prayerCommunicating With God

I recently saw news footage of a famous actor filming in a small Wisconsin town. The sidewalks were filled with adoring fans who had traveled for hours to stand and watch, dreaming of an opportunity for a handshake and autograph, but content with just a glimpse of their cinematic hero.

For a moment, imagine yourself as one of these fans, standing on a frigid Wisconsin sidewalk, hoping for a sighting. Suddenly, a limo pulls up beside you and the actor himself steps out, shakes your hand, and offers you a ride! “I’m a bit lonely today,” he explains. “Being hours away from any friends or family, I asked around for some friendly locals who might be fun to hang out with. Your name kept coming up. Hey, I’ve got the day off from filming. Would you have time to show me around, chat a bit, and introduce me to your friends?”

Imagine the awe, the amazement, the disbelief, that a person of such stature would want to spend time with a regular person—you!

Some of the same feelings and concerns should flood over us when we realize that the Creator of the universe desires to talk and spend time with us. “God wants to hang out with me? Cool! But surely I’ll be rather boring to One so great. And maybe He won’t like me if we get too close. He’ll see all my faults. And what in the world do you say to a Person like that?”

Keep those thoughts in mind as we look to God’s Word for answers.

“ME? RELATING TO HIM?” BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS.

God’s so far above us in every way. He’s strong; we’re weak. He knows all; we see bits and pieces. He’s perfect; we’re imperfect. How can we relate to a God like that?

First, God assures us that He loves us, no matter how far short we fall.

For God so loved the world….(John 3:16a) 

Second, God destroyed the barrier that separated us. We are sinners, and God is holy. That is a barrier to our relationship.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. (Romans 3:23) For the wages of sin is death…. (Romans 6:23a) 

So God wants to relate to us, but we’ve rebelled by going our own way. Even if we came back, we’d be sinful people trying to approach a holy God. Something had to give. God gave. He sent His only Son to die for our sins, so that we would no longer have to be separated from Him.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18) 

For those of us who have turned from our old rebellious life and accepted God’s gift of salvation, we’ve gone from being dead in our sins to being alive to God (Romans 6:11; Ephesians 2:1-5). The sin barrier has been broken! Now we can approach God, not on the basis of our own merits, but on the merits of Jesus. We could never be cool enough to spend time with God. But because Jesus cleansed us with His blood, we can approach His throne in clean, white robes. Because of Jesus, we can have a relationship—a friendship with God! Like any relationship, our friendship with God grows through communication. That’s what prayer is all about— talking to God and listening to Him. Here are some practical hints to a more meaningful prayer life.

Like any relationship, our friendship with God grows through communication.

HINTS FOR TALKING TO GOD

1. Speak naturally. 

God isn’t impressed with memorized formulas, lots of words, or religious language (Matthew 6:7,8). You’ve probably heard people pray like this: “I pray Thee, O Father, that Thou bless Thy child Mike, who has wandered from Thy paths.” 

Don’t worry. Jesus never said that He preferred prayers like that. It’s your heart that counts, so use the words that best express your heart. My translation of the above prayer might be, “God, could you please help Mike? He’s in trouble and really needs Your help.”

2. Use variety. 

For some people, every prayer is asking God for something. What if you
had a friend whose only conversation involved asking you for things? That relationship’s not going anywhere. Broaden your communication with God by including different aspects of prayer. I’ll put them in a handy acrostic (P.R.A.Y.) to help you remember:

Praise Him: “I love you God!” Thank Him for who He is and what He has done for you. Be creative! Walk a field and thank Him for all you see. Write a list of things you’ve never thanked Him for (like the moisture in your eyes that keeps them from hurting). Sing Him a song. Write Him a poem. Worship Him both privately and with others. Since He is worthy of our worship (John 4:23-24), let’s praise Him (I Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 100, Psalm 150).

Request Things: “Lord, help me and others in need.” It’s not selfish to pray for ourselves. God delights in our prayers and wants us to depend upon Him to meet our needs (Matthew 7:7-11; I Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6,7).

But it’s not all about us. Pray for others with needs,often greater than our own, both near and far away. God’s given His children access to His awesome power that can transform the world. Since we’re talking to the almighty God, don’t hesitate to pray big (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:15-23).

It’s your heart that counts, so use the words that best express your heart.

George Mueller’s diary contains so many instances of answered prayer that, were it possible, a person could be bored by the miraculous. His heart was stirred by the plight of England’s orphans in the mid-1800s. Seven-year olds worked 12 hours a day in factories. Escapees lived on the streets as thieves. Mueller, though a poor man himself, determined to build and operate an orphanage by faith and prayer alone, asking no person for financial assistance, telling no person of his financial needs, and never buying on credit.

