Chapter 3. Getting in Position - Prayer
Prayer is the second of four responsibilities of a follower learning to play the position...in the presence of God.
Here again is God's specific statement to the king, "Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place." (2 Chronicles 7:14-15).
Prayer may be the most often Bible-directed action for a believer. The word, “pray” is used 313 times and “prayer” 114 times. That kind of redundancy signals something of great importance to God.
Indeed, prayer stands with the powerful mysteries of salvation, love, and grace with which God has chosen to involve you. If it carries that degree of importance to our Creator, it must certainly be of importance to one who desires to follow him.
Prayer is a natural follow-on to humility, for when you are empty of self, you are properly prepared to look for God.
It is likely that you have a concept of prayer shaped in parts by the Bible, by your church experience, and by observations of others who have drawn your respect.
It probably includes aspects illustrated by this man, his head is bowed, his hands are folded, he is professionally attired, he could be kneeling, and he may be in a place that has become special to him for prayer.
"Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts." - Mother Teresa
"Prayer makes a godly man, and puts within him the mind of Christ, the mind of humility, of self-surrender, of service, of pity, and of prayer. If we really pray, we will become more like God, or else we will quit praying." - E.M. Bounds
“As it is the business of tailors to make clothes, and the business of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray!” – Martin Luther
Each of those elements form the physical portrait of a repentant supplicant before God...the bowed head in submission to his authority; eyes down or closed to avoid distractions or a proud or challenging look; the hands empty and presented in a defenseless and hopeful manner; best attire demonstrating respect; perhaps kneeling in a defenseless and submitted posture. It is certainly a picture of humility.
It is how you may have come to understand prayer. But, I want you to be aware that, like many traditions of the church designed to instruct or protect a virtue, it becomes easy to substitute a representation of virtue for the virtue itself. Substance can become lost in form.
I am not a golfer, but I can dress like one, and I can speak golf. Looking like a golfer does not make me one. Assuming the posture of prayer does not ensure that I pray. Nor does thinking about prayer constitute communicating with God.
So, due to the importance of this responsibility to your effectiveness in position, let's drill into the substance of prayer.
Hold here for a bit.
Establish a baseline of your current engagement with the responsibility of prayer. Check the side-bar. There are five pointed questions that I want you to honestly confront. As you work through the questions, ask God to reveal what he knows to be the answers.
Now go to the Prayer Self Assessment page. It will take a few minutes to work through it, but it is important.
(I am grateful for YouthPOINT for their work on a prayer evaluation piece from which I am borrowing heavily. https://www.myyouthpoint.com/prayer-self-evaluation/)
Pick up here when you finish the Prayer Assessment.
Let's build upon what you have been taught about prayer and upon what you may be thinking about it after the assessment.
Here are four concepts that will lead you to understand prayer as a position life-style rather than as an occasional event.
Prayer is the conduit into the presence of God.
Prayer is spiritual communication with God.
Prayer is the conveyance of petition to God.
Prayer is the listening for God's instruction.
Do you pray...not in church or right before a meal. Do you actually take time out of your day (or in the middle of your day) to pray to God?
If you don't pray, why not? If you profess to believe in God, but you do not pray, why?
If you don't pray, do you want to?
If you want to pray, but don't, what is stopping you? Fear? Lack of faith? Something else?
If you don't pray and you don't want to, why? Mad at God? Afraid he's mad at you? What'ss keeping you from praying?
Prayer: The Conduit into the Presence of God
I live three blocks from an interstate highway. It is the most effective way for me to get to any destination, but in order for me to experience that effectiveness, I have to get on the interstate. No brainer...right? Here's another simple bit...the key to getting on the interstate highway is the on-ramp.
Use of the interstate highway is not possible apart from that ramp. Without it, I could only watch traffic movement from a distance. I could speculate about where all those people were going, but I most certainly would not be able to participate.
It is the on-ramp that guides me into the flow of the highway and merges me with the speed and lane that most effectively allow me to reach my destination.
Think about prayer as the on-ramp into the presence of God.
