Friday, October 29, 2010

Why Our Prayers Don't Work

The simple, but wrong explanation to why we don't get what we pray for is that we don't have enough faith. That is the cop out answer to any preacher who prays for something that doesn't happen. Faith is hope for something that we can't see (paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1) and if we believe in something that we can't see, that is faith. The problem with our prayers is, in fact, our prayers. The whole idea that we expect our prayers to work in the first place leads us down the wrong path. We start to think that God doesn't love us or doesn't care or doesn't listen or can't listen, but none of those is true. God can listen, He does listen, He does care, and He loves us more than we can know or understand. We just need to understand what prayer is.

Prayer is communication with God. Asking Him for stuff happens in prayer, but if all your prayers are you asking God for stuff, then I'm not surprised that they don't work. Instead, you are supposed to commune with God. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Tell Him how you honestly feel about what's going on, but don't complain about it. Don't blame Him for the consequences of your actions. It may be best to first understand who you are.

You are a sinner. You're a worthless piece of dung. Your best works are as dirty as menstrual rags to God. There is nothing that you can say or do to get close to God. You don't deserve Him. You deserve to die a horrible and torturous death. Have a nice day. But that's not the end of it. Next, let's look at who God is.

God is a loving Creator. He made man to be with Him forever, but Adam's mistake threw the entire human race away from the presence of our loving God. However, God, being so loving, sent His one and only Son Jesus from Heaven to Earth to live and die as a replacement sacrifice for us. He took that horrible and torturous death upon Himself. We have gotten so used to the cross that we make them out of gold and hang them around our necks as jewelry, but it was an instrument of torture that make the guillotine and the electric chair PG in comparison. God loved us so much that He crawled into our filthy world and let us kill Him. All so that He could suffer the most in order to make His death a worthy sacrifice. This is the God we pray to.

Also, God is the Creator of the universe. He holds it in the span (palm) of His hand. In the way Michael Jordan would palm a basketball, God can do that with the universe. He's a big God. He's a consuming fire, and next to Him, "insignificant" seems too gracious of a word to describe us. What makes us think that we can demand anything of Him?

I've met and talked to people who believe that there is a God, and they believe that God loves them and wants their love in return, so they try and bargain with God, using their "love" as a bargaining chip. "I'll love you," they say, "if you get me..." Of course their terminology is one step closer to the King James Bible, but God sees through that one easily. He isn't impressed by our vocabulary or by any thee's and thou's. He may not even listen to our words but I know He listens to our hearts.

So what's the point of praying to God? Why can't we just feel good things about Him in our hearts?

First of all, God tells us to pray. That should be enough. If it's not enough, then pray anyway. You need it. God wants us to be one inside and out. We cannot be doing bad on the outside and be good on the inside. We can't fool God or take the easy way out. We need to actually pray.

The next thing we need to realize is that Jesus dying on the cross for us washes away our sins. God decides to no longer see sin when He looks at us because every sin we have committed, are committing, or will commit is already paid for on the cross. (That doesn't mean we can go on sinning on purpose. That's an outward sign of a heart that is not following God.) And since God doesn't see sin anymore, we have the freedom to approach God as a child approaches a father.

Prayer is that approach. The power of prayer is the power of the one we pray to. If I fashioned a marshmallow and prayed to it, then the power of that prayer would be only as powerful as the marshmallow. But since I pray to the almighty God, the power of my prayer is limitless. When I approach the Father, I don't just come to Him to dump my problems in His lap. I come to be with Him. My prayer works because I'm with Him. He doesn't have to say, "yes," to all my requests for me to consider my prayer successful. In fact, He tells me, "no," most of the time. So much so that when He does say, "yes," I'm quite surprised. And when I pray, my requests (supplications is the fancy Bible word for requests) are just a small part of my prayer. I spend a lot of time telling Him who He is (not that He needs to know, but if I begin my prayers saying that God is wonderful, more of my requests sound to me like whining) and thanking Him for what He's already done. I realize that I don't even deserve to be alive, and that means that I don't really need to ask Him for anything, since I already have more than I deserve.

But here's the cool part: God loves to bless us anyways. I can still ask for things and He can still give them, but by the time I do ask, I don't even need them anymore. I just think they'd be cool. I just ask in case God is just wanting me to ask. The real thing that I want and the real thing that I need, I already have. An intimate relationship with my Father and Creator. Everything else is just bonus.

