Praying in Real Life (text)
January 29, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: A Praying Life
Topic: Prayer Passage: 1 Thessalonians 5:17–17
Many years ago I used to watch a TV show called Little House on the Prairie. Most of you probably know the show, but if you don’t it’s the story of the Ingalls family living life in Walnut Grove, Minn in the late 1800’s. I especially admired the father of the family, Charles Ingalls, played by Michael Landon, for his integrity, compassion, faithfulness to his family, and homespun wisdom. Since Michael Landon produced, wrote and directed many of the shows I came to believe that he was a lot like Charles Ingalls, and I was disappointed when I discovered that his acting life had little resemblance to his real life.
One of the dangers Christians need to be on the look out for is there being a disconnect between our spiritual life and our real life so that we compartmentalize the spiritual from the rest of life. So we think of times when we’re “in the presence of God” as those times when there’s soft music playing, we have our Bibles in one hand, and a good cup of coffee (or tea) in the other, and it’s finally peaceful enough for us to feel God’s presence. Or we think of worship as a 30 minute segment of the week when the band is playing and we’re able to forget the distractions of life and just sing to the Lord. And maybe we see our prayer life as confined to that time when we’re alone and there are no interruptions and it’s quiet – we even call it our “quiet time” – that’s the segment of our life we set aside for “prayer”. Now, there’s nothing wrong at all with having time when soft music is playing and Bible in one hand and coffee in other, or 30 minutes of singing with the congregation, or uninterrupted time to pray. Those things are good. The danger is that we confine our spiritual lives to those times and miss the truth that we are in the presence of God all the time, and we are to live our whole lives as worship to the Lord and prayer is to be a part of our entire day – in the hectic, chaotic times when all we can do is breathe a prayer asking for grace or help as well as the quiet times when we can pray without distraction.
We have been in a series called A Praying Life, and this morning as we close this series, the title of this message is praying in real life. Our prayer life is meant to be a vitally and inseparably connected to our real life. That’s what Paul means when he says, pray without ceasing. He doesn’t mean that it’s possible to be in focused prayer every minute of the day, but that prayer should be a constant part of our lives – not compartmentalized to some segment of our life, not confined to a particular time of the day or a particular context – it is to be something we do all day, every day, in every context and every situation we find ourselves in.
We need to actively and constantly connect our prayer life to our real life
To do that, we might need to reexamine what we think prayer should look like. I want us to look at two points the Bible makes about our prayer life and then close with a couple practical tools that can help us connect our prayer life to our real life.
1. See praying in the Spirit as engaging with real life rather than disengaging from it
Paul instructs us that our praying is to be “in the Spirit”. Eph. 6:18 says that we are to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. There’s that appeal again to make prayer a constant in our lives - “praying at all times”. But that prayer is to be praying in the Spirit. Our prayer is to be constant and to be in the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to help us pray. Romans 8:26 says Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
We are to pray all the time, and we are to pray in the Spirit (or with the Spirit’s help) – but what does that look like? When someone is praying in the Spirit does it mean that their prayers (and their spiritual life) reaches some kind of spiritual plane that is far above what most of us experience on a normal day?
ILL: there is a commercial on the radio, promoting adoption, that advertises a great new product called the communicizor. The communicizor helps parents communicate with their kids in hip, relevant ways by converting their old-fashioned phrases like, “hi son” into “’sup dawg?” One father tells his kid “"I had to walk to school uphill both way, short-ayy." To which his son bursts out "I love youu, daaad”. A happy father endorses the product by saying “I love the Communicizor! I’m relevant to my kids again! I mean, “I’m fly, yo!”
We wouldn’t say it that way, but do we somehow think that when we pray in the Spirit everything changes about our prayer life, kind of like the communicizor changes how we talk: we pray eloquently and with a sense of “anointing”, we pray for things no one else would ever think of, in ways no one else would ever think of, and maybe there’s even a bit of reverb added to our voice. Is it really obvious when someone’s praying in the Spirit (and really obvious when someone isn’t)? What does the work of the Spirit look like in our lives and do to our prayers?
I was talking to a pastor friend this week and the Lord has him on a journey of growing in his understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life. He was brought up and trained pastorally in an environment where you believed in the Holy Spirit, you just never mentioned Him. So he’s telling me about his new pursuit of the Spirit and he mentioned a quote by AW Tozer - If the Holy Spirit were taken away from the New Testament church, ninety percent of what they did would come to a halt. But if the Holy Spirit were taken away from today’s church, only ten percent of what it does would cease.
