Meaningful Prayer

John 17:20-26


 Most times, this reading draws me to talk about unity in some fashion, and most reflections written on this gospel focus on unity as well. But today I’m drawn to reflect on it from the perspective of the deep, unvarnished, heartfelt appeal that Jesus makes to the Father in prayer. Question for us: Can Jesus’ example here lead us to make our prayer life more meaningful?


Let me start with a quote from theologian, C Peter Wagner. He says, “God’s purpose may be thwarted, or it may be accomplished, depending to one degree or another, on the obedience of his people and their willingness to use the weapons of spiritual warfare that he provides. God is powerful enough to win any battle, but he has designed things so that the release of his power at a given moment of time often is contingent upon the decisions and the actions of his people. A principle weapon of spiritual warfare is prayer. Not just routine or mediocre prayer, but prayer powerful enough to move God’s hand in order to determine the destiny of a whole nation.”


Everything in our lives, no matter how deep our faith, is shaped by a spiritual need to be in right standing with God. None of us has the power to do this through our own strength or merit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit drawing us to the Father. It is the work of prayer.


It’s such a gift to be able to engage God in conversation. Praying is something that every human is designed to do. Historians tell us that all peoples throughout history have sought to pray. They might not have prayed to the one true God, but the desire to pray is something that God has placed within us. God wants to have a conversation with us!


Humans naturally love merit systems. The better I do, the better grades I get, the better job I get, the more money I make, and the better relationships I have. This system works except in our spiritual lives. We can’t earn God’s favor. He simply gives it to us because of His grace.


Any spiritual system based on works or merit doesn’t work. It always leads to legalism, Pharisaic attitudes, burnout, failure, and unrealistic expectations. Prayer helps us align ourselves with God’s grace.


On the other hand, when we begin with God’s grace and we understand that everything is based on His desire for us, it changes our lives.


In our marriages, when we do special little things for our spouses out of love, it’s a beautiful thing. But, when those acts we perform out of love become expectations on the part of our spouse, it loses its meaning and actually hinders the relationship. If I buy my wife a gift simply because she expects it and I would be in big trouble if I didn’t, that gesture loses its meaning. Our prayer life can similarly go down either track.


How can we make our prayer life better? Here are three thoughts:


1-Prayer is simply talking to God. We don’t have to know lots of fancy words or have a theological degree to pray. Jesus essentially says in Matthew, “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God.  He’s saying, Don't go there. This is our Father we are dealing with, and he knows better than us what we need. With a God like this loving us, we can pray very simply.”


2-Praying requires action and faith. “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” One of the most powerful things about prayer is that it expresses our need for God. He loves it when we come to Him. He loves to help those who admit that they can’t help themselves. He loves it when we depend on him. That is how we experience His power in action, in our surrender.


3-Prayer must be authentic and sincere. I loved this interpretation of the scripture in Matthew 6:6 where Jesus says "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.” If we can do that, or at least, move in that direction, the focus will shift from us to God, and we will begin to sense his grace.


And so we pray today, with a genuine plea for Jesus to intercede for us and guide us to a deeper sense of oneness with the Father. Help each of us to break new ground in how we experience prayer today and draw us to surrender ourselves to your will, and we will follow you, in mind, body and spirit, wherever you lead us!  Amen!


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