August 10, 2014

Speaking with God

Passage: Psalm 22, James 5:16

Prayer is speaking with God.

Prayer is more than speaking to or at God.

Prayer is more than listening to God.

Prayer is the back and forth of speaking with God.

Recently somebody phoned me and said,

“Zander, I’d like to speak with you.”

By that, I understood that

both of us were going to speak

and both of us were going to listen.

We were going to have a conversation.

That’s what prayer is - a conversation with God.

The Psalmists were good at speaking with God.

They not only told God of

their love,

their gratitude,

their hopes and fears,

they also blasted God in anger.

They had enough confidence in their relationship with  God that they knew they could express their

their rages,

their complaints,

their sorrows

to and with God.

Jesus, at the worst time in his life,

hung on the cross and complained,

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Those words were taken right from Psalm 22.

The psalm begins in fury and disillusionment,

but it ends in the assurance that

God is there with the psalmist.

Prayer is also about speaking honestly with God.

The trouble is that we’ve learned that

prayer is mainly asking God for things.

Prayer is far more than that.

Even the Bible can be misleading about prayer.

Matthew says,

“Whatever you ask for in prayer, with faith,

you will receive.”

Luke says,

“Ask, and it will be given you.”

Even Jesus is reported to have told a parable about

persistence in prayer: pray, pray, pray ...

and God will eventually give in.

The problem is that

all these verses are taken out of context.

Prayer doesn’t guarantee you’ll get whatever you want

The purpose of prayer is not to get what we want; the purpose of prayer is to connect with The One who is important above all others.

Some of us bargain with God when we’re in trouble:

“O God, get me out of this and I’ll go to

church every Sunday.”


“O God, save my wife from dying and I’ll

give the church $1,000.”


“O God, save me from cancer and I’ll

go into the ministry.”

Prayers asking for things on behalf of others are

“intercessory” prayers: we intercede with God.

Prayers asking for things on behalf of one’s self are

called “petitionary” prayers: we petition God.

These are the prayers we pray most of the time.

If God doesn’t answer our prayers, then

we figure we’re not good enough or that we’ve offended God somehow.

We can get that attitude right from the Bible.

In James 5:16 we read this:

“The prayer of the righteous

is powerful and effective.”

But what if my prayer is not effective?

What if I don’t get what I ask God to give me?

I must not be very powerful in prayer.

I must be ineffective as a Christian.

Some Christians speak about Prayer Warriors.

Prayer Warriors are Christians who

destroy evil just by praying.

Prayer Warriors are Christians who

heal the sick just by praying.

Prayer Warriors are Christians who

achieve great good just by praying.

Prayer Warriors are Christians who

manage to get God to do what they want.

I’m not a Prayer Warrior because I seldom get

what I want or what I think others need.

A minister’s wife was stricken with cancer.

The prognosis was that she’d live two years.

The minister summoned all his friends to pray for her.

He had many friends, so prayer groups sprang up

all over the place and begged for her health.

The minister’s wife didn’t die in two years.

She lived for seven years before she died.

The prayer groups began to think they were

pushing back the disease and her death.

They were Prayer Warriors fighting for God against

evil and they rejected the devil, Cancer.

I’m a minister and I can’t believe God works that way.

I can’t believe, that because of the prayers of many,

my wife would live longer than expected.

Suppose the wife of a beggar in Kingston had cancer.

Neither the beggar nor his wife believed in God.

There were no prayer groups supporting her.

She died in two years.

Did God say,

“I’m getting thousands of prayers for the wife

of the minister so I’ll give her five more years.

Nobody is praying for that beggar’s wife so

I’ll let her die in two years.”?

If God works that way, I want no part of God.

God doesn’t love ministers more than beggars.

God doesn’t answer strong prayers from thousands;

God doesn’t reject the feeble prayers of the few.

God loves us all equally and cannot be manipulated

by our prayers no matter how many powerful

Prayer Warriors are speaking with God.

In 1985 Hurricane Gloria attacked

the east coast of the United States.

Televangelist Pat Robertson prayed for God to

change the storm’s course to avoid hitting

his headquarters in Virginia.

The hurricane veered north and Robertson claimed

his prayers persuaded God to save his ministry.

Not only that, when the hurricane changed direction

that proved that God approved of Robertson’s

ministry, life and witness.

As somebody later said,

“Too bad for the folks on Long Island -

their homes were wiped out and many

died. They must have been punished.”

When Christians say,

“Just pray enough and God will provide,”

they’re not telling the truth.

In The First World War we prayed for

victory against the Germans.

But the Germans wore buckles, “Gott Mit Uns”

which means, “God is With Us.”

Nobody won that war; both sides lost that war.

Imagine this: the victims of an airplane crash arrive at

the pearly gates and God tells them,

“Sorry, I wanted to intervene but

not enough of you prayed for it.”

Imagine an airplane is caught in a terrible storm

but God reaches down and sets the plane

on the runway safely and says,

“It’s a good thing you all prayed.”

Neither of those pictures makes sense.

But we know that people who pray and are prayed for,

recover more quickly from diseases than

those who are not prayed for.

So pray for healing - not because you’ll always get well

but because it is possible you may connect with

the powers of healing.

Pray for safe travel - not because God will catch your

airplane, but so you’ll be prepared for whatever


Pray for an end to a drought, for a job, for your kids,

not because prayer controls weather,

not because you influence a future employer,

not because your kids are better than others,

but because prayer connects you to God.

Rain falls on the just and the unjust and we need

to relate to God who is there in joy and sorrow.

For God to be with us does not guarantee that

everything will turn out right for us.

For God to be with us does not mean

we’ll all be safe or protected.

For example, you go to work in a winter storm.

