Cross Points 3.12.21

Talking to God:  Praying Can be Tough

Author Philip Yancy says our English word “prayer” comes from the Latin word precarious, which is linguistically connected to our English word precarious.  Precarious means: not securely held in position, with the possibility of collapsing.  Has prayer ever felt that way to you?  You pray, but your confidence is not strong.

Statistics tell us that 9 of 10 people in the U.S. pray regularly.  Interesting, since only about 7 in 10 call themselves Christian, and much fewer attend church or live out their faith with any noticeable difference in lifestyle.  Of course, “pray-ers” come in many colors.  Muslims pray, probably more than Christians, since their religion asks them to do it five times a day.  People of all religious slant pray, even many atheists pray (if you’re a Communist, maybe it’s to Lenin, not God).  Prayer seems to be universal, and I think it’s because down deep we all feel the disconnect sin has caused from God and when things get tough, we reach out to something higher than ourselves.
Some don’t pray.  To the religious sceptic prayer is a delusion, a waste of time, mostly.  I remember having an atheist friend in my dormitory wing in college who challenged our “Christian” conversations about prayer, saying it was just talking to ourselves.  He admitted there was some value in that, like talking to an invisible muted counselor, but that was the end of it.  Talking to yourself, a waste of time…ever thought prayer seemed like that?

I ask such questions because we do ourselves no favors to be dishonest with God.  God want’s us to be candid with him, even when it comes from struggle and doubt.  David was called a man after God’s own heart, and when you read his words in the Psalms you find he poured out his feelings often, not holding back, being honest with God when some might say he should have bitten his tongue.  Remember the prayer he offered in Psalm 22 that was repeated later by Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”  Ever been there?

Prayer is a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe, Yancey says in his book on this topic, but he also says in practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration.  Part of this is because we are limited in our perspective.  We don’t see all that God sees.  Part of it is because sin has thoroughly messed up the world and impacts just about everything, with consequences that God must allow in a realm of free-will.
Many things dilute our prayers.  Prosperity, for one thing.  Missionaries note that Christians in third world countries spend much less time pondering the effectiveness of prayer, and more time actually praying.  People in wealthy nations rely on the talent of doctors, the resources of abundance, insurance policies, retirement plans, etc.  How can we sincerely pray “give us this day our daily bread” when the pantry is full of provisions?  We forget to be thankful, and then forget to rely on God.  Who needs God? Physical blessings can become spiritual curses.    

The mother of John and Charles Wesley, Susannah, was so busy as a mother that she found it difficult to find time to pray.  So, she would sit in a chair, pull her apron up over her face, and the family knew to leave her alone when in this posture, her prayers were for them!  Martin Luther devoted 2-3 hours a day to prayer and said all Christians should pray as naturally as a shoemaker making shoes or a tailor making a coat.  Jonathan Edwards (famous New England preacher) wrote of his sweet hours of prayer on the banks of the Hudson River, “rapt and swallowed up in God!”  Somehow, we must find time for it, we must make sense of it.  Many struggles in life come with two themes: why God doesn’t act the way I want him to; and, why I don’t act the way God wants me to.  In prayer, we struggle to make sense of both.  Stay with me as in the weeks to come we explore this subject.
Cross Point: “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” (Luke 11:1)
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