"Worship is an act of participation. We come with our wills, minds. bodies and spirits to enter into worship together. Today is crowd participation day.... as we sing some wonderful hymns of the faith which we do not always sing...
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We enjoyed a different kind of service this morning as various members of the congregation stood and shared prescribed readings from the hymnal interspersed with classic hymns, an offering and our times of prayer.
Prayer isn't easy to talk about because we've heard so many sermons growing up that make us feel guilty because we're not praying enough or not sure what to say or our minds wander or we have doubts about whether it is real. Does God even listen? If He cares, why haven't I seen it? Is it worth my time to pray? Is prayer a waste of time?
So many of us move prayer tot he margins of our lives, praying only when we're in a desperate straits.
If we look at the Bible it's a continuous story of people who walked and talked with God. Even Jesus, the one thing He did, no matter how busy, took time to pull away from the crowds to be alone with the Father. He called the Temple a house of prayer. Prayer mattered.
In the four Gospel, the one thing that is recorded in all four, is "Jesus, teach us to pray." They didn't say, "Teach us to heal," or "Teach us to preach." They said, "Teach us to pray."
Jesus taught them what has been called The Lord's Prayer, though it is really our prayer.
Many of us have recited so many times we can say them without thinking, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus wanted.
But Jesus said, "This is how you pray." Not "this is what you pray."
Even when we cry out, "God, why is this happening?" Even that is a kind of prayer.
1. Pray genuinely.
Don't worry about the words you are using. This is not a performance for others. Don't get hung up on using the right words.
Jesus didn't teach His followers to pray religiously. He asked them to pray authentically.
The way you get to meaningfully prayer is to start where you're at. Begin where you are and He will lead us into the broader things, to that which matters.
2. Remember who we're talking to.
Sometimes we speak conceptually about a God we suspect that we can't know personally. But Jesus says pray to our Father. The word reminds us that God is a being that can be known. You get to be a child again, a kid who can always approach his father and talk with him.
The word Father reminds us that we're not in control of the outcome when we pray. Too often we pray superstitiously, like it's some magic chant we have to say by rote.
3. We need to pray bigger.
Too often our prayers revolve around our small things, but Jesus teaches us to pray like this: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven." Jesus teaches us to pray in significant ways. "Father, bring justice. Father, protect children. Father, end the violence, end the abuse."
When we pray bigger it puts thinigs back into a broader context. We need a kingdom-sized vision. We can't settle for anything less. We're called on to ask for more than we can even imagine.
4. We can't be afraid to ask.
Sometimes we censor our requests before asking because we think God doesn't care. But in Scripture we see Jacob asking God for blessing, and others made requests for themselves.
Do we get what we want? This doesn't happen because some prayers are at odds with each other.
But when something is really important, don't stop praying just because you fear being disappointed. Our faith means we have to be willing to keep asking.
Jesus taught us to do this. He tells the parable of the widow who keeps returning to the judge, asking and asking and asking. When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on earth? Ask, and keep asking. In another place He said, "You don't have because you don't ask."
Our prayers matter.
What really amazes is that how God does answer. Sometimes God shows up and in ways we never expected.
5. We need to be willing to wait on God.
He was teaching us to pause, to listen. We don't like to wait. We're in a hurry. Even when we pray, we finish and get up to get on with the next thing.
God's desire is that we wait, make space for God to speak back to us.
It happens all the time, we get impatient and fail to experience how God wants to answer us.
"Ask and you will receive," Jesus said.
Instead of trying to control the outcome, let God speak and act. Trust, have faith. Expect big things.
God is not asking you to pretend or use special language. God knows what's best for you. God is up to so much more than we can imagine.