There are no customers so the boss sends you home.

The main roads are packed; no cars are moving;

you take a side road.

You skid into the ditch, roll over, unconscious.

You come to, but you can’t get out of your car.

You have no cell phone.

Nobody is expecting you home for hours.

You could freeze to death.

You pray for God to send somebody to rescue you.

God gets a gas station manager to put some chicken

soup in a thermos, jump into a tow truck and

drive down a deserted road in a blizzard

until he finds your car upside                                       down and snow covered.

He digs the car out, pulls you out, feeds you soup

and drives you home to your family.

Perhaps some people figure that’s how prayer works;

that’s not usually how prayer works.

On the other hand, somebody has pointed out that

what I’ve just described is a coincidence.

You took a back road; a tow truck took the same road.

You overturned; the tow truck driver saw you there.

You prayed and God responded by sending help.

You can’t help yourself; the truck driver helps you.

That sounds like coincidence.

True, but as Archbishop Temple said, when we stop praying the coincidences stop happening.

Is prayer only coincidence ... or is it more?

What is more likely to happen is this: because

God has a covenant relationship with us,

God will be with us no matter what.

When we find ourselves

upside down,

stuck in a blizzard,

God is with us.

It is very unlikely that a tow truck will rescue us.

But God stays with us and will stay with us -

until we’re found ... or until we die.

We’d like to think and hope, that if we’re good,

God will protect us and rescue us from

all difficulties.

But being in a relationship with God doesn’t put

a divine force field around us protecting us

from all harm.

Being in a relationship with God empowers us to

live life, no matter what happens to us.

We might figure that if God doesn’t answer

our prayers and doesn’t send us a tow truck

then there’s something wrong with us.

We wonder what we’ve done to

deserve such treatment.

We miss the deeper truth which is that God is with us.

That’s what we celebrate at Christmas -

Emmanuel, God with us.

Our problem is that most of us don’t see that.

We see the problem;

we see the sadness.

we see the injustice.

we see the chaos.

we see the failure.

That’s all we see.

We don’t see God with us.

I used to have several filters for my camera.

The filters would

cut through the haze,

enhance the colours,

deepen the contrasts.

The filters didn’t change the scene;

they changed my perception of the scene.

The filters of love, peace, and patience

can help us see the presence of God

in everyday experiences.

If we take the time to consider all that’s happening

at any one point, we’ll see God with us.

Many Jewish rabbis argue that study is prayer.

When they study they’re pondering things

that they consider of great import.

They look at the subject from every viewpoint.

There are no limits to the ways in which

they look at those items for study.

They keep looking until they see something of God.

They don’t expect to see or hear or feel or smell

God in the fullness of God; but they do expect

to experience something of God.

If that sounds too intellectual for you,

then consider this story by Teresa of Avila

in her book, “The Way of Perfection.”

There was a nun who could only pray vocal prayers.

She came to Sister Teresa in great distress saying

she didn’t know how to practice

mental prayer,


centering prayer.

The only way she could pray was to speak aloud.

When Sister Teresa asked her what vocal prayers

she used to speak with God she found out

the old nun was simply saying

The Lord’s Prayer over and over.

The Lord’s Prayer was given to us by Jesus

so we must not look down on that nun

for using it and only it.

A good prayer can be a single word, such as “Abba.”

Abba is the word for Father, or Daddy.

That word expresses the love God has for us,

it expresses the trust we have in God.

There is no such thing as a bad prayer.

Prayer is simply being open and honest with God.

All true prayer is with God.

I say that because I’ve heard ministers and leaders

using the most impressive language to express

their theology, their love, their joy,

to everybody else but God.

A newspaper reporter wrote that in a worship service      the minister delivered the most impressive

prayer ever presented to a Boston audience.

That’s the point - it was not a prayer to God;

it was a prayer presented to a Boston audience.

I know ministers who have trouble with having

to say the right kind of prayers.

They don’t want to pray to impress their people;

they want to pray with God.

They want to pray with God both

publicly and privately.

A minister friend of mine told me that

getting up early,

going apart from other people,

reading the Bible,

didn’t lead him to pray.

He decided that he had to meet God in the newspaper.

He was led to pray by

the headlines,

the editorials,

the reports of world events,

the obituaries,

the cartoons.

He felt he could share with God his concern for God’s

creation and for God’s people.

He didn’t pray against the Muslims, but for them.

He didn’t pray against criminals, but for them.

He didn’t pray against the government, but for it.

He did that because he knew God loved all those

people and issues and events.

There are many ways to connect with God.

It’s been said that there are only two questions that

really matter on the spiritual path.

The first is: Where am I?

The second is: What time is it?

There’s only one answer to each question:

“Here” and “Now.”

The only time in which we can encounter God

is here and now -

not in the future,

not in the past.

The purpose of prayer is to get back to the

friendship God offers us here and now.

Prayer is actually more than a conversation with God.

Prayer is being open to God.

God is there to be with us.

To be with God takes time, effort, openness.

And when we’re with God, then God changes us.

As one scholar remarked,

“Prayer is not about changing God. Prayer is

about being willing to let God change us.”

I stood on a huge cruise ship and watched a sailor in

the ship pull on a line attached to a dinghy.

I watched a man in the dinghy pull on the same line.

The ship didn’t move closer to the dinghy;

the dinghy moved closer to the ship.

The function of prayer is to attach ourselves to

God at work in our lives and to allow God to                         draw us closer to the divine.

God is always there for us and wants to talk with us

as we go through life.

Our conversation may not stop evil from assailing us;

it may not keep illness from attacking us;

it may not lead to success or victory.

But our prayers will remind us that

God will never leave us so we can always give

thanks to God no matter what.