|Tissot - The Lord's Prayer|
I struggle with prayer.
But I know I can't have an intimate relationship with anyone without talking to them. More importantly, I can't have an intimate relationship with anyone without listening to them.
If Jesus teaches us to do anything, disciples need to do it. Not only does Jesus teach his disciples how to pray, we have seen that prayer was a vital part of Jesus' ministry. He arranged his busy schedule in order to find silence and solitude in his prayers to his Father. If He is Lord, we need to do the same.
Confessionally, I've never had a solid prayer life. I've done well praying to God during the day, while things are happening and whenever I am conscious of a vital time in my life. But, taking the regular time to pray has never been a priority for me.
I have always enjoyed praying to God as I study the Bible. It has led to a richer prayer life as the Bible makes me more aware of a conversation I am having with God rather than a monologue. I do enjoy hearing from him during the time I spend on these posts.
Whenever I pray, I acknowledge His greatness, I confess my sin, thank Him for His forgiveness and thank Him for His providential blessings in my life. But, I rarely feel comfortable asking Him for things.
For one thing, who am I to know what I need? I am 40 years old. The longer I live, the more I know how much of an idiot I was and probably still am. There are decisions that I prayed about and acted upon 10 years ago that were absolutely the decisions to make.
Where I currently live, I hear all the time about people who asked God about when to buy and when to sell properties and how God richly rewarded them and how some of them have actually used their bigger homes and new wealth to do some wonderful things for the kingdom.
The problem is every market has two sides. When there's good news for someone, there's bound to be bad news for someone else. In my case, while owners/sellers were making nice profits during the property boom, non-owners/buyers were looking at ridiculously higher costs to buy a house. Eventually the market leveled out and then the GFC hit. The prospects of another boom happening during my time of owning our current home is remote. So, we are pretty much stuck in a house that is "worth" almost ten times my annual salary.
I prayed for a house. My wife prayed for a house. Did the Father answer our prayer? Well, we are in a house. But, then again, lots of people are in houses that they have paid for. Even ones they cannot afford.
I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life. I really wasn't committed to ministry in my early days of university and it showed in my grades. Then, I meandered around various low level management jobs until I finally decided to devote myself to full-time ministry. I prayed. Took a risk in quitting my higher paying job and prayed that our Father would care for our family.
He did, in abundance. I found a full-time ministry that was challenging but that I loved. I so thanked the Lord for answering my prayer. But then, I had to move to Australia. And while I started out in full-time ministry, it has been difficult to the point of not being in full-time ministry anymore and wondering what to do next...at age 40.
See? What do I know about what I want? How do I know what to pray for?
As I type these words, what Dallas Willard says about Christian maturity pops into my head. He said, "God’s intention for us is to grow us to the point where he can empower us to do what we want." Then he adds a note for those who are concerned about the last pronoun, the "what we want" part. He says when what we want is what He wants, that's when we obtain true maturity in Christ.
Teenage years are always awkward and contain painful memories. We aren't really children. We aren't really adults. Teenagers look goofy. Their skin is erupting in acne. Some have braces to correct the adult teeth replacing baby teeth. Some lack confidence as they speak to adults in a low, unconfident voice. Some have too much confidence as they turn newfound responsibilities into catastrophic results.
In this age of the kingdom of being at hand but not quite yet, I dare say that many of us are teenagers. We are awkwardly trying to learn how to be mature in Christ. Earnest disciples of Christ are trying to learn to want what Jesus wants in this hostile, dangerous world as we all wait for all things to be made new.
It is clear from this teaching and others, that despite our immature ways, our Father wants us to ask for what we think we need. I understand that. As a father, I always tell my children that I want them to ask if they want something. They know that I will not always say "Yes." In fact, more often than not my response will be "Let's wait." or "No." I would be an irresponsible father and husband if I didn't. And, I always try to explain to my children why I have given the answer that I have. That way, I hope that they may have wise reasoning when they are adults and have to care for more than just themselves; just as my parents trained me.
But I tell my children that if they don't ask, they won't have. So, they need to ask. Jesus tells us the exact same thing about our Father in Heaven. If we don't ask, we won't have. If we don't ask, we won't know his answer on many important things. We won't know what he says yes to, what he says no to and what he says not yet to.
Asking our Father for what we want isn't about getting what we want, it is about learning what our Father wants. Because when we want what He wants, we are in a position to be trusted with just about anything since we are mature in Christ.
According to our Lord Jesus, our Father wants us to ask. Our Father wants us to keep asking. Our Father wants us to trust and respect Him as our Father.
And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I hear you, Lord. I really do. Amen.