By faith alone, Mueller eventually operated five orphan houses caring for 2,000 orphans! When money ran out or emergencies arose, the money always came, so that their needs were always supplied. For example, “in the two years, August 1838 to August 1840, there were fifty occasions on which they were either penniless, or had insufficient means to pay their way for the day. But the money always came.” (1)

One morning Mueller had neither bread nor money to buy bread for the orphans. Rather than despair, he sat the orphans at the table and instructed them to bless their food. “What food?” the orphans must have thought. But they went ahead with the prayer. Just then, a knock came at the door. A bread truck had broken down nearby and the driver wished to donate the bread to the orphanage!

Admit Your Sins: “I’m sorry God.”
Confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve sinned (I John 1:8,9). But since we learn to justify our behavior, it’s hard for some of us to admit our shortcomings.

We rationalize, minimize and cover up our sins. But God knows our sins. Why not just admit them to Him?

One day pastor Bill Hybels counseled a man (“Harry”) who didn’t see himself as sinful. Hybels knew him as a man he could shoot straight with, so he probed with a few questions.

“Have you been absolutely one hundred percent faithful to your wife…?”

“Well, you know, I’m in sales. I travel a lot….”

When Hybels asked about his business expense account, Harry admitted that he included things that weren’t strictly his sales techniques; Harry admitted that he sometimes exaggerated. “That’s the industry standard,” he explained.

Hybels looked him in the eye and said, “You have just told me that you are an adulterer, a cheater and a liar. Repeat those words after me—I am an adulterer, a cheater and a liar.” Harry was horrified. He didn’t see himself that way at all. In his view, he’d just fallen into a little of this and a bit of that—no big deal. (2)

Harry’s like a lot of us. We rationalize, minimize and cover up our sins. But God knows our sins. Why not just admit them to Him?

Yearn and Listen: “Here’s how I’m feeling. What do You think?” 

Sometimes words can’t express what we’re feeling. That’s okay.

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. (Romans 8:26) 

Just be there with Him. He understands.

Often God speaks to us in promptings rather than words. So sometimes we need to simply be quiet and listen. Let’s take this aspect of prayer a little further.

HINTS ON LISTENING TO GOD

Don’t you hate it when friends or family members want to talk, talk, talk, but never listen? A one-way relationship is always shallow and seldom satisfying. Yet, most Christians rarely, if ever, hear God speaking audibly, like in dreams or visions. Here are some ways that we normally hear from God.

1. The Bible—God’s Word to Us. 

There’s no need for God to repeat to us audibly what He’s already told us in His Word. By reading it each day, we discover His wisdom on relationships, work, lifestyle, spiritual life, and all the areas of life that count (Psalm 1:1-3).

It may be difficult to understand at first, but hang in there! Pray daily that God will give you a hunger for His Word. Pray for insight. God’s Spirit enlightens our hearts, helping us to understand and apply Scripture to our lives (I Corinthians 2:12).

2. Other Believers. 

Don’t just trust one person, even if he sounds totally sure of himself! There is safety in “many advisors” (Proverbs 15:22), especially those who are wise and insightful (Proverbs 20:18).

Also learn under gifted preachers and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13) who spend unusual amounts of time studying the Bible. You can hear them at church, Bible study groups, through reading their books and listening to their audio messages.

3. Life’s Circumstances. 

God often opens and closes doors with the situations He allows us to encounter (I Corinthians 16:8,9).

4. Directing our Thinking. 

As we pray for direction, study His Word, consult other believers and consider our circumstances, God directs our thinking, giving us the mind of Christ to make wise decisions (I Corinthians 2:15-16).

HINTS ON PRAYING ALWAYS

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17). How does that work?

If you’ve never read the Bible much, start with the Gospel of John, which takes you through Jesus’ life. Set a goal of reading about a chapter a day. Then, make your way through the rest of the New Testament. Some read a Psalm and a Proverb each day. Others use a devotional book, like The Purpose Driven Life. Find something that works for you!

Go ahead, accept His invitation and start a conversation that can grow richer for the rest of your life.

I think of it like my relationship with my wife on a day off from work. Often, we stop to have an extended conversation. But most of the day, we just bounce thoughts off each other, say words of encouragement and gratefulness, ask for help with a project, etc. That’s how it should be with God—like spending a day with your best friend.

Read some of the Psalms. They are often so conversational, expressing doubts, fears, disappointments, frustrations, excitement, joy—what’s going on in your heart right now—the stuff of real life.

WRAPPING IT UP

Thinking back to the actor inviting you into his limo—isn’t it incredible that the God of the Universe wants to hang out with us? Go ahead, accept His invitation and start a conversation that can grow richer for the rest of your life. He’s here. He cares. And He really wants to be your Friend.

 

End Notes:

(1) Compiled by A.J. Rendle Short, The Diary of George Mueller, Great Man of Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).

(2) Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be With God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 54,55.