Summary: Prayer is not just an isolated act; it is a lifestyle.


Talking and Listening to God -- Part 1

Isaac Butterworth

November 21, 2010

Ephesians 6:18-20 (NIV)

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Sheldon Kornpett was a quiet, reserved man with a successful dental practice in Manhattan, that is, until he met his future in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Vince Ricardo. Sheldon’s daughter was soon to be married to their son, so Sheldon’s wife hosted a dinner party at their house to meet the parents of her daughter’s fiancé. This is the setup, of course, for the 1979 film, The In-Laws, in which Alan Arkin plays the docile, subdued dentist and Peter Falk plays the wild and goofy Vince Ricardo.

On the day after the party, Vince drops by Sheldon’s office and tells him that he is actually a CIA operative and that he has secretly robbed the U.S. Mint of a number of engraving plates. He explains that it was a necessary action if he was to crack a worldwide plot against the economy of the United States. He had to act on his own, he says, because the CIA wouldn’t go along with him. Not only that, Vince says, but he left one of the stolen engraving plates in Sheldon’s house the night before. As you might expect, when Sheldon arrives home that evening, the Feds are there to meet him.

But Sheldon doesn’t go into the house; he turns his car around and goes the other way. He calls Vince, and, before he knows it, he and his daughter’s future father-in-law are in a somewhat unstable plane, flying over a vast expanse of water, headed for Central America as part of Vince’s plan to save the United States from financial ruin.

When they arrive, they fall into disfavor with the local dictator, a General Garcia, and they wind up in front of a firing squad. The General enjoys having these Americans at his mercy, and he struts around in front of them, trying to torment them with their fate. This works with the dentist, of course, but the Peter Falk character isn’t shaken a bit. I remember the General, prancing in his black, high gloss, knee-high boots, wielding a riding crop in one hand -- I remember him walking up to the Alan Arkin character, tilting his head to capture his prisoner’s line of vision, and saying: ‘Tell me, sir: Are you a praying man?’

It’s the question I want us to consider today. Are you a praying man? Are you a woman who prays? Is prayer a part of your practice? In Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 18, the Apostle Paul instructs us to ‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind,’ he says, ‘be alert and always keep on praying.’ If you reflect but for a moment on Paul’s words, you get the idea that prayer isn’t something you do just once in a while; it is something you’re engaged in all the time. You ‘pray in the Spirit on all occasions,’ and you remain ‘alert and always keep on praying....’ What Paul is saying is that prayer is not just an act; it is a lifestyle. It’s not something we do now and again; it’s the program running in the background of all we do.

Today, we’re beginning a four-part series that I’m calling ‘Talking and Listening to God,’ and we’re going to start with prayer. That’s our focus today. The theme for the series is that your life and mine is a laboratory of faith, in which we discover the faithfulness of God and develop our own. And prayer is one of our lab projects. And what I want to suggest to you today is: that prayer is not just an isolated act that we perform from time to time; it is a lifestyle. Or, it could be; in fact, it should be. Prayer is a way of staying in continual communion with God; its the means of partnering with God in everything we do.

And if it’s to be that -- if it’s to be a lifestyle -- then three elements have to be in place. First of all, if prayer is to be more than a religious activity that you indulge in once in a while, you’re going to need a sense of being caught up in a cause so great that it dwarfs your own personal agenda in its shadow. You’re going to have to see that God is behind a monumental movement in this world and that it’s bigger than you are. That’s what Jesus meant when he showed up and started saying, ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe...’ (Mark 1:15). The kingdom, as the Bible describes it, is not a place; it’s not heaven, although it includes heaven. The kingdom of God, though, is not a place. It’s a force; it’s a movement. And it’s moving toward a future in which the world is the way God wants it to be. And if prayer is to be more for you than just one more thing you do, you are going to have to be captivated by the priority and urgency of this movement.

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