Deuteronomy 6:1-9, I Thessalonians 5:12-28
August 17, 2008
Near the end of my message last week, I said something I hope you caught. I said that there are times when I feel anxiety or worry. And it is at those times that I realize (sometimes in hindsight) that I’ve forgotten the power of prayer. It’s at those times I realize that I’ve not been talking much with God, and I’ve let that relationship “slip.”
If you feel like that. If you feel like “Prayer doesn’t work,” the first thing I’ll ask you is, “how often do you do it?” If you don’t spend much time at it, you can’t expect to get the benefit from it? Again, we’re not talking about a “formula of prayer.” We’re not talking about quantity vs. quality, or “the extent of time put in” in order to “reap certain rewards” or to “achieve certain ends.” We’re simply talking about time spent in the healing, renewing, fulfilling presence of God!
Let me ask it this way. In your day to day life, do you spend more time “in touch” with God, or more time “out of touch” with God? What do you think? What’s the percentage? Are you in touch with God half of the day? More than half? Less than half? Ten percent? Five percent? I think Paul is telling us that we need to be spending more of our time “in touch” with God than not.
Just imagine if, out of the waking hours of your day, you spent more of those hours in conscious awareness of and conversation with God, how much different would your life be? That’s part of what we mean by “consistent prayer.” And that’s where the power lies in prayer! The power is in that relationship – the everyday, ongoing, regular conversation with God. When we do that, we can have that power in our lives.
In our passage from I Thessalonians, Paul told the church, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances…” That doesn’t sound like something we do occasionally or intermittently, does it? “Always, constantly, in all circumstances…” How many of us conduct our faith in those terms? And that doesn’t mean continually speaking with (or “speaking at”) God! It means “time spent with.” It means time “in connection with” God. It means an awareness of God, consciously thinking about God and our relationship. And we can do that!
Notice what he says next. “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” A lot of people have said they’d like to know how to find God’s will for their lives. Well, here’s a good place to start. This is an easy thing that’s plain, up front, and straight out of the scriptures! The will of God for you is that you rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances! That’s God’s will for your life! And the great thing is, if you start there, the rest of God’s will for you will be more readily discovered!
Now, I know what some would say here. They would say, “In my relationship with God, I strive for quality, not quantity.” Well, that reminds me of the story I once heard of the guy who went in a high class restaurant and said to the waiter, “I want to have the absolute best steak money can buy. Don’t even tell me the price, just bring me the steak.” And after a while the waiter came back with a plate. And in the middle of the plate there was a tiny round steak less than an inch in diameter. One bite, and it would be gone! The man said to the waiter, “What’s this?!” The waiter said, “Sir, it’s what you asked for. That is the absolute very best steak money can buy. You won’t find a better cut of meat anywhere!”
I think you get the point. In any relationship, quality is important. But it’s not the only thing. But people want to make it that. They don’t want to put much time into relationships. They say quality rather than quantity in their families and their families suffer. They say it about marriages and marriages suffer. And when they say it about their relationship with God, that relationship suffers in the very same way!
The power of prayer in our lives is about consistency! And again, this is just about talking or asking for things. That’s all some people think about prayer. And they think that if you ask in the right way, or if you ask enough, God will grant your request. That’s the formula thing, again. Jesus told the parable about the parable who kept praying “relentlessly.” (Luke 18:1-8) In that story, the judge vindicated the woman because she was “wearing him out with asking.” And there’s something to that. But the real power is not found in formulas or even relentless asking of God, but in consistent interaction with God.
God wants to be in our lives. He wants to be our friend. And what friendship could last the way that some people conduct their relationship with God. Think about that. Some people’s relationship with God is “formal” only. It’s “impersonal.” It’s once a week at best. And it’s one sided. What friendship could last on those terms? Imagine if someone treated you in a relationship like that! Maybe you know someone who does. They’re only ever interested in talking about their own needs and problems, and you can never get a word in edgewise in any conversation! Do we do that with God? (I think we’ll all have to admit we do!)
