Monday, September 16, 2013

A DISCIPLES PATH: The Key to Relationship with God: PRAYER!

September 15
The Key to Relationship with God: PRAYER!

Matthew 6:5-15    (NRSV)
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that 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.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Do you struggle with prayer?

Does prayer seem like an exercise that you just don't seem to have the tools or skill to do?

I want to state this very emphatically!
·         Prayer is not some mysterious practice reserved only for clergy and the religiously devout.
·         Prayer is simply communicating with God.
·         Listening and engaging God --- just as you would a friend or partner

But for whatever reason ---- we have convinced ourselves that prayer is hard and is something that should be reserved for only trained people.
·         I have a friend who often has had to pray at community meetings and he once asked me to write him a prayer (that he keeps in his wallet to this day) that he can pull out for those occasions
·         I once had my doctor call me and ask me if I would write a prayer for her mother's birthday party
·         Nancy had a teacher once ask her to ask me to write a prayer for a special occasion

And while we all snicker a little under our breathe --- most of us are terrified of being asked to pray (especially in public)

But why?

What is it about prayer that is so difficult for us?

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we have convinced ourselves that we don't have the right words, or know the right formulas to be able to pray.
So instead of learning --- or just trying --- we don't practice prayer

I have shared this statistic with you before, but I think it illustrates well the challenge we face.

About four years ago, two Harvard researchers published their finding about peoples wiliness to change in a fascinating book called Immunity to Change.

One of the more startling statistics they published was that only one is seven cardiac patients actually make the lifestyle changes that could potentially save their lives.

We are talking about things like
  • ·         stop smoking
  • ·         lose weight
  • ·         eating right
  • ·         getting exercise


As I read that statistic it makes me depressed --- and wonder if I am just banging my head against the wall.

If only one in seven cardiology patients,
People who are faced with life and death choices are willing to make the changes in their lives with the potential outcome of making their life longer and healthier ---- what are the odds that I am able to convince any of you to do the things necessary to become a DISCIPLE of Jesus?

We are called by Jesus to live transformed lives.
          Lives that are no longer centered on us
A life that is no longer conformed to the assumptions and values of the world around us --- but a life that is transformed by Jesus. 

Not just external changes in our outward behavior ---- but radical pervasive change that goes all the way to the heart

Listen to what Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
Romans 12:2  (The Message)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

What did Jesus teach us that being a Disciple of his is all about?
          LOVING GOD and LOVING OTHERS.   Period!
Hear O Israel
The Lord Our God, the Lord is One
And you shall love the Lord your God
With all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these

John Wesley defined "true religion" as:
          "A heart right toward God and man."
He taught that:
"It does not consist . . . in any outward thing whatever, in anything exterior to the heart."

In other words, we can be orthodox in our beliefs, and even correct in our behavior, but we might be (as he put it) "a stranger  . . . to the religion of the heart."

As has been said by many a United Methodist before me: the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart.

Being a disciple of Jesus requires a change in our belief AND action that ultimately results in a transformation of our hearts.

When I am talking about change ---- I am not talking about just giving God lip service or attending worship or a class on spiritual disciplines.

I am talking about committing to the important actions that will change your behavior for the long run.

But according to Kegan and Lahey, the two Harvard researchers, "Adaptive change requires a shift in mindset, not just behavior."

They have used their discoveries to develop a process that helps us overcome ingrained obstacles and successfully make what’s known in psychological circles as “adaptive change.”

Kegan and Lahey see our resistance to change as an immune system of sorts, and they note that our “immunity to change” has a positive purpose — namely, to protect us from the psychological trauma and danger that sudden changes can bring.

Unfortunately, this same system that’s meant to keep us wary of negative and disruptive changes can also inadvertently dissuade us from making significant positive changes in our lives.

Even the mere prospect of change can be enough to trigger our inborn defense mechanisms, causing us to sabotage our best efforts almost before we’ve begun.

Because our immunity to change is so often rooted in unexamined beliefs they have found that shifting our behaviors typically requires first instilling a more conscious and constructive set of beliefs.

The foundation of their methodology for this work is a four-column “immunity map”, which can guide us through a process of self-examination, thereby helping us identify and adjust assumptions that may be holding us back.

I don't have time to go through the "immunity map" ---- but it is available in the entryway if you want a copy.

And the first area that I would encourage you to look at or the first goal to accomplish is to develop a better and more intentional prayer life.

When we join the church --- the first vow that we take --- the first practice that we commit to doing --- is prayer.

At virtually every meeting I attend --- from Staff Parish and Finance meetings here at the church, to Chamber of Commerce and Rotary meetings, there is at least an opening prayer --- if not a closing prayer.

We say we believe in prayer --- but the question is --- do we really believe prayer makes any real difference.

Because at so many of these meetings that I have been at that have opened with prayer --- it seems like nothing has happened that gives any indication that we really believed that the prayer made any difference.

There is a great story that has gone around for years about a congregation of teetotaling Christians who prayed for years that the lord would do something about the bar that was across the street.

One night the bar was hit by lightening and burned to the ground.

