A number of little goodies have come together for this post:
- a discussion on prayer, and its purposes, initiated in this comment thread about this statement
an act that has been scientifically proven to be ineffective . . . "We know that prayer does not work--but medical science does." . . . we want to let America know that there are millions of us who know that praying is nothing more than talking to yourself. So on that day, we atheists will be engaging in action that we can prove scientifically has real-life impact on our fellow citizens . . . we hope will point out that there are alternatives to silently beseeching a deity to perform miracles.from an atheist organization's press release.
- During my tour on 5/15/07 I mentioned not only that comment thread above, but also pointed folks to "Praying, Being Heard, and Not Getting It" from Henry at the Participatory Bible Study Blog
- events in the church I have been involved in. Almost exactly a year into the plant of our church, one of our two founding, teaching pastors resigned after a "significant breach of trust" with our other teaching pastor - two folks who had been best friends and co-workers for years. I know nothing about the actual conversation (nor should I) but I found the other pastor's sermon on this event, and the way it was handled, one of the best examples of the handling of this type of inter-church conflict I have ever heard. Regretfully, it is no longer found online or I would link it for folks to learn from.
- This set of events had a positive influence on the church's next teaching series - Gripped focused on the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5:22; and how they give us strength from God to deal with the pressures life grips us (and our churches) with. It is obvious that the problems which gripped our pastor Paul in losing the other half of his teaching team (not to mention the conflict with his long-time friend) added to these messages
- Losing half of our teaching team temporarily led our pastor to seek some other resources to give him [and us :-)] a break
Part I of When You Pray
Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 "But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 5 "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.[I would have liked to have linked the video from Lake Pointe, but can only link the audio from Westport - my church]
While the point here is for the reader to listen to (and I wish look at) this teaching so you process the form, the style, and the teaching itself - I will at least cover the bullet points and some highlights here. The first interesting thing to me in verse five is the word hypocrite, or, in the Greek upokrite, was not a pejorative as it is now:
the hypocrite was a Greek actor who wore a very large mask with an exaggerated expression, and then they played a role . . . with exaggerated motions and exaggerated manners so that even those in the far corners could see the action on the stage. A hypocrite was nothing more than an actor playing a role to be seenThe flaw Jesus points out is not that they lack sincerity (although they may), but that their motive is "to be seen by men".
Wes looks at a number of practices that had crept into Jewish prayer life by the 1st century AD; and posits that the devout Jews Jesus criticizes here had put the cart before the horse and become more concerned about the form and structure of prayer rather than the "why" of prayer. Which is the question Wes wants to deal with at his church (and mine - and now with you): why should we pray?:
Honestly, what can we possibly tell God that He doesn’t already know? What can we bring to the Lord that He doesn’t already have? What is the purpose of presenting Him with requests, or informing Him of needs, that He is already aware of and He already cares about? . . . God does not need us to pray, but over and over again in His word He invites us to prayWes gives four major reasons we pray:
- Prayer teaches us to listen closely. We have all seen two actors on stage delivering their rehearsed lines to one another - they give the illusion of communication; but beneath the surface they are not truly listening to one another except to pick up their cues to recite their lines. In the same way, if we stand in the right place and recite the correct lines we can create the illusion of relationship. We can end up mindlessly regurgitating a stream of religious words, but leave no room for the voice of God in our lives. Listen to what Wes says about our tendency to fill the quiet with words, because we hate silence. We have to pause in our prayer, even if it makes us uncomfortable, in order to allow God to speak - prayer is about a relationship with God and not our own religious oration.
- Prayer helps us to see clearly. While the Jesus' hypocrite's eyes were turned to heaven, his attention is still locked on the earth and the things it has to offer along with the praise of men. Real prayer lifts us out of this world and re-orientates us to the cosmic reality and the supernatural nature of our lives. It provides us with a view from above as it lifts us out of the concerns that crowd in on us and distract us. Prayer helps us reorder our priorities because it helps us see reality clearly.
- Prayer helps us to depend daily. We can appear to be successful Christians - go to church, serve, give, speak right - without any empowering from God at all. It is so easy that we have lost touch with the supernatural nature of the lives we are supposed to live and the work we are called to do. Indeed, lack of sincere prayer is our declaration of independence from God. However, daily prayer is a daily reminder that we do need Him and that we cannot function well without Him.
- We pray because God is worthy to be sought This is the reason we pray above all other reasons.
In short, we pray because prayer changes us, alters us, and affects us. However, even if prayer didn’t promise us anything and we received absolutely no benefit or blessing from it - we would still be compelled to pray. Why?
[crossposted at Street Prophets]