Prayer is not always talking. And that’s good, because, I know that part of what puts people off about this business of praying constantly is not knowing what to say. People think “Oh boy! How am I going to talk that long? How am I going to stay that long with my head bowed and my eyes closed, thinking of things to pray about?” And “If I do that, I won’t have time to do the things I already need to do!” That all sounds tiring, doesn’t it? But prayer’s not supposed to be tiring!
Of course we all probably do need more time in focused concentration, with our eyes closed and our heads bowed. We all need more time where we go into our “closet,” or whatever “secret place” we have. And that’s all good. But that’s not all there is. The consistency of prayer also means being with God whatever we’re doing! It’s not a matter of doing less of all those other things we have to do, it’s just a matter of including God in them – in our minds, in our consciousness. And that’s the power. And when we do that, we’ll have a better perspective on all those other things. We might even be led in prayer to let some of them go!
I’d like to see us all grow this way in our prayer life. I’d like to see us all spend more of our day in connection with God. And not constantly talking, but being aware, being conscious of, and listening to God. I encourage you to do that this week. Spend time making a conscious effort to keep God in your conscious thoughts. Treat him as though you’re sharing with him whatever you’re doing, whether it’s working, resting, walking, or watching the Olympics! Talk with him as though he is a friend beside you – out loud, in your head, or whatever. Then at the end of the week, evaluate what that effort has done for you.
I think you’re going to find that it’s a good thing. And you’re going to want to do that more! Having that greater awareness of God throughout the day makes for a better way of living! And remember our Deuteronomy reading. It was one of the most important passages in the Old Testament. How often were the people to talk of the things of God. All the time! “When you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.” That’s’ the same idea with consistent prayer! Talk with God at all those times, too.
In a Youth Group I was in years ago, we used to have one of these ongoing discussions about prayer. And the cliché example they often used was, “can we pray in the lunch line at school.” And I’m not talking about “O Lord, please don’t let it be hot dogs again!” The idea was, could God be that much a part of our lives?
By the way, it’s becoming easier in one respect to talk with God in public! Now that we have wireless headsets for our cell phones there are all sorts of people walking around talking out loud – seemingly to themselves. So if you’re better able to talk with God out loud, just put your hand up to your ear every once in a while, like you’re adjusting your headset!! People will leave you alone!
The constant message of the Bible is that God wants to be that much a part of our lives! But too often we push him out. At best, we treat him like he’s a friend that we don’t spend much time with, and don’t get around to calling much any more. Yes, we honor the friendship, we celebrate the milestones, we get together on special occasions, but the everyday-ness of the friendship is lost.
We need to get back the “everyday-ness” of God. And by the way, it goes without saying here that it’s great if you have that! Hopefully, for some of you, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. But I also know that we all have times when we lose that everyday-ness with God. That’s easy to do!
I hope in all this we will become more aware of God’s presence. Because he is always with us! Sometimes we just fool ourselves into thinking he’s not, because we’re uncomfortable with the “intrusiveness” in our lives, or so we don’t have to worry about what he might think of us. Well, like the psalmist said in our reading from last week, there is nowhere we can go away from God’s presence. And we should always be concerned about what he might think of us!
So, the power of prayer is peace. And now the power of prayer is consistency. And I encourage you in the coming week, to make prayer consistent. I encourage you to have those times when you concentrate on prayer, but also to think of all of your time as being in God’s presence and being aware of him. Share your life with him. Walk beside him and know he’s walking beside you. Talk as you would talk to a friend in the room with you. And remember these words of Paul. “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Eternal and ever present God, make us aware of you in our lives each day. Help us to know of your spirit walking beside us, guiding us, comforting us, uplifting us, teaching us, and connecting with us in ways we can’t begin to fathom. Through our constant interaction with you, help us to know the joy of your kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.