Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Just Help Me Jesus...

 Dear Friends,

You learn theology in a Bible University or Seminary but you learn how to be a pastor in a mentoring relationship with a pastor. My mentor was the senior pastor at a Foursquare church of six hundred members in Santa Clarita where I was the Director of Men’s Ministries. Pastor Jack told me, “Watch me and do everything I do.” I was going to learn how to be a Pentecostal pastor!

Pastor Jack was a fervent pray-er! His voice swooped up to a crescendo and down again. Prayer was loud, intense and dramatic. As his fervency increased, his hands would tremble, spittle would fly out of his mouth and he would start to shake. He said the spittle and the shaking was the Holy Spirit coming on him as he prayed. I didn’t doubt that, but I was always cautious to not stand too close in order to avoid being anointed with the holy spittle. 

I’m a quick learner and soon had the Pentecostal patter down pat. As my voice swooped up in volume and fervency, people would shout “yes” and “amen” as I prayed in church. I was soon ordained in the Foursquare Church, the second largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.

My best friend and accountability partner was my religious opposite. Jim was a life-long Lutheran and president of a Long Beach Lutheran megachurch. We met every week and would always pray together: “Vouchsafe to grant us Thy blessings and lift Thy rod and staff as Thou saveth me from mine enemies,” he would somberly intone in a resonant voice. “In the name of JEEZ-US, I BIND all demonic powers and CRUSH every stronghold under my feet,” I would shout as my right hand began to tremble. And God looked down from Heaven, shook His head and said, “What’s up with these guys?”

I know you don’t pray that way, but many of us have learned how to pray by listening to others like my friend and I had done. And, as soon as prayer becomes a verbal recitation based on a learned technique, it stops being prayer and becomes a performance – a religious “style.” The prayers in Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Black, Orthodox churches reflect their very different prayer traditions and are unique to that flavor of Christianity. 

But in our own time of private worship and prayer, we need to not simply imitate a church style. God intended for prayer to be an intimate conversation with your Creator. At the very heart of authentic prayer is you – standing spiritually naked and vulnerable before God.

Sometimes our desire to pray the right thing, the right way, is out of hope that our prayers will be “effective” and have a positive effect on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. But God is just as concerned about our prayers being “affective.” To affect means an emotional influence and a tender attachment or fondness. God wants our intimate prayer time with Him to have a tender and deep influence on us. To not just know about His love but to feel His love.

If we find ourselves desiring a deeper and more meaningful prayer life, the first step may be to set aside everything we’ve learned about “how” to pray. Prayer is a conversation that becomes false and forced when we express our words through a learned prayer format or technique. And, we will never have a truly authentic, fruitful conversation if we have to be concerned about having to say the right things in the right way.

During this time of the coronavirus, we have been forced to social distance from others, but with the closure of our churches, some of us have found themselves distanced from God. Some churches teach a doctrine that we are saved by and through the church – the church is our conduit to God. And now that it’s closed, we feel spiritually alone and isolated. But Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior. He is always with us, and when we pray, God inclines His ear to listen to us. Psalm 116:1-2

There is no need to try and replicate a church prayer ritual. As we set aside “quality time” for our loved ones, we set aside our devotional time with God. We go to our sacred space – in our  home, in our garden – in full expectation that we will be met by Him. We tell Him we adore Him, we praise Him, we ask forgiveness of our sins and we thank Him. Or we just tell Him about our day. He knows our needs, but we tell Him anyway. We speak to Him in our own words. Words that may not come easily. “Jesus..I want..I don’t know..Just help me Jesus...” There are no fine phrases. No “church” words. We stop. We listen. We wait. Maybe tears come. Maybe we hear His voice. Maybe we just sit in His presence. As long as our heart is occupied with God, whether in speech or in silence, that is enough.

Authentic, tender prayer that is developed in our quiet devotional time is preoccupation with God. Prayer is a conversation between you and the One who loves you. A conversation that flows naturally out of our heart. When our spirit connects with His. That’s really all that God ever asks of us. To just lovingly linger in His presence for awhile.

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