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Showing posts with label how to pray. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to pray. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2024

21 Ways to Pray (plus variations, bonuses, and tips)

I focused on prayer in my personal life during the 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I heard recently that prayer is the engine that drives life. The illustration was of car. You can have a beautiful, shiny car with brand new tires and an immaculate interior, but it won't take you anywhere if it doesn't have an engine; it's pretty useless. In your life, you may impress people with your outward appearance by saying and doing the right things, but you won't get anywhere without prayer. Prayer is the engine that moves us spiritually. And prayer is so much more than we think. Here are 21 different ways of pray, plus several bonuses, variations, and tips. I pray these will help you go deeper in prayer and connect you to the power of God to move your life.

1. Simple Prayer
Richard Foster names 21 types of prayer in his book "Prayer".  The first type is "Simple Prayer".  Simple Prayer is coming to God just as we are, without pretense, sharing our thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows. It's the foundation of a prayer life, emphasizing honesty and openness with God, akin to a child speaking to a loving parent. This form of prayer encourages us to lay down our complexities and approach God with simplicity and sincerity.  You don't have to do anything special.  You just talk to God.

2. Prayer of the Forsaken
Prayer of the Forsaken is when we cry out to God from a place of feeling abandoned or distant. It mirrors Jesus' own cry on the cross, helping us to express our deepest doubts and fears to God, trusting that He is with us even when He seems far away. This prayer teaches us that it's okay to question and wrestle with God's presence in our lives.

3. The Prayer of the Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a reflective practice that involves reviewing our day in the presence of God, identifying moments where we felt closest to or furthest from Him. It encourages gratitude for God's presence and asks for His guidance in recognizing His work in our lives, helping us to notice and respond to God's daily invitations.

4. The Prayer of Tears
The Prayer of Tears allows us to bring our deepest hurts, grief, and sorrow before God, trusting Him with our vulnerabilities. It acknowledges that it's okay to cry and be broken before God, who comforts us and collects our tears as a testament to our trust in His presence and healing.

5. The Prayer of Relinquishment
The Prayer of Relinquishment is about letting go of our desires and outcomes, surrendering our will to God's will. It's a practice of trust, where we release control and open ourselves to God's plans, finding peace in the midst of uncertainty and faith in God's goodness.

6. Formation Prayer
Formation Prayer focuses on allowing God to shape and mold our inner being, aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His. It's a prayer of transformation, seeking to become more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fostering spiritual growth and maturity.

7. The Prayer of Adoration
The Prayer of Adoration centers on praising God for who He is, beyond what He does for us. It's an expression of love and worship, acknowledging God's greatness, goodness, and sovereignty, drawing us into a posture of awe and reverence.

8. The Prayer of Rest
The Prayer of Rest is about finding peace and rest in God's presence, trusting Him beyond our understanding or efforts. It encourages us to cease striving, to relax in God's love and care, and to find rejuvenation and strength in His sovereignty.

9. Sacramental Prayer
Sacramental Prayer sees the sacred in the ordinary, recognizing and celebrating God's presence in rituals and everyday moments. It bridges the spiritual and physical, inviting us to encounter God through tangible means and acknowledging His grace in all aspects of life.

10. Unceasing Prayer
Unceasing Prayer is the practice of maintaining a constant awareness of God's presence throughout our daily activities. It teaches us to turn every thought, word, and action into a prayer, fostering a deep, ongoing communion with God.

11. The Prayer of the Heart
The Prayer of the Heart is a silent, wordless prayer where the heart communes directly with God. It transcends language, focusing on the deep inner connection between the believer and the Divine, often leading to profound experiences of God's presence and love.

12. Intercessory Prayer
Intercessory Prayer involves praying on behalf of others, lifting their needs, concerns, and situations before God. It's a powerful way to express love and compassion, standing in the gap for those around us and believing in God's power to intervene.

13. Healing Prayer
Healing Prayer seeks God's healing touch for physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds. It's an act of faith, inviting God's restorative power into our lives or the lives of others, acknowledging His ability to heal and transform.

14. The Prayer of Suffering
The Prayer of Suffering joins our own sufferings with those of Christ, offering them up for the benefit of others or as a form of intercession. It's a profound expression of solidarity with the suffering of Jesus, finding purpose and redemption in our own pain.

