I was first introduced to the practice of prayer when I was a kid. I was taught to pray before meals, before bed, and at certain times for certain things. I was also taught to develop some kind of consistent prayer pattern. However, I really started to see what this meant when I would catch my grandparents praying. It could be the middle of the day or first thing in the morning. They would never feel bad that I interrupted them, and they always seemed to show that what they were doing was very normal.
Prayer is something people start thinking about when they begin thinking about what it means to be spiritual. Now, spirituality is not the goal, Jesus is the goal. Being more spiritual doesn’t make you more like Jesus, instead, being more like Jesus will make you more spiritual. If that’s true, then people who are journeying to become followers of Jesus will begin praying more. They’ll want to start developing some patterns and routines that involve prayer. But where do we start? What do I do if I don’t know how to pray?
Much has been written on this subject that’s for sure. Over the next three posts we’d like to make prayer approachable and even achievable; to do that we will break it down to three words: HELP, THANKS, WOW. Prayer is more than these three words, but for those who see prayer as a mountain they’ll never climb, these three words might just be what they need to take the first few steps.
A classic acronym for prayer over the years has been A.C.T.S. (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Start by telling God who he is, worship, then confess your sins, then move to saying thank you, and finally, end by asking God to help you in your circumstance or others. As true and wonderful as that is, many people don’t start there. Why? Because most often we forget to talk to God and just scream out help when something goes wrong. Is ‘Help’ the best way to start? Maybe not, however, sometimes it’s the place we do start our conversation, and even if it’s been ‘too’ long, God is listening.
The word ‘HELP’ comes up 287 times in the bible (NIV). When you add other words and phrases (i.e. deliver, heal, save, redeem, restore, etc.) you can imagine how many times we see the idea of being helped and/or calling for help in Scripture. For the most part, a cry for help is associated with some kind of prayer; a moment when a human being has reached the end of their rope and they realize how deeply they need God. The Scripture is also very clear on this, God is the one who can actually help us. He’s bigger, better, stronger, more capable, than we could ever be. Perhaps God says it best in Isaiah 57:13; that going somewhere else for help may not be the smartest decision. “When you cry for help, let your collection of idols save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.” God is the one who saves, who makes us better, who heals, who restores, etc. It’s no wonder that he not only invites us to, but loves it when we call to him for help – it means that we’ve come to understand that our lives are found in and depend on…HIM. “It’s not great faith that we need, it’s faith in a great God”, saysNT Wright.
Anne Lamott says “The first steps in practicing God’s presence (prayer) is admitting that: we are so ruined, we are so loved, we are in charge of so little.” This is why, over and over, especially in the Psalms, we find honest cries for help. Two places that show us clearly are Psalm 5 and 18.
consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and
the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.6 In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
The Psalmist, on both occasions makes no bones about it. He’s grieving, he’s in distress, and the only person he has any confidence in to help him is – GOD. Why? Because this God, Yahweh, is his God and his King, his refuge, his shield, his rock, his fortress, and his deliverer. He even asks God to help before any problems arise, so he can rest assured that he is covered.
What are you scared of, hurt by, struggling with, stuck in? God invites us to cry, scream, whisper, ask for…HELP. No matter what the problem. Big or Small.
Philip Yancey says, “In the presence of the great physician, my most appropriate contribution may be my wounds”. No fee, no hassle, no finagling – God hears our cry for help, and responds with love, mercy, wisdom and power. We simply have to ask.
The Beatles got it right. Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help! That’s right, not just anybody – God. Maybe ‘Help’ shouldn’t be the first word in your prayer, but if it is, God is listening and glad you called on him. Don’t be too proud to ask. No matter how unspiritual or far off you feel. He cares.