How to Pray

It was the first year of creation. Adam was placed in charge of the entirety of nature, and being new, he wanted some suggestions. Being king of the animals, Adam called some of the beasts to his place to talk.

First in was the sloth. He looked at Adam and said "Adam".
"Yes?" said Adam.
Then the sloth said "Adam" ninety-nine more times, and he left. Adam was rather confused by this.
Next came the gorilla. He wrote something on a piece of paper, put the paper into a wheel and spun it. Then he, too, left. Adam was baffled by this.
The ferret came in burning a candle. He assumed some strange poses, then left without saying a word.

Next came the wolf. "Please say something to me!" Adam begged the wolf. The wolf then began spouting some sort of lengthy liturgy in latin. This was especially confusing because latin had not been invented yet.
Next was the cat. He never entered Adam's house but stood outside and spoke to himself. Adam heard nothing.
After the cat came the camel. She read some words on a leaf. "Adam have mercy on me and interceed on my behalf with the Lord that I may be blessed." Having said this, she ran out and wrote this on twenty other leaves to distribute to her friends. I think this was supposed to bring her good luck or something.

The foxbat was next. But the poor girl was so sleepy that she could do little more than apologize before she passed out completely.
The goat never showed up.
The zebra only stopped in long enough to say "You're doing a great job bye!"
The tasmanian devil spent the entire time complaining.

Feeling frustrated, Adam was just about to give up on talking to his subjects and go to bed when a little mouse entered. He greeted Adam warmly and began sharing his thoughts about Eden. He spoke fondly but respectfully, listened to what Adam had to say, offered his suggestions, and volunteered to help out with the garden in any way he could. When they were through speaking, the mouse thanked Adam for his hospitality and went his way.
Of all the animals in the garden, only the mouse spoke to him the way he wanted.
The next session would prove even more frustrating, and Adam would end up asking for a clone to talk to.

Have you ever started to pray and felt incompetant at it? Ever frozen during a prayer? Ever refused to pray in public because you just didn't know what to say? I know I have.
Yes, I know that I can go on at length when I pray in here. But it wasn't that long ago I was terrified to pray in front of other people because it was a skill I simply didn't have. I realized that this had to change, so I began studying how other people prayed. I took notes when my father would give his pastoral prayer. I started keeping a prayer log. Gradually, I got more confident and was able to pray in front of others without freezing up.

Of course, what I needed to understand the most is that first and foremost, I need to direct my prayers to God, not to men. Now that's not to say that we should never concern ourselves with those around us when we pray. The entire reason we type our prayers out on our computer keyboards is so that we can approach God as a family. When one of us prays "please help my Uncle Neddie's nose to heal", we're all there standing in agreement, praying for Uncle Neddie's nose, too.

One thing I have always found frustrating is that whenever I go to a wacipi (powwow) the entire proceedings are done in Engish because that's the one language everybody speaks. The prayers, however, are spoken in the local language. This saddens me because I do not yet speak the local language (in most cases Lakota) and I cannot stand in agreement with the prayer because I don't know what is being said. For all I know, they could be praying to Qetzocoatl.

Of course, when you're praying to God one-on-one, it really doesn't matter how you say anything. In fact, you don't necessarily have to say anything.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
But when we pray with others, naturally, words are more effective in including them.

Jesus' disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray. Jesus' answer was very simple. He instructs them not to use "vain repetitions" as the heathen do. (possibly a reference to mantras, more likely the practice some have of droning on and on.) Of course not. God is our Father and our friend. We can approach Him as we would any other friend. Just talk to Him.

If we don't know what to say, Jesus has given us an outline to follow. "Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name." Jesus begins by addressing God with a title that is familiar, yet reverent.