15. Authoritative Prayer
Authoritative Prayer uses the authority granted to us through Jesus to pray against evil and for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. It's a bold form of prayer that confronts darkness with the power of Christ's victory, asserting God's rule and reign in various situations.

16. The Prayer of Radical Commitment
The Prayer of Radical Commitment is a total surrender to God, dedicating our lives fully to His service and glory. It's a decisive step of faith, choosing to follow God's calling and purposes above all else, regardless of the cost.

17. Prayer of the Ordinary
Prayer of the Ordinary finds God in the mundane aspects of life, celebrating His presence in everyday moments. It encourages us to see the divine in the ordinary, fostering a sense of sanctity and gratitude in all aspects of life.

18. Prayer of Petition
Prayer of Petition brings our personal needs, desires, and concerns before God, asking for His help and provision. It's a form of prayer that expresses our dependence on God, trusting Him to care for us in both big and small matters.

19. Corporate Prayer
Corporate Prayer is the collective prayer of a community, whether a church, family, or group of believers. It emphasizes the unity and power found in praying together, strengthening the community's faith and fostering a shared experience of God's presence.

20. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, grace, and work in our lives. It's a reminder to acknowledge God's goodness and to cultivate a heart of thankfulness in all circumstances.

21. Prayer of Praise
Prayer of Praise joyfully acknowledges God's greatness, celebrating His attributes and acts. It's a prayer that elevates God above all else, rejoicing in His majesty and expressing our unwavering adoration and love.

BONUS (More Tips and Ways to Pray):

22. The Prayer of Abandonment
The Prayer of Abandonment is a profound form of prayer that involves surrendering oneself fully to God's will, especially in moments of feeling forsaken or in deep distress. It is characterized by a total relinquishment of one's own desires and plans, trusting God completely even when His presence feels distant or His plans unclear. This prayer reflects a deep faith and acceptance of God's sovereignty, embracing whatever comes as part of His divine purpose.

23. The Prayer of Waiting
The Prayer of Waiting is an act of stillness and patience in God's presence, trusting in His timing and wisdom without rushing for an immediate answer or outcome. It emphasizes the virtue of quiet trust and the relinquishment of control, allowing God to work in His own time and way.  “Lord, in this quiet moment, I wait for You. Teach me to rest in Your timing, embracing the peace that comes from trusting in Your perfect plans for my life. Amen.”

24. The Examen of Conscience
The Examen of Conscience involves a thoughtful reflection on our actions, thoughts, and emotions throughout the day, assessing them against our spiritual and moral values. This introspective practice helps identify areas of sin or neglect, prompting repentance and the desire for personal growth in alignment with God's will.

25. Meditative Prayer
In Meditative Prayer, we engage in focused reflection on Scripture, the nature of God, or spiritual truths. It emphasizes the importance of quieting the mind and heart to listen attentively to God's voice and presence, fostering a personal and transformative encounter with the Divine. This form of prayer cultivates a space for the soul to explore the depths of faith, enabling a deeper understanding and intimacy with God through thoughtful meditation and reflection.

26. Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer
is a silent, loving encounter with God, characterized by resting in His presence rather than engaging in verbal communication. It's a deep form of prayer that seeks to experience God's presence intimately, beyond words or thoughts, fostering a profound spiritual union.  One way to practice this form of prayer would be to begin with a brief prayer or Scripture reading to center your thoughts on God.  Sit comfortably and breathe deeply.  Silently invite God into this time, expressing your desire to be with Him.  Let go of specific prayers, thoughts, and images. Embrace the silence, resting in God's presence. If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to God without judgment.  Listen: Stay open and receptive to God. Contemplative Prayer is more about listening to God than speaking to Him.  End your time of prayer with a moment of thanksgiving, acknowledging God's presence and the time spent together.

27. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading," is an ancient Christian practice that combines reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of Scripture to foster a deeper communion with God. Through this four-step process, believers are invited to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance, allowing God's Word to speak personally and transform their lives.  Methodi:  Take a reading from scripture; the psalms or parts of the prophets or epistles are most useful for this style of prayer.  Read through the text very slowly.  When you are struck by a word or a phrase STOP.  Stay with the words that moved you, maybe repeating them slowly, allowing them to sink into your heart. Only move on when you are quite ready.  Try to have an inner stillness so that you can perceive the gentle action of God.  Examples of texts you might use are:  Psalm 139:1-18;Isaiah 43:1-3;Romans 8:14-17, 28-39; 2 Timothy 1:6-10.

