Figuring out how to pray #3

Family Weekend…that one holiday that we don’t care what government introduced it, we’re just glad they gave us another day off in the year 🙂

We’re thankful for another reason to spend time with the people we love the most and do life with.

Becoming family – it’s wonderful, messy and beautiful, all at the same time. If that’s having a child or two or three, becoming family with your spouse, or discovering that you’re family are the people who love you and that you love back. There’s always more to the warm and fuzzy feelings – we have to figure our HOW to be family – day in and day out.

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Think about it this way: comparing Theory vs Doing or Instructions vs Action. they are always fun to balance and figure out. Easier said than done.

This week, I almost played pickle ball for the first time. Almost. My friend’s text instructions are worth mentioning…they said, ‘watch the video’…so I watched the video, and texted back, ‘I’m ready’…and they texted back, ‘that’s what I thought.’ (theory vs doing)

My kids recent got offered a side gig…a side hustle you might say. They both have part-time jobs, but figure they would use this little bit of extra money to put towards education. I was out at Costco and they called to tell me they were going to start this project (putting candy in gum ball machine capsules. They hadn’t received any instruction yet, so I had to slow them down and ensure they had all the info they needed to get started on this job. Not a fun thing to do while trying to shop at Costco and get out as soon as possible. Instructions vs Action.

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Two weeks ago we came across this line in Luke 11, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

We have been talking about prayer the last few weeks. Figuring out how to pray???

3 things about prayer from our first talk:

  • It’s Human to pray
  • It’s Biblical to pray
  • Praying happens everywhere & somewhere

3 things to keep in mind when we pray from our second talk:

  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it real
  • Keep it up

What is prayer? (conversation/time with God)
Why do we pray? (develops our faith, heart, and life)
HOW???

There have been many approaches to teach us HOW to pray. One traditional acronym is A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). One approach from Anne Lamott is, Help, Thanks, Wow. Simple, but good.

I came across one from Gordon Smith that felt like the perfect blend of all of them. The reason why I feel good about using this approach from Smith is:

  • Gordon Smith is…an author, a teacher, and most importantly, a spiritual director
  • He teaches people how to discern next steps, through prayer.
  • One of his best lines or pieces of advice is this, “You can only make one decision at a time”

When you sit down to pray (find that somewhere), assuming that you will naturally ask God for help, Smith suggests 3 movements:

Thanksgiving / Confession / Discernment

Remember, our desire to figure out prayer is based on the disciples question in Luke 11, “Teach us to pray” and then in the crux of the Lord’s prayer that follows “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

With this prayer we are expressing the longing of our hearts & minds that the will of God would happen…here…on earth…in our everyday lives. Out of that main prayer, come these three movements.

Thanksgiving

We see and respond with gratitude to the ways in which God is already at work in our world and in our lives.

This is always the best place to start: when you feel it and when you don’t.

If it’s obvious, great, if not, then look for how you may have missed God at work in and around you.

If you can’t see his kingdom come just yet, thank him that you will see it very shortly.

Gratefulness is foundational to the Christian life, and therefore it’s gotta be foundational to prayer. We probably would agree that…

  • grateful people see the world differently
  • grateful people appreciate what they have
  • grateful people love more, serve more, give more, help more, etc.

Not sure if you’ve seen The Mandalorian, a star wars series on the new Disney Plus. The Mandalorians are a tribe of people in the Starwars Galaxy. Not to take too much of your time on this, I will say that when this Mandalorian is faced with an ethical dilemma, his tribe reminds him of his way of peace and protection, and they say these words, “THIS IS THE WAY”.

The scriptures are very clear that ‘gratefulness’ is the way of the Christian. Followers of Jesus are, and must be, grateful people. This is OUR way.

Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with…Thanksgiving”
Colossians 3:15 “And be thankful” ( a simple, yet powerful 3 word sentence)

 

Colossians 2:6-7 says, So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

We only pray well when we give thanks.

It’s not always easy, but it’s always important. There is none, or at least very minimal growth in the Christian life, and no maturity, without gratefulness.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We don’t enter into community as demanders, but rather as grateful recipients.”

Thanksgiving is the first movement of prayer. Then comes…Confession!!!

Confession

In the Lord’s prayer we are encouraged to ask for forgiveness and express forgiveness. Confession is our way toward forgiveness.

In Mark 1:15, Jesus says, “Repent and believe the goodnews” This starts with confession.

When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” We become aware of the ways our lives and wills are not in line with God’s ways. Confession helps us with awareness. It gets us to our authentic self – the real me

Important to note that repentance isn’t about feeling bad, it’s an act of intentional alignment, or better yet, realignment, with the ways of Jesus. Prayer is relationship. Prayer is also recalibration…re-centring.

Also important to remember that Confession is not about getting God to love us more. It flows from knowing that God already loves us a lot.

