Cecil Vanhouten on Prayer

02.04.13 | Sonny Delfyette | Comments[0]

PrayerWhy We Pray

Written Feb 1, 2013 3:34pm

MEDICAL UPDATE:  Thank you for continuing to pray.  As each new day comes I am so grateful for your faithfulness in lifting these needs to the Father.  I’m glad to be able to say that this week my condition remains stable and all the indicators continue to move in the right direction.  Things could change tomorrow, but for the moment, we’re doing ok.  God is continuing to open doors for sharing his love with people here – staff, patients and family members.  It’s an amazing mission field.  Thanks for the cards and emails, for stopping by to visit and...for the rubber chicken.  (It’s a long story.)  Connie and I appreciate you all so much.  God bless.

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Almost every morning since July 24, 2009 I’ve started my day with this prayer:  “Thank you Lord for this new day.  Thank you for keeping my heart beating through the night.  Please be with me today.  Help me to keep going one more day for you.”

Most mornings I continue with a time of thanks, followed by prayers of confession and forgiveness then other petitions.  But even on days when I don’t have time to continue praying I try to begin, even before I get out of bed, with those words. 

Why July 24th, 2009?  Because that was the first morning I woke up in my own bed at home after my heart attack and hospitalization.  I was so grateful to have survived the entire ordeal and make it back home that those words just came out of my mouth without thinking.  The next morning I remembered them; I don’t know why, but I prayed them again.  The same thing happened the next morning and the next.  Now, three and a half years later, they still resonate with the same meaning.

It became a way of starting my day by centering on four thoughts:  being thankful for a new day and for having kept my failing heart beating through the night; then praying that God’s presence would manifest itself in my life and that I would be able to have purpose and meaning in serving him that day.

I've walked with the Lord for over forty years and you know what?  I feel like I'm just starting to 'get it'.  These are some of the things I've learned along the way; simple observations on prayer from a fellow traveler who is stumbling toward a clearer understanding of what it means to follow Christ. 

If you Google the word “prayer” you’ll get about 304,000,000 results.  That’s right, three-hundred-four million.  Amazon carries more than 83,000 books on prayer, over 7,000 of them e-books.  There’s certainly no lack of information about prayer, from “how-to” books to inspirational writing to theological studies and books for children.  But for all the information and knowledge that’s available, some of us still don’t feel we’re very good at prayer. 

So maybe, instead of assuming that when someone becomes a Christ follower they know how to pray, we should assume they don’t and disciple them.  If we spent as much time mentoring people in prayer as we do getting them on committees or involved in activities, what a difference it could make.  Part of the reason so many people struggle with prayer is because they don’t realize how simple yet demanding it is to do.    

How do we react to those times when we feel dry and parched like there’s no life or vitality in our prayers?  Or days when it seems prayers bounce off the ceiling, going nowhere.  Often we feel discouraged and blame ourselves; after all, if we love the Lord praying shouldn’t be that hard, right?

Wrong.

Sometimes prayer is a very hard thing to do, like when we’re challenged to pray for people we don’t like.  I’m ashamed to admit it but there have been times in my life when I’ve thought, ‘For all I care they can go to hell’.  And almost immediately I heard the Lord’s voice, “Really?  What if I’d said that about you?”  Moments like that have a way of humbling you very quickly.  So we pray for difficult people because we know God’s love isn’t limited by our prejudice.   

It may be you’ve been praying for a long time about a situation that doesn’t seem to change.  You’re exhausted and disheartened.  Prayer requires that we  maintain our purpose in spite of the difficulties we may face.  It's called perseverance.  I spoke with a pastor recently who has been praying for some family members for nineteen years with no sign that they’re drawing any closer to God.  I asked him what he’s going to do.  He said, simply, “Keep praying.”

Our driven lifestyles don’t lend themselves to times of quiet and meditation either.  We thrive on being busy.  We’re on the grid 24/7.  So we feel pretty good when we squeeze in a few hasty minutes and throw a couple of requests heaven’s way – “Here Lord…catch!”    

Why does this all matter?  Without an understanding of prayer we are likely to miss one of the most essential aspects of our relationship with the divine.  If we fail to create a quiet place where prayer is our only focus, we do so at our own peril.  Without it we will never know the possibilities that intimate communion with God can offer.  Said Charles Spurgeon, “Quietude, which some men cannot abide, because it reveals their inward poverty, is as a palace of cedar to the wise, for along its hallowed courts the King in his beauty deigns to walk.”

Take a moment – right now – and visualize that.  Isn’t it a breathtaking image?  We are invited by the God of the universe, the creator of all that is, to spend time in his very presence in a precious, holy place.  What could possibly be more important or meaningful than that?   

Many churches have reduced prayer to a pro-forma element of our gatherings.  It’s an aside, something we do at the beginning or the end of a sermon, a meeting or a meal.  And too often the importance, the necessity of having a meaningful prayer life is not emphasized.

I’ve come to believe, and this is just my own conclusion, that prayer is not an option – it’s an obligation.  I don’t mean in a legalistic sense.  But it isn’t just reserved for those moments when it’s convenient because sometimes it’s very inconvenient.  Prayer doesn’t deserve our partial attention – it demands our full attention.  Prayer is the heartbeat of our relationship with God, as integral to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life.    

What got me started thinking about this is the sheer number of people who have said in the last few months that they’re praying for me and Connie.  Many people have said they admire my faith or my strength.  Some have called me an example.  I appreciate what people mean when they say those things but I don’t feel that way.  I look at how many believers are going through situations that are much more difficult than mine and, as serious as my circumstance is I think I have it easy in comparison.  So I’m grateful if the Lord can use my situation to demonstrate his grace in action but it’s nothing more than that.  He’s the story, not me.

Some days I feel depleted.  The Lord, through your prayers, restores me.  Some days I have difficulty putting the last 3-1/2 years in perspective.  The Lord, through your prayers, reminds me that it’s the long view, not the short that matters.  Some days when I have an opportunity to share the faith with someone it makes me realize how many hurting souls are around us every day.  But the Lord, through your prayers, encourages me that he is at work even when we feel overwhelmed by the needs we see. 

The great evangelist and pastor of the last century, R.A. Torrey wrote, “Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God’s infinite grace and power.  All that God is, and all that God has, is at the disposal of prayer.  But we have to use the key.”

So what’s it going to be?  You can live a life that is Christian or you can live a Christian life.  The choice is up to you.

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