A few years back myself, Betty, and our son Michael took the MSF Motorcycle Safety Course. For a day and half about two dozen souls learned and practiced motorcycle safety. We learned the basics of operation, starting, using the clutch, braking. We were instructed on safe riding techniques. The final test was a kind of obstacle course that put all of the lessons together. The course was laid out using small orange cones which we were to avoid at all costs. One by one we wove our way through corners, the toughest challenge was the final turn which lured you in and then quickly became tight. The trick in navigating the turn was to look ahead, look at where you wanted to go instead of trying to avoid the cones. Its a basic mechanical law of motorcycling, look at where you want to go and not at the thing you are trying to avoid because the bike will go where you look. Prayer works the same way. We all survived the final test and passed the course.
This first article of our series on Trail Mix Prayer begins with the basics of who, where, and when. Jesus taught us, “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” (Matthew 6:9–13, NASB95) We begin with the first phrase – Our Father who is in heaven. Later articles will consider the various “what’s” in the rest of the Jesus’ model prayer.
It is easy to think of “our Father who is in heaven” as the address on an envelope or an email address. One time a grade school teacher had us write and post letters, I think it was 2nd grade. In my mind I addressed it properly – Grandma, Goodfield, Illinois. That was it. For those of you not from central Illinois, Goodfield is a small farming community which at that time boasted a population of 300. Instead of rejecting my letter the postmaster somehow figured out which grandma to deliver the letter to. How we address our prayers, where we are looking, is important. But even prayers clumsily labeled like my letter to grandma will be heard.
Our prayers however are more like a conversation than a letter or an email. How we address someone when face to face declares something about our relationship. Are we close? What is our relationship? Do we respect, honor, and trust them? Are we unsure or distant? Our address can even relay our feelings towards them at the moment. Every child instinctively knows that if mom or dad invokes their middle name they are in trouble. Its not just the words that matter, our tone of voice and body language also declare our feelings and intent. Over the years I’ve heard a variety of ways to begin our prayers; some were formal, some religious, and some familiar. They all work, they all connect us to God and focus our thoughts towards Him.
Jesus invited us to pray to our “Father in Heaven”. He could have used any number of God’s names or titles but he chose one that breaths relationship. We are not invited before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) as a slave to a master, or a subject to a king, or sheep to shepherd but as sons and daughters. There is a famous picture of President Kennedy sitting in the Oval Office while his children played beneath the massive desk. There are other pictures as well also taken in the Oval Office of Kennedy and his children. One that I ran across shows Kennedy sitting at his desk while he converses with his daughter sitting in a chair reserved for guests. Powerful men and women could only enter the Oval Office and sit in that chair through an appointment. While there those men and women would address Kennedy as Mr. President. I’m sure that Kennedy children simply called him dad.
When we pray it is not wrong to use formal language but Jesus invites us to relate to God as father. I think that it brings us closer and gives us the freedom to open our hearts; pouring out both our joys and our sorrows. While I believe we can pray informally, like a son conversing with his dad, we must also avoid flippancy and reversal of roles. Our heavenly father should not be treated like our latest BFF but honored and respected; familiarity does not create equality. Also to be avoided is the desire to lord over God, to tell instead of ask, to command instead of obey. While we relate to God as our father He still remains our master, lord, shepherd, and creator. For instance, while I relate to God as Father I typically begin my personal prayers with “Lord”. The point is not to have a correct formula but to have a connected heart.
Name one place where you can’t pray. I’m not talking man-made restrictions or social agreements where public prayer is supposedly forbidden. Is there any place that you could find yourself that God would not hear your prayers? The psalmist observes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,” Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” (Psalm 139:7–12, NASB95) No matter where we are at physically, spiritually, or emotionally we can pray. We can pray driving down the highway (just keep your eyes open), while shopping, at work, at play, in moments of stress, in times of depression, and even when our souls are weighed down with sin God’s presence can be found. If one day astronauts travel to the far reaches of the universe, even there they could pray. I have a confession to make – I pray in school. No I don’t get on the PA system or stand before an assembly but as I walk the halls, as I observe moments of stress, as I learn about the personal struggles of staff and students I pray. Even in the places where man-made laws have tried to stifle prayer we can pray. Some today would limit prayer to our homes and churches citing Jesus own words as proof, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6, NASB95) Jesus’ point however was to avoid showiness, the prayer of the hypocrite which brings more attention to themselves instead of to God. No matter where we are at physically we can be and should be before the throne of God.
Where should we pray? Everywhere.
It is probably no great surprise that when is like where, since we can and should pray anywhere we can and should also pray at any time. It is good to have a set time, even if it is just a few minutes, to spend time with God. One morning prayer that I’ve read goes something like this – Dear Lord, So far I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossipped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed. And from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help. Remember that prayer is about relationship. We don’t set aside a few moments so our day goes better, prayer is not a good luck charm. We pray in the morning to set our focus, to remember who the day really belongs to, to know that whatever trouble comes our way Jesus is there with us.
Trail mix prayer doesn’t leave God at home or in church. Our daily journey unfolds moment by moment, joy by joy, challenge by challenge, so should our prayers. Each moment is an opportunity to connect with God. It can be as short as “Lord, Help!”, as pointed as “Keep them safe Father” as a car speeds by, as joyful as “thank you Lord for that rainbow.” I think that some of the most important trail mix prayers are those that bring God into our daily decisions and choices. Asking for God’s wisdom, guidance, and will for whatever is in front of us and pausing to listen for that answer.
The challenge and encouragement is simple – Our heavenly father has an open door policy. He hears our prayers no matter where we are or what time of day it is. So pray. Nothing is too small, nothing is too trivial. God is never too busy to hear from you.
Lord, I thank you for all that have taken the time to read this article.