Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Prayer: as natural as breathing

Prayer: as natural as breathing
Prayer series

After a fall into a crevice Aron Ralston,  is pinned with his arm crushed between an 800 pound boulder and the canyon wall. No one knew where he was.  He hadn’t seen another soul since he left his car 3 hours before.  You have probably heard his story.  He is the hiker who ended up cutting off his own arm with a pocket knife in order to escape.  The movie 127 hours  depicts his story.  Even when he knew no one was within a 3 hour walk of him, what was the first thing he did?  Cried out for help.

In the dark hallways of hospitals, in the stillness of the night when no one else is watching a woman stands broken and desperate.  She says, God, you know I’ve never prayed before, but if you are out there, please help by baby girl or she may not make it through the night.

I remember a man telling me once that all he remembers about his car accident is the sound of crushing metal, breaking glass, the snap of a bone in his leg, and his voice crying “O God help me”

I suspect that, next to hospitals, job interviews probably elicit more prayers than anything else.  “God don’t let me stick my foot in my mouth.  You know how much we need this job.”

A couple stands watching the sunset.  The pinks get brighter, and the purples get deeper, and the yellows fade to orange as the huge burning orb sinks to the edge of the horizon.  All they can say is “WOW.”  I think they have just prayed.

Noah usually goes to bed pretty well, but occasionally he’ll get spooked.  I’ll hear thump, thump, thump coming up the stairs and hear his pleading “PAPA?”  Is that really any different from prayer

I think our first experience of prayer is as an infant.  We need something, but don’t have the words to ask.  We learn that if we cry out, someone will help us.  Isn’t that practice for prayer?
All kinds of people pray in all kinds of circumstances.
Awe // need
joy // fear
surprise // desperation
 thanksgiving // confusion
delight // powerlessness
shock // despair
In all these things, we are moved to prayer.  Drive any person to the edges of their emotions and they will cry out.  It is part of our makeup that when we get to the deepest places of life, or the highest places of life, we instinctively cry out.  We cry out to something beyond ourselves.  Christians know that the something is God. 
Crying out to God is one of the most fundamental human instincts.
Prayer is as natural as breathing.

So why do we make it so hard?
I have never heard of anyone refusing to breathe because they didn’t believe in the existence of air. 
I have never heard of anyone suffocating because they refused to believe in anything they couldn’t see (LIKE OXYGEN). 
I have never heard anyone say, “I’m just not very good at breathing.”
We are made to breathe, to eat, to digest, and … well as the children’s book says everything poops.  Why is it so hard?  The truth is that prayer is not hard.

I was watching you before the service today.  You didn’t seem to find it difficult to greet your friends.  It looked like everyone was talking pretty easily.  It is good to talk to friends we haven’t seen all week.
Friends . . .  prayer is nothing more than talking with our friend Jesus.  Prayer is conversation with God just like you have conversations with your friends.  In fact, it should be easier, because God knows everything about you, will not misunderstand you, will not twist your words, and will never violate a confidence.  It should be the easiest conversation you have all day.

I think there are three reasons prayer seems hard.
First, since God is God, and we can’t physically see him, we wonder if he really hears us.  I’ll admit it, would be awkward talking to an invisible friend. 
We have all looked over to the car sitting next to us at the stop light and seen the driver talking away- only then to notice that there is no one else in the car.  If you drive up next to me, you might at any given moment find me singing to the top of my lungs, talking back to talk radio, or preaching the sermon I am working on.  (It helps me to remember my ideas if I hear them out loud, and sometimes I’ll turn on my phone’s voice recorder so I can listen to it when I get ready to write on Friday.)
Those are, I’ll admit, awkward moments when I realize someone is watching me.  But that has never stopped me. The fact that we can’t see God sitting next to us shouldn’t stop us either.
SLIDES And besides God promises that he hears and listens.
"You will make your prayer to Him, and He will hear you..." (Job 22:27)
"He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him" (Psalm 91:15)
"It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24)
"You will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:12)
Do you believe that?  Do you believe that God hears prayer?  Then why does prayer seem so hard?