He then proceeds to honor God's name. Not in flowery speeches, but in a simple, straightforward four-word sentence. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in Earth, as it is in Heaven." This is a priceless verse. So many of us have a tendancy to tell God what He should be doing. Yet Jesus demonstrates what He said in verse 8. God knows what needs to be done, and is faithful to do it. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." is really all that's necessary. Of course, that doesn't mean that we should never pray for specific things. If a certain topic has moved us to pray, there is nothing wrong with expressing our concerns about that specific thing to God. Most certainly we should speak to Him about what's on our hearts. But the most important thing is to trust God's judgement and leave it to Him. Sometimes, He'll answer "no". Sometimes, it is needful for a certain person to be in the hospital, or to lose a loved one, or to go without that thing we think we need so desperately. We don't know what combination of blessings granted and blessings withheld will result in the best possible outcome. But God knows.

"Give us this day our daily bread." Daily provisions are a legitimate need. Jesus asks His Father to meet this need. No more, no less. He doesn't concern Himself with tomorrow's bread or next week's bread. He simply asks for what He needs right now. Too often, we worry about tomorrow. I know I do. But God has promised to take care of us, and He will make sure our needs are met. That may not mean you always LIKE the way your needs are met. Sometimes, your bed is the front seat of your car and your next meal is crackers and beef jerkey. I've been there. Ask Draco Dei. The point is to simply ask for what you need at the moment and trust God to provide. Just a side note: Jesus was not financially wealthy as a certain preacher recently proclaimed.

"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." I hope we're all agreed that it isn't important whether we say "debts" or "tresspasses". The important thing is that we confess that we HAVE debts/tresspasses. If we say we have no sin, we make God out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives. When we sin, it is important to acknowledge it and confess it. This is the only way to have meaningful fellowship with God. And of course, we need to forgive others if we expect God to forgive us. The statement that we forgive our debtors is, I think, as much for the one praying as it is for God. It reminds us that this is necessary, and reminds us to actually DO it, thus setting our hearts right with God.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" Again, very simple, this supplication begs the Lord to help us to live holy lives. Not that God does lead us into temptation. As God is the holy judge of mankind, for Him to deliberately tempt someone would be entrapment. That's not to say that temptation won't come. Very often, we do a doozy of a job tempting ourselves. Rather, this is an expression of faith that God will not place any of us into situations which we are not equipped to handle. It is also a statement of thanks and faith that God will protect us from our enemy, the devil. In this simple model, we see four types of prayer: Praise, supplication (requests), confession and (indirectly) thanks. These are the basic elements for any prayer.

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever." Many manuscripts do not include the latter half of verse 13. Some churches don't even say it. Some do, as it violates no doctrine and is beneficial to say. I'm reminded of Pastor Crooks, who was visiting another church. (Yes, that's the same Pastor Crooks who runs the clothing drive.) As they were speaking the Lord's prayer, they got to the word "evil" and stopped. Larry's voice resounded through the sanctuary. "FOR THINE..." To this day, we tease him with an occasional "for thine..." But really, there is no reason NOT to say this part. It is good to close a prayer with praise, and indeed the Kingdom, power and glory ARE God's.

"Amen." Literally, this means "so be it". Among us, it serves as a means of letting one another know that we have finished praying. It is also a term of agreement. I like to close my private prayers with this word because it says to the Lord that whatever He plans to do, however He plans to answer my prayers, It is all right. No matter what He decides, I am there supporting His decisions, even if I do not understand them.

I mentioned four types of prayer. When I am done, I like to include a fifth type: listening. It's good to pause and let God speak to you for a change. I've done that numerous times while composing this sermon. (Hopefully that's been sufficient to let God's ideas get past mine)

I would like to point out that this freedom to speak to God is possible because Christ has bridged the gap and made possible a meaningful relationship between God and mankind. Without Jesus, none of this is possible. If you've never accepted Christ as your savior and you're wondering why God isn't responding to your prayers, it's because He's waiting for you to take that one most vital step. If you haven't, it's like screaming into a microphone that's been turned off. No one hears you because you haven't made the connection. For those that have, I hope this message has brought you some valuable information about prayer. There's no challenge this week, since I trust that all of you will use as much of this information as you can as well as you are able.

Pastor Oren Otter
January 7, 2006