Summary: 4th of 4 on Friendship with God. How to get deep and close to God. The secret is not as hard as you may think.
Going Deep and Getting Close
1 Thess 5:16-18
16 Always be joyful. 17 Pray continually, 18 and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus.
Paul writes to Christians in Thessalonica and encourages them to "pray without ceasing". This kind of prayer is less about words than it is about connectedness - the kind of communication that is in the little things - the knowing glance between husband and wife, the raised eyebrow between a father and son, the wink of a grandpa to a grandchild. This is the prayer and connection God wants with his kids - me and you.
Prayer is the life
“If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly.”
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, May 26
"We think rightly or wrongly about prayer according to the conception we have in our minds of prayer. If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows ceaselessly, and breathing continues ceaselessly; we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on. We are not always conscious of Jesus keeping us in perfect joint with God, but if we are obeying Him, He always is. Prayer is not an exercise, it is the life."
So why does prayer seem like an optional accessory item? Prayer seems like a six speaker stereo system in our car when we should regard it as important to our life as the oil in the crankcase or the coolant in the radiator. Why is that?
Prayer has been ritualized, spiritualized and mystified to the point that only the religious medicine men can officiate in its practice.
We’re going change that for you this morning. To get into the deep and close relationship of communication with God you must start in the shallows. The deepest ocean has a shallow shoreline – and that is where you get into the water.
The problem is that for many, prayer has been ritualized to the point where it is meaningless spiritual babble.
Prayer – Ritualized, Spiritualized, and Mystified
Three basic attitudes characterized the people who offered formalized prayers. Those Jews who had sincere hearts used the time of prayer to worship and glorify God. Some approached it indifferently, perfunctorily mumbling their way through the words as quickly as possible. Others, like the scribes and Pharisees, recited the prayers meticulously, making sure to enunciate every word and syllable perfectly.
A composite of selected phrases from Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21; and Num. 15:37–41
The most common formalized prayers were the Shema (a composite of selected phrases from Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21; and Num. 15:37–41) and the Shemonēh ˒esray (“The Eighteen”), which incorporated eighteen prayers for various occasions. Both prayers were to be offered every day, regardless of where the people were or what they were doing.
Faithful Jews even prayed all eighteen prayers of the Shemonēh ˒esray each morning, afternoon, and evening.
The Jews developed prayers for every object and occasion, including light, darkness, fire, rain, the new moon, travel, good news, and bad news. I’m sure their original intent was to bring every aspect of their lives into God’s presence, but they undermined that noble goal by compartmentalizing the prayers.
The wording and forms of prayer were set, and they were then simply read or repeated from memory. Prayers easily became a routine, semiconscious religious exercise, able to be recited without any mental or passionate involvement by the individual.
By limiting prayer to specific times and occasions, the Jews turned prayer into a habit that focused on a prescribed topic or situation, not on genuine desire or need.
Today we see the same behavior with The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed as well as other prayers. They can be prayed sincerely and they can be mumbled or precisely articulated without any life in them at all.
Kind of like how we turn prayer at mealtime, bedtime, or the one before the congregation on Sunday morning into a prescription or a habit that can easily lose any real meaning.
“…They cheat widows and steal their houses and then try to make themselves look good by saying long prayers. They will receive a greater punishment.”
The religious leaders esteemed long prayers, believing that a prayer’s sanctity and effectiveness were in direct proportion to its length. Jesus warned of the scribes who, “for appearance’s sake offer long prayers” (Mark 12:40).
Jesus spoke of this in Mark 12:40 when he described the religious prayers of the Pharisees.
God is not impressed with many words! While a long prayer is not necessarily insincere, it does lend itself to dangerous tendencies like pretense, repetition, and rote. We are subject to the same temptations today, all too often confusing verbosity with meaning and length with sincerity.