There isn't anything new in what I have to say, but I do see life from an unique perspective. As my body is shutting down, my soul is opening up to a greater and greater relationship with Christ. I am sharing the things I learn as I go through my trials so that those who read what I write will be encouraged in their own walks by how gracious God has been to me in mine. Ask me questiions, dispute my views and most of all pray for me.
I woke up this morning and lay in my bed talking to God. It wasn’t anything special. There was no major tragedy in my life requiring immediate and anxious contact with the Creator of the universe. I just woke up and felt like praising God, telling Him how important He is to me. I poured out all the worship in my heart to the One Who made all that is good in my life better and made all that was bad in my life less. I didn’t worship Him and praise Him because of anything specific He had done or for anything He had done at all. I was honoring Him for being the only eternal being, the only eternally holy being, the One who never was or will be but always is. Unbound by time He exists outside of time. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all now to God. Because of Who He is, I worshiped Him.
When did this happen? When did I realize this truth about God to the extent that my first thought in the morning is to worship Him? When did prayer become such a natural expression of who I am? I’m not sure I can answer those questions fully. I have talked to others about it. The ones who really understood what I was talking about felt that it just sneaks up on you. Little by little, as you come to know God better and better, the desire to simply worship Him becomes second nature and prayer becomes automatic, but I am not so sure that really describes it. I think it is subtle, but it is specific. It doesn’t just happen as you go. If it did, I would have been praying this way thirty years ago. There has to have been a very specific process involved, but what was it?
First we need to start at the beginning by answering the question, “What is a Christian?” I know nearly everyone reading this is certain they know the answer to that question, because this is being posted on my Christian website or it is being read by those I have directly e-mailed it to. Therefore most of you are or believe yourselves to be Christian. Since you believe yourselves to be Christians, you define Christianity based on your beliefs. Let’s all be sure we are on the same page and take a very short look at what constitutes a Christian before addressing how we get from there to the kind of prayer life I am describing.
Many people in the United States believe they are Christians because their parents were Christians, they grew up going to church on Sunday or they’re simply not Jewish so they must be Christian. I don’t believe that is the case with any of you. If it is – you’re wrong! You also are not a Christina just because you went to a church and went up front in response to an alter call. Something had to have happened inside you during that alter call, the same something that can happen without an alter call. Let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that might more clearly define things for us.
Jesus said that people are Christians if they believe in Him. (John 6:29) Jesus also indicated that those who believed would hear His voice and follow Him only. (John 10:27-28) Part of the process of following Jesus is to repent, that is regret your ways and change them. (Luke 13:5) Repentance is a fancy word that simply means recognizing the wrongness of what you have done or are doing and changing direction, doing the opposite. It means to turn from your sins and go in the opposite direction toward righteousness. Jesus also indicated what kind of commitment one must make to be considered His disciple:“Then He said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?’” (Luke 9:23-25)
So Jesus made it clear that a casual confession of “faith” isn’t going to cut it. People who really believe in Jesus will follow Him and seek to imitate Him as their ultimate purpose in life. They may slip and they may fail, but they will keep on going; striving to change and be more like Christ each day of their lives. Now that we have a clear understanding of what is meant by being a Christian we can logically pursue the original question.
My very first prayer was most like the prayers I pray today. It was very informal without any verbal signs of respect or honor. However, it was straight from my heart. “God, I don’t know if You are real. These people say You are and they say that Jesus is Your Son. If You are real, please help me.” No fancy accouterments just simple, straight and direct from heart pleading is how you must describe such a prayer. To me the most important part about that prayer is that He heard me and He did help me. Once I experienced His healing touch upon my spirit, I was motivated to honor this incredible and indefinable being we call God. My prayer life reflected that.
As I came to know God better, my respect for Him and my desire to honor Him grew. My prayers were filled with complimentary and honorific phrases like, “O, powerful and almighty God,” “master of my life,” Holy Father God,” “My Lord almighty,” “Creator of all that is,” and “My King, my Lord, my God.” I was truly humbled before His magnificence and wanted Him to hear how much I respected and honored Him. My prayers became very formal. I would open by giving grandiose praise to the Being who is alone worthy of praise. I formally and specifically requested forgiveness for those sins I could remember. I thanked Him for answering my prayers of the past. Finally, I made requests. My requests were the shortest part of my prayers because I was almost ashamed to ask anything of God as I did not believe I deserved His help.