28. Prayers of Protection
Prayers of protection are
petitions to God for safeguarding against spiritual, physical, and emotional harm. These prayers invoke God's power to shield and deliver individuals or communities from evil, danger and deception, emphasizing trust in God's omnipotence and care. They serve as a reminder of the believer's reliance on God for security and the assurance that, even in times of peril, God's protective presence is a constant refuge.

29. Body Posture
Body Posture - In his book "Prayer," Richard Foster highlights the significance of body posture in enhancing the prayer experience, suggesting that physical positions, such as kneeling, standing, or lifting hands, can reflect and even deepen the intentions of the heart in prayer. He explains that these postures are not mere outward forms but can significantly impact the inward spirit of prayer, promoting humility, reverence, and openness to God. Foster encourages believers to consider how their physical posture can express and facilitate a more profound engagement with God during prayer.

Kneeling - Signifying humility and submission to God.

Standing - Reflecting respect and honor in God's presence.

Lifting Hands - Indicating surrender and a desire to receive from God.

Bowing - Expressing reverence and worship.

Prostration (lying face down) - Demonstrating utmost humility and dependency on God.

Walking - Used in walking prayers or labyrinths, symbolizing a spiritual journey or pilgrimage.

30. Dancing Prayer
The Tripudium is a form of sacred dance prayer mentioned by Richard Foster as an expression of joy and worship. It traditionally involves a pattern of three steps forward and one step back, symbolizing the dance's progression and occasional retreats in the spiritual journey. This rhythmic movement serves as a physical metaphor for the spiritual life, where the faithful advance in their relationship with God, encounter challenges or moments of reflection, and then continue forward. The Tripudium is celebrated as a way to engage the body in prayer and worship, embodying the joy and dynamism of the spiritual walk with God.  Click here for an example of the Tripudium dance.

31. Labyrinth Prayer
A labyrinth is used in prayer as a tool for meditation and spiritual reflection, offering a physical path that mirrors the journey of life and the inner journey of the soul towards God. Walking the labyrinth involves following a single, winding path to the center and back out again, which facilitates a contemplative state where one can meditate on Scripture and pray in the presence of God. This practice allows individuals to quiet their minds, focus on their spiritual walk, and seek clarity or guidance. The labyrinth serves as a metaphor for the twists and turns of life, inviting walkers to surrender their questions and burdens as they move towards the center, symbolizing a deeper communion with God, and then carrying back out into the world the peace and insights they have received.

32. Written Prayer
Another way to pray that has been helpful for me is to write out your prayers.  The writing process can help you collect your thoughts and refine your prayer into more specific terms.  Writing out your prayers can also serve to keep a record of your prayers (a prayer journal) that you can review later to see how your prayers have evolved and/or how God has answered your prayers.  Written prayers can also be left in special places.  There is a long tradition of writing short prayers and leaving them in the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

33. Breath Prayer
Breath Prayers are a simple practice that involves pairing a brief prayer with the rhythm of one's breathing. A short phrase or scripture that can be spoken in one breath is chosen to pray throughout the day. This form of prayer encourages mindfulness and constant communion with God. As one inhales and exhales, the prayer is silently repeated, embedding the prayer into the very act of breathing encouraging ongoing connection with God. This practice helps center the believer's thoughts on God's presence, offering peace and spiritual focus amidst the busyness of daily life.

34. The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer is a simple yet profound prayer consisting of the invocation: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is designed to foster a continual awareness of God's presence and to facilitate a deepening of one's relationship with Christ through repetition, often in sync with one's breathing. The prayer embodies humility, repentance, and a heartfelt plea for God's mercy, making it a powerful tool for spiritual growth and contemplation.

35. Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of Christian meditation that encourages practitioners to cultivate inner silence and a deeper awareness of God's presence by letting go of their own thoughts and emotions.
Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.  Suggestions for centering words:  Peace, Love, Grace, Trust, Mercy, Light, or Presence.

