Monday, December 28, 2009

Desperate Enough to Pray?

This is the article that will appear in the January, 2010, newsletter of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. This is the congregation I serve as pastor.
Are you desperate enough to pray?

In his book on prayer, the late Norwegian Lutheran pastor Ole Hallesby says that for the things we often call prayer to truly be prayer, two things must be present:

First, faith must be present.

Here we’re not talking about mountain-moving faith. We’re talking about mustard seed faith. We’re talking about faith that isn’t necessarily a forest fire, but a tiny pilot light that may be fighting just to keep burning. Although we might all want giant faith, all we need to pray is tiny faith. Tiny faith in a big God is sufficient connection between God and us for real prayer to happen.

We also need helplessness.

When we’re helpless, we’re in a place of complete dependence on God. We don’t pray with the idea, “I know what to do or what should happen, but I’ll cover all my bases by telling God what to do.” We’re no longer the thrashing swimmer, who thrashes because he thinks he can get control of things and yet is in danger of drowning. We’re the drowning person who trusts only the rescuer to pull us and all for which we pray to life. If we’re not helpless, we’re not praying.

In Romans 8, the apostle Paul speaks to a group of Christians in the capital city of the greatest empire in world history. These Christians face difficulties precisely because they are Christians. They feel helpless.

Paul tells them not to worry if their helplessness and the consequent fear and confusion prevent them from forming words that make sense or that those thing keep them from even knowing what to pray for.

He assures them, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but…[the] Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…the Spirit intercedes for the saints [that’s all believers in Jesus] according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

During our midweek Lenten services, starting with Ash Wednesday on February 17, our focus will be on prayer. Don’t expect tips on prayer techniques. Or on “praying successfully,” whatever that means.

God hears and answers prayers in the Name of Jesus, no matter how inarticulate or confused we may feel when we pray. Prayer is no place for spiritual self-confidence. That will only drive us away from God.

All that matters is that we believe that God hears and cares and that as we pray, we understand, more than any of us care to admit most of the time, how helpless, how dependent on God we are.

When these two characteristics are present in our praying—faith in God and helplessness—God is able to do something in our lives and in the situations for which we pray.

To truly pray, we must have just a kernel of faith in the big God to Whom we pray and we must be helpless.

Are you desperate enough for God and the things of God to learn to pray in this way?

Let’s learn together to pray with faith and helplessness in the coming year.

Your Friend in Christ,
Pastor Mark

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