Questions and Answers About Prayer 2

Title: Questions and Answers About Prayer 2

Text: Mark 1:35, Acts 1:13-14, Psalm 23:1-2, Romans 8:26-27

Time: February 21st, 2013

 

I’ll be continuing in a message series on prayer, the practical nuts and bolts of actually praying, not so much the theological or theoretical aspects of prayer, although these are important and also interesting as well. What can actually get us into praying, and what can keep us in prayer? I’ve been answering some very basic questions about prayer based on the Bible and my own personal experience in prayer. I pray every day, usually around one hour or so. How often do I actually keep my daily prayer time? Probably about ninety-five percent of the time.  That’s pretty good considering all the modern day distractions of twenty-first century living. It’s not good enough, of course, because my aim is to keep to my prayer schedule one hundred percent. But I’m thankful, by the grace of God, I’m able to pray as often as I do. I’d like to pass along anything and everything I’ve learned through the many years I’ve followed Jesus. How long has it been now that I’ve been following Jesus – I mean, seriously following Jesus? It’s been over thirty-five years. I can hardly believe it, but it’s been that long. And along the way I’ve picked up some knowledge and experience in respect to praying. I’ve got a long way to go and lots to learn still, but I think I have a few things that I know and can pass on to anyone interested in learning. Today, I’d like to cover three more aspects of praying. First, what is the best place to pray? Once we decide we are going to get serious about prayer, we have to figure out where we’re going to do it. I hope I can offer some suggestions. Second, is group prayer important? A lot of times when people think of prayer they think almost exclusively of individual prayer. While that’s the primary way of praying, it’s not the only way of praying. Group prayer is an important, biblical way to pray. Third, should there be any place for written prayers, or should prayer be solely spontaneous verbal or mental? These are very interesting and practical questions that every believer will face at some point in their journey through prayer. Of course, there are a lot more questions we could ask and answer; at some point I hope to answer more questions concerning prayer. But for now, I’d like to focus on the three questions I’ve stated here. My suggested answers won’t make or break your own prayer time – actually nothing will impact your prayer habits for good, unless you yourself decide to apply them. You may already be doing some of things I suggest for prayer; no doubt you won’t be doing all of them, nor is it important that you feel you must do everything I describe. In the end, we all must decide how we will pray, or what’s the best way for us as individuals. But hopefully something I say will inspire and motivate you to pray better than you did before. That’s my goal today. So let me jump right in and get to it.

 

First, what is the best place to pray? Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Picture the young man Jesus – for he was still a young man of only 30 or so years old – getting up early in the morning, leaving the others still sleeping in the house, and heading off to some isolated, private spot to pray. We can learn a lot from just this short verse describing how Jesus himself prayed. He found himself a quiet, private place to pray. He also had the habit of praying early in the morning, although he also prayed at other times. From the New Testament’s description, it’s probably correct to say that he made it his habit to get up early to pray in private. I’m not going to get into a long discussion about the best time to pray today, but I’ll just put in a plug for morning prayer because in my opinion it’s the best time to pray; that is, before noon, in the morning. Why? Because it’s when the day is fresh and we haven’t gotten into the activities and distractions of the day yet. It’s often hard to unwind and dial down our minds enough to pray after we’ve gotten ourselves wrapped up in the activities of the day. But again, like I said before, it’s important that each person find the best time of the day to pray. But if you want to be like Jesus you’ll pray in the morning. . . . No, that’s not fair, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel guilty for praying some other time of the day. Enough said about the time to pray. But today I’m talking about finding a place to pray. From Jesus we learn that the best place to pray is somewhere private and quiet. The worse place to pray is someplace that’s noisy and distracting – that goes without saying. But I say it anyway because, believe it or not, I know a lot of people try to have their daily prayer time in a very distracting environment. I applaud them for having a daily devotional time, period. But they may not realize it or not, they’re making it hard on themselves. Why fight distractions when with better planning we can all find some time and place where we don’t have to fight noises and distractions? For Jesus, he had to get up early and go off someplace alone. That worked for him evidently. What works for you? Only you can say, but I recommend finding such a time and place, instead of staying in a place of distraction. The point is that everyone has to find their own place for prayer that allows them to get down to business with God in prayer. If you don’t have such a place – or find such places, because there can be more than one place to pray that works – if you don’t find a good place to pray, you could be wasting a lot of time without actually praying. So like Jesus, let’s find a place to pray that actually makes it possible for us to pray. Why make prayer harder than it already is through distractions? So we need to prioritize finding a good place to pray.

