Life Is Short – Pray Hard!
I know you’ve seen the Nike commercial with the message: “Life is short—play hard.” But have you seen the T-shirt which is a twist on the Nike commercial? The T-shirt reads: “Life is short—pray hard.” Good advice.
A couple of weeks ago, an article appeared in the newspaper—you may have seen it—about a British yachtsman named Terry Bullinger whose yacht split apart in the Antarctic Ocean and capsized. A search team was sent out to locate the wreckage on the bottom of the ocean. Using a sensitive underwater microphone, they searched for five days before they found what was left of the yacht. The mic picked up a slight tapping sound. They sent a diver down. He tapped on the hull of the yacht and the tap came back. Evidently, there was an air pocket inside the sunken vessel, and Terry Bullinger was in there. Five days he spent in total darkness, diminishing air, and freezing water. He was frost-bitten, but he survived, and he was rescued. They asked him later where he found the hope to hang on for five days. He said: “I prayed hard and ate chocolate!” My kind of man! That’s my recommendation to you: pray hard and eat chocolate, and you can make it through just about anything! Good advice.
I spoke this last week at the Crystal Cathedral. With canceled flights, bad weather, and mechanical difficulties, it took me half of forever to get home. Good thing. If I hadn’t had so much extra time to read the newspaper, I might have missed the little article on Danny Abramowicz. He’s just been hired as the top assistant coach to Mike Ditka, the new coach of the New Orleans Saints. But let me tell you about Danny Abramowicz. If ever there was an example of what an individual can do with a little talent and a lot of prayer, Danny Abramowicz is it. He was labeled “too little, too short, and too slow” to ever be a professional football player. However, when the New Orleans Saints organized their team back in 1967, Abramowicz was the 35th player they chose. They didn’t even invite him to their spring mini-camp. They didn’t really take him seriously. But later that summer, when the head coach, Tom Fears, called him in to cut him from the team, Danny Abramowicz said: “I’m not leaving. You haven’t given me a chance to show you what I can do.” Fears was so surprised that he agreed to give Abramowicz a chance. Wise decision. Danny Abramowicz went on to become one of the greatest receivers in pro football history. All of that was impressive, but what caught my attention in the article was what Danny Abramowicz said when they asked him what was the highlight of his life. He never mentioned his football accomplishments. He said: “The highlight of my life was the morning seven years ago when I fell on my knees and asked God to change my life and give my life meaning.” He went on to say: “That morning I realized that I was an alcoholic. My life had become unmanageable and I was about to lose my wife, my family, and everything I counted as important. So I dropped on my knees and prayed: ‘God you’ve given me so much and I am about to wreck it all. I am an alcoholic and I need your help!'” Well, God heard that prayer and with the help of God, his family and Alcoholics Anonymous, Danny Abramowicz’s life was turned around.
Now Danny Abramowicz is no theologian, but inadvertently in his desperate prayer that morning, he actually included the four basic elements of prayer, the same four Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. In Luke 11, we are told that Jesus had been . His praying had such a dramatic and radiant impact on Him, that when the disciples saw what it did for Him, they wanted that too. So they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He then taught them what we call the Lord’s Prayer. This model prayer contains those four basic prayer ingredients: adoration—the celebration of God’s greatness; confession—the celebration of God’s mercy; thanksgiving—the celebration of God’s goodness, and supplication—the celebration of God’s power. Now if you take the first letters of those four key words—A,C,T,S—they spell “acts”. That makes it easy to remember the pattern for prayer. Call it “the ACTS of Prayer.” Pray in this pattern, and you will discover that prayer works. But let’s take it one at a time.
A—Adoration—the celebration of God’s greatness.
For some reason, the words of adoration and praise are difficult for most of us to express. We are so anxious to get to our own wants, needs and desires that we have trouble just celebrating God’s greatness. Of course, the psalmist and hymn-writers have always known how to celebrate God’s greatness, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth…O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things…Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love…O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made…” Beautiful expressions of adoration and praise.
But you may be thinking: “Wait a minute. I’m not a poet. I can’t speak like that.” You don’t have to. It’s not the words that count—it’s the spirit, the attitude. Some years ago, a young woman stood before Beethoven’s piano in a Vienna museum. Boldly she sat down and struck a few discordant notes. “I suppose”, she then said to the guide, “that many noted musicians have come to see this instrument.” The guide replied: “Why yes! In fact just recently Paderewski himself was here.” The young woman said: “Imagine that. Paderewski here at Beethoven’s piano. He must have played something wonderful.” The guide responded: “On the contrary, madam”, he said “he did not feel worthy to touch it.” A beautiful spirit of humility.
That’s what the adoration of God is all about—pausing to celebrate His greatness, not in arrogance or pompous pride or flowery language, but in genuine humility and simple words. That’s why we bow our heads and sometimes get on our knees to praise and adore God’s greatness in a spirit of humility. A—adoration.
