The substitute Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but didn’t quite remember it. Finally she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. “I’m in awe at your faith, pastor,” she said. “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.”
A lot of people like to be on their own, or at least we’ve come to the conclusion this is the way things are. I don’t mean we’re loners when we’re out and about or that we don’t like people. But the truth is we buy into the idea that life is a struggle that we each have to win or lose on our own to the best of our ability.
This loner approach is not encouraged by scripture. God doesn’t agree with this perspective at all. Psalm 4:1 says, “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: you have enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.”
There is help closer to you than you may believe. Find the Lord as companion at any time and in any place.
We ought to unlearn the idea that you have to go through life essentially up to your own devices. Remember the times when God enlarged your diminished situation. Trust the Lord to do that again and again.
I don’t know about you but I used to have an idea of prayer that wasn’t correct. It’s easy to think praying is one certain way. Actually, churches may be to blame because we emphasize the Lord’s Prayer so much.
We can’t help but give the impression that our prayers should somehow be formal and repeatable and perfect like the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s not just this one prayer that gives us this idea. The psalms give off this sense about prayer because so many have similar patterns, and they include such things as long-winded and very learned recounting of the history of Israel and how and when God acted to save it.
It’s like you need to be a historian or a theologian or Christ himself to pray the way God will hear you.
But this isn’t true. There are no right or wrong ways to place your life before the Lord. God will bless you no matter how you pray. God isn’t an English teacher or a theologian or the vocabulary police.
Praying can be done in a formal way but it can also be done in an informal way. When it’s formal, it’s set in time and place and pace and words and ideas. Perhaps you do a nighttime prayer with your children. That’s often a set piece of prayer.
The pastor at my church when I was growing up, the Rev. Bob Alward used to pray at 5 p.m. every day, no matter what he was doing. I remember seeing him at Chicago Theological Seminary for a seminar and at 5 o’clock he turned his head down and started to pray. I was wondering if he fell asleep, but that wasn’t a man asleep. After several minutes he was finished and looked up again. He had this time set up formally and given over to prayer. That was good.
Prayer however can be and ought to be done more informally. C.S. Lewis was the author of the widely read children’s books, The Narnia Chronicles, as well as many novels for adults and books on issues surrounding the Christian faith. When asked once why he prays, Lewis answered, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” I guarantee you Lewis wasn’t talking about formal prayers. He was talking about praying about the stuff he was thinking and feeling and doing, and the people he was living and working with, and those he heard about or read about. Turn your thoughts and heart in God’s direction. 1 Chronicles 16:11 says, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.” If you want your life to be lived in God’s grace then offer your life to God in every place.
Informal praying is more like a stop, drop, and pray thing. The tough part is to know when your spiritual house is on fire, that is, that now is a good time to pray.
Our scripture passage shows us just such a time for Jesus. He knows he’s in real spiritual danger. He turns to prayer immediately. Jesus is in danger because he is becoming popular for his healing, and everyone likes to be popular. But being popular to the people of his day wasn’t God’s will nor Christ’s ministry. They had much bigger and more important, eternal purposes in mind. Jesus’ turn away from his rise in popularity is signaled not just by the fact he went off to pray in deserted places by himself. It’s signaled by the word Luke uses to start the next sentence, “But.”
Yes, a bad thing could have happened, but Jesus went off to pray. Yes, Jesus was close to temptation, but he withdraw to a deserted place. Yes, Christ could have lost the direction of his life, but he kept his thoughts and heart lifted to God.
The difference between the Lord and us is not in the difference in our temptations, but in our recognition of them and our response to them. We need to withdraw to pray, even if just for a moment or two.
Realize sooner when you’re being swept away by your thoughts or someone else’s words. Stop battling all on your own. The Lord’s ready to do some heavy lifting for you but you’ve got to hand over the load.
Stop being a loner in your spiritual battles. There’s no shame in calling a time out and letting God take over. It’s what Christ himself did.
Someone may say, “This sounds good but praying isn’t my thing.” Don’t think of it as prayer then. Think of this as stopping your running thoughts and immediate reactions and being willing to turn something over to God’s guidance. Someone else may doubt praying is really worth it. “How can doing that really make a difference?” Try it. But the truth is praying like this is the only way to get past our present self and get into new person the Lord has waiting for you. It’s a gift we give ourselves. Another person may think it’s too much to do. I bet it’s not. Praying in this way is as easy as starting right now, with that thought of doubt in your mind. Stop and test the easy doubting you just fell into. Wash it away in your mind by asking God to take away such a negative reaction. Then see the amount of grace that floods into fill up that negative thought.
The Lord wants to fill us up with possibility. God keeps trying to pour a fresh serving of grace into our lives. Drain out the old, stale stuff to make space for the new.
I tell you when I have been known to pray. When my wife tells me that I’m not necessarily correct about a reaction I’m having. Now of course I can’t go into specifics about this type of thing, but it’s true I have been known not to understand something and not respond with the perfect grace that one has the right to expect of a husband.
I usually blame it on being hungry or too busy running kids around here or there. But when I’ve been notified that I may be seeing things incorrectly, if I take a moment, step back, and see my words or emotions in the light of God’s grace and kindness, you know what, I just might be wrong.
I’m not saying this happens embarrassingly often, but yes it does happen.
The truth any time is a good time to pray because any thought, feeling, word or action can be taken, lifted up to the Lord, and examined in the light of God’s will for your life.
Any person you run into, any person you love, any situation you find yourself in, any need, any want, any sorrow, any joy, all of these can be and rightly are to be offered to God to shine on them and light your way.
God can bless you if you do this. The Lord will straighten your path if you pray this way. You will find yourself being renewed in the Spirit if you follow God’s heart for you.
When it comes to not knowing how to pray, we shouldn’t feel however this is a negative. In fact, scripture tells us the Lord has us covered. The Bible says it’s the Holy Spirit that searches our hearts and prays for us even if we don’t know what to say or how to pray at any one time.
This sort of reminds me of the funny story when Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer. “Fine,” said the pleased mom. “If you ask God to help you not misbehave, he will help you.” “Oh, I didn’t ask him to help me not misbehave,” said Johnny. “I asked him to help you put up with me.”
I guess he actually did know what he was doing.
We keep to ourselves and struggle mightily on our own. Sometimes this works, but often enough we’re left holding way too heavy of a bag. But the truth is we’re not the only ones who can’t seem to remember to let the Lord in on our lives.
Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses. In Exodus 18, Moses was overwhelmed with his task to lead Israel. Basically everyone who had a problem came to Moses to resolve it.
Jethro wisely suggested that Moses divide the people into tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. Then the cases would be brought before the leader of the smallest group and if it were still unresolved it would make its way up the chain of responsibility. This reduced his leadership burden by hearing only the most difficult and important issues.
Moses wisely followed Jethro’s advice, was able to endure and Israel began a new way of administering their life. Moses’ spiritual house was on fire, and it was because of his father-in-law Jethro that he was able to put it out.
Get to the Lord earlier. Let God take over aspects of your life that press you too hard. Stop struggling by yourself, and instead lean on someone God has put into your life to show you the way and lift you out of your troubles. God will provide the way if you ask for it. Now is a good time to ask and receive the blessings God has prepared for you.