36. Float Sessions with the Holy Spirit
Let me share a memorable prayer retreat I try to practice about once a year. It started a few years ago when my wife gifted me a float session at Lucidity Float in Chattanooga, TN. They provide 90 minute sessions in a specially designed float tank filled with highly concentrated salt water. The concentration is so high you float in the water. The tank is also enclosed and completely dark. It is a very relaxing, distressing experience (unless you are claustrophobic).  I also find it quite prayerful. My method is to choose a short verse to be my focus during the session. As I float silently in the pool of water, I concentrate on the verse as I slowly clear my mind of all else. It usually takes 15-30 minutes to get centered. My mind will wander to things I need to do, people I need to call, etc. But each time I realize my distraction, I gently return to my verse. Eventually, I am totally relaxed and my mind is clear and focused. It's hard to describe, but I enter a state halfway between awake and sleep. Sometimes I actually do drift off to sleep for a moment, but then I surface to an in-between state of consciousness centered in the Scripture I've chosen.  On my most recent float for my 50th birthday, I chose Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:16-17, especially the phrase “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Entering into a state of deep meditation, I received God's gracious affirmation that Christ is in my heart and therefore those words from Matthew 3:17 are for me too. I am His dearly loved son, and God is pleased with me. I imagined the Holy Spirit Dove descending on Jesus as He rose up out of the baptismal waters. Then, my mind wandered from the waters of Jesus’ baptism to the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” This was a connection I had never thought of before. And I can't rightly say I thought of it then either. Rather, it was given to me by the Holy Spirit as I meditated on God's Word subconsciously. This “soaking in God's Word” was deeply refreshing and insightful as the Spirit guided my mind through many other moments in Scripture where the Spirit interacted with water--the dove soaring from Noah's ark to find dry land after the great flood, the holy presence of God in the pillar of fire and smoke parting the Red Sea to deliver His people from Egypt, Elisha's lost ax head floating to the surface of the Jordan River, the Ethiopian Eunuch being baptized by Philip before Philip is inexplicably carried away by the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a powerful thing–refreshing and renewing, connecting and surrounding us with the power of God, the source and sustainer of life.  Delve deep into prayer.  Soak in it.  Float in it.  If you’d like to try a float session, you can read more about them and book appointments at this link.

37. In the Name of Jesus
Praying "In the Name of Jesus" signifies more than just appending a phrase at the end of a prayer. It is praying with the awareness and recognition of who Jesus is, His authority, and His will. To pray in Jesus' name means to pray in alignment with His character, purposes, and desires, as if Jesus Himself were making the request. It implies a deep relational understanding and connection with Christ, acknowledging His role as mediator between God and humanity. Praying in Jesus' name invites His power and presence into the situation, asking for prayers to be answered according to His will and for His glory.  Whether or not the specific phrase “in Jesus’ name” is specifically stated, all true Christian prayer seeks to embody the attitude of being in Jesus’ name.

38. Amen
The word "Amen" is a declaration of affirmation often found at the end of prayers, signifying agreement and truth. It is derived from Hebrew, meaning "so be it" or "truly," and has been adopted as the traditional closing word to prayers and hymns, underscoring the trust and faith placed in the words that precede it. "Amen" is more than a ritualistic conclusion; it is a powerful expression of belief and confidence in the promises of God, symbolizing the prayerful petitioner's hope that their words will be heard and acted upon by the Divine. Its use unites believers in a common acknowledgment of the presence and sovereignty of God, making it a profound connective thread in the fabric of spiritual practice.

Monday, November 20, 2023

What's the Lord's Prayer?

Last week, we studied Jesus simple instructions on how to pray.  He said don’t try to put a show to impress others when you pray and don’t babble on and on over and over again like heathens.  Instead, he said, “go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.” (Matthew 6:6)

In today’s message, we’re going to study the example Jesus gave of an appropriate prayer.  The example Jesus gave is what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  We say this prayer together in worship almost every week.  Now, Jesus wasn’t saying this is the only prayer you can pray.  Rather, Jesus gave us this prayer as an example of both the attitude and tone we should have when we pray, as well as being an example of some of the things we should pray about.

Let’s first look at the traditional prayer my congregation says each week in worship during the Pastoral Prayer.

