Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Do I Have A Prayer?

The problem with being brought up in a liturgical religion is that most, if not all, of our prayers were scripted. You know, canned recitations of Hail Mary's, Our Father's, Glory Be's, Acts of Contrition, not to mention the entire Stations Of The Cross. So when I joined the First Congregational Church of the Bereans and Pastor asked me to say a prayer I mentally "genned" up the rosary beads and uncorked a Hail Mary. 

Actually I did that to crack up Pastor because he knows of my Roman Catholic back ground. But it's a very odd thing to do for someone to come from a religion where prayer is more of a memorized mantra than an actual conversation and to pray publicly without the safety net of a prepared, time tested, pope approved, monologue. Instead of hiding behind a script I now found myself in the unfamiliar position of conversing with God. And when we do something like that we open up our hearts to Him, and for someone who was brought up using a young Jewish girl from the Galilean backwater of Nazareth as a proxy rather than addressing God directly, this is unfamiliar territory.  

When I joined First Bereans I joined the men's bible study class and the last portion of the class is a prayer service where we voice prayer requests and one of the guys will say a prayer over what ever subject we raised and I thought to myself "Man! These guys can PRAY! I can never pray that awesome." It was later that I learned that prayer isn't necessarily supposed to be awesome, it's supposed to be a two-way conversation with God. These guys were praying the way they learned to pray, and now I need to learn to step out from behind a script and learn to pray properly. But first: what is prayer?

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry has an awesome definition of prayer: "Prayer is the practice of the presence of God. It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made. Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son of God, Jesus our Lord." That's one awesome definition, and for me it's a head spinning definition. Being a 'baby Christian' (that's what my dear wife calls me) I need a baby definition. Easton's Bible Dictionary says that prayer is "converse with God; the intercourse of the soul with God, not in contemplation or meditation, but in direct address to him. Prayer may be oral or mental, occasional or constant, ejaculatory or formal. It is a “beseeching the Lord” (Ex. 32:11); “pouring out the soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:15); “praying and crying to heaven” (2 Chr. 32:20); “seeking unto God and making supplication” (Job 8:5); “drawing near to God” (Ps. 73:28); “bowing the knees” (Eph. 3:14)."

Does prayer need to be flowery and brilliant stressing our vocabularies to the breaking point? No, what it needs is to come from our heart. All that prayer needs is to be said with sincerity, reverence, and faith. (Heb. 10:22). The most effective prayer in the bible is also the shortest prayer in the bible. In Matthew 14:29-31 Peter has stepped out of the boat and is walking across the surface of the water toward Jesus when he became frightened and started to sink. Just then he shouted out the shortest prayer in the bible: "Lord! Save me!" and Jesus IMMEDIATELY saved him!  I can almost see Jesus stifling a laugh as he hauled his burly friend back up to the surface saying "Why did you doubt me?"

Now try to imagine Peter using 'full contact' prayer: "Oh heavenly father I beseech you, open your heart to me and answer.... blub blub blub." He would be at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was tapping his foot waiting for him to finish before he was half way to the point. Was Peter reverent? Of course, he just called his best friend Jesus "Lord". Was he sincere? In that situation it would be hard to be anything but sincere. Did he pray in faith? Yes, he knew in his heart that Jesus would save him, there was not a doubt in his mind that Jesus would do anything else but save him. In three words Peter scripted the perfect prayer. 

What did Jesus say about prayer? 
“In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you." (John 16:23)
Does that mean if you pray for it you'll get a pony? A yacht? A mansion? No. But if you pray for what is in His nature to give, you will receive; peace, serenity, forgiveness, acceptance, brotherhood, love, guidance. (all of which are better than a pony) 
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)
If we teach our children to pray like Jesus says to pray there will be no problem with school prayer. In fact belting out a loud voluminous prayer in a public school goes against Jesus' orders. (which would be a sin, wouldn't it) This is not a suggestion, this is a flat out directive from our lord and savior: YOU-ARE-NOT-TO-BE-LIKE-THE-HYPOCRITES. Teaching your child to close their eyes and say a silent prayer for guidance is something completely different and falls within Jesus' guidelines.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7-8)
Is it a sin to go against the wishes of our savior? If Jesus tells us not to do something, is it a sin when we go right ahead and knowingly do it anyhow? Then why are we letting out churches practice meditative yoga? SIN! Why aren't we disciplining pastors who introduce contemplative prayer to their flocks? SIN! Why are we allowing pastors to convince our brothers and sisters that prayers mazes are the way to God? SIN! All of these things are based on meaningless repetition which Jesus specifically forbids us to do. Now think about saying the rosary. Yep. Sin.

I mentioned earlier that prayer is a two-way conversation, but where's the return message? First of all, if you have a relationship with God your prayers are answered, just don't blame Jesus if you don't hear the answer or if you can't find the answer or if you don't like the answer. The coolest thing about God's answer to your prayers is that he wrote them down for you. They're in your bible. And if you don't have a relationship with God? That's the subject of a different blog.

Try it - find a quiet place and concentrate on your life, your failures, your sins, your regrets, and when you realize that only Jesus can untangle your mess of a life, lift up your head and out loud say Peter's prayer: "Lord save me!" It works. It worked marvelously for me.

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