Today’s Thought and Text of Encouragement:
“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. 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
New Living Translation
“My helpless friend, your helplessness is the most powerful plea which rises up to the tender father-heart of God. He has heard your prayer from the very first moment that you honestly cried to Him in your need, and night and day He inclines His ear toward earth in order to ascertain if there are any helpless mortals turning to Him in their distress…your helplessness is the very essence of prayer.”
Today’s Study Text:
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’”
Luke 18: 13
“Praying Always” – Part 1
“A Sinner’s Simple Prayer”
“Prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.”
Have I ever hesitated to pray because I felt I wasn’t good enough for God to hear my prayers?
Is there something in my life that is a blockage in my communication with my heavenly Father?
“You know the value of prayer; it is precious beyond all price. Never, never neglect it.”
“Prayer is ordained to this end that we should confess our needs to God, and bare our hearts to Him, as children lay their troubles in full confidence before their parents.”
During the past month, I happened upon on small book, written in 1885 by D. L. Moody, the great American evangelist. This precious volume entitled, Prevailing Prayer, is so tattered I’ve had to tape and retape it -- but it has been such an uplifting journey for me as I’ve traversed the pages of this book. The message it contains has served as a re-energizing tonic that has given me a tremendous shot in the arm as the pressures of daily life continue to take their toll on all of us.
After reading this book, I decided to take some time, here at the beginning of the year, to dip into our Father’s well of heavenly wisdom and examine the gift of prayer that He has given us. A gift which offers each of us direct communication with Him -- anytime and anywhere.
At the beginning of each New Year, it is easy to make a host of resolutions which we plan on carrying out. But as is often the case, resolutions can be easily broken. Each year, I tell myself, that I’ll get more exercise or eat less chocolate -- and as you might imagine, it isn’t but a few weeks until I find myself struggling to keep up with my goal.
However, there has been one particular resolution which I have been able to keep and it is because I simply could not make it each day if I didn’t take time to pray. I will quickly add, this hasn’t always been the case. More times than I’d like to admit, I have found that the “cares of the world” encroached upon my prayer life in such a way that I not only didn’t make time to pray, I flat out ignored the fact I was missing out on the life-affirming power that comes when I choose to connect with my Father in heaven. The Apostle Paul understood exactly the tremendous good that is transfused into our lives through prayer when he encouraged the Christians in Rome, “Be…faithful in prayer” (Romans 12: 12, NIV).
I’m inspired by the words of S. G. Degraff who described those who fellowship with God in prayer as individuals who are enjoying a “continuous feast.” And thankfully, at this feast, the pounds don’t go to our hips, instead they strengthen our souls!
Whenever I write a series on prayer though, there are certain comments or questions which arise and so in the coming days, I want to prayerfully approach some of the issues that for many of us may have impeded our prayer life or challenged us as we started to fulfill the longing to have a closer relationship with our Father.
One of the first questions I received several years ago when we undertook the study of the Lord’s Prayer was this: “What do I say when I pray? How do I speak correctly to God?”
I found this question not only sincere, but to be one I had asked myself, as well. We hear people pray in church, at funerals, even before car races, and sometimes we get the idea that only if we have a well-planned, written out prayer, are we really able to get the God’s attention.
Well, I have good news for you today. Our Father God, Abba Father, is our friend. He loves us with a loving father’s heart. And further, He longs to give us the best He has to give -- everything which is for our well-being.
The way we approach God, even in what may appear to be the simplest way, was a point made by Pastor D. L. Moody when he shared the touching story about a young boy brought up in an English almshouse many years ago. This child did not know how to read or write, except he had learned the A, B, C’s. One day a man of God came to the almshouse and told the little children that if they prayed to God in their trouble, God would help them.
Several years later, the young lad found work as an apprentice to a farmer. One particular day, out in the field looking after the sheep, this boy was having a hard time. It was then he remembered what the preacher had said and so he decided to ask God to help him.
Someone who was walking by the hedge which surrounded the field heard a voice. As they peered over the hedge to see who it was, they saw the little boy on his knees, saying, “A,B, C, D,” and so on. The man asked, “My boy, what are you doing?” The young child looked up and said, “I’m praying.”
“Why, that is not praying -- it is only saying the alphabet,” the man told the child.
The little lad looked up at the man and replied that he did not know just how to pray the right words. Then he said a man once came to his almshouse and told the children that if they would call upon God, He would help them. So he continued, “If I name over the letters of the alphabet, God will take them and put them together into a prayer and give me what I need.” As Pastor Moody stated: “The little fellow was really praying.”
It is the simple statement of our heartfelt needs which touch our Father’s heart. And nowhere in Scripture is this fact more clearly seen than in Luke 18 where we find Jesus telling about two men who came to the Temple for one specific reason. They came to pray. One was a tax collector, of the outcast class of known sinners, that’s for certain. The other was a Pharisee. He had the “prayer words” down pat. He even went so far to say this about himself: “I thank You, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give You a tenth of my income” (Luke 18:11-12, N.L.T.). This holy man certainly had a lot to crow about. And it appears, he was more than willing to toot his own horn for everyone within shouting distance to hear. On the other side of the “holiness spectrum” was the despised tax-man, a collaborator with Roman officials, often found skimming a profit for himself off the backs of hard-working Jewish countrymen.
All the “sinner,” as he referred to himself, could do was beg for mercy. In a pray which was simple, short and to the point, he cried out, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”
This is a prayer each of us could pray, many times over. For as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned; all fallen short of God’s glorious standard,” but then he quickly goes on to give us this bountiful assurance. “Yet now God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this though Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.” It is this merciful gift -- a free gift, to all who will say, “O God, be merciful to me, because I am a sinner,” that the sin-stained tax collector relied upon when he came into the Temple to pray.
For all of us, who at one time or another in our lives have felt we didn’t know how to pray correctly or that we were such sinners, the words of Jesus, in response to the penitent’s prayer should not only encourage us, but give us daily hope when we have fallen. For as Jesus said, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”
On those days when you feel as though you aren’t good enough to come to God, and your prayers aren’t perfectly spoken, just remember, our Father can take our “A, B, C’s” and put them together to bring His power into our lives and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In the words of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, “Follow the leading of simplicity in prayer, there can never be excess of it, for God loves to see us like little children in His presence.”
“Tell God all that is in your heart, as one unloads one’s heart, its pleasures and its pains, to a dear friend. Tell Him your troubles, that He may comfort you…tell Him your longings, that He may purify them; tell Him your dislikes, that He may help you conquer them; talk to Him of your temptations, that He may shield you from them; show Him the wounds of your heart, that He may heal them.”
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to Your unfailing love;
according to Your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in Your sight,
so that You are proved right when You speak
and justified when You judge.
Surely I have been a sinner from birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me…
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow…
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Then will I teach transgressors Your ways,
and sinners will turn back to You.
This excerpt is from a confession which David prayed after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged the murder of Bathsheba’s husband.
Dorothy Valcàrcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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