Now about answered prayers. God answers prayers. I've seen it happen. He does perform miracles and healings and all sorts of things that we read about in the Bible. He doesn't do it every time we ask, but He does do it when He sees fit. We can't command God like He's a genie. In fact, the more demanding we get, the less likely He's going to do it. When Jesus was teaching and performing miracles left and right, He refused to show the Pharisees a sign when they asked. He's not a performing monkey to do tricks, He's the ruler of the universe and if we can just see a glimpse of who He really is, our prayers would change dramatically.

So to see God, I can only recommend reading the Bible (yes, the whole thing) and praying. God will reveal Himself through His word and through prayer. Just seek Him.

Some Bible verses that I've been contemplating while writing this are Matthew 6:8-13, 12:38-42, 18:19-20, and James 4:2-7. Be sure to read those verses in context, so you know what God is really talking about. Pray about them before during and after your reading and I'm certain God will reveal Himself to you. It is, after all, what He wants to do anyways.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Circle of Friends

Let's try some fiction.

There was a boy named Jimmy, living down the hill from town. He was a poor boy, but he amused himself quite easily, walking along the creek near his house and watching all the things that God created doing the things they were created to do. He would see a stone splitting the water in two, but then two halves come together seamlessly on the other side of the stone, and he would wonder how that works. If he tore a bit of cloth, he could not mend it again, and when his mother mended it for him, he would be able to see the stitch, but water didn't have any. He followed an any, just to see where it would go, and it traveled for about a mile along the creek, walking without break with its six little legs, until it came upon candy bar wrapper washed ashore. It took a bit of chocolate off the wrapper and turned around and went back the way it came. Jimmy didn't mind not having the nice clothes or living outside of town. He actually considered himself luckier than those other boys who poked fun at him at school, but were afraid to walk in the mud. When they did make fun of him, he would try and get them dirty. This was great fun to Jimmy.

One day, a man in a fine suit was walking down the road from town. As he passed Jimmy's house, he tipped his hat. Jimmy, who was catching a frog in the front yard, waved back. Jimmy watched as the man walked by and notices something odd about him. He had a tail. It was like a cat tail, brown and furry, and swayed as the man walked. Jimmy forgot all about the frog he was catching and followed this man at a distance. He wanted to ask about the tail, but he didn't want to seem rude. In fact, he wished he had a tail. He didn't want to blend in with the other humans in town, so he stayed dirty and if he had a tail, that would make him look even less like them.

The man stopped and turned around. Jimmy stopped where he was too. "Are you following me?"

"I was wondering, and I don't want to be rude, but how come you have a tail?"

"Oh this?" The man plucked his tail from the air as if he was picking fruit from a tree. "Everyone in my family has one of these." He smiled, took off his hat, and bend down to be eye level with Jimmy, even though they were still quite far apart. "You see, I only look like a human. In fact, I'm a Tribarn and I'm only here on business.

"What kind of business?" Jimmy has so many other questions that tried to come out at once. That question was the only one that came out.

"I came to buy this suit." He stood up at full length and straightened out his vest and tie. "What do you think? Is it the finest in town? We have nothing like this back at home."

"I don't like it." Says Jimmy. "You can't get those suits dirty and you always get dirty when you play. It may look nice to you, but it looks like a prison to me."

The man frowned for a minute as he thought about Jimmy's answer. "I see your point. But if you play all the time and get dirty, which may be fun, people look at you and they don't think about how much fun you have, but they think of how dirty you are and they don't want to touch you."

"Because they don't want me to get their suits dirty." said Jimmy.

"That's right." Said the man, "But some people just don't like being dirty." He knelt down again and with his finger, drew a circle in the dirt with his finger. "Take a look at this circle. This circle represents the people that care about you enough to listen to you. In it, you have your mother and father," he dropped a couple of rocks in the circle he drew. "Here's me," he dropped in another rock, "and is there anyone else?" He picked up a few more rocks to drop in the circle.

Jimmy thought about the stone in the water, the ant by the creek, the frog in the front yard. "There's no one else, sir." Jimmy said. I like being by myself.

"Then you will always be. But you see, if you want friends, you have to care less about what you like, having fun and getting dirty, and more about what they like."

