“What’s In A Prayer”
Pastor Tom Millner
Luke 11:1-4, 9-13
March 20, 2011
Jed and Henry were strolling through what they thought was a field of grass one day when they came within eyeshot of an angry bull. The bull was pawing the ground in front of him as he prepared to charge the unwelcomed intruders. Jed and Henry looked at the bull in fright and dismay as Jed asked “what shall we do?” Henry saw a barbed wire fence about a hundred yards away. “Let’s run for the fence,” shouted Henry. They both took off in the direction of the fence, running as fast as they could get their feet and legs to go. The bull was gaining on them as they were getting closer to the fence, but there seemed little chance they would make it before the bull bore down on them with full force. Henry shouted to Jed “pray for us.” Jed told Henry he didn’t know how to pray. “Just pray something,” shouted Henry. So, Jed prayed the only prayer he remembered his Dad praying; “Father, for what we are about to receive we give you thanks.”
We can laugh at this story and recognize at the same time that we are often in the shoes of Jed and Henry. Each Sunday we say or sing the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples at their request. We learn that prayer as a child and are able to recite it on command; much like Jed recited his as the bull approached from behind. How do we pray when there’s no bull in sight? What’s really in a prayer as Jesus taught us? Why is prayer so important to our lives? Scripture gives us some insight into the relationship of prayer.
Position: Jesus said; “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name.” Notice that it starts with a relationship. The position we assume in the beginning of our prayer is one of personally relating to the one to whom we pray. That personal relationship is as next of kin. Let’s not confuse that relationship as sibling, with whom we have rivalry. That position in relationship is as child to parent. In ancient times, children were property, not having rights equal to the parent. Parents were revered and respected as having authority and power over the child, and parents were entrusted before God in the Jewish tradition to bring up a child in the knowledge of God. The father was not only one in authority, but also one who was trusted and entrusted with the safety and very lives of the family. When we pray, we do so from the position as “not my own,” but that of His. Many fathers today could not stand up to the test of Biblical fatherhood, but nevertheless we are instructed to approach God as one from whom all beneficence arises. Jesus points out that if earthy parents who are unholy can give good gifts as well, how much more capable is our heavenly Parent, who is the embodiment of goodness and grace, deliver that which is good for us. So the first element in our prayers has less to do with what we say than where we position ourselves in relationship with Him. God doesn’t need Himself to be elevated to highest position; we need for ourselves to be humbled to a position where a relationship with God can occur. The second point is similar to the first, but also vastly different.
Disposition: Wikipedia defines disposition as a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way. We’ve known folks with positive and negative (what we call good and bad) dispositions. The former is much more pleasant to be around. From where does one’s disposition come? It’s not the devil who makes us do it (though the devil will take the credit wherever she can), rather it is our hearts and minds turned to self as central, opposing the center of love that we are called to and saved by – God. When Jesus taught us “hallowed be” God’s name, He was reminding us that the very character of God is holy, set apart from the nature of this world. This infers that when we pray, we are pre-disposed (our intended disposition, preparation, intent to act) to an attitude of reverence for who God is. He calls us to a place of awe and wonder before Him, marveling at His splendor, His Kingdom, as it is coming to pass here within us as it is solidly grounded in heaven. Many of us are guilty of approaching God as our personal vending machine, to be used at our whim, for our gratification and satisfaction. When we get in the habit of calling on the name of Jesus or God every time we are confronted with frustration, challenges, or opposition to our agenda, we are not dispositional to a relationship with God. God is neither our vending machine nor our personal “fetch it” dog, but He can handle whatever is on our hearts and minds. If you’re angry that something has not gone your way (or the way you believe it needed to go to be good), God already knows, but He wants you to know the absurdity of placing your agenda above Him. He wants us to be with Him in prayer possessing a disposition of surrender before Him. Adam and Eve discovered in the Garden that putting self-agenda’s before God’s agenda that looks out for the good of all, leads to separation from God. Jesus came through the garden again to heal what they had done. He embodied the disposition of love and surrender that has translated to grace and mercy for each of us as Adam and Eve’s descendants.
Requisition: After we’ve acknowledged our position before God and aligned our disposition to relationship with Him, we’re in a place where our requests can be submitted. Note that in our scripture today from Luke reads: “Give us each day our daily bread (and) forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Notice that Jesus instructs us to ask for our daily needs; bread to eat and bread of life – relationship with Him, but also, He goes deeper. He tells us to ask for forgiveness of our sins against Him because we have forgiven all who have sinned against us. Interesting dynamic, isn’t it? God forgives when we are forgiving? Does this mean that we are to be door mats and lay down to have others wipe their feet on us? Not at all! This does not speak to modern day co-dependent behaviors, but rather to the act of forgiveness of those who have harmed us, offended us, abused us, outside of our permission and will. The mother, father, sister, brother who may have abused us is as an example. The friend who betrayed us; the lover who cheated us; the spouse who left us; the neighbor who gossiped about us; the murderer who took the life of our loved ones – all have wronged us and have sinned against us and our imperative response is to forgive. Forgiveness is not only an action, but also a state of being. In the chemical world there are certain compounds or even elements that act as catalysts in chemical transformations. Two compounds coming together alone would not interact. In the presence of the catalyst, however, an interaction occurs; changing the nature of the two compounds, but the catalyst is not changed. The state of forgiveness is the catalyst that changes the interaction between ourselves and God from one of contention, to one of unity of heart and soul. This is where a change of mind about our own state of ability to forgive results in an eternal heart and soul change before God. Then we are truly ready to “ask and it will be given to you.” This is where many stop. There is more to prayer. There is the action that comes with it; the seeking and the knocking!
Action: Many go to this place of action first before attending to position, disposition, and clearly looking at in what proposition they are making. Action is the follow through, not the lead in. Some throw around the name of Jesus as though that action will submit to them all authority. To act in Jesus’ name is to be living in His character. To be living in His character is to be positioned at God’s feet, disposed to a heart of forgiveness, and walking in a state of acknowledged grace. God doesn’t want us at His feet for His sake, but rather He wants us there for our sake. When we are spiritually there, we are in a position to act in the direction of our prayers. Jesus tells us to “seek” in order to find; to “knock” for the door to be opened. How many times have we prayed for something, leapt from our knees and done nothing in the direction of our prayer? Want to know what to be doing? Listen to your prayers. Financial times have been tough the last couple of years. We have been praying for more income here at the church so that we can carry out the mission to which He has called us here. That means we have to act in the direction of our prayers. We’ve cut expenses where we can; we’ve cut back to a place that has almost crippled us from accomplishing the call….I said almost! We’ve also begun new initiatives that fly in the face of financial ability – small groups; GodAcceptsYou.org; SpiritSong Institute; all designed to draw us to a closer relationship with Him. We’re seeking grants, we’re letting folks know our financial need and we’re asking ourselves to be challenged to give more generously and more faithfully. If you’ve been praying for a job, but not going out to seek one, you’re not fulfilling your part of the prayer. Now I’m not saying that your continued or extended unemployment is your entire fault; I’m simply encouraging you to be a part of your answered prayer. God’s answer to our prayers can come even when we’re looking in different directions. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. God calls us to act in the direction of solutions, not react in the direction of fear or disillusionment. He calls us to ask for what we need, seek to find the solution and knock on the doors of opportunity to be opened to us. If you’re not acting in the direction of the answer to your prayer, you’re doing something other than prayer.
Prayer is position, disposition, proposition and action. What’s in your prayers?