When you pray, your intentionality and focus shift from all other things to God. You purposely incline your thought and will to God much like you would steer your car into the sweep of the on-ramp and accelerate, merging into the flow of traffic.
It is purposeful, but you do not have to think about it a great deal, for you know that ramp is the way onto the highway and that it is always available to provide that function. In the same way, prayer is always available to you. The Creator of the universe built that ramp because he wants you to have ready access to himself.
Once engaged in prayer, your increased attention and focus become conscious participation in an active spiritual environment that is guiding you forward in the purpose of God. Your spirit is connected with his. The Holy Spirit of God is ushering you forward into the presence of Jesus who joyfully welcomes your arrival.
Though you are cognizant that many others are engaged similarly at that same moment, your experience is personal. It is as if our loving heavenly father, having invited you before him, has laid aside all other considerations to bring his full attention to you.
Yes. Prayer is the conduit into the presence of God. It is always available for your use. And, he is always watching for your movement toward him.
Review these verses and take a few minutes to soak on what the Bible says about moving into the presence of God by prayer. Remember...this is God's Word. Ask him what he wants you to understand about prayer.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." Luke 11:9-10
"And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for." 1 John 5:14-15
"Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence." Ephesians 3:12
"So, let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." Hebrews 4:16
Prayer: Spiritual Communication with God
Communication theorists will tell you that effective person-to-person communication is tricky at best.
Think about it...you are trying to convey very specific meaning, according to your interpretation of that meaning, to another individual through the mediums of air and light by means of an assortment of sounds and symbols each of which is subject to a variety of interpretations by your intended recipient and anyone else who may be in the vicinity. See...tricky.
However, in the case of prayer communication, God has eliminated the variables. He has uniquely equipped you for direct effective interaction with himself by means of prayer...a spiritual communication link. Think of it as a private instant voice-activated two-way communication link.
Now, about that unique equipment. It is important that you know about the work of the Holy Spirit and prayer.
When you listened to the podcast, "The Moment"... you did listen to it, right?
If not...do it now.
I told a story of a flight in an F-16 jet and of the aircraft commander's role in activating my understanding of all that was happening around me. He leaned into my cockpit and flipped a switch on the communication system.
Here is the point. The switch and the system were already there...the cool jet came fully equipped with it from the cool jet factory. When the commander activated the system, all the pieces began to work instantly. The speakers in my helmet and the voice-activated microphone in my face mask were live and active. I could hear, understand, speak, and participate in the flight.
In the same way, you were created with basic equipment...mind, will, and spirit. When you became a believer, God spiritually activated your pre-installed equipment by the presence of his Spirit in you. There is much to learn about the role of the Holy Spirit in you. For now, understand prayer as the communication link, established and activated by God, that allows you to hear, understand, speak, and participate in his work in your life.
Take a few minutes and reflect on Romans 8:26-27. Ask God to draw you to a deeper understanding of these facts...
Prayer is the manner of communication between God and you.
His Spirit is both facilitator and interpreter.
He knows your spirit-voice and is fully attentive to each word.
God reads your heart even before you know to speak.
"And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will." Romans 8:26-27
Prayer: Petitioning God
This may be the aspect of prayer most familiar to you...asking God for something.
Petitioning is the act of making or presenting a formal request to an authority with respect to a particular cause. In our case, the "authority" is the Creator, Master, and Commander of all that is, and the "cause" is just about anything that you cannot achieve by your own effort, knowledge, or ability. Here's the really cool part...God invites it.
You have considered prayer as the way into God's presence and the means of communication. Now you deal with prayer as both the conveyance of petition and the content of that petition..."My prayer is...".
Prayer is the means by which you know you have expressed the realities of your life and by which you know that God has heard and understood. Asking is a natural thing to do in the face of need. If you have any experience with prayer, you know how to ask God for help. But, how do you know it is the right thing, the best thing, God's planned thing?
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6
That question raises the need to explore how to decide that for which you petition God...the "cause" for which you intend to advocate. That topic goes to motivation and point of focus...two factors that stem from either pride or humility. Pride will make clear what you want. Humility will lead you to explore what God wants.
