"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." - John 4:23
We've been talking for the past couple of weeks about being the kind of worshipper the Father seeks. Last week, we discussed the topic of genuine surrender before the Father, and being real before Him and with one another regarding our decision to become a Christ-follower.
Speaking of being real with one another.... After last week's blog was posted a dear friend commented to me that there was a point that she wished I had addressed and that was the masks that believers wear. Before I go on with today's thoughts on communication, I wanted to address this mask quickly. This is the mask that we put on when things aren't going so well, but we continue to pretend that things are just perfect... and refuse to be real with fellow believers or with other people period. She is completely correct with this.
You know, I think sometimes that we (as Christ-followers) convince ourselves that we have to portray perfection when it comes to living the Christian life. I think it's (in a wacky way) one of the ways that we believe that we are "witnessing" to others, when we put on the mask of perfection... That it shows "the world" that God takes care of us... and that even though we may be having a day that is not a good one, we throw up that "everything's fine" mask.
My late father-in-law was a prime example of this. He suffered from kidney disease and was on dialysis three days a week for about seven years, prior to his death. During the last several months of his life, if I asked him how he was doing, he would often answer with an exuberant, "I'm fine!" But often, he would be sitting with his head between his hands or his knees... and we knew better. So, I finally learned to respond to his answers with, "is that really the case, or are you fibbing to me?" And he began to start speaking truthfully to me.
Let's learn to be real with one another, and drop the masks... Relationships deepen as we learn to get past the surface with one another. And we don't get past the surface if we have on masks or build up walls of protection around us. Just sayin'.
Okay. Onto the new stuff... This week, we're going to be learning to grow our relationship with God when it comes to communication. This area is probably the hardest and truthfully, can be the most awkward part of our relationship with God, and yet, it is so vital that I honestly believe that its absence leads to much of our woes when it comes to knowing God as His child.
I had the worst time with this. I always felt like my prayers were always made of rubber... They just bounced right off the ceiling! So, when I did pray, I tried all sorts of things to try to convince God to listen to me.
And let's face it. We may as well admit that it's hard to talk to Someone that you haven't seen.... and most especially when so many others question His existence (and those same folks would quickly commit you to the nearest looney bin if they caught you talking to what they believe is yourself!) And can you imagine the same kind of response from those same folks when you have claimed to have heard something or learned something from God???? So, more times than not, I just kept my mouth closed when it came to praying privately. Of course, with me, when it was all about showmanship, I would pray publicly.... Go figure on that one. But then I was all about appearances.
Now, I went through all sorts of style adjustments when it came to public prayers as a lost church member. I can remember a particular deacon of the church I went to as a teenager praying over the offering every Sunday. And that guy would clear his throat every time before he prayed, then he would basically pray the same prayer week after week. He also used about a thousand "thees" and "thous" so, I thought that put him right up there with God Himself. So, whenever I listened to other people clear their throat before prayer, I wondered if that was something we were supposed to do. (I don't know that I ever did that. But I thought it was kind of unusual.) Then, I wanted to be next to God, too, just like Deacon So-and-So, and so I used a thousand "thees" and "thous" as I prayed.
Then the time came when we were taught about conversational prayer. That would be where we learn to talk to God like He is our very best friend. That worked well, but I found that it didn't settle well within my heart when I was mad at God and I called Him some of the names that I would have called one of my friends in the same situation. There was a lack of respect there that got lost in translation....or at least in my mind, it did. So, I mixed it up with the occassional "thees" and "thous" again. I think it made me feel like maybe that would make God listen to me...or something. I dunno. (Nevermind the fact that I didn't know His Son...)
Oh, and then there was the guy who began his prayers with "Master." So, guess who I began to copy this time when praying publicly???
So, anyhow, all of these big words and long public prayers were boosting me up everywhere (or so I thought) but with God. His ears were pretty much turned off by them. And so, He didn't bother to answer them. There wasn't anything to answer, truthfully, if you came right down to it. When it came to public prayer, I had center stage, and my prayers were all about showing off.
And then there were the prayer requests that became pry-er requests. You know, the ones where when sharing a "request" in a small group where things turn to gossip, or we try to correct the situation in prayer ourselves by giving a "solution" to the person's problem in our talks with God, rather than speaking with the person and giving scriptural advice. Yep. Been there and done that one, too.
My life was filled with all sorts of things that caused those prayers to bounce off the ceilings:
Unbelief. (in both senses, as a non-believer, and as a believer who fails to believe God)
So, then the private prayer life, which I told you earlier was pretty much nul and void, was useless to me. I didn't spend time talking to God... If there was a God, I had already come to the conclusion that He wasn't going to pay attention to whatever kinds of useless drivel I gave Him and there wasn't anyone else around to show off for. So, why bother???
And, in all honesty, I have to say that every believer I have ever spoken with has had a real struggle at one time or another with some of the same issues, with regard to the private prayer time. Forgive my candidness here, but the only way that I can tell you how to learn to pray is to learn from The Rabbi of Nazareth, Who gave us the tools for effective prayer in Matthew 6:1-14. These are familiar verses, no doubt, so let's read them from The Message this time, to get a fresh perspective on what exactly Jesus was trying to say.
"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure - 'play-actors' I call them - treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it - quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best - as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others."