by Paul Hazelden


Parts 2 and 3 could be used as the basis of a sermon, but they were prepared as a set of notes to be given out after the meditation described in part 1.

God does not want to teach us more facts about prayer:
He wants to revolutionise our prayer lives.
And He wants to do it now.
Talking about prayer is like talking about riding a bicycle:
You can only usefully say so much.
The only way to learn is to do it.

1.   A Meditation

I would love to preach a sermon on prayer, but you have probably heard too many of those already. If you are anything like other churches, you already know a great deal about prayer. But we have to recognise that talking about prayer is like talking about riding a bicycle: you can only usefully say so much. The only way to really learn is to do it.

I believe that, for tonight, God does not want to teach us more facts about prayer: He wants to revolutionise our prayer lives, and He wants to do it now.

So, I have written down the points I would like to make in the sermon, and you can take them away with you. Instead of just talking about prayer, what I want to do for the next half hour or so is to lead you in prayer. Not to pray for you, not to tell you what to say, but to lead you so that you find the way yourself.

In a few moments, I will say a few words and then ask you to pray accordingly. The value of this time lies not in what I am going to say, but in what you are going to pray. Unless God chooses to do something different, we will repeat this pattern four times, and then finish the service.

1a.   Appreciate His Love

The first exercise is to appreciate God's love. He loves you, and He wants you to really know that, not as a fact, not just as a doctrine, but as a living reality. So please, spend a few minutes thanking Him for His love, telling Him how much you appreciate it, and what a difference it makes to your life.

If you cannot say that honestly, then be honest and say what you can. I guarantee: if you reach out to Him, he will come to meet you where you are.

1b.   Recognise His Presence

I would like to tell you a short story.

There was once a little fish, a well educated fish, who went to school with all the other little fish. They were taught about many things, about what to eat, about the importance of staying together, and all the dangers they must avoid. And they were taught about the importance of water to a fish. So this fish went in search of water. It searched everywhere, in the seaweed forests, in the nooks and crannies of the rocks, and among the pebbles on the sea bed.

Eventually, a dreadfully unhappy little fish was found by an older and wiser fish. "What's the matter, little fish?" he asked.

"I'm hopeless!" the little fish replied.

"Why do you think that?"

"They said at school that we need water, and I've been looking and looking, but I can't find any water anywhere."

"You poor thing," said the older fish, "didn't you realise that water is all around us? Every time you breathe, water flows through your gills. Water protects you from the heat and dryness of the sun. Water holds you up and enables you to swim. You thought you cannot see the water because it is so far away, but really you cannot see water because it is so close to you all the time."

We may laugh at the little fish, but do we not do the same? We look for God in special places and special events and special times. We do not recognise that He is the One Who carries us from one place to another in our frantic search for Him.

We recognise the presence of God in this place, here with us now. What we need to do is to recognise His presence when we are out there. Take a quick trip through the things you expect to be doing over the next week: the dishes, the shopping, the cleaning, the office work, the games, and in each of those activities, tell your Father you want Him to be as real to you as He is right now.

1c.   Hear His Voice

Prayer is a conversation. We spend too much of our time talking at God, and not enough time allowing Him to talk back. Please spend a few minutes now allowing Him to speak to you. Perhaps you are not convinced He wants to speak to you? In that case, tell Him. Lord, if you did want to speak to me, what would you want to say?

1d.   Bless His People

Finally, prayer is not just a private thing between me and God. Prayer is one of the means He has given us to bless the people around us. He wants you to be a channel of His love and blessing to the people around you.

So please can you form into groups of three, and take it in turns to pray for each other. If you don't mind, place your hands gently on the person's head as you pray: that way, you are blessing them both in word and action. If there is something they want prayer for, then pray for it but don't be limited by what they ask for: pray God's blessing into their life.

2.   Thinking About Prayer

2a.   Natural and Supernatural

We are comfortable living in the natural, physical world. We eat, sleep and drink, we empty our bladders and bowels as necessary, we put on clothes to keep us warm, and live in locked houses to keep us safe.