In the beginning my prayer life was sporadic. I had no specific times to pray and sometimes I think I did not pray at all. I know I went through a period when the only time I prayed was when I needed something or thought I did, from God. I had my “God is my butler” period. I am still very ashamed of that time. As long as things were going well there was no need for prayer, except perhaps grace over meals and even that might not occur in a restaurant. In fact, the less I prayed it seemed the less I would pray in the future. Even as my demands on God grew, my worship of Him decreased, although I would not have described it that way. My prayer life eventually became all about me instead of all about Him.
I cannot point to some sudden transformation that changed all that. At some point I began to mourn. My heart was grieving over the loss of intimacy with my Savior. Little by little I began coming to God just to come to Him. I simply wanted to spend time with Him. I am not sure if I understood that was what I was doing at the time. I only knew there was a longing in me that could not be satisfied any other way. It is important for those of you who know me to understand that this was happening before I became disabled. I wasn’t being drawn to God because of something I needed physically. This wasn’t an offshoot of God the butler turning into God the doctor, although in a sense I was looking for healing without knowing that. This was so much more important than that and yet, so much more subtle.
This is why it was important to establish what Christian means. I was truly a Christian. I had made God the ultimate purpose in my life. When I began to shortchange God, I was shortchanging myself as well. When I began abusing God’s grace, I also began starving myself of the very spiritual food I needed and had begun to eat with that first simple prayer I had prayed so long ago. As I drew closer to God my life changed in ways that worldly fiction and prosperity gospel evangelists would not expect. It was more like this simple, anonymous poem:
He was a Christian and he prayed,
He asked for strength that he might do great things,
But he was given infirmity to do better things.
He asked for riches that he might be happy;
He was given poverty to make him wise.
He asked for power that he might have the praise of men;
He was given weakness that he might feel the power of God.
He asked for all things that he might enjoy life;
He was given new life that he might enjoy all things.
He received nothing he asked for;
But all that he hoped for.
His prayers were answered.
You may call him blessed.
When I stopped being concerned about the answers to my prayers, it seems the answers I received drew me closer to Him. I became confident in God’s willingness and generosity to care for all my needs. You would think that this where my prayer life changed to what it is today, but that is not so. I still had one more impediment to my constant discourse with God. You see I was confident in God’s caring for my needs, but for some surely stupid reason I did not have the same confidence when it came to my family.
As I grew ill and it became apparent that I would have to stop working, I began to worry about how my family would be cared for. I had been the sole bread winner and my wife, Rhonda, had been the stay at home mom. I could not be the stay at home dad because there were times when I needed more care than the kids did. I was struggling with my own loss of identity as husband, father and bread winner. I was anxious about how this would affect my children and their very special needs. It was not long before God let me know in very clear terms that He had matters under control and I should trust Him to care for my family as much as I trusted Him to care for me. That’s when He really started teaching me how to pray.
What is prayer? Is it formal adoration of our great and distant God? After all, God is untouchable and unknowable. He is greater than we could ever comprehend. Doesn’t it make sense that those characteristics alone create the distance between us and God. Although Christ’s sacrifice opens the door for communication with God, there must be a great formality between the servants and the King, mustn’t there?
I can understand why this argument makes sense and there are times when it does seem appropriate for me to honor God with formality. He is my king and deserves even greater obeisance than any earthly king. As such, there are times when I truly “eat the carpet” as I humble myself before the great and only God and King. There are times when I pray that I can imagine myself bowing before my Lord as Hi sits upon a pure golden throne in the midst of a great and magnificent reception chamber and throne room. I can hear the trumpets blare and the chorus of angels crying “Hosanna to the King!” Yes, there are truly times for such formality, but not all prayer needs to be so.
God the King is the God I must have because it is true that He is King. I do not mean I must have Him that way as meaning that it is a requirement of some kind. I mean that without God as King in my life there would be something missing. When I was king of my life, or so I thought, I screwed everything up. I was really making Satan my king although he disguised himself as the world or even as me at times. I must have a king to control my life. I choose the One Who will control my life for the good. The reality is that He is King and in the end all will bow to Him. I would rather bow now in hope than bow later in dejection and shame. Having said all that, let me say one more thing. The God I need most is my Father.
