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O LORD God, Who lives in eternity,

The heavens declare thy glory,

The earth thy riches,

The universe is thy temple:

Thy presence fills immensity,

Yet thou hast of thy pleasure created life,

and communicated happiness:

Thou hast made me what I am,

and given me what I have:

In thee I live and move and have my being.

(A Puritan’s prayer from the book The Valley of Vision)

In June, a group came from Chicago to help out at the home for needy children where my wife and I valley-of-vision-bookserve.  The leader of the group is Jim Hardman.  He has brought a group down every year for the last ten years or so, and we have become friends over that time.  Him and his group always bring gifts for the missionaries at the mission.  He told me about this little Puritan Prayer book that he had discovered, and that encouraged him in his personal devotion time.  He said he brought a copy in Spanish for our pastor.  It sounded like a book that I would quite enjoy and was somewhat disappointed that he did not have a copy for me.

Two weeks later my family and I were in Colorado, visiting my parents and my sister and her family.  I like reading about the Civil War and my sister had a few Civil War books for me.  She gave me another little book that she said her and her husband have been enjoying as well.  She had a brand new copy of The Valley of Vision for me.  The very same book that Jim Hardman had been talking about.  I started reading it and I love it.  I love the old language, but more than that I love the perspective of the Puritan writers.  Every prayer focuses not only on the goodness of God, but on the wretched, vile, state of humans, which makes the goodness of God to humans seem all the sweeter.

I like these prayers so much that I want to include excerpts of them in this blog about enjoying God.   Below is one entitled God Enjoyed.

Known, but beyond knowledge, revealed, but undervalued, my wants and welfare draw me to thee, for thou hast never said, “Seek he me in vain.”
To thee I come in my difficulties, necessities, distresses; possess me with thyself, with a spirit of grace and supplication, with a prayerful attitude of mind, with access into warmth and fellowship, so that in the ordinary concerns of life my thoughts and desires may rise up to thee.
Continue the gentleness of thy goodness towards me, and whether I wake or sleep, let thy presence go with me, thy blessing attend me.
Thy vows are ever upon me, and I praise thee, O God.

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Puritanism was a religious reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late sixteenth century. Under siege from church and crown, it sent an offshoot in the third and fourth decades of the seventeenth century to the northern English colonies in the New World–a migration that laid the foundation for the religious, intellectual, and social order of New England. Puritanism, however, was not only a historically specific phenomenon coincident with the founding of New England; it was also a way of being in the world–a style of response to lived experience–that has reverberated through American life ever since.

The other day in the monthly staff meeting that we have at the home for needy children, the prayer1administrator, Jill, said she wanted us to spend the first 15 minutes in prayer.  She invited those so inclined, to say a prayer out loud.  She said the prayers should be short.  One or two sentences.  She said that because on occasion she would get frustrated with her two young children. She told us that she would be at a store and her kids would ask her for something.  Sometimes she would tell tell them that yes, she would buy them a toy, but that they would need to wait.  During their time at the store, the kids would continue to ask for the toy.  She had already told them that she would buy it but they kept asking for it.  It bothered her that they didn’t seem to believe her or trust her word.  Then she realized that she does the same thing with God  in her prayers.  She doesn’t just ask once God for something once and then leave it in his good and loving hands, but keeps pestering God about it.  for example, she cares for two children.  One boy she adopted was born with hepatitis C.  She kept praying for him to be healed, like God didn’t hear her the first time.  She has cared for a six year old girl for almost that long.  She has tried to adopt the girl for almost that long, but has had no success dealing with the Mexican bureaucracy in the adoption process, despite her many prayers.

At the staff meeting most of us prayed a simple, short prayer, and I thought that it was one of the best corporate prayer times that we have had.

Later, I told her that I liked what she had said, and agreed with her, especially since I regularly had the same shopping experience with my two young daughters.  I told her that I thought Jesus agreed as well.  Jesus talked about how to pray appropriately with his disciples in Matthew 6 and also in Luke.  In Matthew he told his followers that some people babble long prayers and think that they will be heard because of their many words.  Then he told them the Lord’s Prayer.  It is easily prayed in 30 seconds, and covers any kind of a petition or concern that could possibly be on a person’s heart.

So why do so many people pray such long prayers, especially in public?  At the mission we naturally pray before each meal.  The other day someone prayed for about two minutes.  Really, how long does it take to say “Thank you God for this  food and bless it for our bodies use”?