Let's assume you read the first chapter and humility is your intended operational base. Now, consider the matter of confidence in prayer promised in the Bible, 1 John 5:14. How do you know that for which you ask is pleasing to him?
"And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him."
1 John 5:14
Before you go further, take some time to soak on these words from Psalm 37. They are direct instructions from God to you regarding the way you are to relate every area of life to him...how you are to do it and what he will do in response.
Three specific acts are prescribed. Identify each and personalize it. Speak it aloud to God as a commitment to act as he directs.
Each has a promised result. Identify each result. Personalize it and speak it aloud thanking God for his promise.
What do these three instructions have to do with effectiveness?
Regarding the question of how you know you are petitioning for something that pleases God, let me show you something hidden in the words of Psalm 37..."Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart."
So, like the Bible says in 1 John 5:14-15..."we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for."
In the presence of the Lord, surrendered, obedient, delighting in him…peace and confidence are your experience. Thankfulness and praise are your natural responses.
It is the "sweet spot" of the position. It is how you know that you are following Jesus on his terms, even when your journey with him takes you uphill and against the wind.
In those moments of delight, three things occur simultaneously. First, you press into him…continually seeking to know more about God; second, he meets you and brings to your awareness the ways he has worked in your life; and third, you speak naturally to others about him and all that he has done.
How do you know that for which you ask is pleasing to him? Delight in the Lord.
It is very possible that, in the last few minutes, you have thought more about delight in general and delight in God specifically than ever before in your life. This one spiritual discipline is of great important to the experience of playing your position effectively...living in the presence of God. Stay with it for a few more minutes.
Here is an exercise I want you to tackle.
Carve out a piece of dedicated time within the next 12 hours or so...no less than 30 minutes in duration.
Place yourself physically in the place most conducive to undistracted prayer.
Take a pen and paper with you. Not your phone...too many distractions there.
Consciously and intentionally bring your full attention to God.
Confess to him your current status experiencing delight in him. Use a ten-scale and honestly peg your score, 0-10.
Assuming you are not a "10", ask him to show you what is needed to learn about delighting in him.
Be quiet and keep your mind open to God.
Make note of the things that come to your mind. Some may seem unrelated to the exercise...write them down anyway.
You should emerge from the exercise with some interesting notes of things that God revealed to you. He will empower what he reveals and direct your actions accordingly. What happens after that is a factor of your responsive obedience.
If you are going to play the position, delighting in God must be a common part of your experience with him.
"Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday." Psalm 37:3-6
Here's the same in the New Living translation...
"Trust in the LORD and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun."
"Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the LORD. Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given."
1 Chronicles 16:8-12
Prayer: Listening for God's instruction
Prayer is the way by which you enter the presence of God; it is the manner in which you communicate with God; and is the way you make requests of God. Now we come to what I think to be the most important of the four concepts...prayer is the manner in which you receive his instructions.
Prayer is the intentional quiet in which you experience God's presence and by which your spirit is prepared to receive his instruction. The exercise you just experienced is an example.
Consider the story of Samuel...a young fellow who learned to listen to God and who later became a significant part of a turning point in the history of ancient Israel.
Eli's instruction to the boy, Samuel contains four factors that are essential to your effectiveness in hearing God's instruction.
Here is the first, absence of distraction..."Go back and lie down."
Effective listening requires undistracted focus. For me, that is most often highway driving with phone ring off; text notification off; email notification off; talk radio off; John Denver favorites off. Several intentional decisions are required to accomplish and maintain all that.
How about you? Where is the place that you can ensure the absence of distraction for twenty minutes? Think it through and determine how you can establish and maintain such an environment with an appropriate investment of time. Seriously...answer the question. Make a commitment.
Second, intentional listening..."ready to listen."
This factor requires another level of commitment that builds upon undistracted environment. Intentional listening demands cognitive focus. It is the inclination of your mind to God...intentional entry onto the the on-ramp.
