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Cultivating the Spirit through the Life of Prayer: Lifestyle of Prayer

September 23, 2007

Ephesians 1:17-19; 6:1-8, 18

Since mid-July, we have been involved in a series of sermons, Cultivating the Spirit through the Life of Prayer. We are coming to the end of this series. Today and next Sunday will be the final two messages on this topic, messages that will be very practical in nature.

I want to begin the sermon by reading two brief passages of Scripture from Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

Ephesians 1:17-19:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Ephesians 6:18:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

The Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a walk with Jesus. It is a daily experience of having our Lord at our side, being with him in every circumstance. We can talk about the Christian life in many ways, but perhaps the words that the Apostle Paul uses here in Ephesians and in I Thessalonians and Colossians express what it means to live the Christian life accompanied by our Lord.

Paul says that we are to pray without ceasing. His words might sound like an impossible task. Why would we want to pray always? Why would anyone want to “pray on every occasion,” as the NIV puts it? Why would anyone want to pray without ceasing? Would that be like sleeping without ceasing? Would it mean that we would walk around in a trance, filled with an idea of the transcendent, living only in the eternal, never letting our feet quite touch the ground? Would it mean that we would be unaware of what is really going on in the world? No. Praying without ceasing simply means that we have an attitude of prayer, an attitude of being in relationship to God, on every occasion and in every circumstance. It is not an easy task. I am not asking you to do a major overhaul, a major life change. I am simply asking that you consider how you live. Become mindful that God is a part of your life, present in every circumstance. Doing so allows you to grow in the life of prayer.

No one is an expert on prayer, as far as I can tell. I have reminded you repeatedly in this series that we are all on a journey. We are all fellow travelers. I am very much a learner, too, when it comes to prayer. I am not here as one who has figured out everything and now wants to tell you about it. I simply live my life as you do, but I have learned some aspects about the life of prayer I want to share with you.

The Christian life is a life of faith. Prayer must be at the center of faith. Without prayer, we really have no faith. Without faith – though it may not be perfect – we really cannot have prayer. The two are intertwined. Prayer is at the heart of all that we do as Christians. Today, we will consider kinds of prayer and suggestions about how to include prayer in your life.

Beginning prayer is first. We are all beginners. The truth is that when we wake up in the morning, we begin a new day, living the life of prayer. Sometimes we might begin the day with a quiet time. We sit in a chair, open a Bible, and pray the Scriptures, a process called Lectio Divina. We may record our thoughts and reflections in a journal or on a pad. Not everybody does it that way.

One fellow was talking about his quiet time, and his friend asked, “When do you have this quiet time?” He answered, “Between five and six in the morning.” The friend laughed, “I am having my quiet time then, too, but my head is on the pillow and my eyes are closed. I am probably snoring.” Quiet time means different things to different people.

In the Native American religion, the Plains Indians, especially, would pitch their lodge or teepee so that the door opened to the east. When they first awoke in the morning, they stepped outside their lodge and greeted the rising sun, expressing their gratitude for a new day. In many ways, Christian prayer begins in the same way. We wake up, our feet hit the floor, and maybe we speak our first words to God. Lamentations 3:23 puts it well: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father. Morning by morning new mercies I see.” God’s mercies are new every morning. When we greet the day, we begin to experience His mercy immediately. Let me put it in cyber terms, computer terms, for you. Think of getting up in the morning and turning on your computer. First, you must log in. That is very much what we do in the life of prayer. We log in and begin a day of give-and-take, transmitting and receiving. We begin a day of prayer.

A second type of prayer is what we might call communion prayer. That type has nothing to do with the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. It involves being with God. Moses was with God as a friend is to a friend. God welcomes that kind of friendship. My prayer of communion usually occurs when I walk around in my yard. I simply greet the day by looking at the flowers, butterflies, and dragonflies or maybe by filling birdfeeders. Having a little bit of time in my garden is a wonderful way to experience communion. I have learned that in this time of communion, a kind of confiding occurs between the Lord and me. It is as if I share some private secrets with Him. I feel that sometimes He shares some private secrets with me, things He really wants me to do. Psalm 16:11 says, “And the joy we share as we tarry there, None has ever known.” It is a private time.