Then there is the other side of the coin, or the tortilla, as my wife likes to say.  A few days after Jill spoke, Modesto, one of our missionaries from the mountains of Oaxaca, spoke about perseverance in prayer, and I thought of Jesus teaching on persevering in prayer  (Luke 18:1-8))  I also thought about Jesus prayer request at Gethsemane.  He asked God to let the cup that he was going to endure, to pass from him, adding the words, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”  That seems like a short enough prayer, but when he found his disciples sleeping, he asked them why they could not pray with him for one hour?  So what seems like a short prayer request was actually a long prayer.

So what does God really want?  Long Prayers or short prayers?  Part of the answer can be found in Ecclesiastes chapter three where the writer says there is a time for everything.  There is a time for short prayers and long prayers.  Also, we need to define prayer.  Prayer is communicating with God.  Paul tells believers in his letter to the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing.  In this sense our lives are to be lives of prayer, always communicating with God.  We also need to consider different aspects of prayer.  Many Christians use the acronym ACTS to help them with their prayers.  A is for Adoration.  C is for Confession.  T is for Thanksgiving.  S is for Supplication or petition; asking God for things.

When we are communicating with God; adoring and thanking him, our prayers can never be long enough. We could, and probably will, spend an eternity worshiping and praising and thanking God.  I have been reading Revelation lately, and over and over there are passages depicting the angels and elders and departed saints singing praises to God eternally; thanking God forever and ever.  Our primary communication with the Almighty should be adoration and thanksgiving.  By our attitudes, actions and words we communicate with God and with others our gratitude and love for our Creator and Savior.

Confession of our sins, faults, errors and shortcomings are a vital aspect of prayer as well.  How long this part of communication lasts with God depends on the person who is praying.  We would hope this aspect of prayer would not consume a terrible amount of time, although I am reminded of Martin Luther, who, when living in a monastery, would spend an hour or two each day confessing his sins.  He recognized himself as a sinful man when comparing himself to a holy God, and how far short he fell from God’s righteous demands upon his life.  As I grow older and closer to God, my own sinful acts, thoughts and behavior become more apparent to me, and, I must confess, that confession takes up a greater part of my prayer life.

Some people, however, spend an inordinate amount of time praying about their sins.  God doesn’t want us to focus on on our sins, but on the Savior who saves us from lives from sin.  He wants us to focus on his overwhelming compassion and mercy.  He wants us to continually remember that he forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  This brings us back to Adoration and Thankfulness.

The final letter is S which stands for Supplication, or to use a more common word, petition.  Or, to put it more simply, asking God for something.  Some people seem to think that we can twist God’s arm into giving us what we want, by asking him over and over for the same thing, like one of my daughters does when we pass the toy department in Wal-Mart.  Others think fasting is the trick to getting our own way with God.  Some like to gang up on the Almighty with prayer chains to receive a positive response.  None of these tactics work to manipulate God into giving us what we want.  No matter how determined or sincere the person or people praying the prayers are; no matter what the grievous situation may be or how many people may be blessed by an answer in the affirmative.  God is sovereign, all powerful and all wise.  He has determined what will happen before the foundation of the earth.

Because of this knowledge I stopped praying petitionary  prayers for many years.  Why ask God for things and to help people when he has already determined what is going to happen, I reasoned.  And then I took a close look at the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and realized the whole thing is a series of petitions.  I wondered why God wanted us to make all these requests of him, when he had already decided whether to grant them or not.  It finally struck me that asking God for stuff was not so that I might change his mind or convince him of the rightness of my request.  He wants me to ask him for stuff to change me and convince me that I am an extremely needy and dependent human being.  When I ask God for daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from the Evil One, I am forced to recognize my weakness and inability to ultimately provide any good thing for myself.  By praying petitionary  prayers, my eyes are opened to God’s goodness and the fact that he loves me and wants me to be happy.  Every bite of food I swallow and drink of water that goes down my throat is a generous gift from my loving heavenly Father.  Every time I receive pardon for sins and am protected from the Evil One, I know it has happened because of God’s incredible mercy and grace.

Also, when we pray for people in need, many times God is asking us to be part of the answer.  When we pray for a sick person, perhaps God is telling us to bring that person or the family a meal or clean their house.  Maybe when we pray for people in prison God is telling us to teach them English and bring them some cookies, a smile and a hug.  It could just be that when we pray for impoverished people in Mexico, that God is telling us to start a home for needy children, or maybe two or three!  When we pray for the needs of people, our main focus in that prayer should be to ask God how we can cooperate with him in being part of the answer.

So I spend a minute praying the petitionary prayer the Savior taught us to pray, and an hour giving him adoration and thanksgiving for the hundreds of ways he lovingly answers those petitions.

So the answer to the question, “Long Prayers or short?”  The answer is Yes!  Long on praise and thanksgiving, short on petition.

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What do you do in secret?  What do you do when nobody is looking?  In your private time when you are alone?  Jesus told his followers that our heavenly Father sees what is done in secret and that he will make it known (“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” Luke 8:17).  How does this make you feel?  It makes me want to celebrate!

