April 3, 2017

Praying with a submissive heart

Yesterday, a young pastor man said that his father taught him to begin each day with this prayer: “I want what You want for me this day.” Wise father — and wise son who took his father’s advice to heart.

Not too long ago, I realized that much of my praying was telling God a problem and then telling Him what to do about it. This fits the rebuke from Solomon, a very wise man:

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

In today’s devotional, Fortner says, “I would do nothing to discourage either public or private prayer. Indeed, we ought all to pray more. But in the act of prayer, we should consider who we are and to whom we are speaking. If we would, I am sure that our prayers would be more earnest, more reverent, more sincere and more effectual.”

The sense of ‘wanting to do it right’ is almost always with those who pray. I’ve experienced it in prayer sessions where others use King James language full of thee’s and thou’s that make me feel as if I do not know how to pray properly. Not only that, it’s easy to slip into a prayer pattern where I say the words but am pondering what to cook for supper at the same time. I understand why the disciples, after hearing Jesus pray, said, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:1–13)

That word impudence is translated in other ways such as persistence or insolence, but one of my Greek dictionaries says it means: a lack of sensitivity to what is proper. For many ‘prayer warriors’ this is a good definition. Prayer is about seeking the will of God without any concern about being ‘proper’ in wording or attitude. It is like the child at a formal dinner party who runs up to his dad, the host, and yanks on his tuxedo tails with, “My ball rolled under the banquet table” fully expecting Daddy to fix the problem.

My Father knows much more than I know about those needs on my prayer list. Most of the time, telling God what to do is impertinence. He does not need my ideas or suggestions. I come to Him because He is my Father; He knows what to do. Because His ways are loftier than mine, His answers will surprise me. I cannot second-guess the Almighty.

The morning prayer of that young man is clear: seek the will of God and submit to it. Come with “Thy will be done” as an expression of total submission. So often I’ve prayed that God will fix the problem or save the sinners on my list, but what is God’s will in each burden?

Jesus, I know that You are not interested in eloquent words. You want me to talk to You with a trusting heart that is humble, submissive and filled with faith and worship. As today’s reading says, my words might be fewer, but my prayers with be more effectual. Keep teaching me how to express my heart to You in an attitude of total trust.

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