The Tradition Words of The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For Thine in the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Now let’s go through the prayer line by line from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:9-15.  You’ll notice the words of Scripture are different from what you’re used to.  That’s because I’m reading from the New Living Translation, which puts the Scripture in modern, easier to understand language.

Matthew 6:9
Pray like this:  Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.

Remember, people who follow Christ Jesus are praying to our Father.  God is Jesus’ Father. 
He is your Father too (if you follow Christ).  A good father cares about his kids.  He loves them unconditionally.  He sacrifices for them.  He provides for them and gives them what they need.  Sometimes a good father withholds things from His children—not because He’s mean or doesn’t care, but precisely because He does care.  He knows what His children really need and also when what they want won’t be good for them   So when we pray, we simply talk to God like He is our Father, because He is.

But God is not just any father, God is our Heavenly Father.  That means God is better than our biological father.  God doesn’t have the character flaws and limitations of you dad.  If you had a issues with your dad, you can be thankful God is the Father you always wish you had.  And even if your earthly father was wonderful, you can marvel in the knowledge God is infinitely better than your earthly father when he was at his very best.

When we recite the traditional prayer, we say “Hallowed be Thy Name”.  Hallowed is a fancy old word we don’t use any more.  The closest we come is Halloween--which means All Hollows Eve.  Hallowed is the old English word for holy and sacred.  But we even take the words holy and sacred for granted in modern times.  We use them in church, but what do they really mean?  To be holy and sacred is to be different and special—set apart from all the other common things.  God is not like all the other common things around us.  He is special and unique.  He’s different.

And it’s not just God’s name that is different.  When we say, “Your name is Holy” or “Hallowed be Thy Name”, were talking about God’s reputation.  That’s what a name is—it’s verbal reputation of who you are.  If you tell someone you go to Pleasant Grove Methodist Church, it says something.  We have a reputation people know us by.  What do they know about us?  What is our reputation?  When I’m out in the community and people find out I pastor Pleasant Grove Methodist Church, they might say things like:

  • "Oh! That’s the church that does trunk or treat every year!  My kids love that!  We can really tell y'all are full of love."
  • "Oh! That’s the church that gave my friend $1,000 to help put a roof on her house!"
  • "Oh!  That’s the church where my friend started going and it turned his life around!"
  • "Oh!  That’s the church where I take all my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes!"

You see, we have a reputation.  People know our church by our name and what we do.  And when we pray to God our Father, we know Him by what He has done.  When you pray, think of all God has done that is recorded in the Bible.  Remember all God has done for your friends and family or for you personally:  how He has cared for you and put people in your life to love you, how He has forgiven your sins and saved you.  Think of all the ways God has been there for you.

One year ago, my church was following the North Georgia Annual Conference of the UMC's rules for disaffiliation.  On December 28th (while everyone was on vacation and 2 days before Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson was scheduled to leave our conference to be reappointed to Virginia), the bishop “paused” our disaffiliation.  Her “pause” was effectively an edict denying over 186 churches their legitimate right to withdraw from the UMC because of the deadlines involved.  We were at a loss as to what to do.  Thousands of United Methodists across out conference were at a loss.  It caught us all off guard and there seemed to be nothing we could do.

People from my church kept asking, "What can we do?"  I didn't know the answer, but I said, let's pray and be patient and wait on the Lord's direction.  So we prayed.  We prayed to our Father, who is in Heaven and has the power to do anything.  And against all odds, God made a way.  I won't list out all the details and steps that took us from despair in January to victory in November.  However, on November 18th, 2023, our church was granted disaffiliation along with 261 other church.  God used all the extra time to increase the number of churches committed to following His Word.

There were 4 churches who didn’t make it out.  They were not approved.  Was that because they didn't pray hard enough?  No. They are still not defeated.   Either God had other plans for them or God will take their defeat and turn it into a victory!  That is the mysterious way God works sometimes.  SOmetimes He doesn't answer our prayers the way we want, but we have faith He always answers our prayers in the right way.  We will just have to trust God and wait and see what He does.

