By Pastor Glenn Pease
George Buttrick in his large book simply called Prayer tells of why the Acoma Indians in Colorado chose to live on the mesa. The rock gave them safety. The Apaches on the South and the Navajos on the North made them sitting ducks down on the plains, and so they headed for the rocks. A narrow path up the steep rock-staircase made it impossible for an enemy to get to them. A few men could defend against an army, and so they felt secure on the rocks.
The rocks provided natural cisterns to store water, and soil carried up to the rocks was kept cool, and so the flowers bloomed in splendor. They had security and beauty. They could watch the drifting clouds above ever changing, and the shifting sands of the desert below were being blown by the wind into new eddies. Earth and sky in ceaseless change, but they stood on the solid rock that did not change.
Buttrick says this is the longing of all men to have a solid place on which to stand and live. They long for permanence in a world of change, and that is what prayer is all about. Prayer is about connection with the Rock, and with the God who is permanent and changeless. Prayer is about security and stability in a world where there is so little solid ground. Prayer is our link to the Permanent. He quotes Henry Francis Lytes famous hymn Abide With Me.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out of life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changes not, abide with me!
This prayer for the permanent presence of the Rock in our lives is based on the conviction that there is no solid ground in this world on which to live and stand. Prayer is saying that I must reach out to a world beyond this one or be forever trapped in the shifting sands of time. Prayer is the conviction that there is another realm above time, which is the realm of eternity, and it is determined to get in touch with that higher realm which is permanent. So prayer is not just the kid's stuff of gimme, gimme, gimme. It is the stuff of deep philosophy and theology, for it deals with the essential issues of the meaning of life and the purpose for our existence. Prayer is so amazingly simple, and yet so awesomely profound that both children and scholars deal with it everyday. It is to be a perpetual part of every believer's life.
Any day that we do not pray we disobey for Jesus expects that we will give thanks for our daily bread as we make our other petitions. The Lord's Prayer is quite short, and so Jesus does not imply that we must all become mystics who spend many hours in prayer. But the fact is, he does expect that His followers will be people that maintain daily contact with the heavenly Father. Jesus had His quiet time, and often we are told He got up early and went off to the hills to pray alone. But prayer for Jesus was not limited to any time or place. He was ready at any time to pray. For Him prayer was just including God in His daily activities.
In Luke 10:21 Jesus, just all of the sudden, stops in the context of a busy day to acknowledge God. It says, "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." We think of prayer so often as being limited to some formal setting, and we miss the joy of Jesus in just spontaneously saying, "Thank you Lord," when we feel something positive about life.
Spontaneous prayer is much more meaningful and real than planned prayer. Planned prayer is usually locked into formulas, and we repeat the same requests over and over. This kind of prayer gets dull, and it is seen as a duty rather than a joy. If you want to improve your prayer life, do not assume you have to add more to your formal times of prayer. Instead, add the spontaneous prayer that we see in the life of Jesus. He had His formal times, and He said grace before He ate, but the informal times are what most of us need to develop to add new life to our prayer life. This kind of prayer is developed by practicing a perpendicular perspective. This means learning to see how heaven relates to earth, or how God is involved in the things we experience all around us.
Our horizontal or humanistic perspective causes us to see only the physical reality, and we miss the reality of the unseen. We miss the things all about us that should lead us to praise God. For example, I read of three men who stood gazing at Niagara Falls. One was a mechanical engineer, and he said, "What a waste of power. I could turn the wheels of industry with all that wasted power." The second man was an artist, and he was positive. He saw great beauty and he longed to reproduce it on canvas. The third man was a man with perpendicular perspective, and he said, "What a great God is ours!" All three could have been Christians with equal commitment to Christ, but the first two were weaker in their prayer skills because they did not see in power and beauty a reason to praise God first of all.
Start practicing your perpendicular perspective. Set a goal of seeing reasons to praise God for seven things in your daily life. If you only get two, that is better than missing them all. This will help you see prayer as more enjoyable, and not just as a duty that you have to do. This kind of prayer is also a form of witnessing. When you see God's hand in life, and you thank Him and praise Him, you display a spirit that is seen by those around you, and this is a witness. Jesus used prayer this way at the tomb of Lazarus. John 11:41-42 reveals Jesus again in a spontaneous prayer: "Then Jesus looked up and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I know you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." Here is Jesus using prayer as a tool for witnessing. Prayer is offered to God, but you limit prayers value if you think it is only for God. Prayer is for people to hear also. Jesus prayed so people could hear Him thanking God, for He wanted His relationship to God to be known so that people could see and believe He was from God.
Public prayer is for men to hear. Public prayer communicates the faith of the one praying to other people who are listening. It can communicate knowledge, wisdom, joy, and a host of other values. Most of us do not have many occasions to witness by prayer, and Jesus is not revealed to be doing this often either, but we need to be aware of the potential of prayer to touch men. When I see people praying in a restaurant before they eat I experience their witness of faith. Verse 45 shows that the prayer of Jesus was answered. It says, "Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him." Back up your prayer with a life that impresses people with your faith, and you have the potential of winning them to Christ.
In Jesus we see also that prayer is a tool of self-persuasion. Counseling is 90% listening to other people. People talk about their problems and trials and in so doing they get them out of their sub-conscious into their consciousness, and they deal with them. The counselor may say little, but they go away helped, for they come to some decision about how to deal with what is disturbing them. Prayer is counseling with God. All He may do is listen, but as we pour out our needs, frustrations, and desires, we come to see the way we need to respond and deal with them. Jesus did this in Gethsemane. In Matt. 26:39 we read, "Going a little further, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, my Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will."
