January 12, 2017

Prayer is indecent exposure

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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.” (Matthew 6:5–6)

Today’s devotional reading is about the heart. This is what God looks at when I pray. The reading ends with these words, which I have personalized:

What I am in prayer before God, I truly am. My faith in Christ, my sense of our sinfulness and weakness in the flesh, my dependence upon God’s providence and my reverence for God are all manifest by my attitude about prayer.

These words push me into a corner; I must admit that sometimes I don’t want to pray because it is hard work, or because I’ve sinned again and feel awful in asking forgiveness again, or because of a host of other reasons. Yet Donald Fortner is correct; my prayer life reveals who I am.

This week my prayer content includes praying for unsaved family and friends, for my Christian family and friends, but also for people I don’t know, people who are suffering. I pray for world leaders who have more on their backs than a fickle, sensation-seeking press. I’m at home, warm and safe, yet very aware of the sin-sick world out there and the need for God’s intervention. I say that because only God can produce lasting change.

Some folks seem to think we humans can make our world better. We had another movie star in our province this week pushing for environmental changes. Oddly enough, we have clean air and she comes from a city where the smog is often so thick that particles get in your mouth and eyes. Not only that, she flew here on an airplane which added more pollution to the atmosphere.

I shake my head. Not one of us or even all of us are powerful enough to change the world, either for good or bad. We can’t even change our own lives or heal our own blindness, and most of us have no idea what is wrong with us or think that anything is wrong. For these things I also pray.

Yet as I write this, I feel like I’m trying to justify lack of prayer. I can talk to God about everything; my sin, the needs in my life, the sins of others, the messes in the world, and pray with worship, even singing, with thankfulness and great emotion . . . yet it is still challenging to just get off my chair and pray. I know God hears. I know He is at work to answer, yet prayer is still a giant hurdle each day, even in my room with the door shut.

Fortner’s words suggest something I need to think about, for perhaps this reluctance to pray is more about not wanting to be so totally exposed to my all-seeing God. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, when I hear the voice of God calling me, I feel so unworthy that I want to run and hide. Yet the gospel says this is foolish. Because of Jesus, I can pray without ceasing . . .

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Lord Jesus, these are indeed needy times. How we need Your mercy. How we need Your grace that we might not only be forgiven for our various foolishnesses, but to have Your wisdom and the faith to rely on You to show us the way out of some of the messes we have created.

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