Prayer is the safest place to bring our mess ups to light. In whatever area we mess up: words, finances, integrity, sexuality, relationships, ethics, etc.

Confession is the second movement of prayer. Then comes…Discernment!!!

Discernment

One thing we don’t often do in our praying, but should most definitely do, is ask God for direction, for discernment, for wisdom in all things.

Discernment is considering how God is calling us to live and act as participants in his kingdom, played out in our work, our families, our neighbourhoods, our decisions. We are discerning…what way to go, what direction to turn, what path to choose.

Why? Because our words and actions matter.

We read in 1 Kings 3, an amazing exchange between God and Solomon.
God says, ‘Ask me for anything’
Solomon says, ‘give me a discerning heart’

How would you respond if God asked you that question? Money. I’ll take Money. Since you’re asking, I’ll take some form or currency please. There are so many things we’d ask for before we get to wisdom and discernment.

But…if we had the discernment to make the right choice in every decision, just think about the possibilities???

Why is this such an important aspect to prayer? Because our actions matter, our work matters, our conversations matter, our decisions matter.

This is important to remember: we are not called to do more or less than what God is calling us to do. There are so many distractions, external and internal, that take us away from the right choice before us. If we could just realize that all we have to do is what God is asking of us, what God is leading us to, not more, nothing less.

“Discernment is always a matter of doing the best we can, with what we have, amidst the complexity and noise.”

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Why are these three movements essentials in our practice of prayer? It’s because of the temptations we fight.

Temptation #1: We frequently focus on what God is not doing, and the ways we wish he was more present, more active, more attentive.

Being thankful in our praying opens our eyes to see what God has done and what he’s actually doing.

Temptation #2: We tend to look at how others fall short, and how they aren’t living up to how we think they should be living.

Confession in our praying takes our eyes off of others and helps us see where we need to change.

Temptation #3: Two-fold. 1. See what’s wrong in the world and do nothing about it. 2. See what’s wrong with the world and try and do everything.

Praying for discernment helps us recognized what we are called to do, called to fix, called to serve, and do it with confidence & humility.

TAKE HOME:

This week, when you pray, try using and implementing these three movements.

Start with thanking God for what he’s done, or what you believe he will do. Ask him to open your eyes to what you need to be grateful for.

Move to Confession. Be real with God. Don’t hide your brokenness. God loves you anyways.

End with Discernment. Ask God to direct your steps, your conversations, your conflicts, your difficult decisions.

Figuring out how to Pray – #2

A friend of mine recently posted a question on FB hoping to discover some information about musicians.
“What’s frustrating about guitar playing these days?”
“What is holding you back?” (various answers)

After a concert many years ago, I walked onto the stage to ask the band a few questions. Ya, I’m that guy who randomly walks onto stages post concerts. Asked the guitarist, “How’d you learn? School? Which one?”
Get this – he was embarrassed that he had a degree in music. Why? Because so many of his colleagues are self-taught.

This era is the self learning era – is it not? Google, youtube, _______ for dummies books and online resources.

Some people complain about our younger generation? I don’t see it. They are smart, disciplined in areas of learning and figuring out so many things. I, as do you, know people who are so passionate about learning something new, and it feels like in a about two weeks, they can become an expert in something. Amazing.

Why do people spend hours and hours on youtube and google? They want to figure out new things. How to…golf, build things, cook, program their computer, fix some broken item in their home, play music, etc.

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Two weeks ago we came across this line in Luke 11, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”

They had no google search. No Youtube. Just a simple question to the one who caught their attention, Jesus, “Can you teach us how to pray?”

What is prayer? (conversation/time with God)
Why do we pray? (develops our faith, heart, and life)

3 things from our first talk:

  • It’s Human to pray
  • It’s Biblical to pray
  • Praying happens everywhere & somewhere

Wonderful. But there are some obstacles to praying. Aren’t they. One you may hear about a lot? It’s hard to pray.

Today we’ll talk about 3 things to help us overcome this obstacle…

But first: Matthew 6 (1st – MSG & 2nd – NIV)

Matthew 6:5-13

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
7-13 “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply.

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“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

One phrase rings through this text…

“When you pray”

I love the assumption Jesus makes…that we will pray, that we need to pray, that we must pray, that prayer is essential. But he doesn’t leave us hanging, he gives us some valuable instruction.

When you pray…don’t be fake…if so your only reward will be that you’ll be seen by others.

When you pray…go to a place of solitude…if so, you won’t be seen by others, but you’ll be seen by God.

When you pray…don’t babble…because many words aren’t important…words or no words, God knows what you need before you even say a word.

Knowing that we will deal with these issues in prayer, like not doing it for the right reasons, like trying to hard to make our prayers perfect, worrying what we sound like, and the most important one, it’s hard to pray – here are few things to keep in mind to help us figure out how to pray.

