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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Intro to Prayer

In the weeks and months to follow, I am going to be writing a lot about prayer.  Why?  Because it’s ridiculously important.  Romans 12:12 says that we are to be “devoted” to prayer.  Acts 1:14, 2:42, 6:4, and Colossians 4:2 also mention being “devoted” to prayer.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 says that we should “pray without ceasing.”  One website that I named a couple weeks ago listed 222 prayers from the Bible.  Another sermon that I listened to said that there are over 650 prayers in the Bible (377 references to praise and 375 references to prayer).  Go through all of my posts so far and look for references or instructions to pray.

It’s important.

Yet, how’s your prayer life?  Do you “pray without ceasing”?  Are you “devoted” to prayer?  I’ll bet not.  I know I’m not.  I’m terrible at praying.  It is hands-down the weakest part of my faith, when it needs to be my strongest.  Sound familiar?

In a sermon given a few years ago, John Piper noted that fifty students in a North American seminary, who were planning to go overseas in ministry for the summer, were interviewed.  Only three of those fifty (6 percent) admitted to regular devotion to prayer.  Piper said, “We assume that our pastors and missionaries are the models, but we would be shocked, I am afraid.”  He’s right.  In an Ellis Research survey for Facts and Trends, they recently found that just 16 percent of pastors are very satisfied with their personal prayer lives, 47 percent are somewhat satisfied, 30 percent are dissatisfied, and 7 percent are very dissatisfied.  Pastors.

We don’t pray.  Notice I didn’t add the word “enough” there.  That’s because “We don’t pray enough” isn’t correct.  We don’t pray.

Jim Cymbala:  Paul says in 1 Timothy, “First of all, I want men and women in the church to pray.”  I don’t think it’s our “first of all” priority.  We’ve lost the element of prayer.
Todd Nighswonger:  We’ve lost the joy of prayer.  Prayer puts us in His presence.  That should be awesome, but we’ve forgotten that.  We’ve forgotten this honor.
John Piper:  One of the great short-term tragedies in the church is how little inclination we have to pray...The hard truth is that most Christians don’t pray very much.  They pray at meals.  They whisper prayers before tough moments.  They say something brief as they crawl into bed.  But very few set aside specific times to pray alone.  And we wonder why our faith is weak.  Our hope is feeble.  Our passion for Christ so small.

That’s just a taste of what’s out there, but I think you get the point.  I’m not trying to guilt you into a stronger prayer life.  Praying because we feel guilty not praying goes against what God wants.  Guilt isn’t the answer.

Then what is?  Unfortunately, to answer that question, we have to look at a different one: Why don’t we pray?  That answer is so complex that it’s actually going to be an entire post by itself.  For starters: We don’t have the time...We don’t know how...It’s boring.  Just a few common responses.

Many Christians don’t even fully understand what prayer is or why we should do it.  A lot of us don’t know how to pray, so we don’t bother.  Many use the term lightly—“I’ll pray for you!!” (and then we don’t).  We don’t fully comprehend the importance or value of someone praying for us.  We don’t know when God has answered...or if He’s answered...or how to respond when He says no.  For that matter, we treat God like a genie in a bottle—like He’s supposed to obey our every command—and then we get pissed and toss Him away when He has the audacity to say no.

We are great at taking things for granted.  It’s one of the areas of life that we do the best.  Our biggest problem is not disbelieving in God—it’s talking to Him.  We take that line of communication for granted.  We use it only when we need stuff.  For many of us, prayer is our most selfish act.

The purpose of these posts is to help.  Help you (and me) to understand why prayer is so important to our faith.  Help us understand how to pray.  When to pray.  Heck...take a look at my outline.  Here are all the concepts I hope to cover.  Many will be posts by themselves.  Some might be joined.  Some may get cut.  Some may be so long that they have to be split.

Possible topics:
-         Why we should pray
-         How God answers (yes, no, not now...through signs?...through other people...)
-         How to respond when God does answer (yes or no)
-         When does God answer?
-         How we should pray
-         What should we pray about?  (Who should we pray for?)
-         What should we not pray about?
-         The Lord’s Prayer
-         When should we pray?
-         When God doesn’t answer (or Why He says no...or Why can’t I hear Him?)
-         The Hour-Long Challenge
-         How do I know if my answer comes from God?
-         What praying does for us (and others)
-         Why God rejoices when we pray
-         Prayer as a weapon (vs evil)
-         Where should you pray (private, in church, with others, etc)
-         What is prayer?
-         How praying with others brings you closer to them as well
-         Why do so many people close with “...in Jesus’s name, Amen.” Or “...in Your Son’s name, Amen.”
-         What is fasting?  Why does it frequently appear in the Bible with prayer?  Do you HAVE to fast with prayer?
-         Why DON’T we pray?  What keeps us from praying?  What distracts us?

I hope you are beginning to see the massive undertaking I am diving into (if you can think of anything else you’d like me to add to this list, I’m all ears).  I have been prepping for this since school let out.  During the last three weeks, I have visited over 100 websites, read over 70 articles/columns and literally hundreds of scripture, and watched and/or listened to over 70 online sermons.  To date, I have over 700 pages of notes that I’m sifting through.  To be perfectly honest, I’m overwhelmed.  I feel like I’m in over my head here.  The Bible says that the teachers are judged harder, and I’m far from experienced here.  Most of my posts have been more motivational than instructional so far…I don’t feel ready (or qualified) to teach.

Yet…that’s exactly what I feel God is telling me to do.  Here.  Now.  So, I’m terrified, but I’m doing it.  That’s probably why I have so many notes.  When all of this is finished, I hope that prayer is not only easier for us, but it becomes something we love to do.  I hope we get excited about it.  I hope…actually, John Piper spoke on this, and I like the way he phrased it better:

1. I dream of thousands of people daily finding a secluded place and time for personal communion with God, confessing sins, thanking God for blessings, praising him for his perfections, asking for help in your life, and interceding earnestly for others.  Every day in your solitary place and time.
2. I dream of hundreds of married couples on their knees together, not with the children at meals or for family devotions, but just the two of you praying out loud together for each other's holiness, and for your marriage, and for your children, and your church, and your neighbors, and our missionaries, and the advance of God's saving power in the world.
3. I dream of hundreds of families where every day not just at meal time but in the morning, or in the evening, or both, the children are gathered and the word of God is read and everyone prays so that the smallest children learn from the earliest times: prayer is an essential part of my parents' lives and our life as a family.
4. I dream of hundreds of small groups and hundreds of deep friendships where people are praying for each other—hands on prayer for healing, for reconciliation, for lost loved ones, for seemingly intractable sin, for endurance in faith, and where groups and friends are uniting to pray for a cause together, and where the mission of the church is carried in prayer.
5. I dream of worship services in which everyone is radically, deeply, joyfully, authentically engaged with God in prayer all through the entire service—praying as you come, praying as you sing, praying as you listen, praying as you go.

There is a movement going on right now.  I was swept up in it back in January, but now I see it everywhere.  The Spirit is moving in 2012.  A.T. Pierson said, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.”  Praying needs to become front-and-center for all of us.  We cannot afford to let prayer be a passive verb in our lives anymore.  It needs to be the strongest action verb in your day-to-day operations.

John Piper said, “The deepest need of every person is to know God.”  We can’t do that without prayer.  We all say that we want to be like Jesus.  Well…Jesus was a man of prayer.  Let’s be like Jesus.  Let’s be devoted men and women of prayer.  I think you and I are in for quite a journey.  Let’s hold hands, bow our hands, and jump in together.

Next week:  What is prayer?

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