Acts 1: Prayer
At Missio Church we believe prayer is not just important, it is one of the ways we activate the spirit’s movement on behalf of the people around us. It is the way we dig deep into relationship with God the father. It is the place we enter into when we need encouragement, confidence, when we have questions, or when we just need to let God know the deepest emotions of our heart. It is more than just a thing we do. It is a posture of life we are trying to develop in each other that shapes who we are, where we go, and what we do and say.
We all have a default response when the burdens of life hit us. These responses are varied and numerous. But they tend to give us a glimpse into who we are at our core. Because when faced with challenges we typically respond out of the depth of our being.
In Acts 1:12-26, Jesus had just ascended into heaven leaving his newly formed church to take the mission he started and carry it into every corner of the known world. The burden of carrying such a mission was undoubtedly huge and weighty, and would have been enough to make any new church feel overwhelmed by the seeming impossibility of carrying out Jesus’ requests. And, as if it was not enough to have the weight of this movement resting on this infant church’s shoulders, they were forced to deal with the reality of one of their core members, a man Jesus himself invited to help lead the movement, betrayal of the Messiah and subsequent death. Most new churches would never be able to recover from something this challenging. And yet the way they responded was not through the default of anger or loss, fear or anxiety, a need to prove themselves or by running away. As a church they had changed their default from the reactionary defaults they all came with to a collective default of bringing all things before God in prayer.
When prayer is our default there is very little we can’t face with confidence and courage. But how do we pray? I used to hear people tell me something that was hard to believe then and impossible for me to believe now. They would say, “do you want to know how you can pray so that God’s response is always ‘yes?’” And of course I would think, yes I want to know that. They would say things like, “if you are praying completely within the will of God then everything you pray for will already be a yes.” And while I get their sentiment, this is a very unhelpful anecdote because the question inevitably comes back to, so how do you always pray within God’s will?
In Churches we tend to limit prayer to a prescribed set of sayings, or pithy phrases that make us feel like we are doing the whole prayer thing correctly. Because, after all, God won’t respond to us if we aren’t doing it correctly. But this approach greatly reduces the intention of prayer from a a place of relationship to simply a magic wand we wave to get the things we want. Prayer has never been about doing things or saying things correctly so that God will finally respond. It has always been about a genuine give and take relationship with the creator of all things. It was always intended to be an incredibly intimate, close, and open experience between you and God. The moment we make prayer simply about “getting things” we kick it’s feet out from underneath itself and render it powerless to do or change anything. Prayer isn’t an open window we have to crawl through to get to a portion of God’s house. It is the lever opening the floodgates into the fullness and nearness of his presence.
How do we pray so God will answer us? We pray. It’s as simple as that. Ok, maybe not that simple. But I want to give you two ways to think about how to pray.
What do we speak about when we are praying? Everything. Often when people are experiencing hardship or loss I will tell them that I can be whatever they need for me to be. If they need someone to talk to, to process the information or experience with, to ask hard questions, I can be that. If they need someone to yell at or hit (no one has taken me up on that) I can be that too. And I usually tell them this because I want people to feel like they can express themselves the way they need to.
I think in part God asks us to do the same thing with him in prayer. God can handle our emotions, our pain, suffering, challenges. He can handle our joy, love, hopes and dreams. And he wants all of it. What do we speak with God about? Whatever we are feeling and going through in the moment. Whatever we are anticipating feeling or know we need God to be a part of. We speak about our hopes and dreams. Our frustrations with relationships, work, friends, and finances. We talk about how tired we are of seeing injustice or suffering in the world. We talk to him about our need for healing emotionally or just some sense of stability spiritually. We talk to him about our marriage, our kids, our vacations, our questions and doubts, the good things and the bad things. We talk about our struggles, our sins, our joys and blessings. We speak with God about all of it. And then we listen.
Listening is definitely the hardest part of prayer because we have never been taught how to listen to God. Does God speak audibly to people? Yes. Will he speak audibly with you or me? Maybe. Throughout scripture you see God speaking in numerous ways. Through people, preachers, books, nature, angels, himself, visions, dreams, and more. Here are some of the ways I have heard God speak to me.
Nature- I told the story on Sunday of the bird singing in the middle of the biggest thunderstorm I have ever heard. It reminded me of when Jesus told his people that God dresses and cares for the birds of the air and they never want for anything. And we, as humans, are much more valuable to God than the birds. Which means, the birds sing of our value as humans to God.
Circumstance- God uses the things we experience to help point us to things or to reveal truth to us.
People- God often uses the people around you to speak important things to you.
The Bible- Yes, God’s word speaks to us. It helps us know the heart of God.
There are many other ways God can speak. The point is for us to begin training ourselves to listen. Most of the time we are quick to speak and slow to listen. And yet James 1:19 tells us we should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Because when we are constantly speaking we tend to miss the moments God is using to speak to us.
My prayer is that we become a people who invite God into the moments of our lives and then we begin to wait and listen as God speaks back to us.