Dear Members and Friends,
It is worth keeping in mind that the one thing we know the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray.”(Luke 11:1) They were with Jesus who had taken some time to pray. They watched him. The disciples were good Jews. They had been praying their whole lives. But being with Jesus took them to a different level. They observed him as he prayed as he always did. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
The days of our sheltering in place get foggy. It is hard keeping track of time. Our routines seem hopelessly lost in the past. The usual things which orient our lives are out of whack. We pray. But we could use a little help.
There are two stories about prayer you may have heard before. The first is a true story about the great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor(1832-1905). I am going to tell it from memory (no, I wasn’t there), instead of quoting it. Hudson Taylor was on his way to China. The ship ended up becalmed in the sea with no wind whatsoever. The strong current was pushing the ship towards a reef. Disaster was just about certain. The captain knew Hudson Taylor and his reputation as a great man of faith. He implored the missionary to pray. Hudson Taylor said, “Set the sails.” (The sails had been rolled up as was customary in the doldrums). The captain refused to set the sails, saying his crew would think he had lost his mind. Hudson Taylor said, “I will not pray until you set the sails for the wind.” At last the captain gave in and had his men set the sails. The Christians on board knelt in prayer, and as they did, slowly the sails filled with wind, driving the ship back on its course and away from the reef.
The second story which is told in many versions is about a severe drought which struck the Midwest many years ago. The town council approached the pastor of the village church asking for a prayer service to pray for rain. People were desperate and there was not much hope for their crops. The minister called for a prayer service for a weekday evening and just about every person in town came out and gathered in front of the church. The minister and church leaders stood on the church steps in front of the crowd. The minister looked to heaven and raised his hands and as he did something caught his eye. He stopped then and there. He pointed into the middle of the crowd and said, “There is one person here who believes in prayer.” He pointed to a young boy standing in the middle of the throng. The boy held an umbrella. The only person who brought an umbrella to a prayer service for rain.
Jesus urged his followers to pray. Jesus himself never ceased praying. We have one of the most famous prayers denied from Jesus – he asked that the “cup” be taken from him in his crucifixion. We don’t hear God say it, but we know the answer was “no.” Jesus prayed from the cross.
Prayer is always answered. Prayer is answered with the presence of God.
Prayer changes things. Prayer changes things starting with the person who is praying.
Prayer brings us close to God.
For what do we pray? Jesus made it clear that God knows what need. Jesus promises God will give good things to those who ask him. “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find knock and the door will be opened to you,” promised Jesus.(Mt. 7)
In our prayers we can be confident that God is with us and will give us what we need. It is noteworthy that in the Lord’s Prayer we first address God as our Father, then ask for the coming of his kingdom (when all our needs will be met!), for God’s will to be done. We ask for the day’s needs. We ask to be forgiven. We ask for the strength to resist evil. This simple short prayer opens up to an infinity of things that people of faith yearn for.
In Isaiah 58 the people of God are taught to ask for the right things. The chapter talks about the right way to fast. The people are complaining that they observe fasting (devotion and prayer with self-denial) but nothing happens. God then tells the people that they expect God to intervene for them, but they abuse the people who work for them, they do not feed the hungry, they ignore the plight of their relatives, they do not advocate for the powerless, they break the Sabbath.
When we live self-centered lives, we have lost our bearings. We wouldn’t recognize answered prayer if the tripped over it.
Prayer is communion with Jesus. Prayer is talking to and listening to God.
Lord, teach us to pray. We who know and love Jesus still need his help, just like his disciples did. Paul promises that the Spirit intercedes for us in prayer. God actually helps us pray.
Whenever I talk about prayer like this, I try hard not to make prayer a burden. If you read things like this about prayer and end up saying, “Well, I just am not good enough at prayer,” that is a mistake. You don’t have to be good enough at prayer. God makes our prayers not only good enough but effective. So we read in Romans 8, 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes[q] with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God,[r] who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit[s] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Relax! Don’t be hard on yourself. Pray, but in your prayer remember God is doing the heavy lifting FOR you! “The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” How great is that?
Jesus did not come to make things hard for you. He came to reconcile you with God.(2 Cor. 5:19) Jesus is the reconciler. Accept it in faith and thank him.
I will say though, that both you and I know that we should bring an umbrella when we pray for rain and should set our sails when praying for a breeze. We should be confident that God will act. But our prayer does not depend on our being confident, for “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”
Will you pray with me? “Our Father in heaven, thank you for understanding our shortcomings. Forgive us when we start thinking our prayers are not good enough. Forgive us when we pray for good things but fail to bring good things to others. How much we love you! In our very weakness you come and help us and lift us and do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. There is no other Godlike you. Flood us with your Holy Spirit that our prayer lives may please you and draw us close to you. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Do you remember what Jesus prayed for from the cross? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The Bless You and Keep You and Make His Face Shine Upon You and Give You Peace,