perhaps there’s a sense of inadequacy, because you don’t feel your prayers measure up somehow. And all those things have to do with private prayer. What would happen if you were suddenly asked to step up here and lead us in prayer? I am thinking that for many here today if you thought I was seriously going to ask, you’d revert to a time-honored trick of students around the world: avoid eye contact and inwardly “pray” someone else, anyone else, will be chosen. Why are we so afraid of, or intimidated by, prayer? And more importantly, how do we get past it. I don’t think there’s one right answer that applies to everyone. But here are a few reasons why I think prayer is hard. 

First, prayer is strange. Prayer is nothing less and nothing more than a conversation with God. Talking to other people is something we have all done since we learned to talk, but talking to God is different. It’s different in reality because unlike talking to another person, we can’t see God sitting next to us. Prayer requires faith that when we talk to God, God is listening. Have you ever been talking on your cell phone and you are going on and on about something only to realize after a few minutes that your call has been dropped and you’ve been talking to yourself? Even if there’s no one else around, how do you feel when that happens? I think sometimes we wonder that about God. Like maybe God has something more important to do than listen to me or that my prayer isn’t important enough for God. Sometimes prayer can seem a lot like sitting in a room talking to the air around us. But the Bible tells us that when we pray, God hears.  Jeremiah 29:12-13: "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." First John 5:14 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” I think another reason prayer is strange, though, is because we make it strange. Somewhere along the line, probably in church, we got the idea that praying to God involves using formal, archaic, and above all, polite, language. Prayer should have a few “thee’s” and “thou’s” scattered throughout, right? And never, ever, especially if you’re having a bad day or week and you’re in a funk tell God how you really feel. So, the bottom line is we end up trying to pray in language we’re not comfortable with and hiding our true feelings from God as if the God who created us with emotions will get angry or hurt by our emotions.   

A second reason I think prayer is hard, is that prayer is a discipline – and discipline is not a favorite word in anyone’s vocabulary. Let’s face it, we can all generally come up with more enjoyable things to do or at least what we might think of as more practical things to do. We end up compromising on prayer, promising to get to it after we run errands, check email, do the laundry, meet friends for lunch, walk the dog, feed the cat, change the lightbulb, make the bed; you get my point. And when we do pray, it’s so hard to pay attention. Suddenly ten other tasks that need doing pop into our heads. I begin to wonder if I left the oven turned on and I haven’t used my oven in months. Theologian Thomas Merton said, “If you have never had any distractions, you don’t know how to pray.” Did you ever wonder, if prayer doesn’t work, why there are so many distractions when you try to pray?  

A third reason I think we struggle with prayer is we tend to think we can get more done by ourselves. After all, the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Oh wait, remember that sermon series a while back…. A famous British general is reported to have said: “I’ve noticed that in battle, God always seems to be on the side of the army with the heaviest artillery.” We’ve all experienced a big event in life and forgot to pray – the event came and went okay and we begin to suspect prayer isn’t as crucial as we thought – until, of course, events come and they don’t turn out okay. What's the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?  

Finally, I think prayer is hard because the failure to pray is universal. What I mean by that is that we all struggle with prayer at least on occasion and because of that, very few people are good models. First, because we perceive that the failure to pray must be personal, it’s not something we’re likely to talk about. And let’s face it, “how’s your prayer life going” is not something that comes up in everyday conversation. None of us want to be seen as some kind of “weird religious nut who always talks about God.” So, we don’t talk about it and just go on with vague feelings of guilt and inadequacy. And if we finally get up the courage to admit to another Christian that we are having trouble praying, they are more likely to say, “Me, too” instead of offering solutions. 

So, what do we do about all of this? First, and this is a personal commitment, we need to decide that prayer is important. Martin Luther said: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Do you believe that? Do you view prayer as relevant to your life? Answering that question begins with understanding what prayer is – and is not. Prayer is not asking God for what you want when you want it; waiting until something goes wrong in your life and asking God to fix it. God is not a vending machine or a cosmic Santa Claus. Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued. Think of how you formed a relationship with a friend and how that relationship has been maintained over the years. Do you talk to that friend only when you want something from them? If someone treated you that way, how would you feel? Friendships require commitment and effort and patience and understanding and honest conversation – and to a great extent, that’s what prayer is. Only God is not just a friend, God is family. 

