By Pastor Vince Gerhardy
There are times when we ask ourselves, “Is God really listening to our prayers?” “Things have turned out so wrong for me – where was God when I was pounding on the door of heaven with my prayers.”
You may recall the tragedy that happened several years at Thredbo in the Australian alps when there was a terrific landslide that came down on the skiers huts burying 19 people. The TV cameras were quick on the spot and we watched on our screens as rescue teams tunneled through the rubble to search for survivors. Medical teams and chaplains were on hand to help any of those traumatized from being trapped under the mud and rubble for days.
The whole country held its breath. A chapel was set up on the edge of the Thredbo River and people prayed. People at home and in churches prayed for the rescue of those people. I remember prayers were said here in this church on the Sunday, as I’m sure prayers were said all over the country.
Now some time later – how useful to you think those prayers were? Do you think that they were able to change the lot of any of those who were trapped? We prayed expecting a miracle. Yes, one man was rescued. It seemed like a miracle that anyone could survive 60 hours in freezing conditions surrounded by concrete, rubble and water. The survivor acknowledged that God must have had a hand in deliverance. But what about the other 18 people who lost their lives? What about all the prayers that were said for those people and yet they still perished?
It’s no wonder that people are sceptical about the use of prayer. If so many people were praying for those people, why didn’t God respond and save them? That question has been asked over and over again throughout history when things turned out differently than they had prayed for. And I wish I had an answer that would be clear cut, understandable and simple;
an answer that would prove that prayer works.
It seems that Jesus’ disciples had a problem with prayer. They had seen Jesus pray so often and noticed the confidence and fervour with which he prayed. Perhaps they wanted to know what they had to do to ensure that their prayers were answered. May be there was a special way of speaking; a special way of pleading your case. Sometimes they saw Jesus kneeling, other times looking up to heaven – was there a special posture that helped in saying the right prayer and getting the right answer. And so they come to Jesus with the request, “Lord, teach us to pray”.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t teach the disciples any special skills. He doesn’t say if you fold your hands or hold them palms up toward heaven, or rest them on the particular person you are praying for, or kneel or stand or sit, or use a special style of language, you are more likely to have your prayers answered. If that were the case then the answer to our prayers would be a human achievement not something that comes from the gracious and loving hand of God.
Let’s be clear about what prayer is. Prayer is not having special skills and saying the right words so that we can reach God’s ear. When would we sinful, weak humans ever get it right? We would never be able to say the right things to move God to answer us. Prayer is not humans taking the initiative and trying to reach up to God attempting to speak in his ear. The picture that comes to mind here is one of a small child who wants to tell his dad something really important. What does dad do? He bends down, lovingly puts his arm around the child and lets the child whisper in his ear. In this sense then prayer is not so much us reaching up to God with special words or techniques, but it is God reaching down to us.
Our salvation does not depend on all the good things we can do and so impress God so that he will let us into heaven. God comes down to us in the form of his Son Jesus and gives us salvation through his death on the cross. So it is with prayer – no special prayer techniques have to be applied to achieve prayer success. Half the time we don’t know what to pray and when we do we pray selfishly, without faith or conviction. We don’t even know where to find God.
It is God who finds us. By the power of the Holy Spirit the good news about Jesus Christ hits home. Jesus comes into our lives through the Word of God and baptism and makes himself known to us. God, the Father becomes our heavenly Father. Praying is being in presence of God, who bends down and like a father makes his ear available. Even the whispers of the small child in a father’s ear might be soft and stammering, so infant-like, but the father hears the words of his child as the most precious things he has ever heard. He hears the incomplete sentences and funny words with the love of a father. He hears the soft requests with love when the child is hurting. In the same way, God hears our prayers.
Prayer is a gift. Prayer is possible only because of who God is and his intense love for us. And the more helpless we feel, the more we learn this to be true. Prayer is for the down and out, who finally no longer rely on themselves, but want to be helped by God.
