Matthew 6:6 (the message)
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
The verse above is part of the Sermon on the Mount found in the book of Matthew. Jesus is talking to the crowd of people who had climbed the hillside with Him to hear what He had to say. Here he is talking to them about prayer.
Prayer. Just the word kind of holds a heaviness doesn’t it? Most of my life prayer has been something I needed to do or knew that I should do. I believe my perception of prayer was such that it seemed like work…and work that I wasn’t very good at. Perhaps because I had certain expectations, preconceived notions, about what would happen in a time of prayer…I had in mind an idea of how it would go if I was doing it “right.” Sometimes it went the way I thought it should go. Many times it didn’t. I would start out with the best of hopes and intentions in developing my spiritual muscles but end up the same old couch potato. Why?
I hadn’t yet stumbled head-long into Grace. The grace of God was all over my life, like all of our lives, but my vision was still fogged up with striving and earning my way as a Christian so I wasn’t quite seeing it. Do I see it clearly now? Not crystal clear, no. But I have seen enough of it now that I must see more. I must be transformed by grace…receiving it…giving it. But what in the world is it? What does it have to do with prayer?
Grace is all about God’s love. His favor. His kindness. He’s the kind of God who causes a virgin to give birth to a baby boy who turns out to be the sinless Son of God. This 33 year old man dies a criminals death…for love…for us…for free. Oh yes, there it is…grace…it’s free. It makes no sense to our way of thinking. We are all about penance and our rights and earning our way. We are very much about making the offender pay his due. Jesus had the right to refuse the lashes He bore on His back. He could have said no to hanging on a wooden beam for hours, flesh torn by nails, pushing the weight of His body onto a nail driven between His feet so He could straighten enough to take a breath. Jesus was beaten bloody; the Bible says He was disfigured. Remember, this is the era of the Roman Empire…a time of coliseums, of lions and criminals meeting up for the entertainment of the masses.
We make prayer this spiritual exercise. We think we have to do it a certain way to get certain results. Most of us don’t really believe God wants to hear from us or that He would listen so we just don’t do it. Prayer, communicating with God, can be intimidating. Some of us take it as a stage and do in fact role-play. Some of us shy away because we sense that with a God like ours…this Jesus…we couldn’t dare hope to come close. My thought is this…Would God work out this incredible plan of redemption, of rescue…would Jesus say yes to every stroke of the whip and every ring of hammered nail to keep us at a distance? Does God intend for prayer to be arduous and boring? Has His grace been exhausted and so now we must prove ourselves in prayer?
I believe as long as you see prayer outside of God’s grace you won’t ever enjoy it. You probably won’t do it. We all say…”I’m praying for you”, but I think that has become the equivalent of “God bless you.” We don’t really pray because we don’t really think it makes a difference. We think prayer is just about asking God for something or needing a miracle…or sometimes forgiveness. I write about it because I have been there. Getting up to pray because I was trying to prove to God I cared. Praying and saying certain things to Him that I didn’t really believe because it’s what I thought would bring results. And the truth is it didn’t work.
Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. This is what works! Those eleven words can change your life it you take them into your heart. They are changing mine. See, God loves us in a very personal and authentic way. Jesus was tortured as the final payment for the sin of mankind. That is not a lightweight bill! A God that loves you so ferociously would want to keep you close. Human beings like to attach weight and worth to their way of doing things so they can be ‘in’ and keep someone else ‘out’…so they can feel superior. Jesus isn’t like that. Jesus is all about bringing in the outsider. But He wants the “real” you. The “real” me. When I gave up trying to make my prayers fit a certain regimen and starting talking to God like a real person my life began to change. I believe, with all my heart, it’s because in relation to my life, He can only work in the real me. So, as I learn to be real with Him…find the secluded place where there is no pressure from anyone else…a place where I can be really honest…He can speak to me. I can sense His presence. As I come near to God, He comes near to me. It’s not my idea! That is what the Bible says in the book of James. But you have to come near to Him. I don’t think He comes near to our pretend selves, or the self we think He wants to see. That is why prayer must be drenched with grace…God wants, insists, we come to Him as we are. Not so He can mete out His displeasure but so He can heal our broken hearts, so He can show us His plans for our lives, so we can get lost in His presence, so He can show us the truth we need to see. That only happens as we realize that effective prayer, truly drawing near to our Creator, only happens through His grace. His free and priceless generosity. For me. For you.
Toss your script. Be yourself with Him.