Paying Attention to God

Paying Attention to God

How would you define prayer? One definition is “prayer is the conversational part of the most important love relationship in our lives, our love relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. That is a good definition, but I think it can be simplified by reducing it to something I can remember: prayer is paying attention to God.

My in-laws are members of the Lutheran Church. When we visit them, we attend Sunday services with them. Their worship service is liturgical, meaning they repeat the same prayers and confessions every week. The minister will make a statement of faith and the congregation will give the predetermined response. Kathy tells me this repetition has lot of meaning for Lutherans, but it seems memorized and mechanical to me. The liturgy could be repeated while thinking entirely of something else.

For example, there was Lutheran pastor who always started each service with "The Lord be with you." The people would respond, "and also with you.” Every week the service began this way. But, one Sunday the sound system wasn’t working so the first thing he said was "There’s something wrong with this microphone." The people responded, "and also with you."

If we are not careful our prayers can become rote.  For example, there is a possibility that we can recite the Lord’s prayer or a familiar dinner prayer, but we are not paying attention to God. Prayer is communication with God, but communication is not doing all the talking. Good communication involves listening, paying attention to the other person.

Unfortunately, some people think of prayer as a parachute-they’re glad it’s there, but they hope they never have to use it. Those who don’t pray are trusting in their own, limited resources. God’s resources are unlimited.

Prayer is not a special gift for a select few. All who have trusted Jesus for salvation can learn to pray as Jesus taught. If we are followers of Christ, we desire this gift and communication with the One we love. Prayer is an integral part of seeking God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Therefore, if the Lord wills, we shall pay attention during the next few weeks to what the Word and the Holy Spirit teach about prayer so we can get closer to God and do His will.

Let’s begin with 1Thes. 5:16-18,Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

How do you view prayer? We need to view prayer as the blood from our hearts and the breath in our lungs. As long as we are alive, the blood flows and breathing continues continually. We are not conscious of it, but it is always going on.

Likewise, prayer is not an exercise; it is the life-blood of the Spirit within us. Beware of anything that stops prayer. “Pray continually,” develop the habit of paying attention to God all the time.

Is prayer really that important? Will you suffer in your life if you do not pray?  Not really, unless you are born of the Spirit, because what will suffer is the life of the Son of God in you, which is nourished, not by food, but by prayer. Jesus nourished the life of God in Him by prayer; He was continually in contact with His Father.

Prayer also nourishes God’s peace in us and makes us thankful in all circumstances. Prayer reminds us that God is our Father and He loves us.  We shall never think of anything He will forget.  When we rest in these facts and pray, worry becomes an impossibility.

Jesus Christ says in Matt 6:31-34 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Worry makes us self-interested and we lose our focus on God. Prayer causes us to pay attention to God, to lay down our worries and burdens, and then the life of God in us is nourished instead of starved by anxiety.

A benefit of praying is that it enables us to know God. Think about it. How did we get to know our spouse or our best friend? We communicated; we talked, shared our hearts, and listened intently to them--sometimes for hours at a time.

Matt 6:6-8,But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Jesus says “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Our human common-sense says, “Then why ask Him?” We have the wrong concept of prayer. Prayer is not getting things from God; prayer is getting into perfect communion with God, relating to Him.  We tell Him what we know He already knows, in order that we may come to understand it as He does.

Furthermore, prayer is not just telling God about big things, but talking to God about everything and paying attention to Him. Then God can use us to accomplish His will, which is another benefit of praying.

We just read that God’s will for us is to Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. Prayer helps us trust God, for God puts us in circumstances we don’t understand. Prayer allows us to talk to God about it and receive His assurance and faith.

God’s will also is to answer the prayer of His Son, who abides in us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ prayer is that we be one, as He and the Father are one. That is why it is necessary for us to pray for one another.

John 17:20-23 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

It makes no difference where we are. It is always possible to pray, to pay attention to God. Special times, devoted to prayer, are important, but as we go, we are to pray continually; wherever we are.

This is the way that God’s will is brought about, as we, His ambassadors live out the life of Jesus in us, joyfully giving thanks and continually praying.  That is how we become lights in this dark world of evil, gloom, hopelessness, and chaos.  (We shine when we are like Jesus—joyful, prayerful, and thankful—doing what He tell us.)

Be yourself when you pray to God, and present your problems, the things on your mind that bother you. Ask, and Jesus Christ says your prayers will be answered. After all, Jesus never mentioned unanswered prayer. If we pay attention, we will “hear” God say, “Yes”, “No, I have better things for you”, or “Be patient and wait.” God answers prayer in the best way, not sometimes, but every time, at the right time.

If God delays the answer to your prayer, don’t misjudge Him, don’t think of Him as an unkind father, or an unjust judge, but continue to pray, your prayer will certainly be answered. Jesus said in Luke 18:1, that we should always pray and not give up. Our heavenly Father will explain it all one day.

Sometimes it is necessary for our prayers to be public, for others to hear as well as God.

John 11:41-42, So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Nevertheless, when Jesus prays publicly, He is only consciousness of His Father. Likewise, when we pray in public, we should only pay attention our Father, to whom we pray.  The prayer is said aloud so others can believe and agree while they also pray.

God always hears the prayers of His Son, and if the Son of God is formed in us, the Father will always hear our prayers, because we will be praying in His Name and with His Spirit.

John 16:23-28that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Jesus came to reconcile us with the Father and re-establish our relationship through His redemptive work on the Cross.  Adam walked with God and talked with God, but Adam lost the intimate relationship with God because of sin, which separates us from God. As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, the Holy of Holies is now open to us, allowing us to approach the throne of grace by prayer in the Name of Jesus. Once again, we can walk and talk with God. This is the privilege for those in Christ Jesus.

The greatest benefit of prayer is that we are brought into an intimate relationship with God, an oneness with Jesus Christ, and that alters our view of things. It is somewhat true that “prayer changes things”, but it is more likely that prayer changes us and we change things as the Spirit of God leads us.

Again, prayer is paying attention to God. He wants us to know Him. As we grow in prayer, we discover that prayer is more than simply asking God for things, a selfish means to an end.  It is a process of drawing close to Him. Prayer is not an attempt to force the hand of God, but an act of submission to Him with the understanding that God’s answers are wiser than our prayers.

What happens when we pray? 2Cor 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

After we are born again of the Spirit, prayer seems more natural than before. When we pray, things remain the same, but we begin to be different. The same thing happens when a man falls in love; his circumstances and conditions are the same, but he has a preference in his heart for another person which transfigures everything about him.

For instance, when we pray, we will have less worry; more faith; less selfishness; more repentance; more peace; more joy; more love for God and others; and more power from the Holy Spirit. Most importantly, when we pray, we receive the gift of God Himself.

As long as we are self-sufficient, we won’t ask God for anything. We don’t need Him. We have no interest in God’s will.  We are content being our own god. It is only when we know we are powerless and come to the end of our self-sufficiency that we are ready to pay attention to Jesus Christ and to do what He says. That’s when we change and become a new creation.

Are you neglecting prayer? Then you are not communicating and paying attention to God.  You are not following Jesus because you don’t know where He is going.

Maybe you don’t pray because you don’t know God—you have no relationship with Him—you’ve never been introduced to Him.  Jesus says in Matt 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Have you done what Jesus says? Have you come to Jesus Christ and received rest and a new life?  If not, it begins with prayer, a prayer of confession of sin and belief that Jesus died for that sin, rose again, and lives in order to give you life, eternal life.  If you have not prayed for salvation, you can benefit from prayer right now.