Willful determination to move up God's prayer on-ramp into the quiet of his presence also requires willful determination to set aside the many other competing thoughts so common in the life of an effective leader. You are never free from the demands of your responsibilities. Even so, just as you make and keep appointments that order your time for effective handling of those demands, you can make an appointment with yourself to allow dedicated time listening to God. It will require that you give prayer priority over the other demands. If you are a wise leader, listening to God will have that priority...top priority.
Intentional listening to God comes down to a decision and a commitment. The decision is easy. But, you must be willing to make the commitment.
Third, validation of source..."If the voice calls again, say, Speak, God."
It is my experience that the "voice" of God is most often the strong and continual urging of the Holy Spirit upon my spirit in a manner by which I am caused to cognitively understand his clear intent.
That urging has come directly from reading the Bible. It has come through the speaking of another who may or may not be aware that God has used that one to convey his message. It has come from reading non-biblical literature. In my case, it is most often history or biographies. It has come on the side of a mountain or peering through a camera lens as I engage the beauty of creation or when I experience the loving nature of our dog.
Regardless of the triggering source, the urging is always consistent with the teaching of Scripture. More often than not, my initial understanding is a specific piece of Scripture or a clear Biblical principle supported by specific Scripture. As the Holy Spirit continues, he guides my thought to specific application...actions that bring the principle to bear in some context of life.
At first, like young Samuel, you will react with confusion, wondering where a thought came from. In time, you will become familiar with the Spirit's urging, so familiar that you will anticipate it.
Fourth, predetermined responsive obedience..."Speak, God. I am your servant, ready to listen."
This one is simple. Before you enter the prayer on-ramp; before you focus your thought upon God; before you receive an urging from God's Spirit...you must have already decided to obey and respond to what the Lord may urge upon you...nothing less and nothing more.
If you are new to the thought of humbly surrendering your control systems into God's hands, this one may throw you. The very idea runs counter to everything you were taught or observed in mentors about how to run a business or lead an organization. You are expected to control and this is an extreme challenge to the way you learned to lead. That is the very the reason God placed humility first in the responsibilities attendant to one who desires to be in his presence...to play your position effectively.
Listening for God's instruction through prayer requires it.
Almost done. You did an assessment earlier and established a baseline of your engagement with the responsibility of prayer. Since then, you have done a good deal of thinking about prayer...maybe more than at any other time in your life.
Do the assessment again. Do it honestly. See if there is a change in your experience.
"The boy Samuel was serving God under Eli’s direction. This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen. One night Eli was sound asleep (his eyesight was very bad—he could hardly see). It was well before dawn; the sanctuary lamp was still burning. Samuel was still in bed in the Temple of God, where the Chest of God rested.
Then God called out, 'Samuel, Samuel!'
Samuel answered, 'Yes? I’m here.' Then he ran to Eli saying, 'I heard you call. Here I am.'
Eli said, 'I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.' And so he did.
God called again, 'Samuel, Samuel!'
Samuel got up and went to Eli, 'I heard you call. Here I am.'
Again Eli said, 'Son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.' (This all happened before Samuel knew God for himself. It was before the revelation of God had been given to him personally.)
God called again, 'Samuel!'—the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, 'Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.'
That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, 'Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.' Samuel returned to his bed.
Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, 'Samuel! Samuel!'
Samuel answered, 'Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.'
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (The Message)
When you pray, your intentionality and focus have shifted from all other things to Jesus. Your spirit is connected with his Holy Spirit. Prayer is the pathway to his presence, and his Spirit is your usher moving you before him. How joyfully he anticipates your arrival. Prayer is the manner of communication between you and Jesus. His Spirit is the interpreter. He knows your spirit-voice and is fully attentive to each word. Indeed, he reads your heart even before you know to speak. Prayer is a conveyance of petition…the means by which you know you have expressed the realities of your life and by which you know Jesus has heard and understands. Prayer is the intentional quiet in which you experience his presence and by which your spirit is prepared to receive his instruction.
The effectiveness you desire in the position you are designed to play requires that prayer be common in your relationship with Jesus and constant in your journey together.
In the words of Jesus...
“Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.” Mark 4:24-25
Ok...now click over to Chapter 4...