You Are A Child Of God-Please Phone Home!
A wonderful little book graces the shelves of my library. It is called Children’s Letters To God. It’s filled with priceless examples of how children communicate with God. One of my favorites goes like this.
“Dear God, I like The Lord’s Prayer best of all. Did you have to write it a lot or did you get it right the first time? I have to write everything I ever write over again. Love, Lois.”
Well, Lois is exactly right. When Jesus prayed The Lord’s Prayer, He got it right the first time. Why? Because praying to Jesus was as natural as breathing. Do you remember the time when the disciples approached Jesus and said to Him: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” They had noticed that regularly He stole away from the press and pressure of His daily life to be alone with God in prayer–and they had observed what a tremendous difference it had made in His life. So they wanted to be persons of prayer, too, but they didn’t know how to go about it. That’s why they said: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” And how did Jesus respond? He prayed! He opened His mouth and said: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” The Lord’s Prayer.
Now some people believe that what Jesus was doing was giving the disciples a model prayer to follow, that He was giving them an outline or a format by which they could put together their prayers. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. You see, as I have wrestled with this passage of Scripture, I have come to believe that Jesus was not giving them a pattern or a model to follow. When they asked Him to teach them to pray, He simply prayed. He just opened His mouth and the words flowed as naturally as eating or sleeping or breathing. In other words, we don’t have to be taught how to pray. We don’t have to learn rules and regulations and procedures for praying. All we have to do is put ourselves in the quiet presence of God long enough to feel a deep, natural inner dialogue beginning to rise up in our souls. Then we shall fall into prayer as naturally as we fall in love or fall into bed at the end of a hard day’s work. I learned that from the prayer life of Jesus.
I learned, for example, that prayer must be personal.
When Jesus addressed God in prayer, He called Him “Abba, Father.” It was the most intimate and personal form of address possible. And, of course, by calling God “Father”, it meant that Jesus had instant, immediate access to the Father’s ear and the Father’s heart. A good and loving father is always anxious to hear anything his son or daughter has to say to him.
The Apostle Paul picks up that great truth and in his letter to the Galatians he writes: “You are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, God has set the spirit of His Son into your hearts, and that spirit leads you to call out ‘Abba, Father!”‘ What Paul is saying is that just as Jesus Christ addresses God as Father, so all of us who are in Christ may address God as Father as well. I like to put it this way: You are a child of God—please call home!
Two teenage girls were talking about prayer. One said: “Prayer hasn’t worked for me, so I’m not going to pray anymore.” To which the other girl said: “Poor God.” She’s right! Poor God. Have you ever thought about how God, our loving Father, must suffer as He watches His children stumble and fall through life, when all the while, He has His hand extended waiting for them to reach out and take hold? You parents—you know what it’s like to have some wonderful gift ready to give your children—maybe it’s even the gift of your love—and your children won’t receive it. You know what it’s like to give advice to your child about avoiding a particular difficulty, then you see them ignore the advice and plunge headlong into that very difficulty. You know what it’s like to have your children out on the highway or out late at night, and you’re worried sick, and you wished to God they would call home, but they never pick up the phone. The feelings that exist in your heart are the feelings that exist in the heart of God.
My beloved, never ever lose sight of the fact that you are of infinite value to God. In God’s eyes, you are worth more than all the gold and diamonds in South Africa’s mines, worth more than all the oil under Alaska’s North Slope or Arabia’s Persian Gulf, worth more than all of the trees that cover our hillsides, worth more than the sun and the moon and the planets and the stars. So if you are living right now on the edge of hell, if you are yielding to things which are far from what God would have you to do, still, no matter what you are or where you are in life, you are of such infinite worth to God that He let His own Son die for the love of you. That’s what Jesus was driving at when He said that even our tiniest prayer, whispered in our closet, is heard by God as if that single prayer were the only prayer in all the world for God to hear.
Prayer must always be personal. Jesus called God “Father”, and because He knew and loved God as His Father, He knew that He always had instant access to the Father’s ear and to the Father’s heart. In Christ, God is our Father as well. You are a child of God—please call home!
Then from the prayer life of Jesus I learned that prayer must be practical.
Jesus prayed over all the matters of His life, both large and small. He prayed before He selected His disciples. He prayed before He performed His miracles. He prayed when He sat down at the table for dinner. He prayed for His followers before He sent them out in ministry—and He prayed when they came back successful in their work. He prayed for the people who loved Him and He prayed for the people who hated Him. He prayed when He was on the mountaintop of joy; and he prayed when he was in the valley of despair. He prayed about the big things in life—and the little things as well. He prayed early in the morning. He prayed at mid-day. On one occasion at least we know that He prayed the whole night through. He prayed standing. He prayed kneeling. He prayed flat out, face down on the earth. He prayed looking upwards to the heavens. He prayed and He prayed and He prayed—and His praying was always practical. It worked.
Let me now offer some suggestions for making prayer a practical part of your everyday experience. I want you to begin by taking just ten minutes every day and devoting those minutes to the Lord. And I want you to spend those ten minutes at the right time and in the right place, and in the right position.
The right time. C. S. Lewis once said that no one in his right mind would have his prayer time at bedtime, because that’s the worst time for concentration. I suppose there is some truth to that. Many of us, by the time we do finally get to bed, are pretty well worn out. On the other hand, there are those who are not so alert in the mornings; they are slow getting going into the day. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter when it is as long as it is the right time for you. It needs to be a time when you are alert, a time when you can invest ten minutes without interruption. If you have small children, early in the morning isn’t going to work. Wait until the kids are playing or are at school then take your ten minutes. If you are in business and your hours start early, then maybe you can take ten minutes during your lunch hour. Find the time when you can take ten minutes for the Lord without interruption or distraction. It doesn’t matter when it is. There isn’t a right time—there’s only a right time for you. I must add though that for most great saints, the early part of the day has been right. That’s when people are most refreshed. That’s when somehow God’s Spirit seems to move with special power. I think it is no accident that Jesus regularly, long before the sun was up, went to prayer.
