“One of His disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” Luke 11:1
When I went off to college my father gave me a blank check with his signature on it. I would be several hundred miles away from home, living in a strange city, and we did not know what our expenses would be, so Dad trusted me with such a check. With it I could meet any situation with financial confidence. And believe me it was a comfort to a young man traveling all alone to know that the name of my father along with all his resources stood behind me! Prayer is like that blank check as well, for we are God’s children making our way through this world. We are far from home, we do not know what our expenses will be, but we have confidence in the fact that our heavenly Father stands behind us with His full resources.
Christ was eager for His disciples to grasp the fact that God was giving them a blank check to carry with them though life. In John 14:13-14 the Lord said to His disciples, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” In other words, Jesus was doing for His disciples what my father did for me when I left for college. He was giving them His name along with His complete backing. And to make certain His disciples heard what He was saying He repeated His promise to give them what they needed, not once, nor twice, but three times in John 14:16.
Such a blank check from God never ceased to amaze the early disciples. “We have Christ’s name!” The apostles confidently affirmed. And in the gospel of John we find numerous meditations on the name of Christ and His marvelous resources. There in John’s gospel Jesus is called “The Christ,” “Son of God,” “King,” “Son of Man,” “Bread of Life,” “Light of The World,” “Good Shepherd,” “The Way, The Truth, and The Life.” With such a name for authority, is there any wonder Christians still end their prayers by saying, “In Christ’s name I ask it, Amen”? St. Paul, one of God’s children traveling far, far from home, knew of and believed in God’s blank check policy of prayer. He assured other Christians of the Lord’s full backing when he said, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). He was saying, “You write the check. God will back you for all your needs!”
It is in line with these promises of God that we move on from praise, confession, and thanksgiving forms of prayer and consider first of all, prayers of intercession. Jesus taught us to pray for one another by setting us an example. In John 17:16-26 Christ prayed for His disciples and for the church. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus revealed the fact that He had been praying for Peter. And throughout the pages of Scripture we find the Lord prayed for the blind, the lame, the sinful and the mute.
Likewise, we who follow Jesus Christ should pray for one another. But the tragedy is that we seldom do so. Oh, we piously say, “I will pray for you!” But our intentions seldom become a reality. When we see someone ill abed, facing huge decisions, or grappling with some problem, we often go to great extremes to help them. We call to encourage them. We send them a card. We take over a dish of stewed apples. We might even loan them some money or send flowers. And this is all well and good, but it is to stop short of our best service, and that is prayer. Hallmark greeting card company advertizes its product with the slogan, “When you care enough to send the very best.” That is what we are talking about here. Perhaps all the world can do is visit and bring a gift, but Christians can pray. We have God’s name and resources behind us even to help our friends. So, James 5:16 says, “Pray for one another.” Do the very best you can for your neighbors.
Let’s suppose that you look out your window and happen to see your friend’s child way up high in the crown of a tree. He is about to fall, so what do you do? A. Ignore the whole situation. You cannot climb trees so you cannot help. B. Carry his mother some flowers and make a donation to a favorite charity. C. Write a note of sympathy and offer your condolences. Both B and C? No! I tell you, the best thing you can do when you witness something like that is to quickly get on the phone and call the child’s parents and tell them the situation. That one act will do more good than anything else. Your one call will set in motion actions that will bring salvation. Mom will go out and assure the frightened child that everything is going to be alright. Dad will call the fire department and they will rush right over with their safety net and the big ladder. Intercessory prayer works like this too. It informs God of your concern. It brings the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It sets in motion the forces that bring relief. It unleashes power!
The next time you see a fellow human being in need, tell God all about it. He may want to use you to meet that need. Or He may have other plans. But whatever the situation, draw on your full resources. Go straight to the top! First tell God. Fill in a blank check! Then do what you can yourself.
Can I Pray For Myself?
Passing on from intercessory prayer, we come to prayers of supplication. Here the question most asked is, “Is it OK to pray for myself?” Well, examining the Lord’s prayer it is quite true that there is no place where we are taught to pray for ourselves. The petitions are more for “us” and “our,” not for “me” and “mine.” However, elsewhere, we do find Jesus praying for Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46). There He prays, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” Also, St. Paul teaches us by example to pray for ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 12:8 Paul confesses that he prayed for his own personal healing three times.
A nurse, accustomed to working with her hands, developed a prayer routine using her fingers as a guide. Each finger stood for someone. Her thumb, being nearest to her body, reminded her to pray for those near and dear, such as family, close friends. The second or pointer finger, was a symbol of those who direct and manage. It reminded her to pray for those who were her supervisors. The third finger, tallest of all, stood for those in high positions of leadership and government. When she looked at her fourth finger, the weakest, she remembered to pray for those who are suffering and weak. And finally, the little finger, last and smallest of all, she took to represent herself. Thus with meekness, she expressed her own needs last. That’s not a bad plan for petition prayers. Putting oneself last, but not least, is indeed praiseworthy.
Now that we have seen by Christ’s own example that praying for ourselves is permissible, another question needs to be asked. “Can I pray to God about anything, or is the Lord just interested in the big things?” Well, the rule here is very simple. It is found in 1 Peter 5:7. “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” In other words, if something is big enough to cause you anxiety, it is big enough to pray about. The Bible says the hairs of your head are numbered. It says that not even a sparrow falls from heaven but what the Lord is not concerned. God cares for what brings you care. Is your budget worrying you? Tell God. Is your child rebellious? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Toothaches, injustices, exams, marriages, backaches, hurt feelings, and money worries— these are the stuff life is made of. And God has given us a blank check. We have the name of Christ behind us; His full resources. He cares!
