When I was a kid I prayed most nights before bedtime…”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mommy and Daddy and Jamie and Grandmomma and Daddy John…(all of the family members and friends that I could think of to “bless”). And when I saw a big bright star in the sky I said, “Star light, Star bright, the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” When I was little, my prayers and my wishes where the same. I said the sing-song words because it was just something that was part of a ritual and a routine. It’s bedtime…pray. There is a bright star…wish.
So when did my concept of prayer begin to evolve from words spoken at church by the preacher or at a Holiday meal by my grandfather or at my bed time…
Yesterday. And the day before that…and when I understood that prayer was not meant to be fancy and heard by other people but it was supposed to be real and raw and gut-wrenching and heart-breaking and joyous to the point of tears and laughter. Prayer doesn’t have time constrants…”when should I pray? How long should I pray?” God wants to hear from us as often as we want to say something…and it can be a “dumping” of all of our worries and sorrows and fears and things we have done that we are ashamed of…or a lifting up of other people who are worried or sorrowful or afraid or that have done us wrong.
A simple acronym that I used to teach my Sunday School classes was “P.I.T.A”. – ” P. – Praise God for being a wonderful and powerful creator. I. – I’m Sorry: Tell God about our sins. T. – Thank God for all the things God does and gives to us. A – Ask God to help us and to help others. There are so many reasons to praise God! All we have to do is open our eyes…a sunset, a friend’s hug, a snaggle-tooth child’s grin, white fluffy clouds making shapes in a robin egg blue sky. As Hillsong sings, “Over the mountains and the sea, Your river runs with love for me, And I will open up my heart and let the Healer set me free. I’m happy to be in the truth. And I will daily lift my hands. For I will always sing of when Your love came down. I could sing of Your love forever. Oh I feel like dancing It’s foolishness I know But when the world has seen the light They will dance with joy. Like they’re dancing now. I could sing of your love forever. I could sing of your love forever…” So much to Praise God about if we will just see the AMAZING wonder in the small and big!
But maybe we have something heavy weighing on us, preventing us from lifting our eyes and seeing anything good. Maybe we need to apologize… God already knows what we have done…but we need to tell Him, confess it, ask forgiveness for it and then KNOW and ACCEPT that He forgives us. Once we have opened up and spilled our guts…don’t pick it back up! Leave it.
Meister Eckhart, a midevil theologian, philosopher and mystic said, ” If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.“I don’t think that is all…but it is a really good start. If we don’t know what words to use to express ALL of out gratitude…for our life, our health, our family and friends, food, shelter, laughter, beauty…on and on and on “Thank You, God” is WAAAAAAAAAY better than not saying anything at all. Consider the following story told by Jesus in Matthew 25:14-30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
That sounds harsh…Yes? But let’s be realistic…are we made to hoard and hide all of the gifts and blessings and talents ( talents in this story are gold, but talents can be musical, artistic, athletic or a gift of the Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:27,28 “ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”)
That leads me to the last part of the little PITA acronym… ASK God to help us and to help others. Here we go again…it is ALL about the relationships. We are not just told to pray to God to praise Him and Thank Him and to ask Him to help and forgive us. We are supposed to PRAY FOR OTHERS.
When we pray for that help, do we believe that we will get it? Do we believe that the person that we pray for will receive any benefit from our prayer? do we BELIEVE that we are heard? Or is it just a wish thrown out there on the open air to be caught up and taken wherever?
I used to think that most of my prayers were like that. Honestly, until recently I was much more likely to tell people who “I am thinking about you” or “I am sending good thoughts your way.” But for some reason the idea of telling someone straight out, “I am praying for you” somehow seemed untrue. Ironically the times in my life when I have prayed fervently for someone or something God has NEVER let me down. So why would I not trust Him to do the same good work in every little thing? Why would I not go to Him in prayer about everything all day long…would it really be that hard to do?
Again, Dave Early has written a book that has made me not only pause and think…but has helped me better understand! He explains what to do, and HOW. 14 Secrets to Better Relationships chapter 9 “Pray for one another”.
