Teach Us To Pray
by Rev. Randy Brown
What if I told you that I could introduce to you the most powerful spiritual discipline, life-changing discipline, that would bring healing and wholeness, peace and comfort to you? Would you be interested this morning if I were to tell you that? A few of you are with me. Okay. This means yes. I hope that God will take the words that He’s laid on my heart and lay them on yours, because I do believe that prayer is the most powerful spiritual discipline that you and I can be involved in. It is the spiritual discipline that has done more than any other discipline, I think, because of the nature of the source of the discipline. The nature of the source has brought healing and wholeness, it’s given sight to the blind, strength to the lame, healing and wholeness, comfort and peace. We’re talking about prayer.
Prayer also is one of the disciplines that is so misunderstood and it means so much and so many different things. You’ve already heard this morning two great talks about what prayer is. I want us to go a little bit further because all of this together, and a whole lot more, is what prayer’s all about. We’re just kind of being able to get a glimpse of what prayer is because we will never experience the fullness of prayer until we start to practice it and then we’ll realize how much more we have to go.
Prayer is misunderstood. It’s abused. It’s neglected. It’s taken for granted. It’s shallow. It’s the last resort when it ought to be the first option. There was something about the prayer life of Jesus that led the disciples to come, like we read just a moment ago, Jesus was praying in a certain place and when he got through praying, one of the disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It was the only thing that the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them to do. They never said, “Lord, teach us to preach.” They never said, “Lord, teach us to have church activities.” They never said, “Lord, teach us to have committee meetings …” thank goodness. They never had that request. Their only request to Jesus was, “Lord, teach us to pray.” It’s the only thing they ever asked Him to teach them to do.
Not a formula. Not a code. Not punching in all the right buttons so we can get what we want from God. That’s not what prayer is. Prayer is hard work. Prayer goes on when we, like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when there was a civil war going on in Him. When He was not wanting, in His flesh, not wanting to go to the Cross but yet He knew that was part of God’s plan and He sweated drops of blood. The agony of prayer, the hard work of prayer. If all we do when we pray is ask God to bless our cornflakes then we’re not doing very much in prayer and there’s a whole lot more to it than that. It’s hard work.
Notice, He was praying in a certain place. We can pray anywhere and we can pray everywhere. When I was teaching one of my daughters to drive I prayed all the time, especially when I was in the front passenger seat … I’m not going to tell you which one. Jonah prayed in the belly of a big fish. We can pray anywhere, we can pray everywhere, we can pray at all times, but do you have a place? Do you have a place you go and rendezvous with God, just you and God there?
I heard Dr. Chappell tell a story years ago that I still can’t get out of my mind. It was a young farm family. The farmer and his wife they had two young boys and as they were raising those boys on the farm; the boys would notice that from time to time in the morning they would miss their father and they never asked where he was and he never told them. They were in their teenage years and their mother passed away and the farmer was trying to raise two boys on his own and he still from time to time in the mornings would leave and they didn’t know where he was. They didn’t ask, he didn’t tell. A few months after their mom died, he died.
A few months after that they were hauling hay, putting hay up in the top of the barn. One of the boys hollered at his brother and said, “Hey, come here a minute!” Over in the corner of the barn in the top loft there was a bale of hay. There was an open bible. There were two worn-out knee prints. One boy said to the other one, “So this is where he was.” The other one said, “Yes. This is what he was doing. I wonder how many times he prayed for us to come to know Jesus?” Do you know what happened? One of those boys got down in one knee print, the other boy got down in the other knee print and when they got up they got up with their father’s God in their hearts.
Do you have a place? A place where you go and rendezvous with God? It may be in your living room, it may be in your easy chair, it may be at Vesper Point at Beersheba. Do you have a place? Do you have a place where you rendezvous with God? Do you have a time? I think we ought to pray and spend time with God when we’re the freshest. If you’re most with it in early morning, I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but that’s the time you need to spend some serious time in prayer. If you’re a night owl, that’s your time. Do you have a place? Do you have time when it’s just you and God and you can devote that time to it?
He had a power in his praying. His power in his praying was a very simple line, “Not my will but Thine be done.” Prayer doesn’t always just depend on us. Prayer depends on God. Are we letting God lead us? I know sometimes we get … I don’t know if it’s New Year’s resolutions or what it is, but we’ll get really fired up, really pumped up and we’re going to pray and we’re going to pray and we’re going to pray and we’re going to be persistent and it’s going to be great in our life and then all of a sudden we’re struggling with it. Welcome to the real world because sometimes it is a struggle.
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for that little boy who went to his father one day and all the other kids in the neighborhood had brothers and sisters to play with and he didn’t have anybody, he was an only child. He said to his daddy, “Daddy, I’m praying for a little brother.” Daddy said, “Well you do that. Let me know how it goes.” He prayed for four or five days, he prayed real hard. Nothing happened so he quit. About a year later, you can tell where this is going, but about a year later he was coming in from first grade and his father picked him up and said, “Son, I’m going to take you down to the hospital. I took your mom there this morning and I want to show you something.” He was underage but they slipped him up the back stairs and into the back of the room and in a moment here comes the nurse and he’s got a little baby brother. They laid it in bed with mom and boy he got excited. In a moment the nurse came back and had another little baby brother. He was just all over, he just couldn’t stand it he was so excited. Would you believe that in a moment the nurse came in a third time and there was three. His father said, “Son, aren’t you glad you prayed?” He said, “Yeah daddy but ain’t you glad I quit?”
