15 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 4

So in this segment, we are going to begin looking at three of six cures for cynicism that can assist in defeating a dead prayer life.

1. Be Warm and Wary

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them:
Matt. 10:16  "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
When we are faced with the evils in this world, many of us feel the desire to strike out as a wolf, which can lead to becoming cynical - rather than maintaining a sheep-like spirit. Jesus tells us to be warm, yet wary - warm like a dove, but wary like a serpent.

Then after other warnings about some of the obstacles they will run up against, he tells them not to fear those who can only kill the body, and then comforts them by telling them:

Matt. 10:29-31  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
We must never forget that we are valued and loved by our heavenly Father. He is there to take care of us. So why do we fear? Why do we turn when faced with evil, when we should boldly engage it? Why do we not ask and seek daily blessings from our Father? When it comes to prayer, is any topic or desire too small or trivial? Are we thinking God is “out there” and too busy to worry about the little things we desire?
We can stand confident in our heavenly Father’s love, knowing he wants us to succeed and grow. Instead of a naive optimism as we discussed in an earlier segment, we should be wary yet confident in that love. We have to take that intimate love, combined with vigilance through faith and prayer, and tackle the evil that resides in our own heart, and the hearts of others.

We should follow after the example of Jesus, who hung on the cross, being mocked by the religious leaders. They cynically mocked his for his childlike faith – “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now” (Matt. 27:43) They were mocking him and his claims to be in touch with His Father. They thought him basically naive in his trust of the Father’s goodness – for see where it got him?

Jesus however, does not answer to them, but keeps his eyes turned to the Father – saying nothing, and doing nothing. Remember in John 18:6, when Judas brought the soldiers and Pharisees to get Jesus, we are told that when they asked is he was Jesus, he said “I am he” and they fell back and down on the ground. So surely he had the power to do something if he had so desired while on the cross. Instead, he trusted in the Father’s love, and in three days he was raised – He trusted in God, and God delivered Him. Evil men did not win, and true hope was born forth.

2. Learn to Hope Again 

Do not let cynicism take over, as it will kill hope. When we start thinking that God is basically powerless to stop the forces around us from their evil ways – we have squashed hope and trust. Without true hope – taking risks seem useless – dreaming seems foolish – and prayer seems pointless.

Yeah, we might pray for some things, but if we do not truly trust that all things can come about - or that the Father is truly interested in our situation - or that He is interested in helping us in the smallest details of life - then we have let a spirit of cynicism into our prayer life.

As Christians, we tend to maintain our hope in the ultimate, final act of our redemption, but sometimes we get lost in a sea of doubt along the way, when it comes to asking and hoping for things in our daily life.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Because God is all powerful, and continues to act within the world around us – there still are happy endings in life. When you pray to your Father in heaven, you are reaching out to the heart of a God that cares for you. When you truly grasp that – prayer becomes an adventure.

3. Regaining a Childlike Spirit 

I know many of us will quite often ignore the “little things” in prayer, figuring we can handle those pieces. Many times we do not ask, because we overthink things, and begin to debate with ourselves over whether we should ask, or is it just a selfish want, or is it in his will, etc. Instead, let all requests be known to God – he knows our hearts already, share with him the desires and struggles we have. Like a little hungry child, cry out for grace.

Once we begin simply asking for help in all things, we stop being cynical and begin returning to a child-like faith. Instead of critiquing others’ stories, ask for all things like a child, and watch the story our Father is weaving before us.

There may be times in life when you become weary and beaten down in spirit and it starts to affect your prayer life. At times like these, you may start to either avoid prayer altogether, or stumble through prayer not knowing what to say.

In the early centuries of the church, a practice call Lectio Divina, which is Latin for divine reading, was established as a way of learning and praying. You can use it to pray the Scriptures, kind of like using the Lord’s prayer as mentioned earlier, but in this case praying with actual Scripture.

For instance, in those times you are unsure what to say – try praying through the 23rd Psalm, and make it your own. Use it directly, or as a launch pad like the Lord’s prayer was used.

As you pray through Psalm 23, reflect on previous days and look for the Shepherd’s presence – the ways he provided, cared and loved you. The way he worked in those around you too. Everyone walks through the valley of the shadow of death – the cynic will concentrate on the darkness, the child will focus on the Shepherd leading.

Clinging to and focusing on the Shepherd as you fight for your life in the valley will dispel the fog of cynicism. Looking for and focusing on his presence will remove all doubt and restore faith and hope.

Now, what would happen if we went back and examined Psalm 23 - through the lens of cynicism - and removed all signs and evidence of anything relating to the good Shepherd? We would end up with something like this:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads
me beside still waters. He restores my soul.

He leads
me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death - I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before
me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
What a difference it makes when you remove the shepherd and seek to go at it alone. Keep your eye on the Father in all instances, watch him work and trust in him like a child trusts their parents.

At this point I’d like to share some of the madness within my own twisted mind in hopes that some might relate. It was back not too long ago, at a time where the passing of my oldest son was still fresh and weighing heavily on my mind, and a time where I was in a class studying this issue of prayer.

Now, I attribute the following madness to the great influence that Hollywood and the movies can have on our way of thinking. The general story line is this – someone or thing - has the power to grant wishes. The person states their wish, and the wish is fulfilled - however not quite as they had expected – usually ending in horrible consequences.

So with this type of subconscious madness in place, I would sit down to pray – and I would find my prayers to God would become very, very specific and detailed – to leave no room for God to “trick” me somehow. A thought like – “Father, please help with our finances – but please do not kill someone in my family as a means of getting me money through a life insurance policy.”

That is an extreme case, but the idea is, that I was feeling as if God was there ready to answer my prayer -  but that it would come with consequences that may not be pleasant for me. It was a faulty assumption that while God is there to help, it is not always in a way we would want or expect. It is a complete ignoring of verses like Matt. 7:11:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)
Once we truly grasp not only the real presence – but also the real goodness of God, and we approach him with a child like faith – and not a horror movie faith – we can begin to clear the thoughts of the doubt and cynicism.

We will resume with the final three cures in the next post.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5