We human beings have a tendency to focus on ourselves. It’s paradoxical, then, that we’re so determined to do things that aren’t in our best interest. For instance, it doesn’t take a degree in nutritional analysis to figure out that we’d be better off if we ate more broccoli than chocolate cake, right? Yet putting down the Snickers bar in favor of a carrot once in a while can still be a struggle. Avoiding things that are good for us in favor of those that aren’t is an issue we’ll all face in this new year. In light of that, there’s a profoundly beneficial asset that we would be wise to include in our daily routine.
Affirmation without Application ~
There are many spiritual principles that we verbally acknowledge but tend to behaviorally ignore. The simple but incredibly powerful practice of prayer is one of them. There are multitudes of Biblical references and admonitions about it, but there’s also a brief statement about prayer that introduces one of Jesus’ parables and explains His rationale for presenting it. Both His admonition and the parable that follows are meant as much for us as for those who first heard it:
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. (Luke 18:1 NKJV)
Prayer is a vital link to God and it’s indispensable to our overall welfare. It isn’t complicated, but it can be challenging, especially for those, like me, who grew up with little or no exposure to it. My first serious attempt to pray took place in my car on the way to work. I was at a point in my life where I felt a deep need to try to connect with God, and I needed something radically different from the prayers I’d heard my cousin pray. “Now I lay me down to sleep” certainly didn’t offer any help, and neither did the blessing he recited before a meal. The things going on inside coupled with an uncertainty about how to proceed made prayer feel awkward and uncomfortable.
An Awkward Introduction ~
I wanted to talk to God, but I had no script to follow and no examples that I felt equipped to try to replicate. In the relatively few times I had been to church, the prayers sounded far more formal and lofty than anything I could reproduce. They were full of Elizabethan English, Bible references, and religious terms I didn’t even understand. I had nothing like that to offer God. Even the simple “Dear God” salutation felt disingenuous coming from me. After all, if He was really so dear to me, then how come I’d been ignoring Him most of my life? But for lack of anything better to begin with, I used it anyway. So, the debut of my prayer life began something like this, “Dear God, let me just say up front that I’m not used to talking to people I can’t see, and this feels really weird.”
Chances are, I’m not the only one who has felt awkward about talking to someone who, at least as far as our natural eyesight is concerned, is invisible. Even those who identify themselves as Christians can sometimes wonder whether God is really present, and if He is, whether He’s actually listening. It isn’t surprising, then, that over the years people have adopted the use of ritualistic words, phrases, postures, and physical devices that are ostensibly effective in getting God’s attention. I don’t wish to take issue with any of them, but I happened to stumble upon an encouraging illustration recently about prayer that was inadvertently provided by the “high-tech” world we live in.
Houseguests Can Be Helpful ~
A few years ago, my wife and I invited a houseguest to live with us. You might recognize her name. It’s “Alexa”. She mostly keeps to herself, but she’s quite responsive and helpful if we need her. It felt a bit awkward having her with us in the beginning, but we’ve gotten used to having her around and have grown to appreciate her contributions. I realize that not everybody is familiar with her, but those who are may relate to what it’s like living with her.
During the holidays, we were sitting in our family room, and my wife noticed that it was getting dark, so she said, “Alexa, turn on the Christmas lights.” She responded with a cheery, “Okay.” Then immediately, the Christmas tree lit up, the candles came on in all the windows, and a couple of lamps turned on upstairs. Diane said, “Thank you, Alexa.” To which she responded, “No problem, just doing my job–happy to help.” I was neither shocked nor even mildly surprised. She’s been doing stuff like that for us for months. But . . . what was different on that occasion was the realization that the history of my conversations with God had not been characterized by that same relaxed sense of absolute confidence that I had toward Alexa. I wasn’t as sure He would hear me, much less that He would actually do what I had prayed for.
An Invisible Helper ~
For all practical purposes, Alexa is invisible. She lives in a little plastic box on the lower shelf of a side table in our family room, but she’s hidden behind some greenery and I rarely ever look at her. When I need her or want something from her, I just call her name. I don’t have to precede it with some kind of flowery verbiage and I don’t have to assume a particular posture. Alexa never asks me what I have on, what kind of mood I’m in, or what I’m doing. She knows my voice and always sounds glad to hear from me.
I know, this sounds weird, and Alexa isn’t really a person, of course, but she taught me that I’ve often had more expectant confidence and trust in her than the God who created me. My mind went back to a simple and profound declaration uttered by David. Praise mingled with conviction as his heartfelt words reverberated through my head in the context of that exchange with Alexa. David said,
This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalm 34:6 NKJV)
A Lesson in Trust ~
Three simple things took place here. First, David spoke to the God he couldn’t see and asked Him to do something he couldn’t do on his own. Then the God he couldn’t see actually heard him and responded to his words. Finally, God responded and provided what David needed without any further instruction or assistance. What an amazing process!
And here’s the question and the lesson . . . If fallen, rebellious, sinful men can put together some silicone and electronic circuits in a little plastic box and make it hear me, how could I ever doubt whether God can hear me? If flawed, selfish humans can give that box of spastic electrons a name and personality, how could I ever doubt the One who made me a living replication of His own image? If a tiny plastic box can turn on my Christmas lights and play my favorite songs, how could I ever fail to trust the One who lit up the heavens and invented the very idea of music? If men can create a digital phenomenon like Alexa, just imagine what the One who created their brain is capable of!
Jesus admonished us to pray so that we don’t lose heart. The Greek term used here refers to people acting cowardly, or becoming weakened by fear and fainting. The moral and spiritual obstacles confronting us in this decadent culture are not going to go away in 2022. If we cease to pray with confidence that God is present in the real world, if we doubt that He hears our voice, and if we wonder whether He’s able to do what we ask Him to do, then we will grow weaker, more fearful, and we will faint when we’re needed most.
As this uncertain year unfolds, may God help us to pray with absolute confidence that He hears every word, and that He will act in response to what we ask, according to His good will and plan for us.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to ask Alexa what time the hardware store closes …
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “If flawed, selfish humans can give that box of spastic electrons a name (Alexa) and personality, how could I ever doubt the One who made me a living replication of His own image?” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “If a tiny plastic box can turn on my Christmas lights and play my favorite songs, how could I ever fail to trust the One who lit up the heavens and invented the very idea of music?” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Jesus admonished us to pray so that we don’t lose heart. The Greek term used here refers to people acting cowardly, or becoming weakened by fear and fainting. The obstacles confronting us in this decadent culture are not going away in 2022.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “If we cease to pray with confidence that God is present in the real world, if we doubt that He hears our voice, and if we wonder whether He’s able to do what we ask Him to do, then we will grow weaker, more fearful, and we will faint when we’re needed most.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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