Jesus wrestled with God in prayer, and we do not hear God saying a word, but Jesus came to His own conclusion as He prayed: "I will surrender to your will Father whatever it is. If the cross is the only way, then so be it, thy will be done." Jesus had counseled with God in prayer and came away committed to the cross. Prayer is not just asking God for something, or praising Him for something already received. It is a decision making process where we talk out the options and come to some conclusion to which we make a commitment. Jesus was single and so He could not talk it over with a mate. But He needed a second opinion, as we all do in times of stress, when the decision is of enormous consequences. We all need to talk things through with someone, and this is a good and valid purpose in prayer, as we talk things over with God. The Psalms are loaded with prayer counseling, where there is honest sharing of emotions that help one come to some wise conclusion.
Jesus needed prayer as a counseling tool, and we all need to learn to use prayer in this way. All our fears, emotions, doubts and hang-ups can be worked out if we expose our total being to God, and face the reality of our problems squarely as Jesus did. The failure of Christians to be honest with God in prayer is the reason you have thousands of Christian Psychiatrists working every day to help Christians cope with all of their hidden sins and neurotic feelings. Jesus did not need a counselor because He knew how to be honest in prayer. Until we learn this we will need the aid of man, it is not all bad, but it is a sign of inadequate prayer skills, which can be learned.
Prayer for Jesus was also a tool for practicing what He taught. Jesus said in the Sermon On The Mount that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He did this on the cross when He prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." In prayer we can do many things that are hard to do, for in prayer we can be open and honest with God. You cannot be very Christ-like if you go up to someone you do not like, and who has been treating you like dirt, and say, "I know you are just a blundering idiot stumbling through your pathetic life, but I want you to know I forgive you." It is better if you deal with this issue in prayer. Struggle before God to forgive them, and then just treat them as forgiven. There are just too many ways to make a good thing go bad if you deal with people. But if you deal with God in prayer you can get it all worked out in your mind and not spoil a good thing.
Many of the Psalms are prayers we say to God to get anger and hostility off our chest so we don't blurt them out to people and start a war when the goal is to achieve peace. If you are offended by some of the harsh language of the Psalms, remember that they represent the dark inner emotions being released before God in prayer so that they are not released before men in damaging ways. Jesus had to deal with His emotions and find release, and He did so in prayer. The only group of sinners He verbally lashed out at with severe language was the Scribes and Pharisees. It was because they were so evil with their legalism, and they cared more about rules than about people. The only people Jesus ever hurt were people who were hurting other people. It is legitimate to cry out against injustice and oppression. But much of the anger of life is due to personal conflict, and things that may hurt us, but which are not a problem for the world. These need to be dealt with in prayer so that they do not become problems blown all out of proportion.
Because Christians did not do what Jesus did in prayer on the cross, and because they did not get rid of their desire for revenge against the Jews who killed Him, they started persecuting the Jews in the Middle Ages for being Christ-killers. They wrote one of the most disgraceful chapters in Christian history. Christians killed and enslaved thousands of Jews for a sin that Jesus forgave on the cross. This is why there is a day of judgment for Christians, for Jesus cannot let such rebellion go unjudged, for that would be a violation of His own law of love. Christians make their biggest mistakes by not using prayer as a tool of emotional release. Instead, they take matters into their own hands, and they proceed to do what is clearly not the will of God.
Could Jesus have been perfect without prayer? I doubt it. I think we think it was easy to be the Son of God living in the world in the flesh, and being able to avoid all of the folly of human nature. But I think that this thinking is wrong. If it was a snap, why was Jesus always praying, and why does the Bible tell us that Jesus really understands our battles and our weaknesses? It is because He has been there, and He knows the pressure and the danger of yielding to it. Heb. 4:15 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who is tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin."
He knows because He fought the same battles we fight. He won all of them, and that is the difference, and prayer was one of His key weapons for victory. That is why the next verse says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." In other words, let us do what Jesus did. He prayed to God and by means of prayer he was able to remain sinless in a sinful world. We may not be able to be sinless, but we can follow His example and find the grace we need to be victorious over the enemy. Without prayer we give the enemy and advantage over us. Every time we fail to be like Christ it is because of our failure to use prayer as the tool it was meant to be. We go off on our own without checking in with our Counselor, and the result is that we blow it.
Jesus of all people did not need to pray, we would think, for He was perfect. But we fail to see that the reason He was perfect was because He prayed without ceasing. He took everything to God and was able to face all of life with the right attitude. We also need to use prayer, as He did, as a tool for release and for guidance. Pray without ceasing, and do not limit your prayer to when you rise, or when you go to bed. We need to learn spontaneously as we go about our daily life. We need to be aware of our needs and take them to God at those moments of awareness. Thank God at those moments of awareness when you think of things to be thankful for. Don't let your mind be idol, but praise God frequently as you go through your daily routine.
I have read the experts in this area of prayer, and they tell of how difficult it is learn. It is a wonderful habit to develop, but it is far from easy to pray without ceasing, and to be ready at any point to spontaneously praise God or intercede for others. It is a life changing habit, but it will never happen unless you discipline yourself and make a commitment to consciously develop the ability to escape the domination of your mind by the things of time. To be able to escape into eternity and pray at any time is a powerful weapon in the spiritual life. But it will not happen without practice anymore than playing an instrument will come without practice. You can only spontaneously go to a piano and play music if you have first of all disciplined yourself to practice. So it is with spontaneous prayer. You will have to work at it to develop the ability to pray without ceasing, and be ready at any moment to go to the Lord in prayer. May God help us to be motivated to develop this marvelous skill of spontaneous prayer.