I have been reading Matthew 6 for the last week.  Jesus is teaching his disciples and the crowd in his famous Sermon on the Mount.  He talks a lot about our “secret time” in chapter 6.  He is talking about practicing righteousness.  He tells the people, “Don’t practice righteousness to be seen by people.  Do your acts of righteousness secretly.”  What are the acts of righteousness that he is referring to?  Giving to the needy, prayer and fasting.

Giving to the needy

There are many ways that we can give to the needy.  We can give money.  We can give of our time.  We can give our talents or skills.  Jesus said that when we give of our time, talents and treasure to help those in need, that our right hand should not know what our left hand is doing.  What did Jesus mean by this?  How can our right hand not know what our left hand is doing?  That’s easy.  It happens all the time.  When we sit down to eat a meal we don’t consciously tell our right hand to pick up the fork and stab a piece of broccoli and put it in our mouth.  It happens naturally without much, if any, thought.  And after eating the broccoli, we don’t proclaim to those around us what a good deed we have just done (unless we are little children who hate broccoli and want our parents to be proud of us for performing such a disagreeable task).  It should be just as natural for disciples of Christ to give money to the down and out, or to volunteer at a homeless shelter, or to change the oil in the car of a struggling single mother.  It’s nothing to boast or brag about, unless we have such a childish faith, that we crave the attention of people more than the reward of our heavenly Father.  Jesus tells us the Father, the Unseen See-er, sees what we give, and will reward us.  Those who boast about what they have given and receive praise from people have gotten their reward.

Prayer

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray … to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”  Jesus was talking to the crowd about how to pray and how not to pray.  Here he  is telling people that when you pray to your Father, pray to HIM!  Talk to  HIM!  Don’t pray to  your ego.  Don’t pray to impress people.  Don’t pray to  preach at people.  Pray to  communicate to God.

How is this  best accomplished?  Jesus continues, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is  unseen.  Then  your Father, who  sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  If we want to be rewarded by our Father who is in  heaven, by answered prayers, intimacy with God, contentment, fulfillment, joy and peace, then we need to do our praying in secret; in silence and solitude.

Jesus says you don’t need to make long prayers, to inform God of your needs; to go into great detail about your aches and pains; your work situation; family matters; emotional turmoil; spiritual disappointments; struggles with sin and the like.  Jesus says in his introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, that God already knows our needs.  He is not in  the dark about your situation, just waiting for you to spill your guts so that he will understand what you are going  through.  When he gives us the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer, he purposely kept it  short.  He knows our needs, and simply wants us to acknowledge our needs before him, and depend on him and trust him, believing that he is good and that his love endures forever.  Having confidence in him that he loves us and wants us to be happy, and that he will do the right  thing.  We do all this, if we are  obedient to Christ, in SECRET.

Fasting

I don’t fast a lot.  It’s not my strongest spiritual practice.  I’m somewhat relieved that Jesus didn’t tell us that we need to fast.  He just told people, that if they choose to fast, that they shouldn’t make a big deal about it.  It is easy to make a big deal about it in our culture.  If  you want to impress  people with your spirituality, tell them that you going without food for a meal, or two or three, in order to get closer to God.  That will get their attention.  We love our food.  We don’t just have three squares a day, but we usually graze in between meals with all manner of snacks.  So giving up food for a while,for spiritual growth,  is a big deal, worthy of a reward.

But where do you want  your reward to come from?  From the praises and adulation of people who are impressed with your spiritual practice?  That can be good for your ego, but what about your soul?  God gives you a choice, you can receive your reward for fasting from friends and family, by letting them know what you are doing, or you can receive a reward from the Unseen See-er, our heavenly Father, who wants to bless our socks off with  rewards, if  we keep fasting our little secret, a little secret between me  and God – between you and God.

So, do you have a secret?  Do you do things in secret that nobody knows about?  Things that you prefer to keep under wraps?  I hope so.  I hope it’s Giving to the needy, Prayer, and Fasting.  Sometimes the rewards for doing  things in secret are material, physical, or spiritual during our life here on earth.  Sometimes the rewards are out of this world!  I think that when we get to heaven, God will say, “Well done,  good and faithful servant.”  And then God will reveal to us, and to the multitudes in heaven, what we did for Him on earth, in secret, and how that made a difference in peoples lives.  What a reward that will be!

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The one who gives without regard to who  is looking and does not even notice it as anything special themselves, no “big deal”, is the very one who has God’s attention and becomes God’s creative partner in well-doing.  He or she will know the fellowship of God and see the effects of these deeds multiplied for good in the power of God.  Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy