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Transforming PrayerHow Everything Changes When You Seek God's Face
By Daniel Henderson
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Daniel Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeyond a "Grocery List" of Needs
My dad taught me how to play golf. He was the classic old duffer. I am not sure he ever took lessons—but growing up, golf gave us quality time together, so we played quite often, just not well. Today, I am advancing my father's legacy of mediocre golf. It is what I learned from his example.
My son Jordan is a worship pastor, and very good at what he does. His skills in worship did not occur because he was standing under a tree one day and a "worship apple" fell on his head, causing him to suddenly start singing Chris Tomlin songs. He learned to worship through observing others. He was exposed to some great worship pastors and profound worship experiences in his early years. He went on to earn his degree in worship ministries. Much of what he does today is a result of those personal and corporate models that he experienced growing up.
We all learn many of the essential skills of life through the model of others we love and respect. Some skills allow us to excel and become contributors to others. However, we can also learn ineptitude through the repetition of mindless tradition or dysfunction.
This leads to a core inquiry. Who taught you to pray? Has anyone provided a positive and life-changing model of prayer for you? Do you feel that you even know how to pray effectively? What is the purpose behind your praying? Is it working for you? Are you sure it is a biblical approach? On the other hand, are you simply doing what you have seen others do, wondering if there might be more to the reality of prayer than you have experienced so far in your life?
Theologian D. A. Carson makes the observation: "Christians learn to pray by listening to those around them." I must admit that I had to unlearn prayer. While I was grateful for some of the faithful Christians I knew during my early years, I am not sure their model of prayer really hit the mark or made much of a difference in helping me learn a biblical, life-transforming way to pray.
The earliest memories of my struggle with prayer go back to my elementary school days. I had a serious "drug problem." My parents drug me to the old-fashioned Wednesday night prayer meeting almost every week—especially when I had misbehaved. Perhaps they viewed it as a tool to reform me. To me, it was punishment.
Every Wednesday evening at seven, very sincere and devoted (mostly senior) saints would gather. The song leader would try to stir the group with some familiar hymns—four or five meaty verses each. Eventually, another man would share a devotion of sorts. Seldom did it relate to prayer, and I suspected he threw it together on the way to the prayer meeting in his pickup truck.
Then the leader would ask the dreaded question: "Does anyone have any prayer requests?" On cue, almost everyone pulled out their yellow pads and blue Bic pens to capture the finer details of each request. They were fully devoted to this ritual with good hearts and a genuine willingness to intercede for one another.
Unfortunately, for me, it seemed like everyone in the country must have had an ingrown toenail, a slipped disc, a cousin with cancer, or a friend in financial crisis. The requests went on and on. I got more depressed and sleepy as this part of the meeting dragged out, often for forty-five minutes or more.
Occasionally, some juicy gossip made its way into the conversation. Someone would suggest an "unspoken prayer request" for Deacon Charlie. Upon further review, we discovered that Charlie had separated from his wife, Matilda. Soon the discussion uncovered the shocking news that Matilda was having an affair with the piano player's husband. The piano player was on the verge of suicide (another prayer request). No surprise, Charlie and Matilda were struggling—because we then learned that their oldest son was a drug addict, their daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, and a third cousin on Charlie's side was a convicted car thief. Someone even suggested that their dog had rabies.
The exhaustive requests continued until someone happened to glance at their watch and exclaim, "Oh, we're almost out of time! We'd better pray." Hurriedly, we would slide our folding chairs into smaller circles, yellow pads in hand, and start praying for the myriad of documented needs.
Beyond "Bless" and "Be With"
I hate to say it, but it seemed to me that if you took the words bless and be with out of their prayer vocabulary, no one would have had anything to say. The prayers commenced in systematic fashion as we went down the list: "Bless this, bless that—be with him, be with her...." And they seemed to pick up the pace as the final minutes of the allotted time ticked away.
As we finished this flurry of blesses and be withs, the group would break out in a rousing round of "Sweet Hour of Prayer." Today I love this classic hymn, but back then it sounded like a sanctified version of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall"—and seemed to drag on just as long.
The leader would then announce, "Thanks for coming. We'll see you next week!" In my immature, confused, and quite bored mind, I thought, No thanks, I hope to stay home and watch Hogan's Heroes.
Sincere but Stuck
In spite of my skewed view of these old-fashioned prayer times, I know these dear saints were sincere and committed. At least they were at a prayer meeting. Most of the flock was at the softball league, the PTA meetings, out to eat at the local Mexican restaurant, or home watching Hogan's Heroes.
This praying minority would seldom miss a week. As much as I did not appreciate their pattern of prayer, I loved their hearts and willingness to persevere. These prayer warriors really did make prayer a priority. They saw some wonderful answers to prayer and were careful to thank the Lord for it all. It did seem, however, that they were inadvertently stuck in a long, deep prayer rut.
Of course, our prayer requests are a vital part of prayer. The Bible is clear about the need to ask God for things and share our burdens with one another. The rut occurs when we allow requests to serve as the foundation of our praying: focusing on our problems rather than actually engaging with God in a multifaceted biblical prayer experience.
Clearly, the request-based approach just did not work for me. I have learned that it has not worked for many seeking Christians. This dissatisfaction led me to a growing and life-changing understanding of what I call worship-based prayer. It was not a new discovery but a simple revelation of what is clear in the Scriptures as a positive alternative to "grocery-list" praying. This approach has transformed my life and the lives of thousands I have encountered who have made this vital discovery.
What Is Worship-Based Prayer?
Worship is the response of all we are to the revelation of all God is. J. Oswald Sanders describes worship as "the loving ascription of praise to God for what He is, both in Himself and in His ways. It is the bowing of the innermost spirit in deep humility and reverence before Him."
Worship-based prayer seeks the face of God before the hand of God. God's face is the essence of who He is. God's hand is the blessing of what He does. God's face represents His person and presence. God's hand expresses His provision for needs in our lives. I have learned that if all we ever do is seek God's hand, we may miss His face; but if we seek His face, He will be glad to open His hand and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.
This approach to prayer always begins with a focus on biblical, Spirit-empowered worship. It is distinctively different from the traditional approach that emphasizes prayer requests and long lists of needs as the foundation of prayer. Christ taught a worship-based approach to prayer. It is modeled by many biblical personalities. It is fueled by scriptural truth in every case. Worship-based prayer ignites a desire for spiritual intimacy and personal transformation. In the discovery of these realities, a Christian is then empowered and enlightened to pray about issues and needs in a whole new way....
Perhaps you are eager to move beyond a grocery-list approach to prayer. Maybe you have felt the stirring of a deep dissatisfaction over your attempts to learn to pray. As you read these pages with an open heart, perhaps your soul resonates with the hope of new possibilities in your walk with God.
Join me as we hear the call of God to our hearts—"Seek My face" (Psalm 27:8)—and readily respond, "Your face, Lord, I will seek." When this becomes the passion and pattern of our lives, transformation occurs.
Excerpted from Transforming Prayer by Daniel Henderson Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Henderson . Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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