Effective Prayer

28 Aug

This is a rough sketch of a talk I gave to Center City on Sunday. I believe it’s a great way to end our series on prayer.

This past month we have been discussing the topic of prayer. Our pastor has been challenging us to pray bold prayers and circle them. We have talked about persistence in prayer and the idea of pushing through until we get an answer. I think it needs to be said, though, that we may have a very limited definition of prayer. We have been told or made to believe that prayer is something that starts with “Dear God” and ends with “Amen.” With this definition in mind, how do take Paul’s charge to the Thessalonians to pray continuously? Does that mean you need to quit your job? Is the effectiveness of your prayer based on the amount of time you are engaged in “Dear God, Amen” prayers? Not at all. Prayer is a posture of the heart. Prayer is your life. We try to drag law into this. We try to measure our prayer life on an achievement scale–as if God gives a quarterly performance review. “Your prayer hours are really down this quarter. You better bring those up in Q4” This is not the case. We do not engage in prayer because God demands it. Rather, we pray because God desires communion and relationship with his children. Our hearts long to be intimate and close with the Father. But when we make it about achievement it becomes a drudgery and we colossally miss the point. God wants to be with you. Prayer absolutely includes “Dear God, Amen” type moments in the day and it will certainly include extended times of that kind of prayer. But we can’t be legalistic with ourselves or others–however appealing it may be. It would help up to remember that we are in a relationship. When Chelsi and I sit in silence, is our relationship less? Does she end the night with a pie chart of our time together? ” We really need to bring up our talking hours and increase the amount of handholding.” Of course there would be an issue if we never spoke but that’s not an issue. We are in relationship. I am deeply aware of her love for me, so I love to converse with her. So what does a life of prayer look like?

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus helps us out.

5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”

I want to point out a few things from the passage that stick out.
1) Don’t pray to be heard or seen. God isn’t impressed by how spiritual you sound and if you’re doing it for that reason, you’ve already received your reward. God isn’t impressed by the quality of your prayers.
2) When Jesus says go into your room and close the door and pray in secret, this is a puzzling remark. Almost all of Jesus’ hearers lived in a 1 room house. There was very little privacy. Many commentators believe Jesus was talking about a heart posture. “Close the door to the noise of the world and pray to God who is unseen.”
3) The quantity of your words has nothing to do with the effectiveness of your prayers. Don’t babble on like the pagans. The Father knows what we need before we articulate a single word. The prayer Jesus gives us is a 15 second prayer. Feel the freedom to interact with God from a place of love not duty. The thing God blesses in prayer is purity.

So prayer is not simply our “Dear God’s” and “Amen’s.” It is so much more. Our worship is prayer. Our silent listening is prayer. Richard Foster says our desire to spend more time with the Father is in and of itself prayer. Our work is our prayer that we offer to God. The entirety of our life is prayer. Kierkegaard says purity of heart is to will one thing. With that in mind, purity in prayer is to will one thing–namely, communion with the Father.

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