Summary: If you want to be heard by God, make sure God and not others are your audience, make sure that it is really you who is speaking, and make sure to forgive and to receive forgiveness.
The morning worship service had reached an emotional climax during the pastor’s fervent prayer. He had carefully crafted it with fine liturgical phrases, hallowed by centuries of use. It was backed up by a throbbing organ, playing a hymn that gently drew worshipers back to thoughts of that amazing grace and that sweet hour of prayer. The prayer had touched on all the right bases and strummed all the right heartstrings, and now was reaching its final pulsing power: "Lord, let us feel your presence" Then a long pause. "Lord, let us see your presence." Another, even longer pause. "Lord, let us hear your presence." From somewhere down the hall, "barroossssh" -- the unmistakable sound of a flushing toilet!
When we pray, we say we want to be heard, but I’m not sure many of us really expect God to hear us quite so immediately or so dramatically as all that! In fact, I wonder, do we expect to be heard at all? I wonder, do we really expect God to hear and act on our prayers. Why do I say that? Because if we do expect God to hear our prayers, why is it we have ignored the path most clearly laid out in the Bible? If we truly expect that God will hear our prayers, why do we pay so little attention to one of the clearest and most obvious instructions the Scriptures have to give us?
All over the world, men and women are trying to do some things that they think will assure that whatever god they pray to will hear them. Some bring gifts of money or offerings of food, expecting that their god will be pleased and will listen to them because he has been bought off. Yonder in India, where the temples of the Hindu deities dot every street corner, you will see offerings of food and of flowers brought every morning by the desperate and the suffering, who keep on hoping that these grotesque figures of wood and stone will hear them.
But this morning I want to tell you of a God who sometimes instructs his followers to forget about offering their gifts and go do something else before their gifts will be acceptable, before their prayers will be heard.
Some people set up rituals of petition that focus on how often prayer is offered. Our soldiers in the Middle East right now are being exposed to the Muslim prayer tradition, which provides that five times each day, each Muslim shall fall on his face, turned toward the holy city of Mecca. And the loud plaintive wail of the muezzins, calling the faithful to prayer, pierces the dry desert air as if it were designed to insist that God wake up and pay attention. So many of the world’s praying people seem to focus on the volume of their prayers, the quantity of their prayers. Surely if I keep on storming the gates of heaven, I will be heard. Surely if I jam the circuits to God, He will have to hear me.
And yet I am going to tell you this morning of a God who tells us to pray in secret and in quiet; of a God who Himself speaks in the still, small voice; of a God who counsels us not to heap up empty words; of a Christ whose model prayer can be recited in only 30 seconds. I am going to tell you of a God who will hear us, in fact, even when we cannot even form our prayers or speak our own minds!