I told him I agree with the call for a greater dependency on the Holy Spirit, but I think that quote can lead to a misconception: that only 10% of what goes on in the church today looks like what it would if the Spirit were leading it. In other words – what the Spirit fills, leads, and blesses will look radically different than what He doesn’t lead, fill, bless. But really the Spirit uses ordinary things in ministry that would continue on if the Spirit were taken away. Pastors preach God’s word – often ineloquently and feebly – but the Holy Spirit takes that preaching and uses it to change hearts. It is the Spirit, not the delivery, that impresses hearts, pricks consciences, heals the hurting, convicts the hardened, and pours love into the hearts of His people. It is the Spirit that takes our feeble witness and draws lost sinners to a saving faith in Christ. It’s the Spirit that takes what we do and bears fruit from it. I’m not sure that 90% of what the early church did looked radically different than what 90% of the church today does. The early church preached God’s word, broke bread, fellowshipped, took communion, prayed, were witnesses for Christ, planted churches, prayed for the sick, and loved each other. Almost all of that could have continued physically outwardly if the Spirit were taken away. It just wouldn’t have been empowered, it wouldn’t have borne eternal fruit. So let’s be careful that we don’t confine the Spirit’s work and power to external and obvious displays that everyone can see and identify as the Spirit’s work cause it’s on a different plane than what most of us experience on a normal basis.
AW Tozer was a godly and powerful minister, who spent 5 hours a day removed from everyone as he sought God in prayer, and God used him in wonderful ways for His kingdom. But many people aren’t aware that his relational life was sadly deficient. He had a hard time relating to the people that he pastored and more tragically he had almost no relationship at all with his wife and 7 children. When his children were babies he was able to enjoy them but once they grew older he didn’t know how to relate to them or how to father them. Tozer died much as he lived – all alone in a hospital– and after his death his wife and children (who were all grown adults) agreed that they knew very little about this man that the Christian church adored and revered so much. He was a great and godly man and God used him mightily, but to me it is a tragedy, NOT a fruit of the Spirit, that he failed as a husband and father.
The Holy Spirit’s work isn’t the spiritual equivalent of the communicizor. Paul says the Spirit helps us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26) – that doesn’t mean He takes away our weakness – we may feel like our prayers are feeble, like they go nowhere and accomplish nothing, but what makes them strong isn’t that we say things eloquently with a feeling of power, what makes them strong is that God hears and answers. And the Spirit helps us in our weakness to know how we should pray to God and He intercedes for us and through us. We may witness to someone and feel like we really blew it – fumbling and faltering our way through it - but the Spirit takes it and impresses their heart – it’s a seed and one day the Spirit may cause fruit of salvation in part because of that seed. It’s getting up to preach God’s word when the pastor’s heart may not feel like it, may be discouraged, maybe had an argument with his wife that morning. Our weakness remains, because His grace is perfected in it.
Praying in the Spirit doesn’t mean we pray for 5 hours in our basement room. It doesn’t take us into some realm where we disengage from real life, praying in the Spirit engages us more deeply in real life - it means we depend on the Spirit in our weakness to direct our prayers and our lives. Listening and saturating our hearts and minds with God’s word and allowing the Spirit to speak to us through His word and guide our prayers through His word. Praying that God blesses our families, strengthens our marriages, saves our children, rescues that rebellious son or daughter, deepens our friendships, leads and empowers our church, gives us an opportunity to be a witness to our co-workers, and changes us to be more like Christ. Depending on and believing in the active work of the Spirit helping us to pray – but we may not feel any difference. Let me give you a real life example from my life. When I was an intern at Covenant Fellowship they had a prayer time for the sick after a service and as a pastor I went up to pray. I felt very weak praying for the sick and one guy came up to me who had some kind of knee injury that he had suffered from for over a year. I prayed for him to be healed – felt nothing! But he claimed that his knee was healed completely and instantly. Every time I’ve seen him since he tells me the knee is still healed, and I feel like a little embarrassed – I didn’t do anything. I felt nothing. There wasn’t even reverb on my voice. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
And I think praying in the Spirit will sometimes mean hearing God say, “go play ball with your boy.” “spend time with your daughter”. “Take your wife out on a date.” Praying in the Spirit engages us in real life rather than disengaging us from it.
2. Praying in real life means praying with open eyes and thankful hearts
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Col. 4:2
We are to be watchful in prayer. I think this is an important area many of us need to grow in – we grow complacent and dull and aren’t watchful in prayer. We aren’t alert, we aren’t watchful. Being watchful in prayer means we’re looking for God’s activity both in us and in others.We’re asking questions in prayer like, what is God doing in my life? Where is He at work in my character? Where might the devil be scheming in my life – what weak points, footholds, or vulnerable breaches in the wall might he be looking to exploit? What’s going on in my heart? What’s the Lord doing in the lives of people around me (my spouse, children, friends, family, neighbor, co-worker)? Where might the enemy be scheming in their lives? Where might they be vulnerable and need my prayers?