C—confession—the celebration of God’s mercy.
For a number of years, Harry Emerson Fosdick was the pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City. Ordinarily, Dr. Fosdick preached from a manuscript, but one Sunday he decided to try preaching without notes. He made it through the introduction and the first point of the sermon, but then he went blank. He couldn’t remember the second point. Great preacher that he was, he transitioned beautifully into his third point, hoping as he preached, the second point would come to mind. No luck. He couldn’t remember it. So he stopped and he explained to the congregation what was happening. He said: “This morning I decided I would try to preach to you without notes, but I have to be honest with you and confess that I’ve gone blank, and I have forgotten one of those points.” Then he said: “Wait a minute. I just remembered it. Confession is good for the soul.”
Indeed it is. Confession is good for the soul, and our confession needs to be specific. We all sin. We all slip. We all fall short of God’s ideal, so when we speak to God, we need to call our sins by name. A lie is not a little fib—it’s a lie. Stealing is not redistributing the wealth—it’s stealing. Gossip is not harmless conversation—it’s crucifying people with words. Call it what it is—and lay it honestly before God. Then you will discover how God, in His mercy, is always ready to forgive. C—Confession.
T—Thanksgiving—the celebration of God’s goodness.
Winston Churchill once told the true story about a sailor who plunged into the bay to save the life of a little boy. Some days later, the sailor met the little boy and his mother on the streets of Plymouth. The mother said: “Are you the man who pulled my little boy out of the water?” Expecting some words of gratitude, the sailor smiled and said: “Yes, ma’am.” The mother asked with irritation: “Where’s his cap?” “Pardon me,” said the sailor. The woman snapped: “I said ‘Where’s his cap?’ You didn’t get his cap!”
Ingratitude is not a pretty sight, is it? But I wonder if we sometimes sound like that to God in our prayers. “Sure, Lord, you’ve done some good things for us, but where’s the cap? What have you done for us lately?” There’s nothing more beautiful than the attitude of gratitude. And frankly, I think nothing makes God happier than our expressions of thanksgiving for His abundant goodness to us. T—thanksgiving.
S—Supplication—the celebration of God’s power.
God loves us. God cares for us and about us, so we can bring to Him our supplications—our hopes, our dreams, our concerns, and our cares—and He is ready to use His power to accomplish great things in us and through us. As Charles Spurgeon once said: “Whenever God determines to do a good work, He sets His people to pray.”
The year: 30 A.D. The place: Jerusalem: The person: An untutored fisherman named Peter, preaching a sermon on the day when 3,000 were converted. The secret: People around Peter prayed. Acts 2 says they prayed for 10 days; Peter preached for 10 minutes; and 3,000 believed in Christ. Today churches pray 10 minutes, preach 10 days, and 3 people get saved.
The year: 1793. The place: India. The person: William Carey, a shoe repairman who believed that God was calling Him to India. In the face of great opposition, he labored there for 42 years, winning countless people to Christ and translating the Bible into 25 different Indian dialects. The secret: He had a crippled sister, bedridden—all she could do was pray, but everyday she prayed for William Carey.
The year: 1872. The place: London, England. The person: Dwight L. Moody, an obscure YMCA worker who took to the pulpit and in ten days, 400 new converts came to the church where he was preaching. The secret: In London, another bedridden girl, Marianne Adlard, had read a clipping about Moody’s ministry in Chicago, and prayed that God would send him to her church.
The year: 1934. The place: Charlotte, North Carolina. The person: Mordecai Ham, a traveling evangelist brought to Charlotte by a group of Presbyterians. Several businessmen, including a farmer named Graham spent a day out at the Graham farm praying that God would touch their city, their state, and their world. Little did they know, that Mr. Graham’s son, Billy, would be converted during those meetings, and the world would be changed.
The year: 1944. The place: Los Angeles. The person: Bill Bright, a young man who had no inclination to the faith and who had left Tulsa, Oklahoma and had come to Los Angeles to make his fortune in business. On the way he picked up a hitchhiker who introduced him to the man who introduced him to Jesus and the world has never been the same. The secret: Back in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bill Bright’s mother was praying that he might be safe and that he might believe.
The year: 1984. The place: Los Angeles again. The event: The Olympics. 1,600 churches came together to pray that God’s blessing would be upon the city during this time when the eyes of the world would be upon them, and they prayed around the clock during those two weeks. The results: 78 bodies a day, on average arrive at the L.A. city morgue, most of them victims of murder, but during those two weeks, of the Olympic games, no murders.
When we go to God in deep supplication, laying before Him our hopes and our concerns, His power is released in remarkable and transforming ways. Prayer works. Does it ever!
The T-shirt read: “Life is short—pray hard!” Good advice. Good advice, indeed.