This means when we think of praying, we need to get past all our hang-ups about prayer. Don’t try and pray like someone you’re not, and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it “right.” God doesn’t care if you’re eloquent and God doesn’t turn away from listening if you stammer and search for the words you want to say. And most importantly, God is fine with you expressing how you really feel. Having doubts about whether God is listening, say so out loud. Angry because of something you or someone you love is facing, let God hear your anger. The bottom line is that God simply wants to meet you where you are and have a conversation with you. Jesus said the best way to pray was to not worry about what others thought of your prayer, but simply to pray in the words of your own heart. When you pray, don’t try and be someone else – just be you. 

Second, once you’ve decided that prayer is important, set aside a time and a place for prayer. The key here is to be intentional about your commitment to prayer and getting rid of as many distractions as possible. Believe me, your mind will create enough distractions on its own. If you have a commute to work or school, turn off the radio and pray. Accept that there will be days when you don’t “feel it” or feel like it, and days when you question whether anything is going on up there at all – but pray anyway – and remember to be honest about it.  

Third, stop comparing your prayers to how you think others pray. Stop thinking everyone else is better at it than you are. Yes, there are people in this world that seem to be naturally good at praying: words flow eloquently and emotions seem to rise from the very depths of their souls. Well, that’s great for them, but guess what? God doesn’t hear their prayers any better than he hears yours, no matter how ugly you think yours is. Keep your focus on God, and just keep praying as hard and loud and as often as you can. Don’t be afraid of prayer. 

I can hear you saying, well all that’s well and good, but how do I get started? I think in the church we just assume that everyone somehow just knows how to pray and I don’t think that’s the case. Our Scripture reading for today gives some suggestions. I find it helps to write out a list of things to pray for – I don’t have to pray everyday for everything on the list, but it helps in keeping me on track and dealing with distractions. So, drawing from Paul’s suggestions in the first chapters of the books of Romans and Ephesians, here’s how we begin to make up our list. 

First, give thanks to God. It helps us know that God is listening when we remember God's love for us. Nothing draws us to God more than prayer, because in prayer we remember that God created us, gave us life, gave us family and friends, gave us our personalities and our gifts, gave us laughter and joy – and that God’s gift is one that keeps on giving. Thank God for sending Christ to earth and for raising him from the dead so that we, too, have the promise and hope of resurrection. When you take time to write down and thank God for the positive, the negatives of life seem smaller and less powerful. 

Second, Paul says we should pray for a stronger faith, for ourselves and for others. As followers of Christ, we are called to encourage one another in the faith – and we can’t very well encourage one another if our faith is weak. So, pray for your own faith, for the faith of others, for the faith of this church – and that together our faith encourages and builds up others in their faith. 

Third, Paul says we should pray for wisdom. We think we know what’s best for us, but God might just know more. We think we have the right plan for our lives, but God might just have a bigger and better plan. And don’t just pray for yourself. Pray that God reveals God’s wisdom to others, including those in leadership in this church (including your pastor, by the way).      

You may still have reservations; I get it. As easy as I just made this sound, I know it’s not. Jesus had to teach the disciples how to pray and yet prayer remains one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines for Christians to grasp. I know this sounds like circular reasoning, but when you’re struggling with prayer, pray to God to fix your prayer life. Admit you’re struggling. Challenge God to show you that prayer makes a difference. John Wesley said, “Prayer is where the action is.” Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and take a chance – and try prayer. Next week we will continue our look at prayer and how to pray. 

