02 March 2011

Prayer is good for us... and the world - Part 2

This is the second post in a series offered to reinforce the first emphasis in Summitview's 2011 Vision, namely, to grow in prayer as a church.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20–21)
Fundamentally, it's our pride that makes (biblical) prayer difficult. Prayer that builds our self-righteousness, seems to come easy and with many words (Luke 18:11-12). But dependent prayer, serious crying out to God, is opposed by an inertia called pride. So prayerlessness or poorly motivated and religious prayer can only change through genuine humility and repentance. Listen to Jesus' brother James:
You do not have, because you do not ask. [3] You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. [4] You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. [5] Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? [6] But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” [7] Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [9] Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. [10] Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  (James 4:2-10)
Humility is the first order of business to mature in any area of life. Without humility, practical instruction actually becomes a road to self-exaltation (which is never mature). But humility is the safeguard that allows practical tips to be genuinely useful.

I guess I know my own tendencies and so I will speak for myself. I need to be careful with any list of practical suggestions. My heart is quick to grab them, implement them to the degree that (I determine) entitles me to expect some results or feel good about my effort. Practical tips to grow in prayer (which is fundamentally an expression of dependence on God!) can easily be twisted into an exercise in pride. So, while I believe these things can be helpful, I also believe we should proceed with caution and... humility.

(continuing the list from the last post)

3) Pray with your family.
Praying with your spouse
The idea is pretty simple. You can pray with your fig leaves on in every other context but not with your spouse. It may be one reason praying with your spouse is so difficult – it’s more honest. But that honesty can lead to more frank expression of your real needs to God. The resulting peace will beckon you back to honest prayer in times of anxiety.

Praying with your kids
As a pastor, I pray with a lot of people and, yet, nothing has done more for my soul than consistently praying with my kids. If you are a parent (especially a dad), commit to regular prayer with them and persevere. It will be awkward. They will get distracted. You will be tempted to think it is a waste and you will always try rush through it. Don’t give up. Gritty stick-to-it-ness, not eloquence or ease, wins the day.

Here’s how it reinforces your own prayer: there are little ears listening and you know it. There are certain things that I pray in front of my peers that don’t make sense in front of my kids. (Chances are those things don’t make sense in front of God either.)  This forces me to communicate the simple essence of my plea and strips me of my pagan desire to be heard because of my many words (Matthew 6:7).

Praying with my kids has required me to seriously consider what I should expect in prayer as well. Kids will fearlessly bring every request to God. That’s good and bad. The freedom is good and the idolatry isn’t. There are times my childrens' vulnerability before God moves me to tears and, yet, I am terrified at how quickly God can be relegated to Santa Claus. In that crazy mix, I am motivated to pray biblically (or, say it another way, "according to God's will." - 1 John 5:14)

To that end, our family has been trying to keep four categories in mind as we pray. They have helped us build a "prayer vocabulary" that is more well-rounded and biblical than "God, I pray you would give me a pony." I remember them via the acronym A-C-T-S and my kids (especially when they were pre-reading age) remember them via pictures (you can grab a copy of our prayer guide here). Every time we pray, I'm reminded to lead my kids to pray through these categories:
Adoration (telling Jesus what you love about Him)
Confession (telling Jesus the truth about your sin)
Thanksgiving (thanking Jesus for all He has done for you)
Supplication (asking Jesus for help) with a focus on:
  • Personal character and love for Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19, Colossians 1:9-12).
  • Needs in the church.
  • Neighbors (more on this in the next post).
  • Sponsored children and missionaries.
  • People groups around the world. We have also used a world map and Operation World to pray through a variety of different people groups. This builds a heart for the world and brings perspective to the abundance our children enjoy.
When they begin to read, laminate the guide and you can begin to write things in each category to order your prayers for the evening (which you need to do with kids).

Parents, do you kids hear you pray? Do they hear you proclaiming God’s greatness back to Him? Do they hear your gratitude for the Cross? Your burden for the world? For their souls? For the souls of your neighbors? For the advance of the Gospel? For the good of the church? They should hear a burden for God’s interests in your prayer. They should see that you really believe that “the horse is made ready for battle, but victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).  This may impact their relationship with God more than anything else you do. It may just revolutionize your life as well.


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