If you are having difficulty with prayer and communion with God, Pastor Eric Smith gave this sermon on what he has learned about fruitful and dedicated prayer (full video of the sermon is at the bottom of the page). The tips within will help you find greater peace in the quiet moments you can find with the creator.
“Four Ways to Pray”
from a sermon by Pastor Eric Smith
We all pray. We may not have a thought out reason for prayer, we just pray. Even people who don’t pray encounter moments in life when prayer comes forth. When life is threatened people pray. When we behold nature’s beauty, prayer emerges from someplace within us.
Even people we think of as prayer warriors, people who pray regularly and often, they can’t really explain what is taking place. It’s not a head knowledge kind of activity. It’s something we do because it feels like the right thing to do.
The world of prayer is a world within. It is unseen, yet it is powerful.
Prayer is a lot like exercise. We do it because we know it is good for us. We do it because it makes us feel good. We do it, because once we get going, we enjoy it. But exercise doesn’t just happen unless you are under 35 years of age or you have a vocation that requires physical activity. Otherwise, we have to decide to exercise and then go do it.
Prayer is like that too. We know it is good for us. It’s good for our souls, for the inner life. It makes us feel good. Once we get started praying we have a good feeling. But prayer doesn’t tend to happen unless our lives are threatened – or we make a conscious decision that we are going to do it.
Prayer is nothing new. People have been praying for as long as we have had the idea to do it. That’s because God has always been there for us. There are not new techniques, but there is always a new perspective or a new way to describe what is taking place.
Here are four ways to approach it.
First, pray receptively.
When we pray, we’re connecting with God. While we are praying we need to have all of our spiritual antennae tuned to God’s wave-length. We’re tuning into the inner world. Our receivers need to be ready.
God might move us in the midst of our prayer; whether verbalizing a prayer, or speaking silently, or being quiet in God’s presence. We want to be receptive.
The challenge is that we’re tuned in and turned on to our connected world of devices and emails and texts and apps. Prayer requires a shift of gears to move into a different psychic state. We can’t do the electronically connected thing one moment and enter into the realm of God in the next moment without some intention and recognition that our consciousness has to change.
Because I am a pastor I often am called upon to pray aloud on behalf of a group. Public prayer is a powerful expression and it is appropriate in many instances. My personal preference is for meditative prayer. I like to listen. I like to be in silence in the company of God.
Several years ago my father broke his hip. His failure to thrive after that led to his passing. He was in a skilled nursing facility and he liked it when I came and sat with him. We didn’t have to talk. We were just together. I believe that our heavenly father likes it when we sit quietly together, too.
Second approach, pray affirmatively
The problem with most prayer is that it is either begging or bartering.
Please God, give me (whatever). Or, Dear God, if you only let me pass this test I’ll do whatever for you always.
It is easiest to focus on what is wrong with our lives or our situation, or the things we are miserable about, or the illness, the sadness the loss.
A better way to pray in those circumstances is to focus on God, who God is and what God does:
The Lord is my shepherd – I shall not want. That’s affirmative prayer.
God is my rock and my salvation.
I am God’s child.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name!
One author wrote that this kind of prayer does not beg for living water, instead it sinks shafts into the underground river of God’s love.
A third approach to prayer is to pray dangerously. Hang it out there.
When was the last time you really hung it out there in prayer? There is an inherent timidity in prayer.
We don’t ask too much because God knows what the answer might be!
Dear God, what can I do about homelessness?
O God, what can I do to help with injustice in our culture?
O God, I find so little meaning in my work, what should I do?
Dear God, my life’s a mess… what can I do?
O God, I want to do something for you with my life, what should I do?
Those are dangerous prayers!
If you pray a prayer like that you’re going to get an answer and if you don’t ignore it, it will change your life.
I once prayed, 'God, take my life and do what you can with it.'
Some other time I can tell you what has taken place over the last 43 years.
The missionaries I know serving in far-off lands prayed dangerous prayers and got an answer.
If they wanted easy lives, they prayed a few times too many!
Once there was a man who could have escaped crucifixion if he had just cut back a little on his prayer. But he didn’t and he walked from that garden to his death. What has his dangerous prayer meant to people of faith for 2000 years? Has it meant anything to you?
What could more boldness in your prayer life mean to you? It would be an adventure for you to find out.
The final approach to prayer is to pray undiscourageably.
That’s not really a word word – but it is a good concept.
Our world, our culture, our reality is fast paced. If I am sitting at my computer and the page I have clicked on doesn’t boot up within a few seconds I leave it and click on something else. I want what I want, and I want it quickly.
Is there anything worse than slow internet?
I recently taveled to Fiji with a mission team from Foothills. One of the discoveries of the mission trip was what the people there called Fiji Time. Fiji Time has meaning that includes 'not yet' or 'maybe soon' or 'it’ll probably be here in a while.' In our culture we practice multi-tasking (usually without even realizing it). In Fiji it’s pretty much one thing at a time.
Our mission team had a dining area where we stayed. We found out early on that having 20 people order from that dining room menu and be served their meal was a lot longer process than anything to which we were accustomed. Fiji Time!
Prayer is more like Fiji time.
One of our great Methodist hymns, Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, includes this verse:
The patience of unanswered prayer. That doesn’t mean that the prayer won’t be answered, it means 'not yet.'
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
When we pray we move from the realm of chronos (that’s our time) to kairos (which is God’s time) and those two are very different.
Jesus taught that when we pray we are not to be discouraged. God is faithful, all the time, the question is whether or not we will take the time to be faithful, too.