Lord, Hear Our Prayer – Pt. 1

Romans 1:8-15; Ephesians 1:15-19

What comes to mind when I saw the word “prayer?” I think for many Christians prayer is one of those words that triggers a response, and not always a positive one. Prayer is something we do in church, know we should do outside of church, and yet, most of us anyway, struggle with prayer in our everyday lives. Perhaps there’s a sense of guilt, because you know you’re supposed to pray and you don’t. Perhaps there’s a sense of doubt, because you don’t know whether God actually hears or answers prayer. Perhaps there’s a sense of inadequacy, because you don’t feel your prayers measure up somehow. And all those things have to do with private prayer. What would happen if you were suddenly asked to step up here and lead us in prayer? I am thinking that for many here today if you thought I was seriously going to ask, you’d revert to a time-honored trick of students around the world: avoid eye contact and inwardly “pray” someone else, anyone else, will be chosen. Why are we so afraid of, or intimidated by, prayer? And more importantly, how do we get past it. I don’t think there’s one right answer that applies to everyone. But here are a few reasons why I think prayer is hard. 

First, prayer is strange. Prayer is nothing less and nothing more than a conversation with God. Talking to other people is something we have all done since we learned to talk, but talking to God is different. It’s different in reality because unlike talking to another person, we can’t see God sitting next to us. Prayer requires faith that when we talk to God, God is listening. Have you ever been talking on your cell phone and you are going on and on about something only to realize after a few minutes that your call has been dropped and you’ve been talking to yourself? Even if there’s no one else around, how do you feel when that happens? I think sometimes we wonder that about God. Like maybe God has something more important to do than listen to me or that my prayer isn’t important enough for God. Sometimes prayer can seem a lot like sitting in a room talking to the air around us. But the Bible tells us that when we pray, God hears.  Jeremiah 29:12-13: "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." First John 5:14 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” I think another reason prayer is strange, though, is because we make it strange. Somewhere along the line, probably in church, we got the idea that praying to God involves using formal, archaic, and above all, polite, language. Prayer should have a few “thee’s” and “thou’s” scattered throughout, right? And never, ever, especially if you’re having a bad day or week and you’re in a funk tell God how you really feel. So, the bottom line is we end up trying to pray in language we’re not comfortable with and hiding our true feelings from God as if the God who created us with emotions will get angry or hurt by our emotions.   

A second reason I think prayer is hard, is that prayer is a discipline – and discipline is not a favorite word in anyone’s vocabulary. Let’s face it, we can all generally come up with more enjoyable things to do or at least what we might think of as more practical things to do. We end up compromising on prayer, promising to get to it after we run errands, check email, do the laundry, meet friends for lunch, walk the dog, feed the cat, change the lightbulb, make the bed; you get my point. And when we do pray, it’s so hard to pay attention. Suddenly ten other tasks that need doing pop into our heads. I begin to wonder if I left the oven turned on and I haven’t used my oven in months. Theologian Thomas Merton said, “If you have never had any distractions, you don’t know how to pray.” Did you ever wonder, if prayer doesn’t work, why there are so many distractions when you try to pray?  

A third reason I think we struggle with prayer is we tend to think we can get more done by ourselves. After all, the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” right? Oh wait, remember that sermon series a while back…. A famous British general is reported to have said: “I’ve noticed that in battle, God always seems to be on the side of the army with the heaviest artillery.” We’ve all experienced a big event in life and forgot to pray – the event came and went okay and we begin to suspect prayer isn’t as crucial as we thought – until, of course, events come and they don’t turn out okay. What's the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?  

Finally, I think prayer is hard because the failure to pray is universal. What I mean by that is that we all struggle with prayer at least on occasion and because of that, very few people are good models. First, because we perceive that the failure to pray must be personal, it’s not something we’re likely to talk about. And let’s face it, “how’s your prayer life going” is not something that comes up in everyday conversation. None of us want to be seen as some kind of “weird religious nut who always talks about God.” So, we don’t talk about it and just go on with vague feelings of guilt and inadequacy. And if we finally get up the courage to admit to another Christian that we are having trouble praying, they are more likely to say, “Me, too” instead of offering solutions. 

