Truth Matters Newsletters – April 2010 – Vol. 15 Issue 4 -Prayer, An Open Invitation – By Rev. Robert Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
PRAYER, AN OPEN INVITATION
By Rev. Robert Liichow
While I was attending Concordia Theological Seminary a while back I was struck by something hitherto alien to my spiritual experience and that was the uniform practice of praying prayers from prayer books. Every class the professors would call upon some budding wannabe pastor to open the class in prayer. A student would rise, come to the front, open up a pocket prayer book, find an appropriate prayer and recite it to the class followed by subdued amen’s.
Was there anything “wrong” with what this young man did, not to mention the countless numbers of Christians who only pray from books of previously written prayers? The real answer lies in the unknown mind of God. He alone knows if an individual is sincere in their prayers. For example a group of people can pray the Lord’s Prayer in a worship service. Everyone is saying the same words but is everyone truly praying?
It is possible to recite those blessed words and your mind be a million miles away from (1) Whom you are addressing and (2) the deep impact and meaning of the words spoken. When this occurs it is not prayer! In fact, I will go as far as to say that such an act is offensive to God. On a mere human level it is rude to be engaged in a conversation and let your mind drift wander far from the matters at hand and not pay attention to whom you are speaking. How much more so is our “rudeness” magnified in the eyes of the One who knows every thought we have. I may never know if you are listening to me, focused on what I am saying, or nodding your head simply because you’ve fallen asleep as opposed to assenting to my marvelous exposition. Rest assured, God knows.
Let me say that I am not opposed to the use of prayer books, after all, what Christian does not use the Psalms and other written biblical texts in their prayers? Naturally, praying back to God His holy word is far different than praying back to God some sinful-mortals written prayers, but there is precedence for using formal written prayers.
Praying using written prayers can be a great aid in developing your own prayer life. Assuming the prayer is based upon the proper use of the Scriptures. Devotional guides and daily Bible reading lessons usually include a prayer or two. Those are great to use as a starting point in our prayer life. The danger from depending upon these resources is exactly that —dependence. These resources are a tool and a guide but they cannot make up the entirety of one’s life of prayer. Why not? Because if I only use a prayer book, then I am at the mercy of the author for that day, regardless of what is going on in and around me. When these aids are depended upon then no real spiritual growth can develop beyond what can be absorbed via that specific aid.
Take away the aid and unfortunately many people are left with little or nothing to say to God in prayer. I know this from personal experience.
After being delivered from my habit of praying in tongues for hours a day I found myself with next to nothing to say to my Lord with my rational thinking & feeling self. Praying in other tongues was what I (and millions today) depended upon, once gone I was left almost speechless. This same thing can happen to anyone who depends completely on the prayers of others, one’s own fellowship with God suffers and suffers badly.
I do not believe that such books should comprise the majority of any Christian’s life of conversation with our heavenly Father, the Father who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for us. We serve the Living God, what’s more He is our Father (Matt. 6:9) the One to which our hearts cry “Abba” (Rom. 8:15) which means “Daddy.”
Maybe another example might help clarify what I am trying to express to you. What if your 3 year old daughter comes to you and reads you the Father’s Day card she has written and made at school. She stands before you and reads those words and you know and she knows that she means every one of them. Now she is 18, comes to you with a need. She whips out a letter and addresses you “loving father, great is your wisdom, longsuffering your patience and deep is your wallet. Givest to me thy daughter, whom thou lovest $20, please.” Naturally, you’d be somewhat taken aback. After all this time you would hope she would come to you as Father/daughter and simply talk, openly and honestly. As for me, I certainly would not want my child to address me formally or with someone else’s words. I want to hear from her. I don’t want to hear her say what others, have said, I want to know what is on her mind/heart right now. This is what I believe that our Father desires with us in our prayer lives.
Can We Talk?
Joan Rivers made this expression popular and it is akin to the former practice of rapping on someone’s melon while looking at them. Probably one of the best illustrations of someone really praying is found in the movie The Apostle. Robert Duvall plays an earthy Pentecostal preacher who rededicates himself to Christ and one scene is of him praying, pouring out his heart and soul to God. Talking to Him as though he were talking to someone he knew well; and whom (more importantly) he knew, knew him in totality. To me it is a great expression of prayer, its raw, unrehearsed, in short real.
I am convinced, that God desires His children to simply come to Him with as much transparency and honesty as is humanly possible. God already knows everything about you which can be a pretty frightening reality to confront. Yet as horrible as we may feel, know that because of Jesus Christ we are now washed cleaned from all sin and are reconciled to our Father. We are welcome in His presence, and what is more, we have a right (albeit an alien one) to stand before Him now clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
It is important to understand that prayer is not a means of grace which is to say is that prayer is not a vehicle by which God manifests His grace. Prayer however links us to God, whom is the source of all grace. Prayer is communication between us and God. All genuine conversations are two-way interchanges between communicants. One speaks the other listens. Once having heard the comments a response or appropriate action is taken; that is true communication.
Sadly, many Christians approach payer as an obligation and duty, while others think they will be heard for their many oft repeated words (Matt 6:7). Wrong! Prayer is a privilege and not an obligation. My dear brothers and sisters do you realize how wonderful a thing it is to pray? You and I, out of ALL the people on the earth have been given an open invitation to come and dialog with the God of all creation!!
Think of it! It is mind blowing in the extreme when one ponders the reality that we are welcome not only into the courts of heaven, but we are encouraged to stand before the very throne of the Cosmocreator;
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
We do not come before our Father cringing, whimpering and with great trepidation. We come before our Lord in prayer with boldness (can be translated “confidence”) which is not to be confused with rudeness or with a belligerent attitude. Because of the work of Jesus, His blood shed, His life given, His body raised from the dead this has given to us an open audience with His Father. Shame on us if we never “RSVP” and develop a life of prayer.
