Best of Daily Reflections: When You Don’t Know How to Pray
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus warned that hypocrites pray before people, but his disciples were to pray to God. Specifically he said, “Pray to your Father … ” What happens when you pray to God as Father?
We were taught in seminary always to have a sermon in our back pocket—just in case. I got mine from Fisher Humphreys. It’s a message on prayer. He suggested that when we pray we should assume that God will respond to us like a father responds to a child. That’s why we pray, “Our Father.”
So there are some things a father will give his children whether they ask or not just as there are some things God will give us whether we ask or not (Matt. 5:45).
And there are some things a father will never give his children no matter how often they ask, just as there are some things God will not give us no matter how often we ask (Is.1:15).
And finally, there are some things a father will give his children but only if they ask, just as there are some things a father will give his children but only if they ask (Jer. 33:3).
So the question comes, how can we tell the difference between these things? The answer, of course, is that we don’t know the difference. That’s why the Bible says, pray about everything. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). We make clear to God what we think is best and then trust him with the results just as Jesus did in the garden before his death when he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Years ago a friend, Peter Niewit, told of being diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer that meant he would not live out the year. He was a dad of three young girls. The news was devastating. He got lost in a fog of depression, so his wife decided to arrange for a hike to cheer him up. It was to a special place with a mirror lake at the base of a forested and snowcapped mountain. It was such a popular place that the Forest Service had built a cabin where people could stay. The reservation list was a year long, but his wife signed up anyway. This only deepened his depression. “Everything here is so permanent,” he said, “the mountain, the forest, the lake—but not me. One year from now I won’t be here.” But a strange thing happened. A year later the mountain was gone, and so was the lake and forest, all blown away when Mt. St. Helens exploded on Mother’s Day 1980, but my friend Peter lived on for many years.
Peter was the first to insist that it wasn’t because he and his family and friends prayed just the right prayer to earn God’s favor. It really doesn’t work that way. As our Heavenly Father, God responds in mysterious ways—sometimes yes, sometimes no—but whether yes or no, always just right.
So Jesus says, go into your closet and pray all your secrets to your heavenly Father and your heavenly Father will hear you and reward you beyond anything you can dream.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How long have you been a praying person? What have you learned about prayer from your years of praying? About God? What does it mean to you to “pray in secret”?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, right now I’m doing just what Jesus taught me to do. I am praying to you as my Father. I know that some who are praying this prayer had a difficult relationship with their father, and some had a life-giving relationship. Either way, we are praying to you as our perfect father, loving, caring, guiding, correcting, understanding, protecting, comforting, and hugging. Together, we lay before you the secrets of our lives and wait for your perfect reply. Amen.
Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren.
Technology at Work
Will there be technology in heaven, or is technology simply for our use while we’re here on earth? What technology will we take to heaven? And what is technology, anyway? God placed humanity on the earth and gave us instructions to take care of it. Does that mean God had technology in mind right from the beginning? We are quick to judge technology and find it wanting, but what if technology can help us as we partner with God as co-creators and restorers on the earth? How would we steward technology differently if we thought it might actually have an impact on the kingdom of God? Our theme Technology at Work explores some of these questions and more.