At Manly Life Church we are doing a little series on developing healthy spiritual habits that will see us flourish in life. An obvious one is developing our prayer life which I think is universally recognised as crucial to our spiritual health.
Some of us are absolute prayer warriors, literally storming the gates of heaven! I remember a friend in London who was a Proctologist. Despite being exhausted, she went to the early morning prayer meeting at church and then headed on to work. At the hospital she then had her staff meeting which she was leading with the other Doctors. She brought the meeting to order and then said, ‘lets pray’. She then launched a couple of lines into the prayer before she realised where she was. She sheepishly looked up, only to find most of the others in the room had their eyes closed and heads bowed… so what to do? She decided to plough on with the prayer, said amen and then got on with the meeting. Apparently no one ever said anything to her. Classic!
Others of us though don’t feel we have a particularly dynamic prayer life. We feel a bit more like this guy…
Well, when I came into my own faith in Jesus I had a pretty strong prayer life… I think it would be fair to say I felt like I was in constant conversation with God. But then like most people I have had my ups and downs… sometimes being driven to prayer and other times feeling a bit distant from God and focused on the wrong things. The reality is a lot of us feel distracted and undisciplined in our relationship with God.
So, what is your prayer life like?
Most statistics on things like this come out of the US, but would be reasonably similar in Australia. Research says 4 out of 5 people claim to have prayed in the last week. 41% say their prayers are answered often while only 1.5% said their prayers were never answered. 82% pray for the health or success of a family member when praying, 75% believe God can answer prayer for healing an incurable disease and finally 51% agreed that God doesn’t answer prayers to win sporting events…
Well to get our inspiration for praying, lets look to Jesus and his relationship with his Heavenly Father. I think what we are going to see is a model for the kind of prayer life that is going to see us flourish. What we are interested in is the imitation of Christ in our lives. So three things I notice about Jesus’ prayer life.
- The first thing I notice is how Jesus prioritizes time with his Father
Mark 1:35 tells us that very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. We see this again in Matthew 14 after he has fed the 5,000. . It says he went up on a mountainside to pray. In Luke 5 it tells us that the news about Jesus spread all the more so that people came to hear him and be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
So Jesus prioritised time with his Heavenly Father. He would go and be on his own and spend time in prayer… listening and conversing with his Dad. And I love the Gospel writers take the time to point this out. It is not just the stories of all the things Jesus could do… healing people, teaching with authority, showing compassion… It is an insight into what made him tick, and it was time alone with his Father.
So it poses the question for us. How are we at removing ourselves from the busyness of life to spend time with our God in prayer? You see so often we want the benefits of prayer without spending time in prayer. In the mornings when I swim I like to pray on the way over. Not on the way back, that is a race… but on the way over is time with God. Particularly as I swim past the castle, I get time to pray for our church and for you.
So Jesus prioritized time with his Father to pray, removing himself to quiet places. What about you?
- The second thing I notice is the closeness of this relationship.
One of the huge shifts from the OT to the NT is how people were to refer to God. In the OT the people of God were not to even use the name of God in their prayers, but when Jesus comes onto the scene he teaches the people of God to pray to their Father in Heaven. And Jesus calls God, ‘Father’, all through the Gospels. So this is not a distant, cold, methodical relationship. This is a relationship like between a father and son.
We see this in John 17 when Jesus prays, you can hear the intimacy of the relationship, and Jesus’ prayer to his Father is recorded. Vs 1 ‘Father the hour has come’, Vs 5 ‘Father glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’, Vs 10 ‘All I have is yours’, Vs 24 ‘Father, though the world does not know you, I know you.’
So again this prayer life of Jesus is one of knowing and being known. I am very blessed to have a wonderful relationship with my Dad and when I speak to him it is not like I am speaking to the Queen of England or a Headmaster. He is just Dad and I know how he will respond, I know what he is like, I know he is a good man, a faithful man. So this is what Jesus has with his Heavenly Father, he has been with him before the world began and although the world may not know him, Jesus knows him, his character and his faithfulness.
So like Jesus, as you develop your prayer life you will become close to your heavenly Father. That is one of the great gifts of Christian faith, God the creator, the one we sense is there, becomes known to us. And we get good through spending time with him at recognising his voice. So as you pray, have your bible open, reading, praying, asking God to speak.
- And that leads me to the third thing, Jesus does the Father’s work because he knows the Father’s will… and this only comes from the first two things… he spent time with his Father and he had incredible intimacy with the Father.
Check out this – John 5, so Jesus has just healed a man paralyzed for 38 years. He is bringing life everywhere he goes., forgiving sins, showing compassion and healing the sick. So he gives a little insight… The reason he can heal the paralysed man is he has spent time with the father and knows his voice. Vs 20 (he says) ‘The Father loves the Son and shows him all he does’, Vs 21 (he says) ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so, the Son gives life.’
So Jesus, loved by the Father has been shown what God does… but how? Because of the time he spends in prayer away from the crowds, because of the closeness of relationship he has with his Heavenly Dad. Jesus is wrapped up in the story of God renewing his creation, because the one he is in closest relationship with is the author of that story! Do you see what I am saying here? Because this is linked to you finding your purpose and wholeness. It is this alignment with God… like a train on the tracks, heading in the same direction.
You know some of the Christians I admire the most and who all of us should be striving to be like are like this. That conversation with God is always ongoing… ‘Dad, what are you up to?’ My wife Victoria is a bit like this… when she prays for people it is like she has read their emails… But it comes out of this place of listening to the Father’s voice through spending time with Him. She calls it her G time… and she is lost without it!
So how does this affect us as we head into 2015? Again, the presumption is that God wants us to flourish and that we want to flourish, that there are habits that we can develop that will see us come alive not only spiritually, but in every sphere of our lives. So what about prayer and our relationship with God?
Well it is time many of us grew up in our relationship with God. You see he has saved you because he loves you, but also because he wants to use you, and it is prayer that begins to change things… As you prioritise prayer, as you get to know your Heavenly Father, you will know his will. And that is when you will begin to flourish. That is when you will get in on his work of making all things new! You will know his will for restored relationships, a pure minds, concern for the weak and broken, having peace and joy!
You see, prayer cultivates your relationship with God and any relationship needs quality time… to the point you know what your partner is thinking… You see, how can we say God guide me? Or Your Will be done if we don’t read the scriptures, and spend time with God in prayer? But when that alignment with heavenly Father occurs, we get in, like Jesus, on the Fathers purposes for the world!