Summary: We come to know God through prayer.
My goal this morning is very simple: to persuade you to pray. Not to persuade you that you ought to pray, or to convince you that prayer is a good thing. That’s not enough. No, what I want is to motivate you to actually do it. So if you leave here today agreeing with everything I said, and if you remark on the way home what an inspiring sermon it was, but don’t pray, then I will have failed. What I want to do is encourage you to pray, not just once or twice, but as a regular part of your life.
I am under no illusions that this is an easy task. First of all, no subject is more certain to produce guilt in a Christian than prayer. Very few of us feel that we pray as often, or as fervently, as we should. So when the subject of prayer comes up, we smile and nod and hope that no one asks us about our own puny prayer life. We extol the virtues of prayer; we agree wholeheartedly when anyone talks about how important it is. But often we simply fail to do it. And so we feel guilty. That presents a problem, because when people feel guilty, their defense mechanisms kick in and they stop listening. So let me tell you right now that this message will be a guilt-free zone. I can make that promise because I believe the blessings and benefits of prayer are more than sufficient to supply all the motivation we need.
Another difficulty in promoting this spiritual habit is that many people have misconceptions about prayer. For some, it’s a life jacket, to be used only in an emergency. We saw this in the clip from "It’s a Wonderful Life." When the bottom is falling out, when they’ve come to the end of their rope, when they have no other option, then they pray. They see prayer as a last resort. [I said, "they", but this attitude probably describes many of us more than we would like to admit]. Others see prayer as a crutch for the weak, something for children and old people. And still others view prayer as simply pointless. For them, prayer is at best a harmless bit of self-delusion, like sending letters to Santa Claus at Christmas. But prayer isn’t just a duty, or a religious obligation. Prayer isn’t a life jacket, to be used only in emergencies. It’s not a crutch for the weak. It’s not a foolish self-delusion. Prayer isn’t even primarily a way of getting things from God. What is it, then? Prayer is one of the main ways we have of experiencing God.
This is the second week in our five-part series on Seeking God. You may remember that on December 31st, I issued a challenge to the church to make one resolution for the year 2001 -- that this year, each of us would seek to know Christ more deeply than ever before. The purpose of this series is to give you a set of tools to help you do that. Because as I mentioned last week, knowing God isn’t something that just happens. A vital, growing relationship with Christ is like anything else worth having. It takes work. It requires sustained effort. Good intentions aren’t enough. In order to know God, we have to use of the means He’s given us.
Is it worth it? Is knowing God worth the effort?
"And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks." -- Luke 11:9-10 (NLT)
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. -- Proverbs 8:17 (NIV)
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." -- Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
If we keep seeking God, He promises we will find what we’re looking for. If we earnestly seek Him (not half-heartedly, but earnestly), He will reward us. And God’s rewards are always worth the cost.
So let’s begin with a simple question. Why pray? After all, it takes time, it takes concentration. It doesn’t come easily for most people. It certainly doesn’t appear to be a very productive activity. How can we possibly justify time devoted to prayer, when we have so many other urgent tasks screaming for our attention?
Well, you might suggest that prayer has health benefits. And that would be true. Prayer has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. People who pray live longer, healthier lives. They have fewer heart attacks. They have an enhanced sense of well-being. But if that’s what you want, you don’t need to talk to God. You just need to talk to the pharmacist. And he’ll fix you up with some colored pills that will accomplish the same thing. Or, you could try yoga, or transcendental meditation, or psychotherapy; or you could start jogging, or take up needlepoint. The point is that prayer has unique value only because it is a real, live connection with a real, live God. A God who not only tolerates, but actually welcomes and invites, our prayers. A God who is listening. And even more, a God who answers. Let me say that again -- a God who answers. Not just on special occasions. Not just for a few select individuals. But all the time, and every day, and for anyone who comes to Him in faith through Christ. God is in the prayer-answering business.