looking at you, kid!
ere's Humphrey Bogart's most memorable line from the classic motion picture, "Casablanca," which was made before I was born. "Bogie", still one of America's favorite all-time actors repeated this to Ingrid Bergman,"Here's looking at you, kid!" This most popular movie line brought up a half million web page references on my search engine.
This famous movie line is also a good way to capture the concept of prayer for our conversation with God always begins with Him seeking us first. We don't initiate the dialogue for He has implanted a kind of computer cookie in our souls that makes us want to hear from Him. Jesus did not say, "IF you pray," he said, "WHEN you pray..." (Lk.11:2). Everybody prays, whether they are aware of it or not. We go around day by day silently talking to ourselves and talking with God. There is a consciousness of Him that is in all people, whether they even know His name. Prayer begins with God looking toward us. God's Spirit seeks us before we seek Him. He draws us into an awareness of Him. Brother Lawrence wrote that "Prayer is the practice of the presence of God."
C.S. Lewis described the Spirit's seeking us in his book, The Problem of Pain, which was quoted in the movie about his life, "Shadowlands:" "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
Yet, no conversation is complete unless we look back at Him, and answer Him, get to know His name, and come to recognize His voice. Prayer develops as we seek God. Jesus teaches us how to do that.
In Luke we hear the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray. They had been overhearing Him pray and wanted to join in the process. God had been seeking a deeper relationship with them as He had spoken through His Son. Much like people hopefully see a "Little Christ" in us, the disciples saw something special in the life of Jesus even before they understood Him to be the Son of God. Jesus responded to their request for instruction on praying by giving them a simple example of a prayer that is still repeated more than Bogart's famous line: We call it "The Lord's Prayer," and it is prayed in unison in about every Christian gathering in the world. We end our Pastoral Prayers by repeating this memorized prayer. It is repeated in football huddles, as the United States Senate is opened, at weddings, and at gravesides. It is precious to us; but, it was not enough to satisfy the disciples' need to pray deeper.
Prayer is God looking for an entry point into our souls and when we say, "Our Father," to begin The Lord's Prayer we are acknowledging our response and openness to Him. In a deeper sense, prayer is much more that our response to His seeking us; prayer is also Our looking at ourselves. When we pray transparently in conversation with Our Father, who already knows all about us, we can readily confess our sins, and begin to heal by His power.
Many self-help books available at Atlanta's bookstores say that we can find emotional integration through looking at ourselves honestly, as in a mirror. However, the difference in that secular approach and Jesus' supernatural approach is that the discovery of true selfhood centers around a Power that is able to do more for us than we could ever do for ourselves. For example, if we were to base our sense of selfhood and identity on our jobs we would be destroyed if the pink slip appeared in our pay envelope. All things are transient except the identity we have as a child of "Our Father."
There is another level of prayer that is even deeper than God looking at us, our looking back at Him, and our looking inwardly, which is prayer looking towards others. Becoming vulnerable within His love enables us to then be able to more perfectly love our spouses, children, dear friends, and others. To borrow from Bogart once again, "Here's looking at you, world!" We sometimes call it "intercessory prayer" when we remember those in need, those in hospitals, those facing crisis, those perhaps away from the Lord. We call it "prayer of petition" when we specifically pray that God might intercede in some situation that threatens to hurt persons. For example, we all need to be praying for the situation in Palestine that is threatening to turn into a full scale war any day now. In praying for crises that we do not know how to solve we always add the line, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
We must also add an addendum to our texts and say that Scripture teaches that prayer is ultimately not dependent upon our clever selection of the right words. In fact, the depth of our praying is in the coming to the exhaustion of human language and allowing the Spirit to interpret our groaning that expresses the profound yearnings of our souls. We could not find adequate words to tell God how much it hurts us when our child's life is threatened, but God already knows our pain for He has experienced the death of His own Son. Through the depth of prayer we are able to experience the overwhelming love of peace and power that surpasses our limited intellectual grasp of the magnitude of God's omniscient knowledge of all things.
Finally, we grow deeper in praying by practicing praying. He gave them a prayer guide to get them started, knowing that they would learn by doing, and doing, and doing. Those who remained faithful did learn the depths of prayer through the terrifying events that were to surround the Cross. "God's megaphone" of pain, empowered devoted disciples to fulfill their calling to carry the gospel throughout the known world. Most of us have learned that regular praying keeps us in spiritual shape so that when inevitable problems occur, we know which way to turn. Prayer remains our best hope, and the hope of the world.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor