“Prayer is a continuation of a conversation that God has already started.” – Tim Keller
For many, we believe prayer starts when we go to the Lord with our needs and requests. The dialogue often seems one sided as we send our prayers up and then hope for a response. But what if, like Tim Keller says, God has already started the conversation? If God has spoken to us, then prayer is a response to God, not the initiation of contact. And it is this response that can reveal the deepest motivations of our heart. God has surely spoken to us through both his word and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If prayer reveals true motivation, consider this question: If your life were a boat, is it powered by sails that you raise to catch the will of God and the wind of his Spirit or is the boat driven by a motor controlled by you, powered by your will, your efforts and your accomplishments? As we take up the conversation with God, we need to examine whether we are actually responding to what he has said or are we pushing his words aside in order to change the conversation to a subject of our own choosing. In our dialogue with the creator of everything (including ourselves), are we making ourselves the topic of discussion?
Pray: “Dear Heavenly Father, let my prayer be a true response to what you have already said and not just a monologue of my wants. In Jesus’ matchless name, let me listen first to what you have said to me before I come before you to offer a reply – Amen.”
Matthew 6:9 “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.””
When Jesus gave his followers this template for speaking to God, what a revelation it must have been. For Jews, God was the Great I Am…someone so holy, so powerful that they refused to even fully write out his name. And here was Jesus, the Son of God, telling them to address him as “Father”. This one word would have changed the entire dynamic on how they approached God. If God is “Father”, we are not waiting on the king’s favor to enter…as family we have access! But from there, Jesus said to acknowledge that his name is “hallowed”. Interesting that from the oldest to the newest Bible translations, this word has been kept translated ‘hallowed’. So…what is hallowed? To begin, it is not simply a statement but an action. The angels say God is “Holy, holy, holy!” But it is more than that. It is a worshipful proclamation that God’s name (who he is) is to be treasured beyond everything else. To be hallowed is to be treated as both sacred and ultimate. It is that which is supremely beautiful to you. It is, in your life, above every other thing. He is not just worthy to be praised…he is only to be praised!
Pray: “Father…how wonderful that word is to me! As I come to you in prayer, let me, in the way that I am able, to first proclaim you as ultimate in my life. In your Son’s powerful name, let me not utter a word until I have first and foremost given you the worship, praise and reverence that only your name is due – Amen.”
Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.”
Nobody likes being called a hypocrite. It is not only an unpleasant term but it identifies one as being not consistent. What they say and what they do don’t match up. What they say in public and what they say in private are not the same thing. But Jesus was not just speaking of people who lead blatantly double lives, he was speaking about people who are inconsistent in their prayers. The Pharisees put on quite a show it seems when they prayed. There are numerous examples of their public discourses with the Almighty for which they gained recognition with men but not even an audience with God. If we run to God when we are in trouble and sing his praises but when things are going well he can’t get the time of day from us – are we not being hypocrites? If the only time our hands are raised in supplication and worship is on Sunday for a 15-20 minute worship set but the rest of the week there is a noticeable disconnect in communications…what does that say? It says a lot about the motivations of our heart…and it’s not too good. God expects connection – not perfection.
Pray: “Lord God, it is to my shame that in times past I have come to you only when I am in need. If I loved you like I claim, I would desire your presence, your company, our connection at all times. In your Son’s holy name, forgive me and know that I desire you for who you are and not just for what you do for me – Amen.”
Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
What happens in secret is really a big deal. The true measure of a person can often be seen in what they say and do when nobody is around. What I carry to God in private will reveal what my ‘ultimate’ things really are. When that which is most sacred to us is in danger, we do not hesitate to run to God. But if God is our “ultimate”, then we should be running to him daily…constantly. If he isn’t our “ultimate”, then aren’t we really using God? Aren’t we saying God you can be useful to me now but otherwise I can handle things myself? When things get bad, people suddenly find time to pray. They get back into their devotions. They start making time for ‘quiet time’. But when things get better, the plug is pulled…prayer stops. God is not a heavenly ATM or a cosmic stuff dispenser. The way to identify true heart change is when your first and greatest prayer is for more of God. You want to just enjoy him. You want to adore him. You make time to be in his presence simply for the joy of being in his presence. What do you pray for most?
Pray: “Heavenly Father, I want the time we spend together to be about you. You know what I need before I even think to tell you. How much joy and peace I lose because I don’t come with the intention of just being in your presence. In the name of my blessed Lord and Savior, never let me allow external desires to steal time from you and me again – Amen.”
Isaiah 10:15 “Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!”
We do this so much, don’t we? When things are going well in our lives we forget all about our dependence on God and begin to bask in the glow of our own accomplishments. We become prideful about our talents and gifts, forgetting the giver of the gift. It is like congratulating the axe for chopping wood or the saw for felling a tree. That would be crazy! The axe did not swing itself and the saw lies dormant until skilled hands grab hold. Like the axe and the saw (and the rod and the staff) we are merely tools, gifted by our creator so that we might be useful…in his hands. One does not praise the tool. We praise the master craftsman who uses it. Pride and selfishness keeps us from prayer. Prayer acknowledges that without God we can do nothing. Our hearts must be properly ordered if our life is to be right. We must pray that God be hallowed every day. We must love him first. The vine must be connected for fruit to be produced. There must remain a connection between the tool and the wielder if any useful work is to be done. And that connection – prayer.
Pray: Lord God, help me not to love the things I shouldn’t, and don’t let me fail to love the things I should. Help me to not love something more than I should, but not to love something less than it deserves. In Jesus’ mighty name, order my heart, Lord, for I cannot. Let your name be sanctified in my life and help me to humbly acknowledge my dependence on your matchless grace – Amen.”