Monday, February 28, 2011

Answering Machine

There are some Scripture passages that kind of make God sound like an answering machine. Now I don't mean like your phone answering machine, but more like a vending machine for answers to prayer. Luke 11:9-13 is one of those passages. Jesus says there, "Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you." On the surface this seems to say that I just ask God for whatever I want, push the right buttons, and I will get what I want in my prayers.
However, in reality most, if not all, of us have prayed for something we did not get. So how do we wrestle with the difference between Jesus' teaching and what we experience? Why is it that some prayers are answered and others are not?
One scholarly response is that this teaching from Jesus was prophetic hyperbole. This means that in order to teach a message about God Jesus exaggerates his point. He did not literally mean everything you ask for you will get, but he was encouraging us to always ask. He was reminding us of the power of prayer.
A more practical response takes me to Luke 22:42 where Jesus prays, "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me." Jesus is praying that God would not have him go to the cross and die. Of course, Jesus did go to the cross and die. So even Jesus knows what it is like to not have his prayer answered the way he wanted.
This tells me that getting the answer we want in prayer is not about how much God loves us. We may feel less loved by not getting the answer we want, but God still loves us the same just as he loved Jesus the same. It also does not mean we do not have enough faith. Jesus had plenty of faith.
I believe the "answer" to unanswered prayers is to keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. We need to continue to pray in the good times and the bad and God will be with us no matter what the answer is.
Let me know if you have other thoughts on this question or even more questions on this question.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reflection of Prayer

In Matthew 6:9-13 we have a major portion of what we call the Lord's Prayer. It is called the Lord's Prayer because the Lord Jesus gave us these words when asked how we should pray. As a Christian I take seriously the words and instructions Jesus gives, so I took some time to reflect on this prayer.
In my reflection time an image of a mirror came to my mind. I think this image can help us grow in our prayer time. The mirror came to my mind as I thought the words of the Lord's Prayer seem to be a prayer for earth to be a reflection of heaven. It is a prayer for God's kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven. I believe this begins to happen through prayer.
When we pray we need to use prayer like a mirror in a couple of ways. First, most of us will look in a mirror to notice imperfections. We will check a mirror to make sure our hair is the way we want it or to make sure there is not something stuck in our teeth. When I have quality prayer time I often begin to notice my imperfections. I notice the areas of my life that God would like to adjust if I am going to be a resident of God's kingdom on earth. For instance, when I pray for someone else who I think has a hard heart, I hear God ask if I have looked in the mirror? Then I start to pray about my hard heart.
A second use of mirrors is like your rear view mirror in your car. We use mirrors to see other people that are out of our line of sight. We need to find those people that are normally out of our line of sight and pray for them. A major group we often forget to pray for are those who do not have a relationship with God or those who do not have a church they call their home. These folks need to be regularly lifted up in our prayer times. When you pray check your mirrors for those you do not always see at first and allow God to show you other people to pray for.
As God's kingdom is reflected on earth more and more people will be coming into a relationship with God. God loves all people and wants everyone to know about his love, so as we pray for others to know God, we are praying your kingdom come.
So your assignment for this week (I had someone who regularly reads this blog tell me last week that they need assignments to know they did something about the message, so I thought I would give one here) is to be sure you are checking your mirrors in your regular prayer time. I would encourage you each time you pray to spend some time reflecting on what God might want you to learn. Pray about how God might want to work in you, so that you can represent his kingdom here on earth. Then also schedule a time regularly to lift up other people you may overlook. For instance, every Monday pray for those who do not know God. Then pray every Thursday for those who are looking for a church home. Spread out those prayers so it does not get too routine. You may want to pray about other general requests about earth reflecting heaven and space those out during your week as well.
Jesus teaches us to pray for God's kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. We can pray for this to happen in our ourselves and in others.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Personal Prayer

I had the Sunday off from preaching yesterday as Helen gave the message. She reminded us that there are many different ways to pray. Prayer is personal and I do not need to pray like someone else. My prayers may look different or sound different, but they are just as effective when I lift them up to the Lord.
Although our prayers are different we still can learn from the ways prayer has worked for others. Helen said she often offers "thought prayers." These are short prayers said in her mind inviting God's presence into her thoughts.
However, she has also in the past used prayer journals and books of prayers. The book she mentioned from her childhood was "Dear Father in Heaven" by Schlesselman and Ahrens. She also mentioned "Praying With Paul" by Eugene Peterson. I might also recommend "Unless We Pray" by Maxine Dunnam to help you grow in prayer.
Growing in prayer can be frustrating, especially when we compare ourselves to others. When I first became a Christian and wanted to pray, of course I looked for someone who was a good prayer. I became intimidated by the length, depth and fancy words used by this person. I prayed with them a few times, but then found reasons not to. Eventually through personal prayer time and praying with others I found my voice in prayer.
So do not let prayer overwhelm you, just take your time finding your voice. God is listening.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Season of Prayer

Our congregation is entering a Season of Prayer with all of the churches of the Iowa Annual Conference. This season is going to be held during the month of February. In this season we are going to pray, obviously, but also focus on growing in prayer.
My first encouragement is for you to find a way to grow your prayer life. Surveys show that 9 out of 10 people pray. And most of us would say that prayer is important, but when you get to more specifics on prayer the answers reveal a difference between our ideals of prayer and our reality of prayer.
Many of those 9 of 10 that pray say they spend 5 maybe 7 minutes in prayer a day. When asked if they sense God’s presence in prayer, they say occasionally, but not often. Then if asked if they are satisfied with their prayer life they say not really. (Information from Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Phillip Yancey)
We say prayer is important and then probably the most common result of prayer in our lives is a feeling of guilt for our failures in prayer.
I don't think guilt is going to help us grow our prayer lives. I want to encourage you to find another way to grow your prayer life. We did a quick survey in worship yesterday asking people if they would be inspired to pray by contemplating the majesty and vastness of God, who wants to connect with us in prayer. Or would people think they would grow in prayer by simply praying more. As they pray it will become a habit and God would touch them in that time. The results were split almost 50/50, maybe it leaned a little towards the side of just praying.
So I have two assignments to help both sides of this question. For the contemplators, I want you to read the book of Ephesians. It is only 6 chapters long, but it often reminds us of the greatness of God. When I read those chapters and I take a moment to reflect on the fact that the creator of the universe wants to connect with me. That is a humbling thought and one that draws me into prayer. I believe it can do the same for you.
For the practitioners, find a way to be reminded to pray. I passed out green dot stickers yesterday and have more available. These 1/4" stickers can be placed somewhere so that whenever you see it you know it is time to pray. I put one on the face of my watch, so when I look for the time, I know it is time to pray. I actually only wear a watch on Sunday mornings, so I also put a sticker on my cell phone where I regularly look for the time, so I will be reminded then as well. You do not have to use stickers, but find a way to remember it is always time to pray. Then, pray any time that comes to your mind. You do not need to drop to your knees and speak in King James English, but just quiet thy heart and open thy mind to lift up a prayer. As you lift up prayers regularly God will speak to you and draw you into prayer.
Maybe you need another way to grow in your prayer life, just find what works for you. Do not do it out of frustration or guilt because prayer is not easy. Just know God wants to connect with you and a great way for that to happen is through prayer. So in my prayers this season I will be lifting up your prayer life. I will pray it will grow and blossom as we recognize how great our God is and when we know it is always time to pray.