In the small town of Atotonillco, Mexico, there is a Catholic church. In that church there is a chapel with a statue of Christ dressed in a royal purple robe. The townspeople frequently go before this statue to pray for their problems. When I visited that church years ago I too knelt there to pray. It was then that I noticed what the people had been doing. There at the feet of Christ were little folded pieces of paper. I unfolded several and read things like, “Lord, heal my baby!” “Jesus, help my crop to grow.” Another said very simply, “My wife, Rosita.” As I rose to leave I also noticed that people were not only leaving their petitions at the feet of Jesus, they were also pinning them on His robe. Little trinkets like those from a charm bracelet were hanging from Christ’s robe. Some were in the he shape of an arm, others were in the figure of a baby, a house, or a leg. Now, that is what 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to do spiritually in our prayers. “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.”
God Listens. You Listen Too!
On from prayers of intercession and supplication we move until we get to listening prayer. The Bible teaches us in numerous places that Jesus went out alone to pray (Matt. 14:23). The Scriptures tell us to take time regularly to, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
Here we must understand that prayer is a dialogue. It is not a monologue. It is a two-way conversation between two people that love each other, God and the Christian. We all know how frustrating conversations are when one individual dominates the time. Well, too often our prayers are like that. We do all the talking and then say, “Amen” before we give God a chance to speak. What would you think of someone who called you up on the telephone, talked for ten minutes without ceasing, then said, “Good Bye,” without giving you a chance to get a word in edgewise? Too often, our prayers are just like that. We have the awful habit of telling God what we think and want without waiting to hear what He, too, thinks and wants.
When you pray, begin to allow the Lord more room in the conversation. Praise God. Confess your sins. Thank Him. Pray for others and for yourself. But then, before you say, “Amen,” put your thoughts in stillness. Slip into neutral. Ask God to speak to you. Say, “Lord, I am listening. Is there anything you would like me to know? Is there something you’d like me to do? Talk to me.”
Here God may speak to you in a thought, a flash of insight, some idea or an impulse. He may give you a proneness to move in a direction; He may speak in the quieting of anxiety. He might rearrange your whole understanding of a series of events, give you a feeling of “withness,” “Worthiness,” or He may recall to your mind some promise He made in Scripture.
I know that in my own life, I am very weak at this form of prayer. I am such a novice at it. But God is still able to use what little time I give Him. Often, during a period of listening prayer, I will feel a strong impulse to pray for someone, to write a letter, or make a visit. Once I had a very overwhelming impulse to write a friend of mine who is a physician in Virginia. For several days I could not shake this woman’s name from my thoughts. I prayed for her and I wrote her a letter. A few days later she telephoned to say that her mother had recently died, she was depressed, and my letter had arrived at just the right time.
Listen, dear people! The Lord has so much to say to us if we will but be still we can know what He is trying to say to us! Why not vow a vow right now to begin the practice of listening prayer? Then when you feel the Lord is speaking to you, judge what you feel you should do by Scripture, if it jibes, then go out and earnestly try to perform it.
Practicing The Presence of God
There is still another form of prayer that we must consider. And I realize that we are fast moving off the map and getting into the borderline areas that might be considered meditation. At any rate, whether it is a form of prayer or a type of meditation, we shall consider it here along with prayer. This form of prayer is probably best called just being in God’s presence.
Remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet? (John 13:5). Peter said, “Lord, you’ll never wash my feet!” And Jesus replied, “Peter, unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” Here Christ Jesus was trying to show Peter that he was not a minister until he was first ministered to. Peter was not a light. He was a reflection of that light. And unless Peter spent time in the light his own light could not shine. Remember when Moses came down from the mountain after speaking with God? Remember how his face shone? But the longer he stayed away from God the less his face glowed (2 Cor. 3:11). St. Paul, thinking of Moses, urged his church members to be “aglow with the Spirit” (Romans 12:11). And in Numbers 6:25 God gave His ministers a blessing for the people which says, “The Lord make His face to shine upon you.”
We do not see this glowing spiritual quality about people too often these days. That is because this form of Spiritual discipline is all but a lost art. But it can be regained. You yourself can begin to practice it. You can glow from being in God’s presence.
A small child knocked on his father’s study door. The father said, “Yes, son? What do you want?” The wee lad came into the study and said, “I don’t want anything Dad. I just want to be with you.” And with that saying the boy promptly curled up at his father’s side and went fast to sleep. Now, that is something like this form of prayer. We just go to God, don’t even want a thing. We say, “Lord, I just want to be near you. I only want to seek your face.” When we pray like that, sit back in a chair and bask in His magnificent presence, we are ministered to, we gain a deeper sense of our Father-son relationship, and we glow from spending time in His presence.
A Communications Revolution?
Today the world we live in is experiencing a great communications revolution. Over the past few years men have developed all kinds of instruments for the sending and receiving of messages. The telegraph, the radio, the telephone, the television set, cheap paper back books, citizens band radios, the fax and e-mail have all combined to change the world we live in. They have brought convenience. They have brought safety. They have brought comfort and education and entertainment right into our living rooms. They have brought people together who are miles apart. But I submit to you that the greatest form of communication, one that promises to bring greater change for the better, one that promises to bring close people who are worlds apart, has yet to be fully discovered and employed. And that is prayer.
The disciples never asked God to teach them to heal or preach or to work miracles. It was obvious to them that the Lord derived all His strength from prayer. If they could learn to pray all the other things would fall into place. So they said, “Lord, teach us to pray!” How about you? Will you to talk with God? Will you enroll with Christ in the School of Prayer?
Jesus, teach me how to pray. I have many needs, there is much I want to discuss with you concerning others and myself. Teach me how to pray with God, simply, directly, forcefully. And teach me the habits of listening and relaxing in your presence. For Christ’s sake. Amen.