Prayer Isn’t Serious (Contrary to What We’ve Been Told)
MAY 14, 2018
Prayer, when it is taken too seriously, ceases to be prayer. Rather, it becomes a formal exercise in obeying rules, in being proper, and in doing the religious things that are necessary in order for “prayer” to happen.
God went to a lot of trouble to make sure that prayer was something different from that.
When God invites his people to prayer, he invites them to a party—a celebration of the relationship and what created it, a celebration of who he is and what he has created, a celebration of life and meaning and forgiveness and heaven.
Who are we? What kind of relationship do we have with God?
A Loved Child
I once flew home from New York to Orlando and it was just another rather harrowing experience because of all the thunderstorms. I was seated next to a young mother whose small son sat in her lap during the whole trip. We were all frightened but managed to hide that fact from one another. But the little boy wasn’t frightened at all. He and his mother had a wonderful time. They played together, laughed at the “bumps,” and during the most turbulent time of the storm, they slept in one another’s arms.
That’s the way prayer ought to be. As I watched the mother and child in the storm, I thought of the prayer of the psalmist, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty…Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me…” (Psalm 131).
Sometimes we are so busy trying to do it right that we forget that rules are never the primary reality in the face of the love of a parent for a child. The little boy on the plane didn’t go through a checklist of things that needed to be done in order to go to sleep in his mother’s arms in the middle of the storm. He didn’t ask forgiveness for all the bad things he had done the day before nor did he tell his mother how wonderful she was. He was with his mother, and he just went to sleep.
People are always asking me how to stay awake in their prayers. If you fall asleep praying you probably needed to sleep more than you needed to talk. If the Father needs to talk, he’ll wake you up.
A Freed Slave
Paul write to the Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Those words reference the way we were (in bondage) and what we have become (freed slaves).
We have been set free. Freedom scares us and more important, it scares those religious leaders who are into control. Jesus said, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We want to change that, to create some parameters, and to ameliorate the “dangers” of the freedom Jesus gives. When we do that, we miss the joys of being free from the bondage of our slavery to rules and manipulation.
The freedom given us by God has some tremendous implications for our times of prayer. While God is God, he doesn’t punish us and load on the guilt in order to keep us in line. A lot of people don’t pray because of the guilt they feel about what they have done, and then they don’t pray because of the guilt they feel about not having prayed. If you never prayed, you are still free…so now you can pray.
Being free enables us to go to God without the need to act like a proper slave. When the writer of Hebrews says that we have been given the privilege of coming “boldly” into God’s presence, he is making reference to the fact that we come as a son or a daughter—not a slave.
Being free means that, in prayer, we don’t have to work for “slave’s wages.” Remember that the bounty of the King is often reserved, not for his slaves, but for his children.
You aren’t a slave. So quit acting like one.
A Welcomed Prodigal
You remember Jesus’ story. A man had two sons and the younger son asked for his inheritance before his daddy had assumed room temperature. The father granted the request. Then the son went to another country and, while the money lasted, had a wild time. However, when the money was gone, he had no place to go. So he decided to return home, apologize and ask his father for a job.
Jesus said that the father saw his son coming down the road and ran to him, interrupting the young man’s confession and apology. Jesus said, “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15:22-24).
The story has wonderful implications for those who have left and are afraid to come home. I suspect that there are as many believers who have rebelled as there are those who never believed. I meet them all the time. Someone told them that God was going to destroy them, that he was angry, that he would never use them again, that he would never forgive them. And they believed it. You can see them hovering just outside the warmth of the fire, standing in the street looking at the old home place, and sometimes turning away so that those inside will not see the tears. They are often hungry, lonely, afraid, guilty, and sure that they can never go home again.
The joyous announcement that the Bible makes to those of you who are just outside the warmth of the fire, who are standing in the street, and who are about to turn away and run again is this: “Come on home! He’ll love you! It will be as if you never left.”
A Party Guest
We are guests at a party. There is, of course, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:17) to which Jesus referred at the final supper with his disciples on earth (Luke 22:16). But there is also the present relationship we have with Christ. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for their joy, Jesus says, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” (Matthew 9:15). The first miracle Jesus performed in his earthly ministry was turning water to wine in order to salvage a party (John 2:1-10). And the breathtaking response of the father to the prodigal son is almost too good to be true. He had a party!
A careful reading of Luke 15, though, will show that the story isn’t really about the young man who went away to the far country. That boy is just a literary technique that Jesus used to say something to the good, righteous, and proper religious folks who listened to the story. The parable is really about the other brother who stayed home, did everything right, never rebelled, and worked hard. That boy had an attitude problem not dissimilar to those who pray according to the rules and who assume that because of their goodness and their obedience they have earned the right to make demands on the Father.
Listen to the words of the obedient son who stayed home. Jesus said that when he heard the music and dancing, he refused to come to the party. “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him” (Luke 15:29-30).
It still goes on, you know. “Mature” Christians will beat you over the head with their righteousness, stifle your joyous prayers, and will speak of propriety and prayer. Don’t let them do it! If you get too serious you will miss the joy, the celebration and the abandonment.
Adapted from Steve’s book on prayer, Approaching God.