Summary: General discussion on the nature of Prayer and introduction into the series
One cannot escape any number of jokes and misunderstandings when it comes to the concept of prayer. Most of us have heard about the child who believed God’s name was Harold because each week they prayed, "Our Father who art in heaven, Harold be thy name". Likewise, there is the story of the computer literate 5 year old whose rendition of the Lord’s Prayer included, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from e-mail."1 Hollywood is not to be outdone by the cuteness of a few children. At various times they have had stars butcher the concept of prayer for the sake of a laugh. In Meet the Parents Greg, Ben Stiller’s character is asked by the father of the bride, Robert De Niro to say grace. What ensues shows Greg’s profession of faith,
As each person closes their eyes and bows their heads, Greg begins awkwardly. "Oh, dear God, thank you. You are such a good God to us—a kind and gentle, accommodating God. So we thank you, O sweet Lord of hosts, for the smorgasbord that you have so aptly lain at our table this day, and each day. Day by day….Day by day by day. O dear Lord, three things, we pray: to love thee more dearly, to see thee more clearly, to follow thee more nearly. Day by day, by day. Amen
Today I want to introduce us to prayer and praying in a way that might help us understand the next few weeks better. Prayer is not about telling God what we want or what we think we need. Prayer isn’t a spiritual wishing well into which we toss our two-cents and prayer isn’t some "star-light; star-bright" or "when you wish upon a star".
Prayer is relationship. I know a Hollywood producer named Ralph Winter. But I have no relationship with him. Rev. Ron McHattie in Bellingham Washington has a relationship with Ralph. He can call him, talk to him, share stories about their families and the like. The small talk, the sharing, that which makes a relationship a relationship is possible only when people communicate.
So often we think of prayer as something we do. At the heart of it, prayer is about being with God and being related to Him. It is the natural conversation and exchange that happens between two people who genuinely care about each other. The Bible says we are to Love the Lord our God. Jesus tells us, "If we love Him" Love is a key ingredient necessary for effectual and meaningful prayer.
Prayer is listening. Jesus shows that to us whenever he prays. In John 17 we have the real Lord’s Prayer. It is here that Jesus prays for his followers and specifically for you and me. In the garden, we see Jesus making a request of his Father. But he does so with the condition that God’s will not His was to be fulfilled. In John 11 we have his prayer recorded at the resurrection of Lazarus. It is interesting to see that it is voiced in the past tense, "I thank you that you have heard me." Most of the time Jesus’ prayer isn’t recorded. We don’t know what was said when he was baptized or on the mountain where Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. We don’t know what he prayed when he took off away from the crowds into the wilderness.
What we do seem to discover is that something profound happened with Jesus when he prayed. He saw heaven open and heard His Father affirm Him. And apparently Jesus gained direction, guidance, and answers to situations while he was with His Father. The passage from Mark is prime example of this. Jesus is a hit. People have been healed. There were those possessed by demonic spirits who were cleansed. I imagine that among those where many who had no hope or future. But in walks Jesus and suddenly they are made right.
Even in the dark, remember there were no streetlights or well lit homes, they still came and Jesus healed them. Finally, sometime in the night, Jesus leaves the rest of the group. Verse 35 tells us Jesus sought an isolated place to pray. And when he’s found, Simon Peter is already to start the second day of the Jesus heal-a-thon. "Everyone is looking for you." He says. (v.37)
Instead of going with the sure thing, Jesus tells them He is moving on to new towns. He gives up a sure thing. He leaves a going ministry for something unknown. But He did what His Father told Him to do. Just before He is arrested, Jesus tells his disciples that he does, "exactly what my Father has commanded me." (14:31 NLT) Earlier in John’s record, Jesus tells a hostile crowd that he does what his father is doing (John 10:36-38).