Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Three People who Pray

There are three types of people who pray, in this passage.  What type of person are you?  How do you approach God when you seek him in prayer?  The three types of people are (1) the religious sinner, (2) the pagan sinner, and (3) the forgiven child. The reason I say religious and pagan sinner is to denote that neither of them are saved.  The first and second persons are sinners because they are still in their sins and have not received forgiveness from their sins. They approach God on their terms and not his.  The third person however is different.  He or she approaches God not as one demanding but as one who is grateful to be a child. 

1) The religious sinner
Who is the first person?  He is the religious sinner.  On the outside this is the person who stands from within the religious community and he is the perfect Christian.  Unfortunately, he has no passion for God only passion for himself.  Jesus calls this person a hypocrite.  The word hypocrite in Greek refers to a person who is a masked stage actor.  Someone who hides who they really are on a stage and behind a mask.  These people are fake, their prayers are fake, and they have no interest in whether God hears or not. 

This religious person stand in the front of the church and in great show and eloquence prays so people will know how wonderful he is.  Be careful saying, “Man, I hate these people because,” such are some of us.  The joy of prayer is so easily usurped by the pride of other’s approval.  For me, as a person who’s profession is the shepherding people to a closer relationship to God through the public proclamation and prayer, it is too easy for me to find myself praying not to God but to his people. 

I can find my ability to pray so hampered by frequent public prayer that I have to be careful not to receive my validation from the congregation but from God himself.  The applause of people is such a wonderful temptation. We must guard against it. 

I do not believe this to be a prohibition of public prayer. This is just a warning that our public prayers are not for the people hearing them and not for the person praying them.  Our public prayers are for the magnification and glory of God. 

This is the problem when we pray for the praise of other people, we are not praying to know God better.  We are praying to gain glory and popularity for ourselves.  In this moment prayer stops being a tool to know God.  Prayer stops being a conversation and becomes a way to steal what belongs to another.  Now when the crowd doesn’t fall at my feet when I pray I get angry.  Because I am praying for my glory I become a god for myself. 

2) The pagan sinner
In this passage Jesus says, “Do not pray like the gentiles do.”  Jesus is making a distinction using the language common to his Jewish audience to refer to anyone who is not a Jew.  For us who are not Jews to understand what Jesus is saying we will use the word pagan in its generic sense to refer to anyone practices a faith that is outside the New Covenant, which comes from traditions of and lineage of Abraham.  Christianity finds its roots in the promises to Abraham. 

The problem with many prayers from around the world is that these prayers are not personal.  They are words/mantras to invoke cosmic change.  So they pray many words with vain repetition.  It looks something like this video of a Buddhist prayer wheel. Written on the inside and outside of this wheel are mantras, or prayers.  So the object is to spin this wheel as many times as possible. Every time this wheel spins it equals a specific number of times the prayer is prayed.  These spins are empty spins of a wheel.  They neither draw us closer to the reality of God nor closer into a relationship with him. 

The problem with this type of prayer is it is done as if you were casting a spell.  If I say the prayer in this way.  If I say the prayer with this sort of spin.  If I say this prayer this way, or with this type of faith, then the prayer is going to be answered.  The notion is that you can compel God, or the spiritual forces at work to do your will.  This is empty because you can no more compel God to do your will then you can compel gravity to push you out into space. 

This is not a time for us to fall into pride.  Sometimes we fall more into this trap more than the other.  Think of all of the prayers you’ve prayed at the beginning of a meal that are out of repetition or habit that have no breath of God’s Spirit. 

How many times have you said, “I’ve been praying and living in [this way or that way], why did God let this happen to me?” “I’ve lived as a good Christian, why couldn’t you do this one for me God?”  We are praying as a spell.  We are praying with the expectation that God is obliged to act.  This is even happens when we rush people into the “salvation prayer.”  Just saying words will not save.  This is the type of vain prayer that the pagans pray.  “If I pray this or that way then the all force must act.”  We must be careful because we as Christians should be praying differently. 

In both of these prayers the people are praying for their own benefit.  They are praying for what God will do for them or what other people will do for them. They do not pray with God as one who has a relationship with God.

3) The Forgiven child
The forgiven child understand that they belong to a new family, not by anything they have done but because of what God did for them.  We do not pray as one who prays to the crowd, or an unknown force, we pray as one speaking to our heavenly Father.  We don’t need anyone to know that we are praying except the Father.  We can pray in secret to God, because we know our relationship with him is an intimate one. 

In the darkness of night we talk to our heavenly Father knowing he is there.  Hannah wakes me up in the middle of the night because she know that I am her father, and that I long to give her good things, even small things like a glass of water.  We long to steal time away and alone with our Father.  We want to be with him, so we seek him in the secret place just to enjoy our time with him. 

We pray with confidence.  The problem with magic spells is that you never know if they are going to work.  We never know if the moon was in the right spot the words were spoken with the right intonation and we don’t know if the spirits (little ‘s’) even heard us.  But, when you speak to your heavenly Father you have confidence that he hears you. 

He hears your prayers and wants to hear your prayers.  What is better not only does he know your prayers but he also know what you’re going to ask before you ask.  Not only does He know what you are going to ask but knows what you really need. 

Take Hannah for example.  I know that she is going to ask for Daniel tiger after naps.  She is going to really want Daniel Tiger.  But I, as her father, know that she needs to play outside with someone, and enjoy the beauty of the Pine Creek.  She has confidence that she can ask for Daniel Tiger because I am her Father and if say, “no,” it is to give her something better, time with her father by the creek. 

It is the same way with us.  We lift up our desires to God knowing that he knows the good things that he wants to give us.  When we pray for something that he would not have for us he is not going to be spiteful. He is going to give us something better, more of himself.  The more time you spend with your heavenly Father the more confidence you will have to ask for more of him.  The more time we spend with the Father the more we long for him and the more of him we get. 

A forgiven child prays as a child who is forgiven.  The forgiven child was once an enemy and is now a beloved member of the family.  When we pray we are not praying to the ambiguous force that is present.  We do not pray as one making themselves popular before a crowd.  We pray as children who know and have confidence that their Father will hear them.  We pray as children who know their Father dearly loves them. 

In this relationship will have confidence. Even if the request is not answered according to our desires, it will be answered for my greatest good, because it will be answered in a way that draws me closer to the Father.  

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