WHY PRAY? WAR ROOM

Priest Mariusz Zajac of Carrot River, Saskatchewan had been fishing for hours on Tobin Lake, north of where he lives, with no success. Before packing it in he decided to jig a little more while reciting a prayer, It was then that he caught a world record setting walleye of 18.8 pounds, on January 4, 2005. Fellow fishermen now call him Father Walleye, and people have flocked to Tobin Lake to fish. Local business has improved. And since that time he has been inundated with requests for him to pray. A man living in Chicago who found out about it, called to ask for prayers for his cancer. And parishioners have brought fishing lures to his church on Sundays to have them blessed.

Is prayer such a ticket to success? Is prayer some kind of superstitious exercise – like owning a genie that pops out of a bottle and grants us our wish whenever we’ve been a good boy or girl? What is prayer? What role does prayer play in your life?

How we pray reveals a lot about our soul, just like how we spend money says so much about what we value. Our perspective on and practice of prayer speaks volumes about how we view God. It would be a worthwhile exercise for us right now to stop and have each of us write out how we view prayer – to express what we think prayer is.

And it would be an equally or even more revealing exercise to also share with others our practice of prayer. How often do we pray? How much time do we spend in prayer in a day (1 minute – 5 minutes – 30 minutes – one hour)? What kinds of things do we pray about? When do we pray? Do we have a quiet place for the purpose of prayer? As we shared most of us would likely feel somewhat inadequate. But in our sharing we would also learn from each other new ways of praying.

Generally the more we ask about prayer the more we realize that this part of our spiritual life has room for improvement. The disciples admitted their need to grow in the area of prayer when they came to Jesus with a request that he teach them how to pray. What likely created that desire was watching the Master pray. He often went to a certain place – a spot picked out for personal prayer. The disciples probably knew where to find Jesus when he wasn’t around. And it appears Jesus wasn’t to be bothered when he was praying, for the text says that “when he was finished” one of the disciples asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray?”

Why do Christians need to pray? The Christian cannot survive without it. It is like Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Our walk with God is meant to be one where we are continually aware of God’s presence. The Christian is a person who is free to communicate with God the concerns and joys of the moment. Prayer is something like having a co-worker or friend who is stationed beside you. In this case our companion is the Holy Spirit who functions as a Counsellor or Comforter we can consult with so we are able to keep in step with God. Prayer is the Spirit’s tool to keep us living in communion with God.

Prayer is first of all an act of worship – an expression of our adoration of God and thanking him for who he is. In the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, he gives us a pattern of praying that begins by paying attention to God. Jesus taught us to first pray that God’s name be hallowed, that His kingdom would come and that His will be done. Then he teaches us to come to God with our need for daily bread and God’s grace and protection. An attitude of gratitude is built into the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer.

And when we purge our soul before God and bathe our spirit in the cleansing grace of God, such freedom moves us into saying thank you to God for his goodness and mercy. Here we get to the heart of why we pray. We pray because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.

This is a prayer for spiritual renewal – for the Spirit to come and pour God’s grace into and fill us with Christ’s presence. This is a prayer for both personal and corporate renewal – even a prayer for revival. Do you think such prayer is necessary? Or do you think the church can just keep going along as we are? What is your assessment, is there too much apathy in the church, that is, are people taking God for granted and themselves too serious?

There are those who are quite satisfied to keep Christ’s church just as it is. Yet God’s desire is for the church to be alive and growing. God wants renewal, like happened at the time of the Reformation, and the Great Awakenings. And for such renewal to take place, we need to grasp how “God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.”

Renewal begins with a longing to pray – with a desire to live in fellowship with God! We pray because we want to know God and enjoy him forever. In prayer we ask God to come and feed us until we want no more. We ask God to take away whatever apathy has set in and to wake us from any spiritual sleepiness brought on by affluence or indifference.

We also pray because the only way to stay united with God is by faithfully listening for him – by opening our spirit up to his Spirit. We pray so our life can be centered on Christ. We persist in prayer because this is our lifeline – this is our pulse beat. Prayer puts and keeps us in sweet communion with God. When we pray we worship our Lord, thankful for his grace, confessing our sin and groaning inwardly for the Holy Spirit to fill us.

This is the message Jesus sends in the parable of Luke 11. In this story Jesus asks us to imagine that guests show up at our house late at night. This happened more frequently back then since they didn’t have phones or email to let people know they were coming. So when guests showed up late, especially in a culture where hospitality was critical to social wellbeing, people would be quick to take them in.

But what if you take your guests in knowing that when morning comes there is not a box of cereal or loaf of bread left to feed them? In that culture it was understood you would go over to your neighbor and bang on his door and ask if he could spare some food. And since in that warm climate the windows were open, the fellow might call out from his bedroom: “Hey, do you have to bother me now? We are all tucked in for the night. Couldn’t this wait until the morning?” But you are a very persistent fellow, so you explain how your guests came in late and you don’t want to send them away in the morning with little to eat, so couldn’t he please get up and give a bit of food.

So what do you think will happen? Will your good and friendly neighbor deny you? No, even if it is to get rid of your persistent knocking, he will grant your request. And so how do you think God will treat you when you come knocking on his door? Will he deny your needs? Not at all!

Jesus concludes:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Question is: what will we receive, find and enter into?)

Jesus goes on to supply the answer to our questions:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:9-13

The primary purpose of prayer – of our asking, seeking, knocking – is that we might receive the Holy Spirit. And if we, who are not so inclined to be kind are yet willing to help those in need, how much more will the Father help us in our spiritual need and freely give us his Spirit.

So why pray? We pray because prayer expresses our inner longing for God. We pray as a way to get God before we try to get things from God. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray in order to ask for the Spirit, for he is the breath of God re-creating life within. We pray to express our groan for God, who comes to all who seek him. Prayer is our life line. Without him, we die. With him, we live. As someone else said this week, “Prayer is the difference between trying to do everything yourself and doing it with God’s help.”