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 praying to 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. It's directed to God -- acknowledging not only God's existence, but also a relationship and even a certain degree of trust. Praying to God is 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 there, or if there's no way to relate or even communicate, or if a wrathful god 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).
"I have been driven many
times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I
had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all
about me, seemed insufficient for the day."
PRAYING FOR ENEMIES
When you pray the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, you ask God to forgive you as you forgive those who wrong you. It says nothing about those who wrong you forgiving you, or changing their mind about you. It says nothing about those who wrong you asking you -- or even God -- for forgiveness. What 'they' do is not in the picture. It has no role in God's forgiving you. It does not affect your need and your duty before God to forgive others. 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 cause 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 step. It is where the Spirit is leading you in likening you to 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, and the wrong is still every bit as wrong. But in forgiveness, we share the grace God gave to us for the wrongs we did. When praying for our enemies, it sucks out some of the venom of the conflict, at least the venom in ourselves. Jesus taught us to pray for God to 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 sinners, whether we accept God's forgiveness and new life or not. Prayer's power comes from God's love and God's
promises, not ours. 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.
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