Week of August 24
The Prayer Expert
I've read dozens of books on prayer, and I've learned a few things. But most of what I know about prayer, I've learned from the Prayer Expert. Since Jesus invented it and taught it, who would know more about prayer?
Twenty-three times the Gospels refer to Jesus praying, which means he prayed frequently, often silently and sometimes secretly. He prayed for himself and his mission, and he also prayed for his followers, for the sick, for Jerusalem, for the world, and for those in need. In short, he faithfully practiced the very thing he invented.
Luke's Gospel relates how he taught his followers to pray. It reads: "As He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, "LORD, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." And he said to them, 'When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven...'" (Lk 11:1-2a, NKJV).
The model that follows is what we call the Lord's Prayer. The disciples may have meant they wanted Jesus to teach them a formulaic prayer. John the Baptist apparently gave his followers a model, and so did other religious leaders. In modern denominations, some congregations pray the Lord's Prayer at virtually every service. Others don't feel the need to repeat it literally, but take it as an example of the kind of praying we're to do.
What's noteworthy is that the disciples went to the Prayer Expert. After all, they had followed him, observed him in action, and decided they liked what they saw.
It's often helpful to consult the expert. When I first realized I needed a computer in 1983, I didn't know anything about them. So Paul Price, an early hacker-expert, helped me get started. Within a few days, he taught me everything I needed to know. Since then, whenever I've decided to upgrade, I've gone to an expert for advice and instruction.
When it comes to prayer, there is really only one Expert, and whatever we know about prayer (if it's accurate information) comes from him.
After all the years of praying seriously, I still don't think of myself as an expert. I'm still learning. I'm not trying to devise the perfect seven words that unlock the whole universe. I'm trying to learn more about God, about me, and about how to open myself in prayer.
My attitude toward prayer has changed drastically over the years. Back in the early days after my conversion, if anyone had asked, I would have told them that prayer was simply talking with God. In fact, I think I said that a few times. Yet as I look back, I realize those early attempts were mostly begging sessions. I worked hard at convincing God to hear me and give me what I asked for. Without realizing it, I was trying to sell God on responding to me.
That's not where I am now. Asking is still a big part of prayer, but I've also learned other aspects, such as fellowship and praise.
I still wonder about how to pray specifically for particular needs. For instance, I have two good friends that I'll call Mike and John. I don't know how to pray for Mike. At age thirty-five, he's still trying to resolve identity issues that he talked about seven years ago. I don't like the catchall, "God, bless Mike," and I don't want to recite a list of ten things I think Mike needs right now. So how do I pray?
John, an ordained minister and former pastor, is one of the neediest people I know. If anyone yearns to be loved and valued for himself, that's John. How do I pray for him? Should I enumerate his needs one by one? Do I pick out one and stay with it until God answers before I move on to the second? How do I know which is most important?
I've committed myself to pray for both of these men daily. Mike knows that; I'm not sure John does. I'm not praying so they'll know. I'm praying because I genuinely care about both of them. Even so, I don't know how to pray effectively for them.
It's also frustrating that, after years of holding them up to God, I can't see any change. I wonder how many times I've paused in praying for those two men and said, "God, I just don't know how to pray." I'm not aware of their real needs-I see only outward behavior and character flaws.
How, Lord? How do I pray?
A few mornings ago, I walked through the woods with Mike on my mind. I had spoken to him on the phone the night before for nearly twenty minutes. I tried to focus my prayers for him but felt confused. I paused to lean against a black oak. "God, I don't have the slightest idea how to pray for Mike. Show me."
For several seconds, silence surrounded me. Then I heard myself saying, "Lord, won't you wrap your arms around Mike so that he'll know he's loved? Today, make him aware that you're with him and that you care deeply."
Simple stuff. Nothing profound or brilliant. But it came from my heart-something the Prayer Expert has taught me.
I could cite a variety of examples of what I've learned from the Prayer Expert. I'm still not sure I get it right, and I have a lot more to learn. It's like the lessons Paul Price gave me when I operated my first computer. I made mistakes even after he explained what I was supposed to do. But I kept at it. Now I can handle increasingly sophisticated computers. Even so, I know very little.
The best lesson I learned was to go to the expert when I have a problem.
The expert knows.
And the Prayer Expert not only knows how, but patiently works with me and teaches me. The Prayer Expert loves me and cares about my growth.
When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, "LORD, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray." So Jesus told them, "Pray in this way...." --Luke 11:1-2, CEV
it sounds so simple to ask you to teach me to pray.
It gets complicated when I put it into practice.
Help me to keep praying,
to keep asking you for help,
and most of all,
to love you and those for whom I pray. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.