You Gotta Start Somewhere

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, July 15, 2015 0 comments

by Logan Ames

One of the things I’ve experienced as a pastor that I guess I didn’t realize would happen is the fact that I am always the one expected to pray at gatherings. This actually started happening more to me when I was still in seminary and I’m sure it’s something that most other pastors experience as well. It’s like I’m considered the “expert prayer giver” amongst the people at my church, my friends, my home, and other places where people know me as the pastor and former seminary student. It even happens at softball games where a member of the home team has to say the opening prayer. The team usually turns to me, and one time when I asked another guy to do it, he jokingly said, “Well, I don’t have a seminary education or anything."

Have we really taken such a view toward prayer? I know that many times people say the things they do in jest, but I wonder if some truly believe that the ability to pray is something one learns through education or some sort of special gift. Jesus’ words fly directly in the face of that concept. “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” (Matthew 6:7-8). He would go on to teach them how to pray what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer” in the next few verses. Take a look at the words in that prayer that our very Savior, who was God in the flesh, prayed. It’s very simple. There is no fancy language. “Hallowed” is probably the only word in there that we don’t use on a more regular basis. If Jesus himself prayed this prayer, why do we feel the need to make things more complicated or eloquent?

Maybe, the answer is that we either forget about or don’t even really believe and trust the One to whom we are praying. People talk about not being sure if they can pray “good” prayers. They say they are not comfortable doing it in front of others. We generally repeat prayers we may have heard from our parents or others in ministry. I’ll even admit that I fell into the cultural trap earlier on the very day that I am writing this. I was leading my very first funeral and graveside services as pastor. When I got done, I shared with my girlfriend that I didn’t feel the graveside service went all that smoothly. She asked why and I said something like, “Well the prayers weren’t very smooth because I didn’t write them out ahead of time." What in the world was I thinking? I NEVER write my prayers ahead of time and don’t feel it’s necessary, yet because of the circumstances and grieving people, I got caught up in the need for their approval rather than simply leading them in community prayer. That’s the problem with forgetting that prayer is conversation with the Creator of the universe and thinking that even prayer is something to be used to please others who hear the words. That kind of pressure is not from the Lord, but from the enemy who distorts everything about God in our lives, right down to simple conversation with him.

In Romans 8:26-30, the Apostle Paul gives us a wonderful perspective on prayer. In the midst of talking about the relationship we have with God, the freedom from slavery that it brings, and the hope that we have knowing we are adopted as children of God, Paul shares that the Holy Spirit helps us in the midst of our weakness, specifically as it relates to how we seek his will in prayer. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (v. 26). The NASB version says it even better, calling them “groanings too deep for words." Do you understand what this means for us? There is no pressure at all in prayer! Your words don’t matter that much and your heart is much more important. Jesus said that God already knows what we need and even when we don’t have a clue, the Spirit does the praying for us. He has our back!

I can remember a very specific time in my life where a mentor of mine encouraged me NOT to say much as I pray. It was easily the darkest time of my life. I had experienced great loss and found very little motivation to do anything I needed to do, which included turning to the Lord. With no other options, I eventually took steps to invite the Lord to pick up the broken pieces and heal me. One day, I was speaking with my mentor at the time and I explained that I don’t really even know where to start or what to say when I go before the Lord. I knew I needed his grace and mercy, but also knew I was deeply hurting and didn’t want to experience anymore pain, even if God knew I needed to go through it. I felt stuck and didn’t have any idea how to speak to the Lord at that time. My friend encouraged me to go to God and say exactly that. I remember his exact words were, “Just go to him and say, ‘Lord, I don’t really think I should be the one doing the talking here, so you go ahead.’" This advice reminded me of a line that was repeated by inmates at a jailhouse Bible study I once helped lead: “It’s not about ME, it’s about THEE!”

The rest of the passage for this week shows why we can trust God even when we have no words to pray. He searches and knows our hearts, he intercedes in accordance with God’s will, and God’s will is always GOOD for those who love him and are “called according to his purpose” (vv. 27-28). For these reasons, we must stop viewing prayer the way the world does. Prayer is conversation with the Creator who knows more about ourselves than we do. He knows what we need better than we do. Like any conversation with anyone else, sometimes you do more talking, and sometimes you do more listening. Sometimes there is even a lull in the conversation where not much is said but you just enjoy one another’s presence. All of these things are true in your relationship with God as well.

If you’ve been struggling with your prayer life, or if you’ve been feeling defeated by the enemy your whole life and felt like you can’t ever lead others in prayer or sound as eloquent as a pastor, I encourage you to start by going before him and asking him to speak while you listen. Maybe even give journaling a try as things come to your mind in those moments. You need to start somewhere, because I don’t want you to miss out on the amazing and free opportunity we have to communicate with the One who made us, knows us, and loves us beyond anything we could possibly imagine.

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