Another form that prayer takes is petition. I need help, the Lord’s help, with every conversation, every visit, every speaking opportunity, even menial tasks. Do not hesitate for one minute to ask the Lord for what you need. Ask Him for His help. That is the nature of petition.

Another form of prayer is intercession. A board in the office includes names of individuals who have critical, urgent, situations. They are facing surgery or other procedures, are grieving the death of a loved one, or are facing other immediate concerns. As long as those names appear on the board in the office, I pray for them. The names rotate. People who work in the emergency room at the hospital will tell you that only about one-third really have an emergency. The same is true about prayer. Some people have a real prayer emergency and need a concentrated time of prayer.
Some people tease me about my pocket file. I have a habit of carrying in my pocket a 3×5 card with the activities my day holds. All through the day, that card becomes a prayer list. We all live a life of interruption, and other events occur during the day cause pauses in my day. The sounds of a siren on a police car, a fire truck, or an ambulance in a hurry are calls to prayer. They signal that somebody is having an emergency. A hearse is a call to prayer. A moving van is a type of emergency vehicle. A moving family is in need. Let these vehicles be for us a call to prayer.

Others have an ongoing need for prayer. Our prayer list on Wednesday nights includes the names of people who need prayer for various reasons. If your name appears on that prayer list, I pray for you once a week. I hope other people pray for you, too. Somebody said to me not long ago, “Your prayer list must be incredibly long. I do not see how you have time to do anything else other than pray.” My list does include many people, but I do not pray for everyone every day.

This week, I was in a shopping area when I heard a mother yell at her child and then saw her slap the child. That is a call to prayer. That family is in distress. I did not intervene by saying something, but I did pray for that mother who was so stressed that she resorted to striking her child. I prayed for that child who now has to re-establish some trust. It is difficult to see that type of incident or to hear a husband and wife yelling at each other without feeling a call to prayer.

Another type of prayer is meditative prayer, which involves turning matters over in our minds. It is the creative side, the imaginative side of prayer. I could not prepare a sermon if I did not engage in meditative prayer. Some of you know that I have been going to the Healthy Hearts program at the Rehab Center but do not enjoy it at all. I find nothing enjoyable about walking around in a circle on a treadmill. I feel as though I am not making progress because I am not going anywhere. Riding a bicycle but going absolutely nowhere is not enjoyable to me either. I have found a way to redeem the time I spend in rehabilitation. I try to read something or have a Scripture in mind. I take something into that center that requires my concentration. While I am doing these mindless exercises, I concentrate on meditative prayer. This means that I am not much of a conversationalist with others around me. I am pretty much in a zone. If I run out of issues to meditate on, all I have to do is look at the people around me. I can pray for them. I have found a way to use this time. Maybe one day I will enjoy spending time doing these exercises, but that is hard for me to imagine.

Another form of prayer is what I call mobile praying, which you can do while driving an automobile. As you drive, let the sites call your attention to prayer: a struggling or closed business, one that has just opened, people walking on the street, people who seem to be homeless or helpless. Pay attention as you travel. Praying while walking is a wonderful activity. If I am in a neighborhood and pass a home of someone I know, even if it is the home of a deceased person, I take that opportunity to pray silently for the family. We sometimes participate in prayer walks where we walk in a particular area and pray specifically about something. During a prayer walk around the Riedman Building, we prayed that it would become available to us. During a walk around the Caine Company, we prayed that it would become available to us. Both became available.

We breathe some prayers. God gave us a wonderful gift, the breath of life. People who have difficulty breathing will tell you not to take that ability for granted. When we are experiencing stress, nothing helps quite like a deep, cleansing breath. You begin by exhaling down to the bottom of your lungs, pushing out all of that stale air. Then you inhale deeply, bringing in fresh air. As you exhale, you can breathe a prayer, perhaps about something that is very stressful in your life.

Some of our prayers are unformed, unclear to us. They are the deep yearnings of the human heart. Paul writes about these in Romans 8:26, saying that sometimes we do not know how to pray as we ought. He says we offer prayers to God that are unspoken, offering them in groans too deep for words. Eventually, these unformed prayers will become clarified. Let them bubble to the surface. You will then be able to put them in words. Welcome unformed prayers because they represent work that God’s Spirit is trying to do in your life.