"But they make fun of me."

"Well I never said that you had to be their friends, but if you would rather have friends than enemies, that's how you would get them."

"So I have to pretend to like their stuff?"

"Nope, but in wanting to be friends with them, if you really care, you will end up liking their stuff just because you like them."

"But what if I don't want any friends. They're a bunch of snobs. They don't deserve to have a friend like me."

"Anger hurts the angry person the most. If you stay enemies, they will gather together to talk about how dirty you are and they will have a laugh, but you will be over here by yourself being angry."

Jimmy stood silent.

The man stood back up, wiped the dust from his fingers, and put his hat back on. "Well, it's been nice chatting with you. I must be going now. Have a wonderful day." The man walked down the road, around the bend, and out of sight. Jimmy stood there are stared at him until dark.

Later that night, while Jimmy was in bed, he thought about what the man had said. His words swam through his thoughts like goldfish in a tank, always circling, never stopping. The next day at school, when the other boys came over to make fun of him, Jimmy spoke up first before they had a chance. "Why don't you like to get dirty?"

"Because we don't want to mess up these nice clothes." The oldest boy said.

"But don't you like to play?" Jimmy asked

"Of course."

"Then why do you make fun of me if I get to do what you want to do, but can't."

The oldest boy brought his finger to his lips and thought for a minute. "I don't know."

"Do you have any clothes you can play in?" Jimmy asked.

"Yeah, we have play clothes at home."

"Wanna come over after school and catch frogs?"

From that day on, Jimmy had friends to share his discoveries with. He led them on hikes and expeditions to discover the creations of God. They searched the forests all around for the man with the tail, but they never saw him again, but that afternoon, Jimmy went out to that road where they spoke, and dropped a bunch of rocks in the circle.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Discipleship

Our God is a god who values relationships. They are the most important thing to Him. So much so that He sent His only Son to restore a broken relationship between us and Him. He gives us marriage relationships and parental relationships as pictures of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like, and as pictures represent in part, but never fully take the place of what the image is of, so is marriage and parenting. They are incomplete, almost 2 dimensional pictures of our relationship with God. The work comes after. God was ready to destroy His people in the wilderness and start over again with Moses. He offered to start a line with Jereboam if he would follow His ways. God is not worried about His reputation. He will not prefer to keep someone in a position to make Him look good if that person doesn't have a good relationship with Him. Look at Saul. His kingdom fell apart when He stopped following God.

That being so, what takes priority in your life? Is your relationship with God your number one priority? How much time do you actually spend with Him? Jesus, being Himself God, constantly tried to get away from the crowds to pray and commune with the Father. How often do we get away? How high on our priority list is prayer?

After our relationship with the Father, who's next? Husband, wife, children, boyfriend, girlfriend, roommates, best friends, bff's... who? Do our relationships with those people mean more to us than our jobs? Not in today's culture. When meeting new people, we ask, "What do you do?" instead of, "Are you married?" We are more interested in results than relationships.

What if our relationships were the results God is looking for? Maybe the talents He gives His servants isn't money in the parable, but opportunities to fellowship. The one who has been given ten makes ten more, likewise the one with five makes five more, but the one who has one hides himself away and is... well... scolded... severely... with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In our busy schedules, who do we make time for? Who do we show our love for in other ways than just telling them or sending candy on Valentine's day? Is there anyone in our lives who would cause us to break from our routines so that we could minister to that person? Is there only one?

Jesus chose 12 disciples in whom He would invest His time. He called them from their jobs to spend three years walking with Him everywhere. (They didn't know it would be three years and I don't know if any of them (other than the fishermen, but that was only for a day) went back to their previous jobs.) And out of those 12, He chose 3. He wanted to show them how to live a life for God and although He ministered to thousands, these 12 helped (or often hindered) His ministry.

Who have you chosen to invest time and energy into showing how to imitate Christ? Do you know that you are supposed to have disciples? We are told to make them of all nations, are we not? Even if you do not call them disciples, is there someone in your life who is newer to the faith than you are that you can train and teach and raise up so that they can do the same? This isn't the Pastor's job. It's the Christian's. The sheep don't only follow the shepherd, they also follow each other. Other sheep are following you and if you are not putting an importance on your relationship with the Shepherd, what are they going to do?

1 Chronicles 11:1.
Look it up.