I Expect An Answer
One thing I took with me from my foray into charismania is the reality of a vibrant prayer life. Most of the sound doctrine within that segment of the Church can be found in their writings on spiritual formation, the types of prayer, etc. One important lesson I learned and seek to transmit to others is that when I pray I “expect” my Father and Elder Brother (yes, Jesus designs to call us His brethren Heb. 2:11) to give me an answer. I do not talk to the ceiling, empty room or myself. I am talking with my Father and He is listening to me. He has given us so many tremendous promises regarding prayer, if we’d only truly believe them. Here are just a few examples:
I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Proverbs 8:17
God is not hiding from us. He has promised in many places throughout the Bible that those who seek Him will find Him. Seek Him how? Through His Word and sacrament, through mediating on the scriptures, through service to others (“…how can he love God whom he hath not seen.” 1 John 4:20).
Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
Do you desire to grow in your fellowship with the Father? Ask Him for growth and I assure you that is exactly the type of prayer He loves to answer. Seek Him, make time in your life to pray. Luther got up and prayed hours BEFORE his day got started. Every one of us has 24 hours per day; it all depends upon how we choose to slice the pie. Knock, in our case it is simply being polite, the door to the throne stands wide open to us and Jesus Himself is that door. (John 10:9).
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And IF we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. 1 John 5:22
I have little to no confidence in any man alive today, “cursed is the man that trusts in man” (Jer. 17:5) but I have supreme confidence in my heavenly Father. If He says pray according to His will, which I can know from His Word, and I pray accordingly, then I can rest assured that He has heard me and thus having heard me that I will receive the answer to which I have petitioned Him about. Why because of my great faith? No, not at all because God does not tell lies (Nu. 23:19), because my Lord Jesus Christ told me that heaven and earth shall pass away but His Word will not (Matt. 24:35) and I believe Him at His Word.
In our service we have a portion of corporate prayer where our pastor leads the petitions and we respond “Lord hear our prayer” (I really, really believe He hears our prayers). This time can either be a powerful time to transact family business or simply part of the ritual. It all boils down to where each individual’s heart and mind is focused. Which brings me to my main point—
The Heart of the Matter
And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them. Eze. 33:31-33
Wherefore the Lord said, Foreasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isa. 29:13
Woe unto them! For they have fled from me: destruction unto them! Because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. And they have not cried unto me with their heart… Hos. 7:13-14
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lip; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matt. 15:8
God is after our hearts, the very core of our beings the essence of whom we really are. Jesus taught us that it is from our hearts that both good and evil spring (Matt. 15:19). By regeneration God has taken out of us the old stony heart and placed within us a new heart (Eze. 11:19) one that is now open and desirous of His courts. Now, because of Jesus our hearts cry out like David’s “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psl. 84:2). So take heart and begin to pray from your heart!
Prayer is more than just reciting the right words in a somber or hushed tone—if that were the case then the mere act of speaking the words out loud would be all that is required to be considered prayer. Such a belief is akin to the Roman Catholic (RC) doctrine of “ex opere operato” which means “from the work done” in Latin. To the non-theologian it means “just going through the motions themselves is meritorious.” Within the RC simply attending the Mass is a meritorious act whether you understand it at all, which was why originally the Mass was in Latin, regardless of the language of the congregants. They did not have to understand what the priest was saying because just showing up was enough.
The same thought carries over into some of their prayer practices. Praying (reciting) the “Rosary” (a chain with 50 beads, if, it is a five decade unit denoting various petitions) several times a day or month can equal heavenly “points” too, again regardless of where the person’s heart and mind are while they are in prayer. In the spirit of charity let me say that using a rosary is not a sin, in fact many of the prayers used in the cycle are common to all orthodox Christians; some of these include The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles creed (ok, not really prayer per se), but solid stuff. The proper use of beads as a prayer aid can be as a focusing device for the mind to concentrate on the specific prayers being offered, yet most people are not that disciplined. No my friend, prayer at its core is a heart matter not a spiritual mechanism to operate via recitation of certain holy words.
In closing PLEASE understand this if nothing else from this article —your heavenly Father wants to fellowship with you. He has provided the means for fellowship. The blood of Christ Jesus has washed away our sins (1 Pet. 1:19), we are robed in His righteousness (Isa. 61:10), we are now the children of God (Gal. 3:26) and we are all called to be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) and priests stand before God and pray on behalf of themselves and others. YOU are highly esteemed by your Father and you were handpicked according to His sovereign good pleasure to be His forever (John 10:27-28) Never doubt His love for you nor His desire for you to spend time with Him. He is not going anywhere; the ball is solidly in our court. Personally I want to develop my fellowship with the Father this year by spending more time in prayer, listening to His voice, mediating upon His Word and then by His grace living out that Word prayed. ♦
Copyright © 2010 Robert S. Liichow
1. I use the word “proper” because I have seen “prayers” that contain biblical passages, however these passages have been totally taken out of context and thus become misused even in a prayer! For example one cannot take a test on famine and use “cleanness of teeth” as a proof text to stand upon for good dental hygiene, as is taught by Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. Make sure what you are praying written by others is biblically sound.
2. When I say “listening” I do not want people to gain the wrong impression that I am sitting alone waiting to hear an “audible” voice. No, God speaks according to His Word and Jesus has stated that as His sheep I will hear His voice. Ergo, I simply trust the Holy Spirit to get across to me whatever is on the Father’s mind regarding my situation or those I am praying about. Anything, subjective leading I may experience must be subjected to the Word of God.