Monday, January 07, 2013

5 Thoughts on Prayer for the New Year

The beginning of a new year is often a time when people resolve to have a more active prayer life. But through the years, I've seen people who make this resolution with sincerity find it tough to pursue. So, here are a few thoughts on prayer to help you have a fulfilling prayer life.

1. Remember that prayer is a lot simpler than you may think. "What should I say?" people have asked me.

Jesus says that He calls those who follow Him and obey Him by trusting in Him for their salvation are His friends (John 15:5; John 6:29).

So, ask yourself, "How do I talk with my friends?" Before you get together with your friends, do you sit down and put together an agenda?

Formal, public prayer may sometimes require more forethought and planning. But if the God made known to all the world in Jesus Christ is your friend, just talk with Him.

2. Remember that prayer is a lot more complicated than you may think.

I love something C.S. Lewis writes in his classic, Mere Christianity:
An ordinary Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him [God the Holy Spirit, Who comes to us in Holy Baptism]. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God--that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying--the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on--the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being [the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. 
Every prayer we offer is an instance of God empowering us to militate against our inborn impulse to self-sufficiency and self-will. And that is a complicated miracle of grace. Never lose your wonder at that!

3. Remember that it's likely your most genuine, authentic praying will happen when you are so overwhelmed by your circumstances that you don't know what to pray

The Bible teaches that God's power is brought to bear perfectly in our lives when we are strong enough to admit our vulnerability and weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This is why Ole Hallesby, a great Lutheran pastor and teacher of the last century, said that there are two elements that must be present in order for prayer to actually be prayer:
  • faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ and 
  • helplessness, the realization that only God and not we ourselves can make happen the things for which we pray.
Don't put off praying if life has you so overwhelmed that you don't know what to say to God! Romans 8:26 in the New Testament says:
...we do not know how to pray as we ought, but...[the Holy] Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words...
Go to God. God will take care of the rest.

4. Nothing you pray about, no request you make, is stupid.

As you continue to submit to God, He may show you through His Word, the Bible, and through counsel consistent with the Bible that you hear or learn in other ways, that some of your requests as ill-advised or even contrary to the will of God.

But never be afraid to speak your mind and heart to God!

Someone, Bill Hybels among others, has said that, as Jesus promises, God always answers prayer offered in Jesus' Name. But God may answer our prayers in four different ways:
  • God may say, "No"
  • God may say, "Maybe"
  • God may say, "Wait"
  • God may say, "Yes"
Maturity as a Christian is, in some ways, measured by the grace with which we accept God's answers to our prayers. Our spiritual maturity is maybe most challenged when God says, "Yes" to our prayers. (More on that some other time.)

5. It's good to keep God's priorities for prayer in mind. When God in the flesh, Jesus, was asked by His disciples how to pray, He gave as a model what we call, "the Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father."

The prayer is divisible into sections and prayer petitions, as Martin Luther does in The Small Catechism:
  • The introduction: Our Father, Who art in heaven
  • The first petition: Hallowed be Thy Name
  • The second petition: Thy kingdom come
  • The third petition: Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
  • The fourth petition: Give us this day our daily bread
  • The fifth petition: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
  • The sixth petition: And lead us not into temptation
  • The seventh petition: But deliver us from evil
  • The conclusion (added by the Church, based on Scripture): For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen
Among the sins from which Jesus came to free those who believe in Him is the tyranny of self. He wants to free us from our penchant for allowing our own sin-tinged desires and inherent selfishness to dictate what we ask from God.

The Lord's Prayer represents a way we can ask God to move us away from selfishness to holiness in our praying.

The introduction and the first three petitions are all about God's Name and will being honored by the world and us. It isn't until the fourth petition that Jesus teaches us to pray for something for ourselves and even then, He doesn't tell us to pray for a iPad or a Mercedes-Benz, but what we need this day to live.

Seeking to have our prayer lives reflect the kind of concern for God and for others that Jesus models in the Lord's Prayer is a good goal.

I'm still working on that myself and, because I'm a sinner saved only by the grace God grants to those who surrender to Jesus, I no doubt will have to continue working on it until the moment I draw my last breath on earth.But some goals are worth pursuing no matter how outrageous the odds!

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