The reality is that if we’re not watching in prayer, we’re probably drifting from God. The current of our hearts is toward cynicism – and cynicism will lead us to believe less and less in prayer. We become functional atheists – we don’t really believe that God is at work in our lives or anyone else’s. Here’s the two step process that cynicism often takes – see if you can relate at all to it. The first is we become cynical – we don’t really believe God is at work. The second step is we somehow feel like we’ve become wiser or more sophisticated for recognizing that. It’s a natural progression but it’s a deadly one:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1
But what the psalmist doesn’t say is the second step: and feels very wise for saying that. There is a rush of great wisdom that the fool feels. Romans 1 tells us of this second step:
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 andexchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
What this means is that the wisdom of cynicism is really foolishness and the foolishness of child-like faith is wisdom. Praying with watchfulness means we’re watching for this kind of cynicism creep and guarding our child-like faith by praying even when we struggle to believe. We track the inner journey of our souls and we catch the drift before it gets too far. Regret is often the by-product of not being watchful – not being aware until it’s too late. If we are watchful in prayer the Lord will help us avoid many regrets by giving us eyes to see before it’s too late.
The Lord is writing a story with our lives – using both the good and the bad, the desert and the mountaintop for His purposes and our good – and our stories are a part of the bigger story of redemption that God is writing. If we miss that we see our lives as a series of disconnected and random events and react accordingly. We want to be aware of that story and how He’s working as well as participating in that story through faith-filled prayer. Prayer changes the story because it calls upon a great God to do great things and He responds to prayer. You have not because you do not ask – we need to ask. And being thankful is evidence of a heart filled with grace. We see life through a lens of grace – we see where God is active rather than focus on what is wrong and we are thankful. Even when things are really going bad we see grace and we are thankful. That is a product of grace borne by faith. And when our faith fails, we should pray like the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” Praying in real life means praying with open eyes and thankful hearts.
As we close, let me briefly give three practical tools to help us be watchful in prayer.
a. Consider using prayer cards or prayer journal
We need to be careful of formulas but we need practical tools to help us pray. What that will be for you I don’t know. I have not done well with prayer lists – they get long and just seem mechanical. In the book A Praying Life, Paul Miller suggests a small but helpful variation: he makes prayer cards – one per person. On that card he lists scripture that he is praying over that person and specific needs. Not in a lot of detail – just enough to bring the need to mind. So as he prays for a few moments over each card he is praying over the person and sees a mini-story unfold.
I am trying a small variation on that: I have a journal I was given and rather than use it as a personal journal, I decided to use it as a prayer journal. So I am devoting a page to those the Lord brings to mind and when possible I try to include a scripture that somehow connects with how I feel led to pray for them. It seems better than a list because a list just devotes one line to a person or a need – this gives opportunity to pray more broadly for someone and add requests as they come up. Listen, that may not work for you – it’s too soon for me to say it’s gonna work for me. But I do think most of us need some sort of aid to remember what and who we need to pray for. Not as a formula but as a way to capture prayer needs. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered a couple who needs prayer – and I was anxious to write it in my journal because I will forget – and I believe God wants me to participate in writing their story of God’s active presence by praying for them.
b. Journal the journey
I have done this over the years – sometimes more faithfully than other times. But it’s good to journal the journey. It helps us to see a bigger pattern of what God is doing. Being watchful means that we’re aware of the bigger picture. When we’re not watchful we just see what’s in front of our face and we react to it (usually sinfully) which just makes it get worse. Then we think God isn’t working or we will never change.
God wants to meet you and guide you in how you pray (pray in the Spirit) and speak to you and apply His living word to your living situation and change you from the inside out. It’s a journey and a journal can help you track the journey. Journal the journey.
c. Take the journey on the road (pray for others)
Finally, make sure you take your journey on the road.
Most of you know that the Giants will be playing in the Super Bowl next week. They’re facing a great team in the Patriots, but here’s one thing they do well: they play well on the road. The last time they went to the Super Bowl they played all their post season games on the road and won every one of them. This year they won more games on the road then they did at home. They know how to go into a hostile environment and overcome.
As we journal our journey, we’re not always journaling “home games” – things that directly affect our lives – but we need to take our prayers on the road and pray for others as well. God gives us the privilege of making a difference in the lives of others by praying for them and watching God work in their lives.
Prayer is such a vital part of the Christian life and of the church’s advance and fruitfulness. Let’s ask the Lord to continue to teach us to pray and fill our hearts with fresh faith for all that God can accomplish when His people pray.
More in A Praying Life
January 22, 2012Praying With Faith (text)
January 15, 2012Prayer and the Danger of Cynicism
January 8, 2012Prayer and Our Relationship With The Father (text)