One of the joys of organic church life is the steady stream of new friendships in the kingdom. Since we began this journey in August, we’ve met some wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord who we can relate to through Jesus. Through my recently adopted spiritual father, Don Atkin, I’ve connected with S.J.Hill. S.J. is a Bible teacher and author - a simple guy who loves Father. I look forward to meeting S.J. this week in person.
To help me get to know his heart for the Father, S.J. emailed his most recent newsletter on prayer. After reading it, I asked to post it here for your edification. Let the Father converse with you as you read it.
SOME THOUGHTS ON PRAYER
While I was flying back from Holland, I started thinking about what I wanted to share with you in this newsletter. And, the more I thought about what to write, the more I felt it would be good to address some specific things about the subject of prayer. Over the years, I've read numerous books about prayer, as well as heard countless sermons on the subject. At times, I've been both challenged and encouraged by what has been taught, but I've also been deeply concerned about the way some authors and ministers have addressed the issue of prayer.
For example, discipline in prayer has often been emphasized rather than viewing prayer as a continual conversation with a Father who loves being with us. As a result, routine has replaced relationship! Many of us have tried getting up early in the morning to pray because we've been challenged to do so, and we've either ended up feeling condemned because we've hit the snooze button way too many times, or we've found ourselves more concerned about the amount of time we've spent in prayer rather than with Whom we've been spending our time.
Over the years, there have been a number of plans and programs developed by various leaders and organizations to try to get Christians to be more disciplined in prayer. Some have used the Old Testament tabernacle as a pattern for prayer while others have used Jesus' experience with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, to challenge believers to spend an hour a day in prayer. Although I'm not opposed to discipline, if our "disciplines" don't lead us into a more intimate relationship with God, then all of our efforts fall short of what He always intended for us to experience. All I know is that there are far too many of us who have never felt the tender affections and embrace of our Father during times of prayer, because our times with Him have been more about discipline than experiencing the delight of just being with Him.
Another thing that concerns me is that prayer has been depicted primarily as intercession for various causes (political issues, revival, personal needs, or the needs of friends and loved ones, etc.). As a result, prayer has been seen more as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. Last year, I received an e-mail from a former student of mine, which deeply impacted me. She had gotten up early one morning to pray, and she found herself repenting for everything she could think of, as well as asking God for a number of things that were on her mind. She said she felt like a "worm" because she just didn't believe she was doing enough or accomplishing enough in prayer. It was during this time that she sensed the Father ask her the following question: "Why do you see our times together as a means to an end? This (our times together) is the end for Me! This is what I died for!"
If we only knew how much Father loves being with us, then we'd also understand that as we engage His heart, He will share with us what is on His heart. He will lead us to pray for certain people we hadn't thought of in months or even years. He will also direct us to intercede for specific things that deeply concern Him. But, when all is said and done, it's really about being with the One who loves us infinitely, and then allowing Him to use us to accomplish His Kingdom purposes in the earth through prayer.
I've also been deeply troubled by the way some preachers have tried to get Christians more committed to prayer. For example, I've heard it taught that "prayerlessness is sin." I've even read this statement in books. But, is this the way to inspire people to pray? While I'm not writing this to question anyone's motives (I've taught the same thing in the past), I think it's time to step back and reexamine our whole approach to prayer.
People don't need to be told they don't pray enough. They already know that! And yet, what do we do? We raise the bar so high that the average person can't even relate to some of the men and women we mention as being examples of "prayer warriors." For example, how can a mother of several children even relate to a man like David Brainerd, who, under a special burden for the American Indians, melted the snow around him as he knelt and interceded for them? As much as we should admire what Brainerd did, Father has not called any of us to try to be like him or anyone else. Each one of us is special to the Father, and, out of our own unique relationship with Him, we can bring delight to His heart in a way no other human being ever can.
This is why I want to invite all of you into an intimate relationship with the One who loves being with you. I'm convinced you will start wanting to spend time with Father like never before. I've seen it happen again and again in the lives of others! And, I've even experienced it in my own life.
The story is told of a man who loved God but, who for years, had been struggling in prayer. One Sunday he went to his pastor after the morning service and asked if he could give him some practical help on how to pray. His pastor proceeded to go into his study and return with a thick theological book on prayer written by a Swiss theologian. The man took the book home, but after reading just three pages, he put the book down and didn't read it again. He had to look up at least a dozen words in the dictionary in the short time he was reading the book.
One day the man was talking to a friend about his struggles in prayer, and his friend suggested that he go home, take an empty chair, place it in a favorite spot in his house, and then sit down opposite the chair and have a conversation with his heavenly Father.
Some time later, this same man was stricken with cancer, and so he asked his daughter to call their pastor to come and pray for him. But, for some reason, the pastor was too busy and he never came and visited the man in his home. One day, the man's daughter discovered that there was a traveling minister who lived nearby. She somehow got his phone number, called him, and asked him if he would come and pray for her father. The minister told her that he'd be more than willing to pray for him.
When the minister arrived at the man's house and walked into his bedroom, he noticed an empty chair by the bed, and so he assumed the man was expecting him. When the sick man saw that his guest was looking at the chair, he asked the minister to close the door to his bedroom. The man then proceeded to tell the minister the story of the empty chair. He also admitted that he had never shared the story with his daughter and even felt somewhat embarrassed sharing it with him. But he went on to say that for the last four years he had spent two hours a day sitting across from an empty chair talking to his heavenly Father, and had absolutely loved it! The minister thanked the sick man for sharing his story and then he spent a few minutes praying with the man before he returned home.
Several days later, the traveling minister got a call from the man's daughter. She told him that she had gone to the store to do some shopping and when she came home she had discovered her father had passed away. But then she admitted to the minister that there was something she didn't understand about her dad's death. She said, "When I walked into my father's bedroom, I found him on his knees with his arms around an empty chair."
Always remember that prayer is first and foremost conversation with the One who simply loves being with you. And, He wants you to be yourself. You can share anything with Him. He likes that!!! Also, let your thoughts go back to Him throughout the day. Share your life with Him. Learn to be comfortable with being absolutely honest and transparent with Him. He's always there for you, and He's more committed to you than you'll ever be to Him!