The bar owner promptly sued the church arguing that the prayers were responsible for the fire.
          The church of course contested the lawsuit.

The judge, upon hearing the case said:
"I'm not sure how I'll rule on this case, but one thing is clear.  The bar owner believes in prayer, and the church people don't."

So what is prayer?

What is the purpose of prayer?


CS Lewis put it best when he said:  "Prayer doesn't change God --- Prayer changes me"

Take a look at the quote on the front of the bulletin, Rabbi David J. Wolpe shares this story:
If you watch a man out on a boat grab a rope and pull his boat to shore you might think, if you were confused about weight and motion, that he was really pulling the shore to his boat. People have much the same confusion about spiritual weight and motion: In prayer, some believe that you are pulling God closer to you. But in fact the heartfelt prayer pulls you closer to God.

I have prayed in fear and in joy, in crisis and in calm. Each time I understood that what I was asking for was not the object of my prayer. My prayer that I would be healed was a prayer, stripped of all its topmost layers, to be assured that whatever happened would be all right. Every prayer in this way is a prayer for peace; it is peace in the world and in one's soul, the certainty that the pain is not empty, the world not a void, the soul is not alone.

Prayer is not some process in which we try to get what we want from God --- Prayer is about the relationship we have with God in which God gets what God wants in and through us.

John Wesley expressed this same idea in his Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

As followers of Jesus --- our goal --- as we talked about Wednesday night --- is to move from strangers or acquaintances with God to intimate friends.

C. S Lewis once said:
"True friends . . . face in the same direction, toward common projects, interests, goals."

We do that through prayer --- and one of the best ways to do this is by following the example Jesus gave in the "Lord's Prayer" but that can be expressed as a rather simple acronym ---- ACTS
·         Adoration
·         Confession
·         Thanksgiving
·         Supplication

Let's spend a few minutes talking about this, but we will spend much more time on this Wednesday evening.


Prayer should begin not with who we are or what we want from God ---- but rather with who God is, and ultimately what God wants for us.

Adoration reminds us of the very character of the God whom we want to be intimate friends with.

Read the Psalms and they are filled with this as their starting point to prayer.

This is where Jesus tells us to begin in that model prayer we call the Lord's Prayer.
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

Think of one of the first prayers we learned as children and then passed on to our children:
          "God is great; God is good"

Adoration is important because it sets the table by reminding us of the nature of the God to whom we pray and what that relationship to God should look like.


Confession is the way we face the hard realities about who we are and where we are on our Discipleship journey.

Confession is when we name the stuff that clutters our souls and gets in the way of that intimate relationship with God that we are seeking.

It is the way we acknowledge that we are not as perfect as we like to pretend.
          Not as good as we would like
          not as loving as we ought to be

Anybody who has been involved in AA know that this is call it a "searching and fearless inventory."

Unless we are willing to honestly confess --- our relationship to God gets stuck behind the wall of our own making.

Confession is the act of tearing down the wall and letting God help us grow through Grace and Forgiveness.


This is where we count our blessings, thanking and praising God for all God has given us and done for us in our lives.

Paul tells us in Ephesians to:
Ephesians 5:18-20    (NRSV)
be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Try it sometime!

Instead of listing all the anxieties
          all the burdens
          all the frustrations
          and all the failures in your life
Try instead to begin with the words: "Thank you Lord for . . ." and just fill in the blank.

We have so much to be thankful for.

And at times when we are surrounded with cynicism, fear, anger, and just plain nastiness --- praying to God and giving thanks can re-center us and give us a new and more joyful perspective on life.


A better word for supplication might be INTERCESSION.

But remember, Intercession is more than just lifting up a shopping list of prayer requests to God and asking God to fix them.
          Prayer isn't about changing God --- prayer is about changing us.

Intercession is how we pray the very real concerns in our life and in the world around us into the presence of God and invite God to be at work in them THROUGH US.

When you stop trying to make God solve your problems, and get on with the business of finding out what God wants you to do about them, you have discovered what prayer is all about. 

The purpose of prayer isn't to change God.  It's to change you. 

You need to pray until you have done an ultimate reality check and found out where you are and what you need to do.

You don't need to get God aligned with your program for life. 
          You need to get yourself aligned with God's program. 

It is through prayer, that our relationship moves from being an acquaintance with God to become true friends.

But the problem is we often start our prayers where we should end them.

Most of us begin our prayers with a long list of concerns which we bring to God.
          I am often guilty of this!

Instead we need to begin by recognizing who God is, how much we need God, and by confessing we tear down the walls that keep us separated from God.

As we experience God's forgiveness we can begin to offer thanksgiving.

And then --- then we can bring into God's presence all the messy painful stuff that is in our lives and our world.

This is the kind of prayer that can transform our hearts.

But to be honest with you, I have just scratched the surface this morning.

You need to get involved in a small group to help you continue to grow in this process.

We need to practice the ACTS prayer together and also to learn how meditation on scripture.

Doing these things will help us move from being acquaintances with Jesus to become his friend.

Join us Wednesday as we continue the journey.

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