Prayer 101

Prayer 101: Gurus, Pictures & Habits? easy and yet so hard... I believe that prayer is the most important of all the spiritual assignments. There is no relationship of Christian faith without prayer. Prayer is our primary mode of communication with the God who loves us and wants us to finish well. The assignment of prayer should be easy enough after all most of us were taught to pray at an early age.

Do you remember this prayer…Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take? How about the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples—Our Father who art in Heaven hollowed be Thy name Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever? Somewhere during the in-between-time of learning those two common prayers we can pick up some bad habits and pictures of prayer. Habits like holy huddle prayer—prayer that not of this world in a bad way. Holy Huddle prayer folks only use the Authorized King James language and angelic words. It’s the prayer time so beautiful and holy that the angels bend near the earth to play their harps of gold. The second bad habit and picture we can pick up is Cosmic Santa CLAUS Prayer—This is a prayer method consist of figuratively standing in line to sit on God’s lap and get my picture taken so I can ask for a whole bunch of stuff. The picture is that of a giant vending machine—you say a prayer, pull the lever and get whatever you want. The third bad prayer habit and picture is the Spiritual-Hit & Miss Prayer. It’s the prayer of a spiritually out of shape Christian that thinks that a little cardio training here and there will get them get back in shape. So you go to the local spiritual gym and do a little prayer workout and feel better until on today and off tomorrow prayer starts and stop become to hard and you just give up. The picture is of an unused treadmill that taken up space in the basement—the perfect image of broken promises and yesterday’s dreams.

I think we need some new prayer habits and pictures. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some great prayer gurus in my life. Somewhere between my Now I lay me down to sleep… &…Our Father Who Art in Heaven prayers God allowed some prayer mentors—some prayer gurus if you will into my life to help me trade some bad habits and pictures for some good ones.

Guru is defined as a influential expert—somebody who has a reputation as an expert leader, teacher, or practitioner in a particular field—a revered teacher and counselor—a person's revered guide, mentor, or adviser in spiritual or intellectual matters. I’ve learned three lessons from my prayer gurus that have helped me form some new habits and pictures for prayer. 

My 1st Prayer Guru Mr. Andy My 6th grade Sunday school teacher: taught me that prayer is a conversation with a Father who loves me. 

He likened it to a conversation between a dad and his son at the kitchen table. Doesn’t sound very profound. In fact it's ordinary and that's the point. The Kitchen table is not like the fancy dinning room table that I could never enter when I was a kid—because it had the fine china that was rarely used and then eventually gets passed down so the next generation will hardly use it too. The kitchen table at our house is where life is lived. It’s the art table the bill paying table that homework table the all purpose place for everything. The kitchen table is so important that it has changed the design of most houses because most families hang out at the kitchen table. Our prayer should be comfortable, messy, warm and inviting like that kitchen table. Mr. Andy taught me that God loves me and no matter what my relationship was with my human father there was a heavenly dad that wanted to communicate with me—one who loves it when I pulled up a seat at the kitchen table just to talk. There is no need for Holy Huddle Prayers at the kitchen table. You can just be yourself at the kitchen table. You can just share what on your heart and then listen to the wisdom of the ONE who care for and loves you. You can swap you holy huddle harp for the God of the kitchen table.

My 2nd Prayer Guru Russell Metcalfe my college pastor: taught me that the Lord’s Prayer is not just a one-way communiqué of my needs but rather a pattern for communicating with the Creator of the universe who wants to be in an intimate relationship with me. 

Pastor Metcalfe changed my view of the Lord’s Prayer from a rote recited prayer to a pattern for real communication with God. He taught me that the prayer Jesus taught his disciple, once properly prayed can move us beyond a God-relationship marked by shopping list grabs and a give-me—give-me attitude. 

The reality is that most people treat God and prayer like the Santa Claus relationship. You go to the mall pay for a picture, sit on a lap and then you do the big ask. The Santa Claus prayer relationship is based upon your performance so if you’ve been a good little boy or girl you get you wish. A more mature picture might be that of a vending machine. Your prayer is like money—you put you money in the machine (God) and then you select your desired treat and there’s hell to pay if you don’t get what you paid for. The Lord’s prayer moves us beyond a vending machine relationship of prayer and into the realization that God knows what we need before the great ask.

Let me give you a new picture of prayer the picture is that of a shelter a place that covers the whole of our lives. The shelter calls us out of the weather of life and into the protection of the God who never fails. The Lords prayer presents a pattern that gives God his proper place in our world, our reverence and our lives. The phrase--Our Father in Heaven, holy be your name help us to acknowledge God’s transcendence, holiness and sovereignty.  Your kingdom come your will be done as in heaven so on earth, says, God, before we do the big ask we know that you do all things well so we submit want to wisdom and will. The next three phrases give us, forgive us and lead us reminds us that we can bring God our needs, failures, and vulnerabilities. God knows us better then we know ourselves. God knows we need some basic things to survive. He knows that we are human and that we blow it and need do-over’s and forgiveness. God also knows that without his protection and leadership we are vulnerable to the enemy of our soul’s steal, kill and destroy agenda. Our new picture—the shelter invites us to come out of the weather—to depend on the God who is the I am to meet our needs, direct or way and receive our reverence. So we can swap out our vending machines for the God who is a shelter in the time of storms.

My 3rd Prayer Guru Mark Sanford, my college chaplain: taught me that prayer changes the world. 

He introduced me, and a small group of pastoral ministry guys to a book entitled: Prayer the Hour that Changes the World. He challenged us to move beyond a hit and miss spiritual life of inconsistent prayer into a life reflective of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing. Mark taught me to move beyond the hit and miss, on today and off tomorrow life of prayer into a 24/7 relationship with God. He challenged me to include an hour of focused prayer in my daily spiritual exercise regime in order to keep spiritually fit. In an age of little self-discipline Mark challenged our little small group to go deep by becoming men of prayer. 

Sometimes prayer can become the stuff and the spiritual hit. Prayer can become the dusty treadmill that hidden in the back of the closet and represents another broken promise and frustrated failure. When prayer is used and a spiritual fix then it feels good and we feel spiritual for a little while and then we go back into our regular routine until we need another fix. Here’s the problem if we do embrace the prayer life of the treadmill we end up seeing rejecting as too hard a start up and stop prayer life. We were created for a consistent life of relational prayer with our Creator. Once we embrace a consistent 24/7 life of prayer the dusty outdated treadmill will no longer due.

So what the picture for this consistent prayer life? A good pair of walking or running shoes—you know, the kinds that are comfortable because they’ve been broken in. They are the shoes that help you keep going when you feel like giving in and giving up. They’re the shoes that you put on everyday because they fit just right. So we trade our hit and miss treadmill prayer life in for a prayer life that fits like a comfortable pair of running shoes and we run the race set before us keeping our eyes fixed on the on who has already crossed the finish line before us. 

I love new pictures. They tell stories of today victories, failures, triumphs and tragedies. You say James why? Because new pictures mean were still trying and haven’t giving up. So go ahead trade your harp, vending machine and treadmill prayer life for the closeness of the kitchen table, the safety and security of a shelter in the time of storm and a pair of comfortable shoes that will keep you praying until he comes. Got any new prayer pictures?  -Jfhey2

Posted by James Heyward at 8:16 PM