The following article is a guest post by Pastor Ken Smith, retired minister in the RPCNA. This article appeared in a monthly email column Ken has called "Man-to-Man."
It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples. - Luke 11:1
I want you to note in the verse above the factor of “teaching men to pray.” Yes, and that includes how to pray. It’s interesting to note that Jesus was praying and His men observed. No, the text does not say whether or not He was praying out loud. Maybe. The twelve knew what He was doing regardless. It led them to ask Him to teach them to pray. He did, many times.
I’ve told you about the railroad engineer who came to Christ. When he first showed up on a Wednesday for prayer meeting, he prayed in our threesome. After we were finished, he smiled a big smile of satisfaction, and then he said: “Men, that’s the first time in my life I ever prayed out loud.” O, yes, he was a member of the church. He learned to pray listening.
In helping a new believer develop his own “private worship,” how does he learn? A simple way to respond to that is to ask, “How do children learn to talk?” Of course, by listening. And how delightful when their firstborn says his/her first word! The process started, it never seems to stop! And prayer is like that: it’s talking to God. And Jesus taught His men to begin His model prayer by addressing God the Father. And just like children listening, a new believer learns the relevance of “Our Father, Who art in heaven….”
Now we don’t have everything Jesus taught His men about prayer, but we know an important thing: the twelve sensed the importance of prayer. And they caught the note of “reverence” in Jesus’ expression, “Hallowed be Your name.” Jesus’ relationship to the Father was both reverent and intimate. And so it’s not strange that the posture for prayer is commonly on one’s knees. Your new disciple will pick that up when he sees you taking this posture to pray. O, yes, he will notice that! But he’s mostly listening.
One time when my Roman Catholic neighbor was sick, I popped over to see him. (He and I often played golf together.) When I was about to leave, I asked him if I could pray for him. He was a bit surprised, but he warmly agreed. When I had finished the “Amen,” he said, “Ken, you talked to Him like you know Him.” Yes, we had a good talk.
Now it’s very interesting that in the Westminster Shorter Catechism each petition in the Lord’s prayer is examined and explained. It’s very helpful in teaching a new believer what prayer is all about. However, we’re not to that point yet with this new believer. Intimacy with God in prayer grows slowly. When one is helping a new believer learn to pray, remember it’s in the context of his new relationship with God. And like with meeting a new person, one wants to listen. As the new believer becomes more familiar with listening to God in the Word, he will grow in how to speak to Him. But let me stress again: he learns to pray by listening to others pray. And he becomes excited when God answers. At the start of his praying aloud, you will often hear him saying things in a way not usually heard in public prayers. He’s learning.
Now let’s come back to reading in the gospel of Mark. We’ve asked him to note the word that has caught his attention. We let him tell us what it means to him. And by the way that also can be valuable to help him if he’s missed the point of the text and made a faulty conclusion. Little by little he will be given grace by the Holy Spirit to understand the Word. But it then also often becomes a basis for his prayer. The Word teaches him to listen to God. The Word also teaches him to obey God. And the Word invites him to speak with God as “Father.”
Now let me tuck in here how this relates to his listening to a sermon. He’s a new believer. He’s started to read his Bible, watching for something that stands out to him. Now when he attends a worship service and they turn to the Bible, he’s already begun to learn to watch for something that stands out to him. Imagine when the pastor reads from Scripture and then begins to focus attention on its meaning. Oh, of course. What stands out? Hopefully that will be the focus of the message. So, he’s not only learning to read the Word, he’s also learning how to hear the Scripture. And it can be very helpful to him when you ask him if the message made sense. What did he “get” from the Lord in the message?
Some churches have a discussion of the message during the next hour. That can prove helpful; but what can be even more helpful is when you ask him when you’re alone if he understood what you had together heard. Then he can share any problem or new insight. Also, it teaches him to meditate on what he heard. That’s a very important aspect of hearing a sermon. “What did the Lord teach us today? Did it make sense? Is there something I now believe I didn’t ‘get’ before?” I can help him learn by asking him questions about it.
For many of you readers this is elementary. But remember, our vision for our “contact” is his profession of Christ with his baptism and membership in the church. Many persons have gone through these steps, but have never seriously grown in Christ. I have met and met with such men: members, yes; baptized, yes; public profession, maybe; grown, little. And some of them know they’ve not grown; but they don’t know what to do about it. Those are men whom we can help if they are open to it.
Now let me try to pull some things together. Fundamental to coming to Christ is an attitude or spirit of learning, growing. When a person is “born again,” he has a new spiritual appetite. So, we seek to help him learn how to cultivate that new relationship. In short, we seek to help him develop his relationship to Christ. Simply put, it’s listening to God and speaking with Him. Men of God have learned that “communion” or fellowship with the Lord. They know it’s vital to their spiritual life. There’s a lot of theology behind that practice. I Peter 3:18 says: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God….” And it’s now that new relationship with God in Christ we seek to help him cultivate.
When he comes to realize that in Christ he now has access to God, it will revolutionize his life! And when he grasps that in Christ he can actually talk to and with God, he’ll be eager to pray!
And it’s true: answered prayer fills him and us with true joy. He cares!