It is my Father with whom I converse most often. When I was growing up my earthly father and I did not get along at all. In fact, he had no choice but to throw me out of his house when I was just shy of my eighteenth birthday. Interestingly enough as I got older our relationship changed. As men my Dad and I had a more intimate and powerful relationship than we ever did as father and son alone. I am not denigrating the need for a good father son relationship by any means. As a father myself, I have improved upon the father role in that relationship and hopefully given my children opportunity to avoid the role I played as selfish and recalcitrant son. In fact the importance of that relationship is best expressed by our relationship that can be with God.
God as Father is guide, adviser, prophet, comforter, encourager, confidant and most important of all – loving parent. We all need that loving parent. Some have a loving parent in this world who provides a foretaste of the Loving Parent that is God. Some do not have that representative and their need for God the Father is even greater because they likely don’t recognize the need as much. We all need God as Father. He knows that and in His great love He lets us know that His love through Christ Jesus means we are adopted as His children, brothers and sisters of the first born Jesus as well as sons and daughters of the great King. As children of the King, formality is the smallest portion of our relationship to Him. To fully comprehend our relationship with God as a result of the work of Christ Jesus we must go beyond the formality and spend some time with Dad.
The time I spend with Dad is the most productive. It is there where my spirit soars and my knowledge grows. Whenever I share what I am doing with the Father, whatever it is becomes a time of spiritual learning as well. He enables me to see beyond the mundane actions of this world into the spiritual effects on my life and the lives of others. I become astounded at what God shows me happening in my life and in the lives of others. My faith becomes more sure. My confidence in Him more secure. My hope for tomorrow becomes more eternal. My awareness of His presence be comes more consistent and my interaction with Him more constant.
“Good morning, Lord. Thank you for letting me awake to this new day and I hop I will spend it honoring You and glorifying You and ways that are pleasing to You. By the way, thanks for last night. Letting Rhonda and I have time together to just talk and share what is going on with our family was a greater blessing than either of us could have imagined. Wow! You really have quite the relationship with her. Hearing her talk about what it is like for her to talk with You fills me with such joy I can’t describe. The simplicity of her faith and prayers teaches me more and more what You have been trying to get me to see for decades. You are not far away. You are right here. I don’t need to shout or put on my fancy dress up clothing. I just need to say hello to begin a conversation that can last all day if I choose. Well, it’s time to get up and get going. You know the best part about brushing my teeth? I don’t have to stop talking to You while I do it. I can tell already this is going to be a great day…”
That is a little stiffer than my conversations go. I talk to God these days in much the same way I might talk to any of you, except the part where I know He’s always right. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says we should pray continually, without ceasing in some translations. If He is always with me doesn’t it make sense that I should always be talking to Him and acknowledging His presence. If I went anywhere with one of you and spent the day in silence, wouldn’t you be offended or hurt? Why wouldn’t God feel the same way. Talking to Him all the time is just showing Him the same respect I would show a stranger. Once you start, it becomes a habit you cannot break.
I never intentionally began to pray unceasingly. As I have drawn closer to God over the years, it just made sense to talk to Him about what was on my mind while it was on my mind. Instead of praying for people on my prayer list only a certain time every day, I began to pray for them every time I thought about them. That’s about when I began praying about strangers I would see on the street. Then I began talking to God about what was going on around me and what I should do about it if anything. Before I knew it I was talking to God all the time. Even as I write this, there is a part of me talking to Him about what I am writing.
I don’t know if I have clearly answered the question I set out to answer. I hope I at least got part way there. I don’t mean that I have given up formal prayer entirely. I still set time aside for prayer and study. I pray with the men’s prayer group at church when I can. I pray with anyone anytime they want to if it’s possible. Of course I pray at church services. The key thing I guess I am trying to point out is that it is not only possible, it is easy, to pray unceasingly if by prayer you simply mean talking to God. I have come to enjoy talking to God so much that I can’t not talk to Him about anything and everything. How about you? This isn’t a contest. Where are you on your journey of discovery? How is your prayer life? Is there anything specifically I can pray about for you? Just let me know and I’ll take it right to my Dad. He always listens and He always has the best answers.