Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why Pray?

"Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
Luke 5:16

Closed eyes, bowed head and folded hands. This is the posture of prayer I learned as a child from my mother at bedtime . It's the posture depicted in the serene water-colored paintings of praying children hanging in childhood nurseries or Sunday school rooms. I never questioned why prayer had to look like that. It just did. I never questioned why I was taught to pray. "It's how we talk to God," was the only reason I needed.

Prayer has been part of the Judea-o-Christian faith from the time sin entered the world. Prior to that, Adam and Eve could speak face-to-face with God. In the gospels, even Jesus had to pray in order to talk to God, and he was his son.

So, why pray? I mean, besides it being the means of communication with God or just the thing to do because that's what we were taught as children, why do we pray?

Luke paid attention to Jesus' prayer habits. In Luke chapter five, Jesus' ministry was spreading. He spent long days with growing crowds of people teaching, preaching God's word, and healing the sick. I can imagine he felt pretty spent after days like that. Luke tells us in verse 16, "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."

What do you think Jesus prayed about in those times? What do you think he asked his Father for? Maybe he felt overwhelmed and needed encouragement to carry on his ministry. Maybe he was burdened by all the brokenness knowing full well the creation he spoke into existence was far from what it should be. Maybe he was looking for his Father to carry some of that burden. Maybe he just sat in silence, listening for the familiar words of his Father to feed and empower his spirit after an exhausting day.

The second reference to Jesus' prayer life is in Luke 6:12-13. "One of those days Jesus went out into the hills to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, who he designated as apostles..."

Here we see Jesus retreating, alone to talk with God about an important decision. It was one of the most important decisions in the history of the world-wide church as we know it today. Jesus needed to choose which of his disciples he could entrust to carry out his mission on earth once he was gone. Who could best carry out the Gospel, the good news to the rest of the world?

We know Jesus wrestled with this because he went away from the chaos of life and prayed all day and all night. He didn't throw up a quick prayer. He didn't go by his hunch. He didn't consider who liked him the most. He only chose those whose hearts were searched by God. He not only talked to God but he listened.

In our own lives and especially in the busyness of our ministries (in and out of church) how many of us retreat? How many of us specifically go to the lonely places (an empty room, a secluded spot in the woods, at the beach, wherever) to seek God's opinion and direction?

If we're honest, most of us would say we don't. I know we retreat away from the crowds. But, our retreating usually entails a large, flat screen T. V. or a good book. Or, if we do find ourselves completely alone, in a quiet room we fall asleep and our prayers become incoherent mumbles.

While all these forms of retreating are okay to rest the body and mind they're not effective prayer habits. There's no conscious communication, no give and take between us and God. We need to remind ourselves to take conscious steps toward God in silence, away from the din of activity and follow Jesus' example of prayer. "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray."

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