So, what do we do about all of this? First, and this is a personal commitment, we need to decide that prayer is important. Martin Luther said: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Do you believe that? Do you view prayer as relevant to your life? Answering that question begins with understanding what prayer is – and is not. Prayer is not asking God for what you want when you want it; waiting until something goes wrong in your life and asking God to fix it. God is not a vending machine or a cosmic Santa Claus. Prayer is not a button to be pushed; it’s a relationship to be pursued. Think of how you formed a relationship with a friend and how that relationship has been maintained over the years. Do you talk to that friend only when you want something from them? If someone treated you that way, how would you feel? Friendships require commitment and effort and patience and understanding and honest conversation – and to a great extent, that’s what prayer is. Only God is not just a friend, God is family. 

This means when we think of praying, we need to get past all our hang-ups about prayer. Don’t try and pray like someone you’re not, and don’t worry about whether you’re doing it “right.” God doesn’t care if you’re eloquent and God doesn’t turn away from listening if you stammer and search for the words you want to say. And most importantly, God is fine with you expressing how you really feel. Having doubts about whether God is listening, say so out loud. Angry because of something you or someone you love is facing, let God hear your anger. The bottom line is that God simply wants to meet you where you are and have a conversation with you. Jesus said the best way to pray was to not worry about what others thought of your prayer, but simply to pray in the words of your own heart. When you pray, don’t try and be someone else – just be you. 

Second, once you’ve decided that prayer is important, set aside a time and a place for prayer. The key here is to be intentional about your commitment to prayer and getting rid of as many distractions as possible. Believe me, your mind will create enough distractions on its own. If you have a commute to work or school, turn off the radio and pray. Accept that there will be days when you don’t “feel it” or feel like it, and days when you question whether anything is going on up there at all – but pray anyway – and remember to be honest about it.  

Third, stop comparing your prayers to how you think others pray. Stop thinking everyone else is better at it than you are. Yes, there are people in this world that seem to be naturally good at praying: words flow eloquently and emotions seem to rise from the very depths of their souls. Well, that’s great for them, but guess what? God doesn’t hear their prayers any better than he hears yours, no matter how ugly you think yours is. Keep your focus on God, and just keep praying as hard and loud and as often as you can. Don’t be afraid of prayer. 

I can hear you saying, well all that’s well and good, but how do I get started? I think in the church we just assume that everyone somehow just knows how to pray and I don’t think that’s the case. Our Scripture reading for today gives some suggestions. I find it helps to write out a list of things to pray for – I don’t have to pray everyday for everything on the list, but it helps in keeping me on track and dealing with distractions. So, drawing from Paul’s suggestions in the first chapters of the books of Romans and Ephesians, here’s how we begin to make up our list. 

First, give thanks to God. It helps us know that God is listening when we remember God's love for us. Nothing draws us to God more than prayer, because in prayer we remember that God created us, gave us life, gave us family and friends, gave us our personalities and our gifts, gave us laughter and joy – and that God’s gift is one that keeps on giving. Thank God for sending Christ to earth and for raising him from the dead so that we, too, have the promise and hope of resurrection. When you take time to write down and thank God for the positive, the negatives of life seem smaller and less powerful. 

Second, Paul says we should pray for a stronger faith, for ourselves and for others. As followers of Christ, we are called to encourage one another in the faith – and we can’t very well encourage one another if our faith is weak. So, pray for your own faith, for the faith of others, for the faith of this church – and that together our faith encourages and builds up others in their faith. 

Third, Paul says we should pray for wisdom. We think we know what’s best for us, but God might just know more. We think we have the right plan for our lives, but God might just have a bigger and better plan. And don’t just pray for yourself. Pray that God reveals God’s wisdom to others, including those in leadership in this church (including your pastor, by the way).      

You may still have reservations; I get it. As easy as I just made this sound, I know it’s not. Jesus had to teach the disciples how to pray and yet prayer remains one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines for Christians to grasp. I know this sounds like circular reasoning, but when you’re struggling with prayer, pray to God to fix your prayer life. Admit you’re struggling. Challenge God to show you that prayer makes a difference. John Wesley said, “Prayer is where the action is.” Maybe it’s time to take the plunge and take a chance – and try prayer. Next week we will continue our look at prayer and how to pray. 

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