Prayer is a profoundly sacred and mysterious topic and it was hard to know which direction to take. As I examined scripture and read through one of my workbooks from my Way of Life study, I came across this paragraph. “Our contemporary fixation on tips and techniques has, when it comes to prayer, emphasized methods over mindset, and this has left many of us, when it come to our experience with God, “out in the cold.” Most of our frustration with prayer stems from issues of our mindset toward God….in this session we primarily want to focus our attention on a mindset; that of prayer as relationship with God.”
Lying within those few sentences I found my own frustration in writing this piece. Everything I wrote focused on methods over mindset. I was failing to convey prayer as a loving relationship with God. And without the relationship element, my words rang empty. God is a deeply relational God. He relates to Himself within the mysterious fellowship of the Holy Spirit. He also relates to His creation. In fact, He values his relationship with His people so much that he calls us friends (John 15:15). This level of personal acquaintance with the God of all creation should stun us. And what is really interesting comes just after this verse where Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” The proximity of Jesus making the declaration of friendship to his followers and this invitation to prayer makes me think that the key to asking the Father through prayer is a relationship with Jesus and that if you are in a relationship with Jesus prayer will be a natural outcome of that friendship.
Our verses this week come from Matthew 21:21-22. “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Jesus intended to breathe fresh hope and energy into his disciples with these words but times have changed and imperfect people have gotten a hold of Jesus’ perfect words and these verses have been abused and misused so we need to unlearn a few things before we can really embrace what prayer as a relationship with God might look like. There are many things Jesus is NOT saying in these two verses. But I think it is best summed up by pointing out that Jesus is not talking about praying for desires controlled by the flesh. Romans 8 sets this up clearly. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit….For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” A heart that is constantly pursuing the ways that are in opposition to how God designed creation to work is a heart set against God. And a heart that is pridefully set against God will not be in authentic, deep communion with Him. And a person who is not in a genuine relationship with God cannot approach prayer as a relationship. However, a heart that is set on the Spirit is a heart that desires the things of God and that person can enjoy the gift of praying bold prayers with expectation! A heart set on the spirit enjoys the things of God and that will come through in their prayers. That is not to say we don’t have desires of our own. We absolutely do and we should embrace those things. God sets desires in each of our hearts for a purpose! It is when we idolize or pervert those desires that they become a problem. So how do we pursue a focus on the spirit so that we can enjoy bold prayer as a relationship with God? There are many ways to pursue this prayerful life with God and different people in different seasons will engage with God in different ways. The beauty of this invitation to a prayerful life is that there is no perfect formula or method. We can have a spirit focus by getting to know Him more through His word as we study it, meditate on it and memorize it. We get to know Him more intimately through the faces and stories of those he has put around us we enter into genuine community with others (and gasp…it doesn’t always have to be church people!). We also engage Him more through silence. When we pull away from all of the noise, people and demands around us, we open up space for God to move and speak to us. Certainly this is not an all inclusive list, we could include things like nature, music and work. All of which are gifts God has given us in order to know Him more. As we come to know Him more, our focus becomes more on Him, which will impact our prayers.
I don’t want to make this sound easy, because it really is one of the spiritual disciplines with which most people, myself included, seem to struggle. Prayer often involves waiting which is uncomfortable, unclear and sometimes painful. Our fast paced, productivity centered, highly individualized Western culture is not very conducive to waiting on God through prayer. Our most prominent forms of communication are short, require little thought and are sent with the expectation of instant feedback. But the sacred practice of prayer requires a different heart posture. Waiting on the Lord involves trust, surrender, submission and humility. During these times of waiting (and sometimes these seasons are very dark), we experience a level of self awareness that allows us to see what is in our own hearts and see our need for someone greater who can help us journey through this life. We also experience dry seasons in our spiritual life when praying feels empty. Prayer involves learning to push past those times until we get to the other side of it and can commune with God and share our life with Him in deeper ways then before.
God designed us to be communicators with each other and Him. God is so intentional in listening to our prayers that the Bible describes him as bending down to listen to our prayers. (Psalm 116:2) Because He is so willing to listen, please don’t hold anything back! When we pray with humility of heart and genuine love for God and others, we will be blown away by his power in our life. If your heart is heavy with the burdens of life, bring them to God in prayer. If you are heartbroken over the injustices of this world and long to see the day when all wrongs will be made right, cry out to God in prayer! If you have big dreams, ask God to give you wisdom in it through prayer! Pray for your kids, pray for your marriage, pray for your family. Pray for our country and it’s leaders. Pray for the church all over the world! Pray for the poor and hungry. Pray for lonely and lost. Give thanks and praise to God in prayer for who He is and what He has done. But don’t stop there. The two elements of a prayerful life that are oftentimes overlooked are listening to Him and simply enjoying Him. Just like any relationship, communicating with God is not just God receiving our words but it is also us receiving His words and enjoying his companionship. When forget those two pieces, we miss out on this friendship Jesus is inviting us to enjoy.
Prayer is a gift and it is essential to the Christian’s pilgrimage. My hope for the particular local body at WRCC is that we would be a people of prayer. That we would be a people who move the impossible mountains of our time through prayer. And that we would be a listening people. That we would not foolishly go our own way and assume we know what is best but rather that we would intentionally quiet our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Lord and that we would join Him where He is calling us. Be blessed today as you seek God through prayer. May you hear his voice and enjoy His love.