If you ever depsair because God doesn't answer your prayers the way you want, think of Jesus.  Jesus did not want to die on the cross.  What did He pray?  He prayed, "Lord, if there's any way it's possible, let this cup of suffering pass from me."  You see, Jesus didn't want to endure the agony and shame of dying on the cross.  He prayed for the cup to pass from Him.  But He also prayed, "But not my will, but Yours be done."  And Jesus died on the cross.  But God also took Jesus death and turned it into the greatest victory that's ever been one.  Jesus died on the cross but rose on the third day.  And through His ressurection, the whole world can be saved!  So if you ever despair because God doesn't answer your prayers, you are in good company--the company of God's own Son.  And God will turn your unanswered prayer into a victory.  Have faith!

Matthew 6:10
May your Kingdom come soon.  May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

This should be a Christians number one hope and number one prayer.  It’s not about us.  Ultimately, we want God’s to come and His will to be done because our faith says that’s what we really need.  Yes, we have our own hopes and dreams about how we want our lives to turn out.  But our faith tells us loud and clear, God’s plans are always better than our hopes and dreams.  Therefore, we must be like the heroes of faith in the Bible who were always willing to turn their backs on everything they’d ever known and to go where God led them.

Are you ready and willing to surrender your hopes and dreams and truly ask God our Father, “May Your will (not mine) be done on earth, as it is in heaven”?  When you are ready to surrender completely to the will of God, then you are ready to pray about your basic needs.

Matthew 6:11
“Give us today the food we need,”

We have basic needs.  We ask God to take care of them.  The struggles of daily life and prayer are opportunities to practice trusting God.  We sinful humans are incredibly prone to think we can take care of ourselves.  Do we really need God?  Oh sure, we realize we need God at certain moments in our lives—like when we get diagnosed with cancer, or when the church we’ve grown up in and love is in jeopardy.  When we are scared or at our wits end, we go to God and beg for help.  And that’s fine.  God hears us.  But it is far better for our spiritual health if we recognize every day, every moment we desperately need God.  We cannot do life on our own.  We cannot even tie our shoelaces whithout God's help!  We need God even for something as basic as food.  So we ask, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Just like the Israelites who wandered in the wilderness, who God gave manna from heaven.  God gave them enough for one day.  He said, “Don’t collect more than one day’s supply.  Trust me.  I’ll give you more tomorrow.”  So we ask God to give us the food and basic needs we need today.  And we trust Him.  God will take care of us.

Matthew 6:12
...and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Isn’t it interesting that right next to Jesus instruction to pray for daily bread is His instruction about praying for forgiveness?  Don’t miss this.  Forgiveness is as important to your health and wellbeing as is the basic necessity of food.  Let me say that again:  Forgiveness is as important to your health and wellbeing as is the basic necessity of food.  

This is something our church needs to remember and practice very intentionally during this season.  We have been in a hard and bitter fight.  The Lord has brought us through.  We have won the right to disaffiliate from the UMC and pursue the future we believe God wants our church to work for.  But we also still feel the pain and anxiety from the long fight.  There may even be hard feelings between some in our community—Dalton/Whitfield County—or even in our own church.  And we need to forgive one another so we can move on and heal.  And we need to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Matthew 6:13
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

Here is the reminder of who the enemy really is.  Who is the enemy?  It is the evil one, the Devil.  The enemy is not the Bishop or conference leaders who tried to sidetrack our church.  The enemy is not that person at work who told lies about you and hurt your reputation.  You see, you real enemy is not the people or things of this world.  We are engaged in a spiritual battle.  Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

So don’t give into the temptation to blame your problems on God, thinking He doesn’t care.  And don’t give into the temptation to blame people on earth who oppress you.  It is the Evil One and the forces of darkness in an unseen world who are twisting things up against you.  Therefore, turn away from temptation and not feed the Devil’s influence in your life.  Turn to God in prayer.

Matthew 6:14-15
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

I don’t know how Jesus can make it any more plain than this.  We must forgive or we cannot be forgiven.  Forgiveness is hard.  It’s not some glib thing.  But it is essential.  We must forgive.  Forgiveness is what God has done for us.  And it cost Jesus His life.  Jesus died cruelly on the cross so we can be forgiven and so we can forgive others.  

We all need forgiveness and God is gracious to forgive.  But we in turn must forgive others.  So when you pray, pray like this.  

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For Thine in the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Monday, November 13, 2023

How Did Jesus Teach People to Pray?