We are not as comfortable living in the spiritual world. We live in a society which goes from one extreme to the other, and either pretends the spiritual world does not exist at all, or goes all mystical and weird about it. We are not comfortable with spiritual reality being as much a normal part of everyday life as physical reality. Most of us life day to day in the material world, with an occasional nod in the direction of the spiritual.

Christianity as a religion is rooted 100% in the material world, and 100% in the spiritual world. We are followers of Jesus whom we believe to be 100% human and 100% divine. Material and spiritual are not alternatives, they are not exclusive: they are complementary aspects of the one reality.

I hold a pen in my hand. What is it? This pen is blue, it is 5¼ inches long, and it is about 85p in the shops. Each aspect is true. Sometimes the size, sometimes the colour, and sometimes the price is the most important aspect in a given situation. We do not say that because it is this long, it is not really blue, we do not suggest that because we cannot see the price it does not really exist. So why do we take people seriously when they suggest that because we live in a material world, the spiritual is less real, or does not really exist?

God is real. You cannot pray without a belief, or a hope, that God is real. You cannot talk to someone who is not there.

We live in a spiritual world. Everything we do has a spiritual dimension to it. Every decision we make touches eternity. Prayer is not a special, different activity we do occasionally, like writing a letter to a special friend. Prayer is as much a part of our spiritual life as breathing is a part of our physical life. Prayer is, in the old fashioned phrase, "The Christian's vital breath."

2b.   What is Prayer?

Prayer is supernatural communication. We may think of prayer as a shopping list of requests, or as a conversation with God, but everything we do says something to God. He is present with us everywhere, so everything we say to each other, we are also saying to Him. He is constantly talking to us, expressing His love in the beauty of the world and the love of our friends and family, teaching us through books and tapes and sermons and conversation and the things which happen to us.

When we talk about 'Prayer' we usually mean a conscious and deliberate contact with God. We forget it is going on all the time because we are usually unaware, or we ignore it.

Why does this matter? Sue and I live in the same house. Because we live together, we are constantly communicating through the things we do even when we are not actually talking to each other. If I tried to start talking to her as if there had been no contact since our last conversation, Sue would rapidly come to the conclusion there was something seriously wrong with me.

"Dear Sue, thank you for agreeing to spend this time with me. I know how busy you are and I do appreciate it. You remember how, first thing this morning I made you a cup of tea, and I was very glad to do it as an expression of my love for you. And then, a little later, the boys wanted some breakfast..." You can imagine her reaction. But isn't this the way we so often talk to God? So prayer is not a special activity: it is the continuation of a conversation with God, a conversation which forms our whole life.

3.   Aspects of Prayer

3a.   Being

When Paul talked to the Athenians, he had to start right at the beginning: God is not far from every one of us, for "in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28). He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

If God were to forget about us for an instant, we would cease to exist. We know He continues to pour out His love on us because we continue to live. And if living is a gift of His love, simply going on living is a response to His love.

The story of the fish reminds us we do not have to do anything to get into the presence of God, we simply have to realise that He is here. Now.

Of course, sometimes He makes His presence more clearly known. But we can learn to become more sensitive to His presence. Just as the air is all around us, but we only feel it when it moves, so we only feel God's presence when He moves. And just as we can learn to be still and feel the slightest whisper of a breeze, so we can learn to be still inside and respond to the slightest movement of God. All it takes is willingness and practice. We can, in the words of Brother Lawrence, "Practice the Presence of God."

If you are in love, the thing you most desire is to be in the presence of your beloved. God offers us what we most desire, if we will only desire Him before all else. Without love, prayer can be only an empty formality. With love, prayer is the central delight of the Christian life.

3b.   Thinking

We can have a continual inner dialogue with our Father. There is nothing to prevent our entire mental life from being one long prayer, one long expression of personal love.

Remember, it is a two way conversation. One of the biggest mistakes we make is to forget to make room for Him. Listen for His replies, make space for Him.