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(These points titles were inspired by and borrowed from Pete Grieg)

Keep it Simple

The words we read in Matthew 6 are followed by the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer was just 31 words long (original language). Originally, it rhymed. Jesus offers us a simple poem that rhymes. It fits in a tweet folks.

Anglican Bishop, Justin Welby, said that the Lord’s Prayer is, ‘simple enough to be memorized by small children and yet profound enough to sustain a whole life time or prayer.’

A new Christian once asked, ‘is it ok if I talk to God in the shower?’ YES. Better than talking to yourself I guess 😉

I’ve been driving with people and and talking about perhaps some difficulty they’re going through, and offered to pray, and they might joke, ‘don’t close your eyes’. For some reason we think our eyes have to be closed.

There are very few rules – the shower, driving, running, quiet moments in solitude, write them down, sing them, rap them, pray in your head, etc.

Hebrews 10:9 says that God’s presence is available to us all at any time, in any place, through Jesus.

God only invites us to pray simply, directly, and truthfully.
In the words of Avril Levin, why we have to make things more complicated?

Keep in Real

In Luke 18 Jesus tells a story about people arriving at the temple to pray. One, a Pharisee, stood and spoke eloquently, ticking all the right religious boxes, but the other man, a tax collector, humbled, wouldn’t even look up, muttering, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus says, which man went home justified? The humble, real, authentic, tax collector.

Thomas Merton says, “God is far too real to be met anywhere other than reality.”

Some of you may remember, a few years ago, we borrowed Anne Lamott’s book title for a series on prayer. So refreshing – simply, “Help, Thanks, Wow”. She argues that these are the only words we will ever need.

She writes:
“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say, ‘I’m exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like you at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in you,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. Or if you said, it’s all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if you exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride, for the courage it took to get real – really real.”

Let me tell you…my prayers have been very REAL the last few months. Janet asked me one night in the hospital, “I never see you crying?”. What she didn’t see was me walking the halls, walking back and forth to the car, driving the 401, crying, praying, saying all sorts of stuff to God. I gave it pretty hard to God in those moments.

Jesus was real with God before the cross. Sure, he said, Let your will be done, but before that he said, take this cup from me.

In my prayers, I might eventually get to ‘Let your will be done’ too. But God probably hears a lot more than that before we get there.

Psalm 55:17 seems appropriate here, “Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice.”

Jacob literally wrestles with God. (Gen 32)

Moses complains about the people God called him to lead. (Numbers 11:11-12)

I love that these things, and so much more, are found in the scriptures. No hiding people’s honest prayers to God.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling…These, perhaps…come from a deeper level than feeling…God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.” (Letters to Malcom)

Keep it Up

Jesus told his disciples that they should always pray and never give up. (Luke 18:1)

Paul told the Ephesians to “Keep on praying” (6:18)

Prayer isn’t about trial and error and finding the right formula, it’s about not giving up.

Daily prayer means…well…daily prayer.

“You cannot grow in prayer without some measure of effort and discomfort and self-discipline.”

Someone once compared praying to throwing rocks in a swamp. Each rock sinks without a trace. The exercise seems pointless. But keep going long enough, keep throwing those rocks, and the swamp will eventually be filled. One day, a rock will be thrown that will not sink. Solid ground will begin to appear.

Build the rhythm and routine of prayer in your life. It’s the only way for your relationship with God to, not just survive, but thrive.

I was encouraged and challenged, a few months back, to hug my wife every day for 15 second. It’s been amazing. The routine, the rhythm, the consistency, it all adds up to a better, loving, appreciative relationship. It’s the same with ongoing prayer.

There’s no other way to say this, but the more you pray, the better you become at prayer, and the clearer God’s voice becomes in your life.

Keep it Simple
Keep it Real
Keep it Up

In other words, our basic building blocks in our approach to prayer must be…

Simplicity
Honesty
Perseverance

Why worship a God who doesn’t need it? (Becca Chase)

There’s a story recorded in John chapter 4 where Jesus is interacting with a Samaritan woman at a well. The woman is shocked for the fact that not only is this man speaking with her, but this Jewish man is speaking with her and knows things about her he shouldn’t possibly know. She then says this:

19“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

In other words…  you used to worship somewhere, but now the time has come to worship everywhere. If prayer, as we talked about last week, needs to begin somewhere in order for us to do it everywhere, the opposite is true of worship. In order for us to experience meaningful worship when we gather together as community on Sundays, we need to be people familiar with worship in the everyday, in spirit and in truth.

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So let’s start with a basic a definition of what worship is, “Worship is to honour with extravagant love and extreme submission”.

I read a description once that has always stuck with me where the author described worship as ‘adornment’, meaning with our words, actions and deeds we are adorning our King. We are crowning Him and wrapping him in His kingly robes.  We are enthroning Him with our worship. Thats what worship is – it’s us saying ‘God, take your rightly place as King and Lord.’