I have odd question to ask.  It is an especially odd way to start a sermon on what Jesus said about how to pray.  Here’s the question:  Is there anyone here an expert on Dolly Parton?

I am not an expert on Kenny Rogers nor have I ever met him.  I have never even been to a Rogers concert.  I only know 2 or 3 songs Kenny Rogers sang.  But, I did dress up like Kenny Rogers once.  But do you think that qualifies me as a Dolly Parton “expert”?  Absolutely not!

Well, what does this have to do with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and prayer. 
I’m glad you asked!  Part of the fun of Halloween is being able to dress up like a character and pretend to be something or someone you’re not.  The reason I mention this is pretending to be something you are not is also the definition of a hypocrite.

Matthew 6:5
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 

Actors and actresses portray characters—sometimes so believable it’s amazing!  But just because an actor plays a doctor on TV, that doesn’t mean you should take his medical advice!  An actor takes the stage to play a role to entertain.  Their reward is the crowd’s applause.

In Jesus day, the religious leaders liked to put on a show by praying out loud in public.  It was a great honor to be asked to pray in meetings at the synagogues.  Everyone would see you and know you were a respected member of society.  But you didn’t have to wait until the Sabbath to be show off your amazing prayer skills.  Jews in the New Testament prayed three times a day—in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.  Many religious leaders would show up to public places and pray out loud so everyone could see just how spiritual they were. 

However, Jesus warned us not to put on a show when it comes to our relationship with God and prayer.  He said, “Don’t be like the hypocrites…”  In ancient Greece, hypocrite was the word for an actor who performed in a theater.  Jesus said our relationship with God is to be real, not pretend and certainly not an act we put own to convince others we’re something we are not.  If your goal is to impress others or earn their admiration when you pray, then that is the only reward you will get.  And the praise and admiration of people is cheap and fleeting.  Ask a real actor or actress and they will tell you—one day you’re a star and the next day you are forgotten.

Matthew 6:6
But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

When You Pray…
Jesus’ instructions for prayer are very simple.  Go away by yourself, shut the door, and pray to you Father in private.  Notice that Jesus said, “When you pray…”  That means Jesus expected His followers to pray.  It’s not if you pray.  It’s when

you pray.

Prayer is essential in a relationship with God.  It is how we connect with God.  Prayer keeps us focused.  Prayer takes our attention off ourselves and our problems and plugs us into the divine source of all life. 

I saw a video recently that is a wonderful illustration of prayer.  Some construction workers using a corded circular saw to cut some boards on a worksite.  Unfortunately, the word was not long enough to reach from outlet over to the saw horses where they were cutting the lumber (and they didn't have an extension cord).  They thought they were geniuses because they figure out a solution.  They would plug the saw into the outlet and rev the saw up to full speed.  Then they would unplug it and run across the room and let the residual spinning of the blade cut a little bit on the saw.  So little by little, they could cut through the board.  But when I saw it, I thought, "why not just move the saw horses closer to the outlet so you can keep the saw plug into the power source?"

That is how prayer is for so many us.  We do not have the power within us to be all we need to.  God is our source of life and prayer keeps us plugged into The Source of True Life.  Unfortunately, we often are like those construction workers.  We plug into God through prayer and get revved up, but then we unplug and run away to live life.  We run down so fast.  So we run back to our source of power to rev up again and unplug to go live life.  Why don't we just move closer to God through prayer and stay plugged in?  That is what prayer is supposed to be.

And Jesus assumed His followers would pray.  So he said, when you pray, do it privately.

Do It Privately…
Jesus is very clear.  Don’t use prayer as a means to impress others or win honor.  If you do, that’s all the reward you will ever get.  For some, looking good to others may seem pretty valuable.  Is that what you want?  If it is, then go ahead and pretend.  But the applause of people is a very cheap and short-sighted reward.  We are meant for so much more.

Now, does that mean we shouldn’t pray in public at all?  If that’s the case, I’m in big trouble because as a pastor, I prayed in public quite frequently.  A public prayer like a pastor prays at the beginning of a worship service is a different kind of prayer.  The pastor is praying on behalf of the whole community.  The pastor is trying to put the whole congregations' hopes and concerns into words and speak to God.  That is something appropriate to do in a worship service or other public gatherings.  

