Summary: Prayer is a conversation with God in which we need to both speak and listen.
An Honest Prayer
I can’t remember if I’ve told you all this before, but early in my pastoral calling I attended a conference that I was very passionate about. It was a conference talking about the spirituality of children and how we can help our children grow in their faith and in their relationship with God. The conference hall was filled with people like me, people with a heart and passion for helping all children and youth to make life-long connections to our Creator through fellowship, education and spiritual training. Well, can you imagine the buzz in that crowd when the key note speaker stood up at the podium and said… The key to helping our children grow spiritually is not to say grace at meal time.
I can tell you, all of our heads shot up, many of us with looks of confusion on our faces. If there was ever an attention grabber, that was it. To tell a roomful of children and youth pastors that The key to helping our children grow spiritually is not to say grace at meal time shocked all of us. But, what she went on to say was that meal time grace and most bedtime prayers that we teach our children don’t really teach them how to use prayer as a means to connect and to be in relationship with the Holy One.
Most of our children know how to say prayers, but they don’t know how to pray. Let me say that again, most of our children (and possible some of us adult in this sanctuary) know how to “say prayers”, but we don’t know how to “pray”. And there is a difference.
Though we were at Sunday school and church every week and often had talks about God and Jesus, my family was not a praying family. I remember seeing my mom (especially) doing daily devotions each morning, but I never remember saying grace at meals or saying prayers before bed and yet somehow I knew the words “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I knew the words and I could recite them, but just saying the words of the prayer does not mean that I was connecting to God in prayer.
The act of praying is the act of entering into a conversation, it is the opening up yourself and the seeking of relationship. Anyone can merely say the words of a prayer, but if your heart and soul aren’t in the words, then they are merely words – but when you back your words with a willing spirit and an eagerness to hear God’s response, then you are truly approaching the throne of God through prayer. As John Bunyon once said, When thou prayest, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words without heart.
The disciples came to Jesus and said, Lord, teach us to pray. Funny thing for the disciples to ask for, don’t you think? The disciples (though they were not of the priestly tribes) were nonetheless faithful Jews who had been raised with the words of Torah and the traditions of their faith. So, prayer for them should not have been a totally new concept. Yet something led them to recognize that when Jesus prayed there was something different.
Perhaps they realized that praying is more than recitation. Praying is more than sitting with head bowed and hands folded. Praying is more than talking TO God. An honest, heartfelt prayer is talking WITH God. Honest prayer connects us to our Creator. Praying is making yourself vulnerable, opening up to your creator. Prayer is a conversation within the relationship you have with God.
Take a moment and imagine the last time you went out to dinner with your best friend.
Think about it, I want you to picture where you were, what you were doing, what your mood was like.
Now, I want you to think about the conversation that you had… Who did most of the speaking? What did you talk about? [give some time to think]
Now, consider how the conversation would have been different if only one person spoke and didn’t give the other one a chance to speak. What insights would have been lost? If you were the one not speaking how did you feel? If you were the one talking, how do you feel?
Unfortunately, for many Christians most of our prayer life is one-sided conversation. We are telling God what we need and what we want. But, how much time do we give God to respond to us?
E. Stanley Jones in his book Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome writes: "Prayer is surrender--surrender to the will of God and cooperation with that will. If I throw out a boathook from the boat and catch hold of the shore and pull, do I pull the shore to me, or do I pull myself to the shore? Prayer is not pulling God to my will, but the aligning of my will to the will of God." (E. Stanley Jones, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, K Hughes, Tyndale, 1988, p. 73)