 

Second, is group prayer important? Acts 1:13-14, “When they (the disciples) arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . . They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Group prayer was important to the early Christians, so that alone gives us a clue to its importance for us as Christians today. Now group praying isn’t a substitute for individual, personal prayer – the Bible nowhere says that Christians should pray in groups rather than individually, or that individual prayer and group prayer are mutually exclusive. No. Individual prayer and group prayer go together in the life of a Christian. We see from the New Testament Christians participating in both; and so, we too should count on doing both today. Individual prayer will tend to be more personal and more individualistic. There are plenty of things we pray for on our own that we probably wouldn’t bring up in group prayer. But on the other hand, there are lots of prayers that we can and should join in with others to pray. For example, praying for the church, locally, nationally and internationally, is great for groups. The same with praying for our nation and world, politically, economically, for peace, for basic human rights and human needs – these are great things to pray for in groups of Christians. We can also pray for the need of individuals in a groups, specific needs, even personal needs that are appropriate to share with others. There are things we need to be careful about praying for in a groups; and these are private and personal matters that others might not need to know, especially if we don’t have permission from the individual person to pray for them in the group. We have to use our own best judgment. But we must try to avoid gossip or sharing things that are inappropriate. In group prayer, usually one person at a time prays and others pray with that person mentally and spiritually, maybe saying, “Amen,” in affirmation. At other times, it’s ok to pray quietly all at once together if it doesn’t cause too much commotion. Some churches meet together in the church sanctuary and encourage members to pray and walk around the building, and then perhaps meet together at certain set times to select another topic of prayer. Other churches have prayer meetings that meet in the homes of members, or smaller rooms of the church building. Some prayer groups meet in coffee shops or restaurants. It really doesn’t matter where Christians meet to pray, but it is important that they do meet together, just the like the early Christians did, to pray together as a church body. Much can be accomplished in group prayer. I highly recommend it.

 

Third, what about written prayers – should these be used? Psalm 23:1-2, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Believe it or not, we all do use written prayers, whether we know it or not. We all pray the 23rd Psalm – and it’s a written prayer. King David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the 23rd Psalm, and we still pray it today, thousands of years after it was first created. So in answer to the question, “Should written prayer be used?” – the answer is, “Yes.” We also use other written prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, found in the New Testament: “Our Father, who art in heaven. . . .” So there is nothing wrong with praying written prayers, or even using prayers that have already been prayed before by someone else. A good prayer is a good prayer. The danger, of course, is that the prayer will become rote and lose its meaning. Then whoever prays it is simply going through the motions without the prayer coming from the heart. But this problem can occur with spontaneous praying also, that is, going through the motions, praying rote. But I think the real question that people are asking when they bring up the topic of written prayers is, “Is it ok, or helpful, or permissible to pray written prayers other than recorded biblical prayers?” All Christians pray the Bible prayers, like the 23rd Psalm, like the Lord’s Prayer, but what about prayers written by others, church leaders, godly Christians, and so forth? Are these helpful to pray? Some churches, some Christians have something against these kinds of written prayer, in principle; therefore, they won’t pray them. Most often, this is a reaction against ultra-traditional, high church Catholic or Orthodox churches, or against high church Protestant churches like Lutheran or Episcopal congregations. But when you stop and think about it, the Bible nowhere prohibits written prayers; and so, neither should we. There is always the danger of ritualism, that is, going through a ritual of prayer without it being real; but like I said before, spontaneous prayer can also be less than real also. So there is really nothing wrong with written prayers, in principle, if we make sure we don’t fall into a rut or ritual. Now, there are some advantages of written prayers, for example, like those found in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer or a Lutheran or Methodist Hymnal. If you aren’t familiar with praying written prayers, check out some of the prayers found in different church hymnals or service books. I personally find these written prayers helpful at times because they often say exactly what I’m wanting to say to God in prayer, depending on the circumstances. I sometimes use written prayers in my personal private prayer time, although most of the time I make up my own prayers on the spot.

 

Why not listen in and pray along with other Christians who have written down their prayers, if those same prayers say what is on your own heart? There’s nothing wrong with it. Sometimes we can learn a lot about prayer and how to pray listening to or reading others’ prayers. In some situations, it’s even better to follow along with the prayers written or spoken by someone else, because it then frees up our own mind and heart to pray to God and not worry about what we are going to say. After all, as the New Testament says, we don’t always know how to pray – “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will,” Romans 8:26-27. The Spirit can use many different ways to help us pray. Sometimes he may lead us to pray written prayers, but probably most of the time we’ll be inspired to pray spontaneous, individual prayers. Some people pray “speaking in tongues,” which is what this verse might be referring to; while other people find that awkward or uncomfortable. But in prayer, it really doesn’t matter exactly how we pray, just as long as we do pray, and that our prayers are meaningful. Personally, I pray any and every way I feel draws me closer to God. I may even change my approach to prayer from time to time, just so that I don’t fall into a rut, into a prayer ritual, or pray in a rote manner. If I find myself going through the motions of prayer, in whatever form or method of prayer I’m using, I might change something or other in order to avoid falling into a ritualistic trap. We have to do this from time to time or else we’ll just become religious, unreal. We don’t ever want to slip into religious praying, or praying in a way that doesn’t truly express our own hearts, or in other words, using words and phrases that are expected or sound spiritual but aren’t really honest to God. Our prayers must above all be sincere. We must use the language that expresses what we want to say to God, not the language others use to speak, if it’s different. Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn how to pray from others, or even that it’s wrong to borrow words and phrases we’ve heard others pray. What it means is that whatever words, phrases, methods, and techniques we use in prayer must be authentic and sincere. It make take a while but we should be able to come up with a way of praying that feels comfortable and helps us achieve our goal, which is, communicating with God.

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