Out of the cold. No warning. Ka Bam. Your name has just been called: You will be closing the meeting in prayer! Enormous pressure begins to build, as the valve in your neck to closes off the blood flow to your brain making you dizzy. But you start praying anyway and choke yourself through. Immediately following your ‘Amen’, you begin kicking yourself over the stupid things you said, and as you slither out of the room you know they will never call on you again. You’re glad, in a sick sort of way.
Prayer was never meant to be a spiritual barometer indicating how many fancy words, scripture verses, pious terms and metaphors can you thread through your monologue. God doesn’t care if you can “out-Thy and Thee’ the competition, nor does He sit up in Heaven with His score cards grading performances and deducting tenths-of-points for poor aptitude or length of routine.
Paul the apostle who had persecuted Christians, told his friends: “pray without ceasing’. To say the least, Paul should have been embarrassed about his past performance, and certainly a bit anxious about the ‘forgiveness-thing’. ‘What-if’ God really carried around an agenda of deeds? But knowing God, Paul wrote:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7
Charles Swindoll writes:“Paul’s perspective on prayer was this: It results in peace, it doesn’t take it away. It alleviates anxiety; it isn’t designed to create it. But you see, we have been led to believe that in order for prayer to be effective, it must be arduous, lengthy, even painful. And we must stay at it for hours on end . . . pleading, longing, waiting, hurting.”
Prayer was not designed to be a ritual. Jesus offered His example prayer when He saw how the Jews were making people crazy with it: They were supposed to pray before, during and after dinner, (fruit required more prayer than meat). Before and after a sickness, when it was light, when it was dark, during and after a thunderstorm, lightning, when you were about to wear something new, or even put a new piece of furniture in your house. When prayer becomes protocol, it loses spontaneity.
Prayer became an element of comparison: To appear more ‘spiritual’, some of the higher-ups in the synagogue wore large prayer boxes on their heads and adorned themselves with tassels and glorious prayer robes, as they stood on the corner praying on the top of their lungs. ‘Prayer fashion’ became trendy, and prayer quality got left in the ditch.
Jesus pulled the magic rug out from under this impressive group, when He got out his pen and began scratching through man-made requirements. He squarely addressed the issue:
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father Knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7,8
In the next verses Jesus gives an example of a perfect prayer, commonly called the Lords Prayer. (Matthew 9-13) His prayer wasn’t flowery or magnificent, but was offered to the Magnificent: God, His Father! Why did Jesus think it was important enough to give an example of how to pray? He knew they were doing it wrong, certainly. But He wanted people to understand it was all about the pray-er appealing to God, more than the prayer appealing to the people.
When our oldest son, Christian was just a year, he took his first steps. He chose to do this on a beach, where the sand is impossible to walk for those of us who know how. But he chose not to walk; Christian chose to run. We loved his enthusiasm; each time he would fall, he would push right back up and start to run again. To some this would have been a great comedy; but to us who loved him, it was impressive. We saw his heart.
Christian was ‘doing it wrong’. But he was ‘doing it’. Again and again we watched him fail and succeed. ‘Baby steps’ are the same as ‘baby talk’. God loves listening to the heart of those who will reach out, through the stammer and stutter, through the misused words and simple sentences. God sees your heart.
Being a Christian is about a personal relationship with the One who loves you more deeply than any other. Just pray! There is no pressure;. you’re talking to your Daddy.
copyright Judi Collins 2011. Used by permission from her devotional “Prayers”