People find it difficult to believe that God want to speak to them. Try risking it a little. If God were to speak with me now, what would He say? What do you believe He wants to say to you personally? If you imagine God speaking to you, He sometimes slips in, in person. You will know if you are just making it up. You can speak His words to someone else: you make them up, but He says them anyway. The same works for yourself. Allow Him to speak.

3c.   Doing

The conclusion to the parable of the sheep and the goats is: "Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)

When we hold a hurting person in our arms and seek to comfort them, we are holding Jesus. We are expressing our love for God by caring for others. We communicate how much, or how little we love God, by the way we live, by what we do.

Our life is a unity. There is no point in saying one thing and doing another. Our words and works together glorify God and express our love for Jesus. How does He want you to love Him?

3d.   Talking

Try really talking to God. Out loud. The assumption throughout the Bible is that talking with God means just that - speaking, making real sounds with our mouths. When prayer in the Bible is silent, internal, this is unusual and gets pointed out. When Hannah prayed without making a sound, Samuel assumed she was drunk. (1 Samuel 1:13)

People have problems with the mechanics of prayer: they get distracted; they forget what they were saying; thoughts start to go round and round their heads. Most of these difficulties with the practicalities of prayer arise from our determination to think to God when we should really talk to Him.

Speech in the Bible is a creative act. There is power in the spoken word. In Genesis 1, God spoke, and it was. By your words you will be judged. (Matthew 12:37) With your heart you believe and are justified, with your mouth you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:10)

3e.   Asking

This is probably the main thing we think of as 'prayer'. It is neither the main point of prayer nor a second-rate substitute. It is only a part, but a vital part, of our whole prayer life.

When we are conversing with God, the key requirement is for honesty. This is what I think, this is how I feel - how about you?

When we are asking Him to do something, the focus is not on what I think and feel, but on what He thinks and feels. I have to put myself in His place, see the world from His point of view. Using the understanding we have gained as we chat with Him, we ask for the things He wants to happen: all asking prayer is fundamentally saying 'Thy will be done'.

We experience God in a new way as we start to allow Him to act in this world through us. We get to know Him in a new way as a consequence.

This type of prayer is very like prophecy: it is all a matter of tuning in to God, and allowing His will, His desires, His message to be spoken, to come into reality, through us.

3f.   Commanding

This is possibly the most difficult of the six aspects of prayer we are looking at. We tend to ask God to do things when we pray, but sometimes He wants us to exercise the authority we have in Christ. Jesus sometimes asked His Father to do things, and sometimes commanded that things happen, but we tend to ignore His example and stick to asking alone.

Note that we are notcommanding God! That would be foolish in the extreme. We are speaking His commands to a fallen world, and if they are His commands, they are spoken with His authority.

Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves: Be still! (Mark 4:39) He commanded the deaf man: Be opened - "ephphratha!" (Mark 7:34) He commanded the demons to come out. He tells us to do the same. We will never move mountains without faith, but we will also never do it if we will not learn how to command: Be moved! (Matthew 17:20)

Exercising the authority of God is the place of utmost weakness and humility. Anybody, from the greatest saint to the worst sinner alive, can ask God to do something. You can rebel against God and He will still hear and answer many prayers. But you cannot speak with the authority of Christ without first putting your life aside: at that moment your wishes and fears and desires count for nothing, and His wishes and desires count for everything. The exercise of spiritual authority may be the most humbling experience we ever know.

3g.   Conclusion

Spending time alone with God is not a bad thing, but it is such a little part of our prayer life, and we focus on it so much. To develop our relationship with God, we simply have to spend all our time in His presence. Talk with Him constantly. Talk out loud when we can. Be honest with Him - He knows the truth anyway. Learn to distinguish His words and actions: the still small voice speaks to us today, if we will but give Him the chance.

Through prayer, we can experience God's presence and love as intensely while washing the dishes as when we gather to worship Him on a Sunday.

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Copyright © 1999 Paul Hazelden was last updated 2 September 2012
Page content last modified: 14 October 1999
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