Wednesday, March 7, 2012

With All Kinds of Prayers

A Devotional by Margot Cioccio

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.
 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Today I wanted to talk about praying in the Spirit. For years I was kind of stuck in my prayer time. I thought I needed to be up before the chickens and I needed to follow some formula perhaps based upon the Lords Prayer. I have to admit I was trying to be a "good Christian" and everyone knows that "good Christians" pray. My prayer time was kind of like trying to study for a class in college that I was not interested in. I can remember getting up early or staying up late to study. I would often study in the bath tub so I would not fall asleep. The thought of drowning while studying was enough to keep me awake. My prayer life was like that it was more of a responsibility or a duty.  I can't tell you when it changed, probably when all the things that seemed stable and secure started to spin out of control and I became desperately needy. There were things that I could not fix by my own strength and ability. I guess in some ways I had to exhaust my own pride, strength and means before I could really see my great need for God.  It took a lot to break those things in me because I had made myself pretty self sufficient. I suppose it was the result of being let down by people that I trusted that I just stopped trusting and stopped really expecting much from people. I suppose I really did not ever ask for help unless I knew I could pick up the ball if someone dropped it. Or if it was a ball I could not pick up myself that I had already in mind several work around options.  It was a tiring and lonely place. It has taken years of God chipping away at my self sufficiency. The good side is that somehow I realized that God could be trusted when everyone else disappointed and failed me Jesus was more than enough. He has proved to me over and over again that he can be trusted. He helped me to take down the walls that I had built to protect myself. He helped me to become soft and pliable in Him. He helped me to learn to look to see him in people and to trust Him in them. It is in learning to see Jesus in people that has helped me to be able to slowly learn to trust people. So over many years God has taught me to pray.
It took a long time to get beyond religious form and the legalistic duty of trying to be a "good Christian".   Somewhere along that journey God began to meet me, and a friendship developed. I suppose some of it spilled out of liking to journal. I began to journal and write my thoughts and prayers and somewhere along the way I realized I could stop and listen to hear what God was saying.
Now one of the things that has helped me is that I have spent considerable time in the Word. My pastor is always telling people that they are needing College level answers from God but they only have a kindergarden vocabulary.  I have looked to the Holy Spirt to lead and teach me in the Word and the more of the word that I knew the more the Lord was able to speak back to me as I journaled and waited.  Yesterday I talked about tuning in to God.  Prayer is not a litany of requests like a long list to Santa Claus of my wants and needs. Prayer is talking to my beloved about the things I am concerned about. I have discovered that I can echo the prayers prayed in the bible when praying for peoples needs. Learning to pray according to Gods will was something I have learned by looking to see how Jesus and the apostles and others of faith have prayed.  Again time spent in the word builds and helps that kindergarden prayer vocabulary grow and develop.

I have learned to be brutally honest with the Lord. He sees my faults and failures so it really does me no good to hide them. I talk to him about the things that I struggle with. I ask him to help me to make good and wise choices. He often leads me to open my bible to a particular verse and that verse quite often is exactly what I need to stand upon and apply to my life and situation.

I guess my prayer times are each as unique as spending time with a very close friend. You don't do exactly the same stuff every time you are together. You enjoy each other and you explore the things that each enjoy doing and find the things that you both enjoy doing together.  I guess the one thing that I do. Is I make a point to show up. I make a point to include the Lord in my day. Its not because I have to, or because thats what "good Christians' do. It is because Jesus has become my closest and most trusted friend and I want to be with Him. I always want more. There is always more I want to discover and know about Him. It is a living relationship. On days when I am tired, the Lord holds me. There are times when He sings over me or sings with me. I can feel him as I write reminding me of this verse or that story or that example from my own story of walking with him.  Sometimes I let the Holy Spirit pray through me either in giving me the words to pray or to pray or sing in my prayer language. If you don't have one ask him to give you one. Its a gift, not a badge of spirituality.  It is often one of the things that helps to tune me and the following verse says it helps to build us up. 

Jude 1:20
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

 Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

I suspect some of you reading are still duty bound and trying so hard to be "good Christians" and to pray and read the word and it is like eating stale bread with nothing to drink.  You need to realize that none of this Christian walk is based upon your merit. If you are still trying to do it in your own strength and sufficiency - stop. You are still trying to be good enough to tip the scales of justice in your favor. It won't work you will always come up lacking. You will never reach a point where you are good enough on your own to approach a Holy God.  Let that go. It is time to meet the best friend you will ever have. He has already paid the price for you. He waits for you to accept him to realize how desperately you need him. He waits for you to allow him into the secret and hidden places of your life. Those places of shame, of failure, those dreams that have come to nothing and cause you pain and grief. He desires to know you and to be known by you. He desires a growing intimacy with you. It is out of that relationship and those conversations that a life of prayer grows and develops. I know that there is nothing that I can't share with Jesus. He waits for me to bring things up. He does not always tell me the answer. Some times he gives me little clues and allows me to discover the answer. He allows me to figure it out for myself so that the truth discovered becomes my own.  This kind of a relationship is built much as any friendship by making time for one another. The more time spent together the more it grows and develops the more vital it becomes.

One of the things we have been doing in our Sunday service is to allow people to experience God in a variety of ways. So you will see some people singing along with the worship team. Others will be walking along the prayer wall praying. Some will come into the prayer loft area and spend time reflecting on the art that is there allowing God to speak to them through it. Some will light candles as a symbol of their prayer rising before the Lord.  Some will take communion, some will read the word. The point is not so much what you do but that you connect with God. The same is true of your prayer time. The how is not so important as to find your way of connecting with the Lord and spend time in His presence.  It may be a walk in the woods or to gaze at the vastness of the ocean as the waves crash upon the beach.  From that place learn to tune and connect yourself not just in that way but in others so that when you are washing the car or the dishes or doing some other task that even in those tasks that Jesus is invited. Begin to allow him to reveal himself to you as he expresses himself in the lives of others. There is so much richness that one needs not to survive on stale crusty bread when he sets a table before you and invetes you to come and dine. 

Dear Lord, Help us to get beyond the bonds of religious duty. Help us get beyond the idea of needing to be a "good Christian" I pray you would help us to learn to pray by learning to love being with you. By allowing you to be part of more and more of our life. Until our life is fully and totally yours. Help us to grow in our Spiritual vocabulary. Help us to realize that there are things you can't even begin to share with us till we grow beyond diapers and kindergarden sized faith and understanding of you and your word. Help us to embark on a journey and the great adventure of knowing you more and more.
Dear one what are you waiting for, what are you running from. I pray that today if you hear his voice you would not harden your heart. I pray that you would come to the end of your self sufficiency and walk into the richness of his abiding presence.  The table is set for you, and the meal is prepared all that is missing is you. Won't you come?   

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