Prayer that touches the heart of God
2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, 4 so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.
5 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Today is the first Sunday in the new Year. And it is appropriate that we start the year declaring our dependence on God. Beginning tonight and the following evenings we will come together as a church to begin this year in prayer and to declare our dependence on God for every area of our lives.
Abraham Lincoln said this about his prayer life: "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelmingconviction that I had nowhere else to go." We don’t always fall upon the knees when we pray, but the best attirude for prayer is a humble conviction that we have nowhere else to go but to God - and that God is sure to answer.
The story is told where a tavern was being built in a town that until recently had been dry. A group of Christians in a certain church opposed this and began an all‑night prayer meeting, asking God to intervene.
That same night, lightning struck the tavern building, and burned it to the ground. The owner brought a lawsuit against the church, claiming they were responsible. The Christians hired a lawyer, claiming they were not responsible. Seeing what was about to progress at the start of the trial, the judge said, "No matter how this case comes out, one thing is clear. The tavern owner believes in prayer and the Christians do not!"
Doug Klassen, Pastor of Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, invites us throught the Prayer Week material to take up the challenge of sharing with others that which God is already doing in our lives.
"People are looking for a faith that is rooted in life experience, in our conduct, in our character... When we declare “the mystery of Christ”, it needs to be autobiographical, it needs to come from the pages of our personal travelogue with Christ." (God will open to us a door, Doug Klassen, page 33)
It is important then that we learn to pray that God would open doors to us, that we would share the heartbeat of God with those around us. But, how do we pray so that God’s heart will be moved by our prayers and petitions?
Klassen says, “I sometimes wonder if prayer has lost its meaning for mature, self‑sufficient, upstanding adults; lost its meaning in a sense that its practice has become so watered down that we now put very little into prayer, as though this spiritual discipline actually requires very little discipline. Some wonder if many of the practices and words of the Christian faith have become threadbare, worn out, and have lost their meaning.
Perhaps we who have, at some point, perceived the absence of God, find it difficult to make ourselves vulnerable again for fear of further disappointment. Perhaps we are too nervous to bring the wishes of our hearts before the One who may or may not grant us the specifics of our requests. Further, some of us may have tried things that have been labelled by the self‑help industry as "prayer" and found them not to be fruitful. Yet there is something about how we are created that makes us return and keep trying it. As Augustine said, "We would not seek You (God) if we had not already found you."
So, we ask, What does it mean to pray? Do we need to say certain words? Is there a certain physical or spiritual posture that is involved for the one who wants to pray?
We were created with a spiritual compass that naturally directs us toward God ‑ it is the natural language of the heart. Yet for many people, prayer is often reduced to a few awkward sentences or high‑sounding words that are meant to impress God. Perhaps the only time it becomes raw and passionate is in the face of failure or tragedy. Walter Wink is right when he states, "We are not easily reduced to prayer."
Why is that? What has become of the practice of prayer for the average Christian?'
We know from the Scriptures that prayer is about relationship ‑ between the Creator and the created. The Bible shows us a widening gap between God and God's people, until God initiates reconciliation with the redemptive work of Christ.
But, over time, we settled again into an illusion that we are self‑sufficient, independent, and in control of our own destiny. When we pray however, that spell is broken and we are restored to life‑giving communion with God. In prayer we admit to God and to ourselves that we need someone greater than ourselves to save us from that which causes us pain – often even ourselves.
Healthy prayer is also sacrifice. It is giving from the very core of ourselves. Prayer costs us in the same way that giving of the first fruits costs us. It may cost us some free time, it may cost us our deepest desires, but meaningful prayer ultimately puts us back into our place under the reign of God, to a place where God's healing and hope may flow through us unrestricted.
Meaningful prayer sometimes costs us more than we are willing to sacrifice. Sometimes we pray with the expectation that "Prayer moves the hands that move the world." Or that "Prayer pulls the rope down below and the great bell rings above in the ears of God." When we ask God to move His hand, to make certain things happen, are we not telling God what is best? Can the tail wag the dog? Do certain patterns of prayer make God our servant?
In the Movie, Shadowlands, which depicts the life of the great preacher and Christian writer C.S.Lewis, there is a scene where Lewis, facing the loss of his wife to cancer falls to his knees to pray. He pleads with God for mercy that he would spare her life, for he has found a love that he did not think possible. After the death of his wife, his friends seek to console him and one suggests that perhaps his prayers hadn’t reached God. Lewis’ words are sobering: “Prayer doesn’t change God – it changes me.”
God is infintely interested in our human predicament. We are not just helplessly thrown at the mercy of a villain God who demands the surrender of our wills and refuses to grant our requests. At the same time, we are not only to roll over and pray for coping skills for the evils that befall us. Biblical prayer calls us into the holy presence of God, who is deeply moved by our tears and our joys.
Paul is one who has devoted himself to the practice of prayer. There is no hint that he has found it tiresome. Could it be that his transformation by the hand of Christ has given him a new sense of urgency for God's agenda? His zeal for the Kingdom prompts him to ask the Colossians to be a part of what God is doing with him and his followers.
Paul’s aim in his letter to Colossians is to assure them that Jesus Christ is supreme and sufficient for all areas of our lives. Towards the end of his letter he invites them to embrace a vision for ministry. Having been assured of our salvation Paul calls us into action with him. The very nature of the gospel is that it must be shared, it must be passed on to others. And this is a deliberate, active way of life.
Paul says, “devote yourselves to prayer.” Prayer is the bedrock of spiritual life. It is communicating with God. In prayer we talk with God; we listen to God. Prayer is the method by which we center our hearts and minds on the personal relationship we have with God through Christ.
However, our prayer life with God cannot be random or haphazard as are most of our conversations with people. We do not bump into God in the lunchroom. Instead, our prayer must be “devoted.” Our prayer must be persistent, constantly waiting upon God. We must “pray without ceasing.”
Jesus was a man of prayer. He took regular time for private, intense, devoted conversation with God the Father. On one evening Jesus took his disciples to a Garden to pray. He told them to “Watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation.” It is our nature that when things become routine, we get bored.
“Watching and praying” means praying with our eyes open, looking for God’s action around us – in our families, our workplaces, in the headlines. The disciples in Gethsemane thought it was just another evening, but as they dozed and struggled to keep their eyes open, the battle between the kingdom of Darkness and the kingdom of God was being waged in their midst.
Paul exhorts us to devote ourselves to prayer and to do it thankfully. Certainly we have many good things for which we are thankful, but there is a deeper thanksgiving to which Paul is referring. We give thanks for the fact that God has acted decisively on our behalf through His Son.
Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him in his ministry. Pray “that a door of opportunity would be open for me, that I would speak as I should.” Even Paul, one of the greatest preachers of all time, recognized that he could not by his own powers convince anyone of the truth of the Gospel. We can only share Jesus Christ with our hurting world when God opens the doors.
Our role, like Paul’s, is simply this: to be ready and willing when God opens the doors for us.
Brothers and sister, God desires to have a living relationship with you and me. He wants our relationship with Him to cost us something – after all it cost Him the life of His only begotten Son. As we begin this new year, may we resolve to be devoted to thankful prayer, so that God would open doors of opportunity for us to share what God is doing in our lives.