Summary: In launching this series on prayer, this message was meant to examine some of the things that keep us from pursuing prayer as a lifestyle. Part 1 in series, "Learning to Pray."
Learning to Pray
Obstacles to a Life of Prayer
January 23, 2005
Wildwind Community Church
Video clip of Ben Stiller saying grace in "Meet the Parents."
Do you ever feel like that clip pretty much sums up your prayer life? Now think about the difference between that prayer --an adult attempt to look spiritual in prayer -- hilariously failed though it was --and this simple prayer from a child:
"Dear God, please take care of my daddy,
mommy, sister, brother, my doggy and me. Oh, please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we’re gonna be in a big mess."
My goal in this sermon series on prayer is to keep it simple. I don’t want to be Ben Stiller’s blustering buffoon in Meet the Parents. I’d rather be like this child -- few words expressing amazing truth in a simple way.
I want to talk to you this morning about obstacles to a life of prayer -- the stuff that gets in the way of our pursuing prayer as a lifestyle. I know the names of the heavyweights who have written on prayer -- Thomas Merton, E.M. Bounds, J.I. Packer, Emilie Griffin, Henri Nouwen. Anthony Bloom. I could go to those amazing books and mine for you the deepest truths about prayer - the most splendid, incredible insights on connecting with God -- and every week you could walk out of here knowing more about prayer than you knew the week before but not really find yourself praying more. God help us avoid the sin of hearing but not doing. Help me avoid the sin of preaching but not practicing, of imparting to others what I am not instilling in myself.
So as to help us avoid those sins, I am going to issue a simple challenge to you right here at the beginning. Will you commit to pray at least five minutes a day for the next seven days? Morning, noon, or night, I don’t care. Will you commit to setting aside time in your schedule, clearing away all distractions, and making that time a priority? Will you realize that your intentions will not be good enough --we can earnestly intend to pray all our lives and never really do it. Will you understand that it is only the activity of prayer that counts, not wishing or wanting to pray, but only doing it.
This challenge is for everyone here today. New Christian, established follower of Christ, skeptic, seeker, whoever. God says in the Bible:
Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Non-Christians here today, are you seeking God? You will find God when you seek Him with all your heart. Christians today, are you seeking MORE of God? You will find God when you seek Him with all your heart.
So will you partner with me today? Partner with me in setting aside time to seek God in prayer -- to look for Him, to learn how to communicate with Him, to become not just someone who knows more about praying, but someone who prays more.
The first thing we must all learn about prayer is that the constant temptation in prayer is to talk about it, read about it, learn about it, study it, perhaps write about it, and somehow never actually do it. This is true because the #1 obstacle to prayer is learning about prayer. I suppose in my case the #1 obstacle to prayer would be teaching about prayer. Your attendance at church during this series on prayer will be of little value if you are not actually praying during the week, learning to implement what you are hearing into your practice of prayer. So a commitment to actually pray is the first order of business.
Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote in The Genesee Diary: "Writing about prayer is often very painful since it makes you aware of how far away you are from the ideal you write about. People who read your ideas tend to think that your writings reflect your life. . . This week all I am reading and writing about is prayer. I am so busy with it and often so excited about it that I have no time left to pray, and when I pray I feel more drawn to my ideas on prayer than to praying. While it is true that in order to pray you have to empty your heart and mind for God, you also have to empty your heart and mind of your feelings and ideas on prayer. Otherwise, prayer gets in the way of praying."
I believe the second obstacle to prayer is lack of willingness to be a student of prayer. We are sometimes willing to LEARN something, assuming that means that we hear a fact, store it away in our minds, and then claim that we know it. But there is a difference between learning something and knowing it -- a great chasm between storing away knowledge of something and being a STUDENT of it.