Shall We Bother God?
God wants people to pray. Jesus set the example. He prayed. He taught His followers to pray, and how not to pray. He brought His closest followers with Him to keep watch and to pray, as He began His hardest day in prayer. The apostles call on believers to be in "unceasing prayer" (Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20; 1 Peter 4:7; Philippians 4:6.) Paul was a pray-er, too (2 Corinthians 13:7; Ephesians 1:16-23; Philippians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:11). The early church urged its members to pray intercessions for all. The early church even prayed for their government's rulers, who were often trying to stop them and (rarely) even kill them. Their concerns were not just for their own.
The more your heart opens out to God in prayer, the more that your time with God will buoy your daily life. Spiritual disciplines and practices assist us in this opening-out.
Jesus gives a great lesson on what prayer is like. It's like the woman who keeps knocking at the door until the judge comes out and addresses her concern, if only just to get rid of those annoying knocks. (Picture Jesus smiling as he tells the story.) But how much more would you be heard by Someone who loves you? Many people today wonder if we should be pestering God with our concerns. The answer is Scriptural: God says 'pester me'!
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Thinking Is Not Praying
There's a big difference between just thinking something and conversing with God. Prayer has a direction. You're not churning it in your brain or sharing it with friends or talking it over with a psychologist or getting in touch with your inner self. Your prayer is directed to God -- acknowledging not only God's existence, but also a relationship and even a certain degree of trust. It's not a waste of time because God is hard at work in this confused, ambiguous world, to draw that world toward God's good purposes. It's your response to God's work. If there's no one out there, or if there's no way to relate or even communicate, or if a wrathful divinity would strike you down just for trying, why would anyone pray? There's an unspoken hope in each prayer, even if it hangs by a thread or is the size of a mustard seed, that somehow the mightiest being of all thinks you matter. God's response also has a direction: you will not be left adrift or be led nowhere (unless, like Israel in the Sinai, you have a lesson to learn from the drifting).
Why Pray to God For Enemies?
When you pray the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, you are asking God to forgive you as you forgive those who do wrong to you. In that prayer, Jesus is saying nothing about those who wrong you forgiving you, nothing about their changing their mind about you, nothing about those who wrong you asking you -- or even God -- for forgiveness. What 'they' do is simply not in the picture. It has no role in God's forgiving you. What they do does not affect your duty before God to forgive others. The Lord's Prayer is not about their actions at all. A 12-step observation can be made here: you can't change someone else, you can only change yourself. (Whether your changes change others is between them and God, and is not set by you.)
Forgiveness does not mean there is reconciliation. If the other party has not forgiven, or if either party has not taken steps beyond forgiveness to change the situation, there is no reconciliation. But forgiveness is the essential first step. It is where the Spirit is leading you in in shaping you more like Christ. Christ bids us to turn around our thinking toward others. The Lord's Prayer isn't a call to pretend we are not being wronged, or to be silent or still as others are wronged. The wrong is still there, it cannot be undone, and the wrong is still every bit as wrong. But in forgiveness, we share the grace God gave to us for what we did. We act on the fact that we are not different in kind. When we pray for our enemies, it sucks out some of the venom of the conflict, at least the venom in ourselves. Jesus taught us to pray to God, that God would give us what it takes to do so.
Who Does God Hear?
God hears our prayers, whomever we are. I myself would even say (as an opinion) that God hears the true prayers of the non-Christian -- certainly a faithful Jew or Muslim. God heard the pleas of Cain for safety, and Cain didn't care about God. A god who is deaf to the cries of an animist mother whose son is dying is a very different sort of god than the Father who sent His own son to die to save the human race. The One we pray to sends rain and sunshine to the evil as well as the good, and calls on us to love our enemies because that's how God loves. The Lord will at least communicate, though the conversation would go differently with those who don't believe. I get the feeling that when God hears some major Christian leader say who is and isn't heard in prayer, God thinks, 'Oh, yeah? Who are you to tell Me who to listen to?'. God's reply is different, the non-Christian's response is different, but the Lord cares about all of us human sinners, whether we accept God's forgiveness and new life or not. The power of prayer comes from God's love and God's promises, not our actions. The difference with the believing Christian is that God promised us full attention and a loving reply, and we can live in that promise. The believing Christian doesn't pray to a Remote Unknown God-Machine which receives our pleas. When the Christian prays, it's to a Father who hears His Son's voice speaking for and with us.
But Doesn't God Already Do It?
It's true: God already gives us the kind of things we ask for in prayer. Not always the specific request, but an overall abundance of what makes for a good life - or even what makes for life at all. So, why does God want us to ask? What good does it do? This is not just a philosophical question that theologians and seminary professors ask. It's what churchgoers in the pews ask. It's what their children pester their parents or pastor with. Millions of people have asked, but the churches didn't give them reasonable or common-sensical answers. It just told them, in essence, "because we do". It becomes just one more reason to head out the door.
Martin Luther had to face these questions in his day too. Not that it was a simple thing to leave the church back then. It was dangerous. So a lot of people just came and sat there for Sunday, entirely convinced that The Church as an institution didn't care, and just wanted to make them obedient and guilt-ridden. One of Luther's solutions was to make a simple way of teaching the faith and what it means for daily living. He developed the Small Catechism, which covered key parts of Christian practice. One of those sections is on The Lord's Prayer. He went into it line by line, based on what he felt his parishioners would most wonder about or gain from. And when he explained each line, he started by saying that God was already doing this, then said that we ask in order that it may come about now in the household of believers and the world we live in. This can't be done just by our own willpower - we don't will it, and don't know how to do what needs to be known even if we did. But the Holy Spirit comes to make it happen. Christ taught us to pray in order to bring us into the circle. The Father promised to hear us. So when we act to do what God called on us to do by praying, it's the Triune God, me, and the whole Church all acting in agreement. Together, we are unstoppable. The Kingdom will come; that's why prayer ends with a Yes! It will be (= Amen).
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