Sometimes we get so excited and we give up. Don’t ever give up in prayer. Prayer is practicing the presence of God. Hang with me because I’m about to tell you something that you need to hear. Prayer is practicing the presence of God. Prayer is not an attempt to persuade God to your way of thinking. Prayer is an attempt to enjoy the presence of God. Many times we go down our list and we’re going to persuade God to think our thoughts and what we want and get Him on our side. That’s not prayer. I don’t know what it is but it’s not prayer. Prayer is practicing the presence of God and enjoying the presence of God.
Brennan Manning is a writer who passed away a few years ago, a very, very deep thinker. After he made a presentation at a conference a friend of his, they were talking, and he said, “What are you getting ready to do next?” He said, “I’m getting ready to go on a week-long prayer retreat. Just me and God.” This friend asked him, “Brennan, how does that help you?” Brennan said, “You know, I never thought about that. I just think God kind of likes it when I show up to talk with Him.” I think God likes it when you show up. I think God likes it when we show up and just spend time with Him. We try to get Him on our side. We try to get Him to become an ally with us. Listen, God wants you to be His ally because God’s got some things for each of us to do in our lives. It’s not so much that we try to get Him to be on our side, but prayer is an attempt and needs to be an attempt where we make sure we’re on His side.
Years ago, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was at the beginning of Desert Storm. I was living in a town then that had a … We were having a rally. Everybody was getting patriotic and spiritual at the same time and we were having a rally and we were supporting some of our locals that were getting ready to go into the military. I never will forget after we had the parade kind of thing, one of the local preachers was asked to lead a prayer. In his prayer he said, “God, for Saddam Hussein, wipe him off the face of the earth.” I thought, “Maybe I didn’t hear that right.” I had people who came to me from every church in that community and said, “Did that preacher pray what we think he prayed?” I said, “Yeah, I think he did.” He said, “Well that’s not very loving, is it? That’s not very Christian-like is it?” I said, “I’ll leave that up to you to judge.”
A lot of people telling God what to do. We call it prayer but it’s not. That was the title of my sermon the next morning: “A Lot of People Telling God What To Do.” We call it prayer but it’s not because prayer like Jesus prayed was, “Not my will but Thine be done.” I think to pray for somebody to be wiped off the face of the earth is to pray for them to go to Hell. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of Christ. Change their heart. Soften them. Let them know your love. All those things we can pray that a long time before we pray to condemn them to eternal punishment. I didn’t mean to get off on that but, forgive me.
Sometimes we think we want God on our side but what’s more important than wanting God on our side is wanting to be on God’s side. We must, we must, we must seek to be on God’s side. God wants you as an ally. God’s got some things He wants you to do. When we take this card home and we begin to spend time in prayer, praying for the leadership and the staff of the church, praying for the whole church, praying for the pastor and those who lead in worship, praying for our Sunday School teachers and small group leaders, praying how we can be a positive role model in the community. When you pray these prayers, spend some time listening. Don’t just read through and say, “Okay, I checked that one off, checked that one off, checked …” Don’t do that. Read through them and really pray them. As you’re praying, listen, listen, because God may be directing you in one of these areas to do something else.
Prayer delights God and changes us. When we come to prayer we must come as we are. I heard somebody say a long time ago, “The first rule of prayer is: Don’t lie to God.” That’s a pretty good first rule. We remind ourselves who He is. We remind ourselves who we are. We have to get rid of anything that hinders a relationship with God. If there’s unforgiveness in our life we need to get rid of it, and we need first things first. It’s almost, those of you that have been in the military and I continue to be grateful and we all are grateful for those who serve, but prayer is kind of like in the military. Begin by saying, “God, here I am reporting for duty. What do you want me to do today?” That’s what prayer is. It’s not trying to line up God to be on our side. Prayer is reporting for duty and allowing God to shape our lives and our days.
Prayer is relation. Our Father … There’s the relationship. It’s a vertical relationship and a horizontal relationship, all in two words: Our Father. We pray with adoration and we pray with intercession, we pray for others. We’ve got some ladies in this church every Wednesday night I see them going down the hallway and they’re praying for the needs of this church, and a lot of other things, but particularly the needs of this church. They’re intercessors. They gather with me on Sunday morning before late worship service. They’re intercessors. They pray for each other.
We bring our petitions. If we’ve done all that then prayer is transformational. Prayer will change us. Listen. When we pray let’s listen because God may want to change us. We may be fully convinced that we need to go in this direction and we’ve never stopped to pray about it and we stop to pray about it and God says to us when we’ll listen, “No, don’t go that way, go this way.” Are you willing … Are we willing to lay down our prejudices, to lay down our preconceived ideas and follow God’s way? Prayer is hard work. Prayer involves listening.
I hope that this prayer card will become a part of your life. If you want to get some others there’s plenty back there. Put it where you know you’ll see it during the day. You put it on your refrigerator door, put it on your vanity mirror, put it wherever. Put it where you’ll see it. Let this begin to be a guide for your prayer life. We’re called to prayer. Jesus said, “My house shall be a house of prayer.” I hope that as he looks at Manchester First Methodist that Jesus will be able to say, “My house there on the corner in Manchester, it’s a house of prayer.” It’ll be a house of prayer, but it’s up to us to do the praying.