sermon summation: pondering prayer (2)

 

These words ran like a recurring refrain through her e-mail to me:

“Don’t you believe if I’m sincere enough in my heart when I pray then God will give me what I pray for?”

He was pouring his heart out to me about his frustration with some things at church and he said:

“What we need to do is to pray harder!”

Skimming through a magazine my eyes fell on a page that contained these words:

“If you can’t get worked up in your prayers, then don’t expect God to work with them.”

Now in her golden years she had approached me privately to talk about how she had some troubles with her faith. She began by hanging her head and saying in a very quiet voice:

“I just don’t feel my prayers like I used to.”

As I was surfing through some channels on television I happened to hear a preacher emphatically say:

“Passionate prayers are the prayers that claim God’s promises for prayer!”

Question: What do those five statements have in common, aside from the fact they all deal with prayer?

Answer: They wrongly make our emotions the heart and soul of, and the determining factor in, prayer.

Now it’s true that prayer that’s real will often engage, and make mention of, our emotions. Read the Psalms and you’ll find those prayers are packed with every conceivable kind of emotion. After all, how can a person get real in talking with God and not do so with some feeling?

But when our emotions become the sun, and not merely a planet in the solar system of our prayers, we shouldn’t be at all surprised if our faith becomes a black hole.

While we are emotional beings, it’s our actions, not our feelings, that must take the wheel in our journey of faith.

Take Jesus for example. He prayed often to his Father and he prayed with intense emotion. But it wasn’t because he “prayed hard” that he got heard by God. No, there was something else at the center. Something else was the the fulcrum of his faith.

“During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion.” (Hebrews 5.7)

Did you notice where the emphasis was put? Jesus’ prayers were heard by the Father not because he expressed great feeling to God, but because he lived out great following after God. “He was heard because of his godly devotion.”

The Bible is absolutely full of this teaching and the Psalms are saturated with it. Take Psalm 4.3 as one small example:

“Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful. The Lord will hear me when I cry out to him.”

The matter is so clear you’d have to work to miss the point: the psalmist is confident the Lord will hear his prayers because he’s confident that he has been “faithful” to God.

Need more examples? Read the following in the Psalms for a sampling of the many that are there: Psalm 17.1-3; 66.18-20; 141.1-5. And it’s the same when we turn to the New Testament.

“The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve.” (James 5.16b)

It does not say “the passionate person.” It does not say that “emotionally intense” person. It does not say “the person who gets worked up into a frenzy of feelings.”

What it does say is “the righteous person” is the person who finds their prayers are promised to be powerful and effective. That is, prayer that is heard by God comes from the person who has been made right by God and who has built their life around living out what they’ve heard from God.

We won’t find a more precise example of this teaching of Scripture than what we find in 1 Peter 3.7:

“Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her … Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.”

As back up for what he says here, Peter then goes on to quote (in verse 12) the words of Psalm 34.15-16:

“The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.”

Husbands, do you want your prayers to ring through heaven? Then treat your wife right here on earth for it’s your ways that give weight to your words in the hands of God.

Emotions are elusive creatures; feelings are funny animals. God knows they’re not an accurate gauge of our faith by and they never were intended to be the engine for our prayers. And God knows whether we’re walking after him with the light he has revealed to us already. What he’s after is not the energy of our emotions so much as the efforts we’re making to be his in every way. Keep that in mind the next time to ask him for more light in your life as you pray.

pondering prayer: it’s about following, not your feelings

 

NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (Feb. 3). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning. This sermon is part two in the Pondering Prayer series and is entitled It’s About Following, Not Your Feelings. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.

Aim

To explore some of the most commonly misunderstood or mystifying aspects of prayer.

Word

• Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful. The Lord will hear me when I cry out to him. (Psalm 4.3)

• Listen to what’s right, Lord; pay attention to my cry! Listen closely to my prayer; it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie! … You have examined my heart, testing me at night. You’ve looked me over closely, but haven’t found anything wrong. My mouth doesn’t sin. (Psalm 17.1,3)

• The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous, his ears listen to their cries for help. But the Lord’s face is set against those who do evil … When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34.15-16a,17)

• If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. (Psalm 66.18-20)

• I cry out to you, Lord: Come to me—quickly! Listen to my voice when I cry out to you! Let my prayer stand before you like incense; let my uplifted hands be like the evening offering. Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep close watch over the door that is my lips. Don’t let my heart turn aside to evil things so that I don’t do wicked things with evildoers … Instead, let the righteous discipline me; let the faithful correct me. (Psalm 141.1-4a,5)

• Those who turn their ears from hearing Instruction—even their prayers will be detested. (Proverbs 28.9)

• During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. (Hebrews 5.7)

• The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5.16b-18)

• Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her … Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered. … ‘The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.’ (1 Peter 3.7,12; cf. Ps. 34.11-18)

Open

Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. What kind(s) of music cause you to “tune out?” What kind(s) move you to “tune in?”

2. Tell us of a time when having strong feelings about something blinded you to reality or truth.

Dig

These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Read the five texts above from the Psalms. List all the things the righteous do and don’t do.

2. Restate the truth expressed in Proverbs 28.9 in your own words.

3. God “heard” Christ because of his “godly devotion” (Heb. 5.7b). So why note his feelings (7a)?

4. Elijah “was a person just like us.” (James 5.17)? In what way(s)? Recall some of Elijah’s life.

5. How is it how you respect your mate should affect how God respects your prayers? (1 Pet. 3.7)

Reflect

These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. If right living and praying are connected, which comes first: the praying or the living?

2. What does it mean to be “righteous?”

3. What sort of things do “righteous people” pray about? And not pray about? Why?

4. Why is it that our emotions aren’t always solid indicators of our “righteousness?”

5. When your prayers seem to go unanswered, does that mean God thinks you’re unrighteous?

6. “Please give me some advice as to how to pray so as to grow in holiness!” What do you say?

picture Bible commentary

The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. Instead of doing those things, these persons love the LORD’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night! They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade. Whatever they do succeeds. (Psalm 1:1-3 CEB)