The right place. It needs to be a place that is quiet. If there are distractions and loud noises nearby, that’s not the right place. If there’s a telephone there, take it off the hook. Maybe it’s in your bedroom, maybe it’s at your office, maybe it’s out in a park someplace, maybe it’s in the chapel of this church. It doesn’t matter where it is as long as it is quiet, and as long as it is accessible. It needs to be a place where you can go repeatedly. It needs to be a place where God can move with special power in your life. That will never happen if you don’t have a place where you can go day after day, again and again and again, so that over a period of time that place becomes a place where you know the moment you step into it you are going to be encouraged to pray. Find the right place for yourself.
The right position. We tend to think that the best position for prayer is kneeling. I disagree. The best thing to do is to find a straight, upright chair, comfortable but too comfortable. Sit in the chair, back very straight, both feet on the floor, hands in your lap. Do you know that in that position, the organs in your body, including your brain, operate at maximum efficiency? That’s why I suggest this as the best position to assume.
I want to challenge you to take ten minutes everyday at the right time for you, in the right place for you, and in the right position—and I want you to invest those minutes in prayer to the Lord. I want you to see what the power of prayer can do when you practice it.
I have always admired the spiritual tenacity of our Presbyterian ancestor John Knox. He was a fiery leader whose heart’s desire was to preach the Gospel and minister to the needs of people. His efforts for Christ earned him the enmity of the ruthless Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox refused to be intimidated by her. One day, the Queen was in a rage against Knox and she demanded that he be brought to stand before her. The messenger dispatched to summon Knox feared for Knox’s life. He found the great preacher on his knees beside his bed, deep in prayer. The messenger said: “I have been ordered to bring you to the Queen.” Knox, rising from his knees, said: “Very well, let us go.” The messenger countered: “You don’t understand. She is preparing to condemn you to death by burning. Let me just report to her that I could not find you.” John Knox dusted off his knees, smiled and said: “Why should I be afraid of a few minutes with the queen when I have just spent my time with the King?”
Isn’t that great? You and I will never be intimidated by the circumstances we face in life if we spend a few minutes every day in the presence of King Jesus in prayer. It’s practical—and it works!
Then I learn from the prayer life of Jesus that prayer must be persistent.
There’s a story about a little boy who was watching a telephone repairman working up on the pole. Suddenly the youngster turned, ran into the house and told his mother that the man on the telephone pole was talking to heaven. His mother asked: “What makes you think that’s what he is doing?” The little boy replied: “Because he picked up a phone and he keeps saying ‘Hello! Hello! Good Lord, what’s going on up there?”‘ Sometimes we look at the things that happen in our world and that happen in our lives and we’re inclined to say: “Good Lord, what’s going on up there? Aren’t you hearing my prayers?”
Well, when Jesus says to us here in Matthew 6 that “When we pray to our Father, He will reward us”, that doesn’t mean that we can turn on the power of prayer like flipping on a light switch on the wall. The secret of Jesus’ power was the persistence of His praying. It is when we keep on praying no matter what and no matter what happens—it is then that we begin to experience the power of prayer. I don’t know why tragedy strikes in life. I don’t know why homes come apart and people hate each other. I don’t know why these things happen. But what I do know is this: God in Jesus Christ works in all things for good to those who love Him. That does not mean that all things are good. It only means that for those who love the Lord Jesus Christ, He will be working in all things to bring some good from them. That means we have to keep praying. We have to hang on to our faith. We have to keep on keeping on.
The great missionary, Adoniram Judson, near the end of his life, wrote these words: “I never sincerely prayed for anything but that it came—at some time, no matter how distant a day, somehow, in some shape, many times the last shape I would have imagined, it came.” That’s a beautiful affirmation. Then I remember how the great desire of Judson’s life was to go to India but he never got there because he was sent to Burma instead…how he prayed for his wife’s recovery from a dread disease and she died in his arms…how he was imprisoned and prayed for release yet he languished there in chains for months and months and months. After all that—all that—he wrote: “I never sincerely prayed for anything but that some time, some way, somehow, it came.” That’s what it means to keep on praying. Jesus Said: “Pray and do not lose heart.” Our praying must be persistent.
Do you know the name John Wooden? He is, by most accounts, the greatest basketball coach who has ever lived. But there is an even deeper dimension to John Wooden’s life which to my mind makes him greater still. He is a man of faith and a man of prayer. You catch a glimpse of that in a little poem he wrote after the death of Nell, his wife of 60 years. This is what he wrote:
The years have left their impact on my hands and on my face, Erect no longer is my walk and slower is my pace
But there is no fear within my heart because I’m growing old, I only wish I had more time to better serve my Lord.
When I’ve gone to God in prayer, He’s brought me inner peace And soon my cares and worries and other problems cease.
He’s helped me in so many ways, and He’s never let me down, So why should I fear the future, when soon I’ll be near His crown?
Though I know down here my time is short, there is endless time up there,
And He will forgive me and keep me ever in His loving care.
John Wooden discovered what Jesus discovered long years ago: a source of power and strength which can help them to live an incredible life. You can know the same strength and the same power. So why don’t you try prayer in your life? Why don’t you say: “Lord Jesus Christ, teach me to pray”?
If you do, He will…