Sometimes prayers must be written. I really enjoy keeping a journal, though I do not necessarily write in it every day. I make notes to myself, notes about events that have happened, notes about interesting encounters I have had. These written morsels, little tidbits, later become the grist for further prayer. I can clarify them later through the life of prayer.

Some prayers are musical. The song the choir sang, “Indescribable,” is an example of a musical prayer. Our own Laura Story Elvington, the daughter of Dr. Jim Story and his wife, Carol, was driving her automobile through the Smokey Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee when the words of that song came to her mind. She wrote that prayer about the majesty of God, the grandeur of God, as she traveled through those scenic mountains. Some of you may actually write a prayer like that.

I may have written one song in my entire life, but musical prayers often come to mind. I think of one hymn in particular quite often when I am preparing for a speaking engagement or for a sermon. The words are, “Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me.” At least one contemporary song by Steve Green often comes to mind. It, too, is a prayer: “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe and the lives we live inspire them to obey. May all who come behind us find us faithful.” That prayer simply asks that God will find us faithful, even as God is faithful to us.

Another form of praying is network prayers. Sunday School classes have a network of people who receive prayer requests through internet messages, e-mails. I often get those requests but may not always respond in writing. I do always pray. I may stop for a few minutes and pray right then. I usually forward that request on to others, such as the deacons or to the staff. Sometimes I just send it to Clare. Using the internet to send prayer requests is a new, timely way of praying.

Other prayers are prophetic. Robert Raines, the author of Creative Brooding, suggests that we should read the newspaper and look at the headlines. Every single headline is a call to prayer. Prophetic prayers may come to us over television. I particularly like to listen to the in-depth news of National Public Radio, a broadcast that offers many sources of prayer. Our mission calendars also call us to prayer. We must pray about community and world issues. This week, I have been praying for a football coach, a superintendent of education, a school board, our mayor, and city council. If you just pay attention to the news – newspaper, radio, television – you will find many calls to prayer. We may do absolutely nothing but pray, but sometimes prayer may move us to action. God prompts within us a desire to answer our own prayers. He has laid this on our heart, and He wants us to do something about it.

Prayer is very ordinary. Holiness is homemade. There is no distinction between what is sacred and what is secular. “This is my Father’s world.” God owns everything. Everything that happens in this world is of concern to Him. Everything we see and observe can become for us a means of prayer. Praying the ordinary simply means paying attention to the course of our lives.

We often offer prayers of gratitude at mealtime, but these prayers can occur at many other times. Sometimes I am just so grateful for the things you do, for the way you minister to each other, for the way you have become involved in the community. I am so grateful to be the pastor of this church, to have the opportunity to be a part of this family of God. I am so grateful because I know that you are praying for me. I thank God for you.

What does it mean to pray without ceasing? It means that you pray on every occasion. I remember singing a song when I was a boy, one I used to think was sappy. Maybe those who edited the hymnbook thought it was sappy, too, because they omitted it. The song goes, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. Every day with Jesus I love him more and more. Jesus saves and keeps me, and he is the one I am living for. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

The life of prayer, prayer without ceasing, is living for Jesus, living with Jesus. It is allowing him to be a part of every phase of life. Prayer touches every aspect of life. We want to learn to pray until our lives become a prayer, until our lives become a way of pleasing and honoring God. Paul says that whatever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. It is a hard lesson. I am certainly not there. Reinhold Niebuhr says he was an atheist about fifty percent of the time because many times during the day God was the furthest thing from his thoughts. I have many of those times of blackout, too. If we practice praying on every occasion, more and more, our life will become a prayer itself. That is my hope and my prayer for all of us.

This life of prayer begins, of course, when we acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, when we accept him as the Lord of our life. Have you asked him to come into your life and be your Savior? If not, that is the first step. I invite you to make that decision. This church encourages you to make that decision or other decisions for the Lord. You know that he has impressed a decision on your heart, perhaps a decision regarding church membership. If that is the case, we invite you to make that decision as we stand and sing the “Whiter Than Snow,” a hymn based on the wonderful Scripture of Psalm 51.

© 2007 Kirk H. Neely

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