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A man by the name of Hallesby wrote a book in 1948 about prayer. It’s an old book but a good one. He summarises in this way,
“Jesus comes to the sinner, awakens him from his sleep of sin, converts him, forgives him his sins, and make him his child. Then he takes the weak hand of the sinner and places it in his own strong, nail-pierced hand and says: “Come now, I am going with you all the way and will bring you safe home to heaven. If you ever get into trouble or difficulty, just tell me about it. I will give you, without reproach, everything you need, and more besides, day by day, as long as you live.” (Prayer, IVP p30)
That’s a great way to describe how prayer is a precious gift from God to aid us on our journey through this life. God is ready and waiting to hear our prayers and to give us all that we need. For this reason, Hallesby says, “Prayer should be my daily refuge, my daily consolation, my source of rich and inexhaustible joy in life.
But why is it that we find it so hard to pray? Why do we neglect this rich source of strength and power for our daily lives? I probably don’t need to tell you the reasons why because we are all guilty of failing to pray. I guess at the bottom of it all is that it takes effort to pray.
It takes effort to make time available every day to pray.
It takes effort to be quiet and still for just a short while.
It takes an effort to stop during a busy day and to spend time talking with God.
It takes an effort at the end of a long day to stay awake long enough to pray.
We readily and easily pray when there is a pressing need, when sickness or despair strike, but for the rest of the time prayer is often seen as a burden, as an effort, though it takes far less effort than taking the wheelie bin out to the curb.
We may even doubt the value of prayer; we may lack the confidence that it really does anything. In fact, if we truly believed in the power of prayer we wouldn’t have any problems spending time with our heavenly Father in prayer. Prayer requires practice and perseverance if it is to become a gift from God that is well used.
Prayer is a gift from our heavenly parent and it is not a demanding gift. Sometimes we need the Spirit’s discipline to drag us into the presence of God, but once there, it is not hard. Not many words are needed to respond to God’s coming. The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples is very brief. Prayer does not demand a lot of wearisome words. In fact, a lot of words can be off-putting. Sometimes it is better to relax in God’s presence with very few words. Jesus says, “In praying, don’t use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8). Jesus models a prayer that is brief and yet contains everything that is important.
“May your name be holy.” We pray that our Father’s Name would be holy on our lips and in our lives, that he would work faith in our hearts through the Word and the Holy Spirit, and that our lives would be filled with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving in his name.
“May your will be done.” We pray that God will break the power of evil in our lives and make our faith in Jesus strong and help us to trust God’s Word.
“May your kingdom come.” We pray that God’s kingdom would come to us, that he would rule over us, that we believe his Word and live as his people.
“Give us day by day our daily bread.” We pray that God would give us everything that we need for our life, realising with thanks that it all comes from God’s gracious hand.
“Forgive us our sins.” We pray for forgiveness of our sins, and for the ability to forgive those who sin against you.
“Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We pray for protection against every temptation to sin and evil that would cause us to stumble and fall from faith.
Of course God doesn’t knock back any prayer, but when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, brief as it is, every need that is important is covered. In fact, I went to a service while on holidays where there was only one prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Everything that is important was covered in that one simple prayer.
I think that you would all agree that there is a danger that we gabble off the Lord’s Prayer without giving as thought about what we are saying. When we do that it’s no longer a prayer, but just something, a bunch of words that we have learnt off by heart.
Sign seen in a textile mill, “When your thread becomes tangled, call the supervisor.” A young woman was new on the job. Her thread became tangled and she thought, “I’ll just straighten this out myself.” She tried, but the situation only worsened.
Finally, she called the supervisor. “I did the best I could,” she said. “No you didn’t”, was the reply. “To do the best, you should have called me.”
That’s just what God wants us to do. Call on him when the threads of life become tangled. Prayer is the way we bring our needs to God and let him deal with our situation with a divine answer.
The first and often the most difficult step is to set time aside every day to speak with God. God will hear you prayer. He will answer you prayer with divine love and power. Even if the answer is not what we expected, be assured it is the best. Our heavenly Father is waiting to hear from us. He is waiting to use his power to help us.
“I tell you, keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep seeking, and you will find. Keep knocking, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2001, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.