The second reason I think prayer might seem hard, or unnatural, is because we are stubborn.  We are a stubborn, independent, pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of people.  I know.  I am the same way.  To people like us, prayer might seem like an admission of weakness.
We don’t like to admit our need.  We don’t like to admit our weakness.
.  We think that prayer is a sign of weakness because we think prayer is asking for help.  We think prayer is talking to God.  We think that prayer is one way.
Remember, I said earlier that Prayer is CONVERSATION with God.  Conversation means talking and listening. Did you hear that? And listening?  Can you hear me now?  Are you listening?  We are not to pray like a spoiled child, “I want this and this and this and this and this.”  On and on.  God is not a vending machine.  God is God and wants more than anything to be in relationship with us- conversation with us.
Prayer that is one sided is not powerful.  Prayer that is always asking is payer that is paralyzed by selfishness.
Living, breathing active prayer is prayer that speaks and listens: and it is powerful!  The power comes in listening, receiving, and being filled by God. 
SLIDE In Psalm 46:10 God says be still and know that I am God.  You know what, I think that might be God’s polite way of saying “shut up and listen will ya?”
Let your lips BE STILL . . .   and listen for the sound of God’s voice.
Let your mind BE STILL… and let your mind be filled with the mind of God.
Let your heart BE STILL… and let God’s peace replace your worry.  Let God’s hope replace your despair.  Let God’s joy replace your flimsy happiness.
Far from being weakness prayer is plugging into the source of all power.  Far from being weak, prayer is stronger than any strength we can imagine.  Far from being feeble, prayer gives us access to power we have never known and can NEVER know, except in prayer.  

Finally, I think we don’t pray because we aren’t confident that God answers prayer.
This is where the passage we read this morning comes in to play.
If a friend comes to the door and asks for bread.  It is late and inconvenient.  You send him away.  But he doesn’t leave.  He asks again.  Who among us wouldn’t get up and give him the stupid bread, even if just to get him off your back?
Who among us if your child asks for a sandwich would give him a snake instead?
Who among us if our child asks for some fruit would give him an ugly bug?
If we who are sinful would give bread to our friend or good things to our children; how much more will God who is good answer our prayers?

"And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13-14)
Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven" (Matthew 18: 19)
"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16)
"Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14)
My friends, let me tell you in all honesty.  God ANSWERS PRAYER.  So “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Pray and God will answer.

I hope we have started this series on prayer off right by dispelling a few concerns.
SLIDE—click to show each line
God hears prayer.
God speaks in prayer if we listen
God answers prayer
You see prayer really is not that hard.  It is as natural as breathing.
Your homework this week, then is very simple.  Pray while you are breathing.
This is called a breath prayer.
You can use it any time that you are breathing.  It is quiet and calming and helps me to center on God.
As you breathe in say “Jesus”
As you breathe out say “Teach me to pray”
Breathe in say “Jesus”
Breathe out say “Teach me to pray”
Breathe in say “Jesus”

                   Breath Prayer
Description: Apostle Paul exhorts us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  But how do we do that?  One ancient prayer practice allows us the opportunity to make prayer a part of our daily life - the breath prayer.  Developing a breath prayer is very easy.  Take 5-10 minutes to choose a breath prayer from scripture or compose one of your own.  Here are three different
·         Lord // increase my faith.
·         Not my will // but yours be done.
·         Thy kingdom come // Thy will be done.
·         Jesus // my light and my love.
·         May my being // praise you Lord.
·         Our help // is in the name of the Lord.
·         Holy Spirit // pray in me.
·         Lord // do with me what You will.
·         Speak Lord // your servant is listening.
·         or Turn to one of your favorite biblical passages to create one. Ideally, your breath prayer should be 6-12 syllables. 

1.  Choose a prayer sentence from the following examples1:
·         O Lord // come to my assistance.
·         God // make haste to help me.
·         Lord Jesus // have mercy.
·         Abide in my love.
·         My God  // and my all.
·         My Jesus // mercy.
·         I belong to you // O Lord.
·         Bless the Lord // O my soul.
·         Open my heart //  to your love.
·         Lord // I give myself to you.
·         My Lord // and my God.

After you have chosen or created a breath prayer, make a goal to remain in God's abiding presence as you begin saying your prayer.  Ponder the meaning and beauty of the words you are saying.  Slowly say the first part of the prayer as you breathe in.  Then slowly say the last part (marked by //) of the prayer as you exhale.  There is no hurry or rush.
Say your breath prayer throughout the day whenever you remember. 
This form of prayer can also serve as a "tape" that can replace negative "tapes" or "commentaries" that often swirl around in our minds. (Think about the “Me and My Big Mouth” series.)  Whenever you observe that you are negatively reacting to a person, event, or thing, say your breath prayer.  God does not want you to embody negative thoughts and feelings and thus poison yourself.  Once you're aware of the negative thoughts and feelings, gently say your breath prayer.
1 Adapted from Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart (New York: Continuum, 1992), 134-5.
2 Adapted from
 The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation: Leader's Guide (Nashville: Upper Room Books), 100.

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