Our public prayers are part of a communal experience we share once a week in communal worship or at other public gatherings that celebrate what should be happening privately in each of our lives every day.  But if we aren’t praying privately on a day to day basis when no one can see, then our public prayers become hypocritical acts performed only for show that have no real substance.  Jesus said, don't be like that.  he said, when you pray, do it privately, to your Father...

To Your Father…
Jesus gives a very powerful clue to reveal the most important element of authentic Christian prayer.  He said, “When you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father."  There’s no magic formula.  You just talk to God the way you would talk to your Father.

How would you talk to your earthly father?  Many are blessed to have great fathers that are easy to talk to.  Some of you love to talk with your father.  Others had a great father, but he has passed away and you miss the meaningful conversations you had with him.  You understand how wonderful it can be to talk to a loving father.  That is how you talk to God.

Not all fathers are easy to talk to.  I understand.  Mine wasn’t.  But that’s because earthly fathers are imperfect humans and sometimes selfish or broken.  Some people struggle with the image of God as a Father because they never had a good father.  I didn’t have a good father, but it never kept me from relating to God as a Father, because I simply know that God is the perfect Father.  So I imagine what it would be like to talk to my Dad if all his shortcomings and failings were taken away and he was made perfect in every way.  

So when you pray, imagine the ideal father, the perfect father.  He would be easy to talk to.  He would always be kind and patient.  He would be slow to get angry.  He would always have time for you and always want to talk with you.  He wouldn’t be self-absorbed and always wanting to talk about Himself.  Instead, He would be keenly interested in you always wanting what’s best for you.  He would love you unconditionally and help you in everyway He could.  He wouldn’t try to bribe you by giving you everything you ask for, but instead would give you the things you really need and guide you to grow as an individual to reach your full potential.  That is what God is like.  He's the perfect Father.

And how would you talk to this perfect Father?  There’s no magic formula.  You just talk.  And sometimes you would have a long conversation about something really deep.  Other times you might make a joke about some silly thing you did that day or some irony you encountered.  Sometimes you might just send him a text message on his cellphone to check in or to pass along a bit of information or to ask a quick question.  Sometimes you may call in desperation and say, "Help!  I'm out of gas!" or "I've got a flat tire!  What do I do?"  Sometimes you might just call and say, "I love you, Dad."

Prayer isn’t hard.  If you talk you can pray.  And we communicate all day long in many ways to many people.  You do the same thing with prayer—only you are doing it with God, who is your Father.

Matthew 6:7-8
“When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

As far as I know, all religions include some form of prayer.  And there are often elaborate formulas for how to pray.  Many religions have prayers that are chanted over and over again--the idea being the gods will eventually be worn down by the incessant prayers of the supplicants.  It’s sort of like the 4-year-old child who bombards his mom with the endless request:  “Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?  Can I have a cookie?”  

Jesus says, don’t be like that.  God cannot be worn down by our incessant chanting, but He does care about you and wants to help you with what you really need.  He knows what you need.  In fact, Jesus says, your Father already knows what you need even before you ask! 

Some people ask, “Well if God already knows what I need, why do I have to pray.”  Well, for one thing, because we need to talk to God.  He’s the source of Life.  Prayer is how we plug in.

Another reason is prayer changes us.  Sometimes we start out praying for one thing, but through the process of praying we realize we’re asking for the wrong thing.  So we grow through prayer.

I can think of another reason.  The spiritual forces of darkness cannot stand to hear our prayers.  You cannot see, it, but Scripture says we are engaged in a spiritual battle.  Demons are all around wanting to trip us up and lead us astray.  Our prayers to God are a loud shrill that pierces their ears and drives them insane until they flee away.  So pray.  Pray, pray, pray!  It doesn’t have to be some fancy prayer.  You just have to talk to your Heavenly Father and the Enemy flees away.

We will talk more about prayer next week when we consider Jesus’ instruction about the Lord’s prayer.  But I challenge you to focus on prayer this week.  Establish a specific time each day when you will spend time in prayer.  And then also pray short prayers throughout your day.

You can study all kinds of materials and formulas about how to pray, but the best way to learn is simply to pray.  So, get out there this week and practice!  Just pray!