Dave Early says, “The role of friend was one that Paul took very seriously as he taught, modeled, encouraged, and especially prayed for others…The first thing that jumps out as we study Paul’s prayers is his repeated mention of how consistently he prayed for others…regular, consistent, frequent, fervent, constant prayer…he never skipped a day, let alone missed an opportunity to pray for his friends. EVERY TIME THEY CAME TO MIND, he offered a prayer on their behalf.
“Maybe you’re like I am. I will pray a lot when there is an emergency or crisis, but I tend to slack off when the pressure’s off. I need to learn to pray more consistently, even when there is no crisis. If I did, maybe there would be fewer crises.”
I included the bold lettering because those words seem crucial to me! If we prayed for people always, constantly, whenever they come to mind in a POWERFUL and BELIEVING way, then God IS going to do something better than we imagined. Someone we know may be old and ill… we want them to be healthy and well…but really what they need is to be healed from a painful relationship… there will not be peace for them or for the other people who are part of the unhealthy relationship until God works a miracle and the Holy Spirit stirs their hearts. We might want a body healed, but God knows that they body is temporary. THE POWER OF OUR PRAYERS and OUR BELIEF that the HOLY SPIRIT can and will do miracles if we only ask can reconcile and repair relationships and bring peace and healing and light and love where there was bitterness and hate and darkness and death.
As my Pastor preached recently, we have a power. It isn’t seen but it is real none the less. All we have to do is use it. When we pray for ourselves or for others we “Pour Out” our prayer. It isn’t empty words caught on the wind and scattered wherever. It isn’t a wish on a star. When we “Pour Out” our prayers to God, we connect with God. We “Tap In” to His Will and His Desire to bless us for our good, for our loved ones good, for our enemies good and for His Glory. He wants to answer our prayers because every time we pray and SEE that our prayers have been answered (maybe our prayer was not answered how we thought it should be…but we SEE that what we got was best for us)…every time we pray and good results then we are a witness for God. We are supposed to be ADVERTISING for God’s amazing love for us! God wants to help us. But He is not going to impose His way on us. We have a choice. We have to ask.
I love this quote from Dave Early, “Paul built and maintained effective relationships with people who could have worn him out and driven him crazy. But they didn’t make him bitter, cynical, or discouraged. Why? He always thanked God for them…We should note that Paul was grateful, but also what he was grateful for. He didn’t thank god for the people’s good health or easy lives…Paul’s basis of gratitude was spiritual, not physical or material. I am not saying that we shouldn’t thank God for the physical, material, educational and vocational blessings he gives our loved ones. But the primary content of our gratitude should be focused on the spiritual work He has, is, and has yet to do in their lives.
“Paul was not only consistent in his prayers and constant in his gratitude, he was confident in his expectation.” He believed.
And again, Dave Early, “There will be times when others disappoint us. We must be like Paul and remember that our faith is not so much in them as it is in God who is at work in them. As long as they are breathing, God is not finished working.” Yes!
Our “living conditions” may change – we may have different houses, different jobs, different friends and our bank account may have significant ups and downs. Our health may have significant ups and downs. Our relationships may have significant ups and downs…some may become broken. all of those things can affect our hope and our courage…but what I have learned from this “chapter” is that if we have inner strength, believe that God has a plan, have a desire to learn what God wants us to do, have faith and courage to let God lead us in a direction that we know by the promptings of the Holy Spirit is the right path…and if we keep these same hopes for everyone that we know…and say a prayer for everyone who comes to mind as often as they come to mind then we are allowing god to use our “Pouring Out” and “Tapping In” to be Poured back into the person who has asked for our prayers, who we know needs our prayers or who God has put on our heart to pray for.
And don’t discount the importance of praying together. Dave Early puts it this way, “To fully capitalize on the power of relationships through prayer, we need to pray not only for each other but also with each other.”
Matthew 18:19-20 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
John C. Maxwell quotes a statistic that couples who were married in a church, attended regularly, and prayed together as a couple the divorce rate is 1 out of 1105 marriages…nationally it is roughly one out of two. My Grandparents prayed together every night and were HAPPILY, RESPECTFULLy, AFFECTIONATELY married for 75 years until the death of my Grandfather. Yes. I believe in prayer. It isn’t a wish or emty words. It is a power that will change the world…Pour Out, Tap In and Let God’s Will be done.