As accurate as I think that description of worship is, sometimes we can get it a little twisted and we think that somehow when we worship, we’re doing God a favour. Like He needs this.

Have you ever seen the movie Elf? There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Santa’s sleigh can’t fly because it runs on Christmas Spirit and Christmas Spirit is low. So this group of people, they started singing Christmas songs together because “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” As they sing, Christmas Spirit increases and Santa’s sleigh is able to fly. I think we can view worship like that sometimes. The more I worship, the harder I worship, the louder I sing- the more power God will have to be able to move in my life and in my circumstance. If I could just worship harder, God will be able to move. He can fly his sleigh and the presents will be delivered to all the boys and girls.

But that’s not how it works. God does not in fact NEED our worship in order to accomplish anything.

So then why worship?

Let’s go all the way back to the Exodus story for moment. This is the story of God calling his people, Israel, out of slavery in Egypt. God raises up Moses as a leader and His spokesperson who then goes to Pharaoh and presents the Lord’s request which is, “Let my people go…” But the second, often overlooked, part of that request, is “…so that they may worship me.’

God’s intentions for Israel in freeing them from captivity is for worship. But why? He doesn’t need it.

Let’s look at two main reason for worship from the Exodus story:

  1. Worship changes us.

After the Exodus event we have to assume that everything God requested of Israel was meant to be worship. Everything – from what they wore to what they ate, how they interacted with one another, even how they treated animals – it was all worship. It was God’s plan from the start that worship first and foremost would be a way of life. Not just an event or occurrence. Worship truly was meant to be the lifestyle of God’s people.

And this worship – this lifestyle of worship – was what God used to form His people into His people. It wasn’t performing rituals and following commands that made them holy- what made them holy was that they were doing all of these things as worship to a Holy God. We become what we worship.

Did God need Israel to worship Him? No. But Israel needed to worship God. Let’s go back to that description of worship as adornment – that image of crowning God has King and putting Him in his rightful place. We don’t do that because if not God cannot be King. He is King. We do that because WE need to recognize God as King in our lives. We need Him to be our Lord.

Here’s how one author has perfectly described God:

From all eternity the ever-existing, never-becoming, always-perfect God has known Himself and loved what He knows. He has eternally seen his beauty and savoured what he sees. His understanding of His own reality is flawless and his exuberance in enjoying it is infinite. He has no needs, for he has no imperfections. He has no inclinations to evil because he has no deficiencies that would tempt him to do wrong. He is therefore the holiest and happiest being that is or that can be conceived… To share in this experience – the experience of knowing and enjoying His glory – is the reason God created the world.

That’s why we worship. Because God has invited us to share in who He is. To experience that. Worship is an invitation from God not an invention of man. He moves first, He invites, we respond.

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Just as an aside here, as I’ve mentioned already, worship is more than one specific activity. Our work can be worship, cleaning our house can be worship. There are a lot of ways to express our worship to God. But, that being said, there IS something about a song that helps us connect those Spirit and Truth pieces of worship.

When Israel was called out from their captivity in Egypt, to their new life of worship do you know what the first thing they did was?

Exodus 14:29-15:1 says, But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.  That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.”

I don’t believe this is a coincidence. The very first thing God’s people did when they were freed from Pharaohs’ hand and they arrived on the other side of the Red Sea to live their new life of worship was sing a song together as a community. And I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the first ever song recorded in the Bible. There’s something about a song. There’s something powerful about music.

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Here’s a question for us to consider today: how do we know we are successful worshipers? How do we know we’ve done a good job at worshiping God? What does successful worship look like?

Constance Cherry is an Anglican minister who’s written many books on worship and she says this: “The measure of a worshiping heart is the active disciple.”

Which bring us to the next reason why we worship:

2. It changes our world.

Worshiping hearts make for active disciples which makes for a changed world.


Let’s go back once again to that Exodus story. Now you have God’s people living their lives of worship in the Promised Land. And from the outside, that ‘life of worship’ can look very insular. From the outside looking in, it can appear that in order to be God’s Holy people they must be cut-off from the world. It could appear that all these laws and regulations were to keep the bad away. But true worship, as NT Wright says, is not world-denying but world changing. When we pull back the lens and zoom out we see the bigger picture. We see that this life of worship and holiness wasn’t just for the sake of God’s people right there, at that moment in time. It wasn’t just for Israel. It wasn’t just so that they could have their life of freedom out there in the promise land. When we see the bigger picture we see that this bunch of crazy worshipers changed the world. And you know how I know that? Because we’re here right now.

When the catholic church gathers for worship, it’s called mass. Mass comes from a latin word that means the sending. I love that. This is the sending. This is why we gather together to worship. It’s for the sending. It’s so that the world can be changed.

(written & taught by: Rebecca Chase)