Friday, March 7, 2014

One-Sentence Prayers

Some of our best prayers are short, one-word or one-sentence utterances to God that need not fuss over length or eloquence.  Like in the winter weather that we’ve been having, when you’re spinning on black ice, you pray a prayer as short as two words: “Lord, help!”  Today, I want to talk about two important one-sentence prayers that we all need to learn.

"Who are you, Lord?"  (Acts 9.5 ESV)

When Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus, his prayer is only one sentence long.  Sometimes, in moments of crisis, you only have time or energy for one sentence.  Jesus manifests Himself to Saul, not in the resurrection body that He had shown to the other apostles, but as a blinding light.  Once He has dramatically gotten Saul's attention, Jesus asks, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me (Ac 9.4 ESV)?"   
In this one question, Jesus indicates two things.  First, He shows that He knows who Saul is.  This is no random supernatural attack, but a targeted intervention in Saul's life.  Second, it demonstrates that Jesus takes it personally when His followers are persecuted.  "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for [or to] one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for [or to] me (Matt 25.40 NIV)."  This accusation has to shake Saul up!  In an instant, he realizes his predicament, as he cowered before an angry God who is offended on behalf of His people.

Saul's response is so brief that it only takes the span of one breath: "Who are you, Lord?"  Yet, as brief as this prayer is, it’s loaded with meaning.  

First, it recognizes that all of Saul's preconceived religious notions of who God is, are now out the window.  Saul's ritual and religion had taught him many things about God, but they hadn't done a thing to teach him to know God.  Now, facing the True Light, he wants to truly know the One he had only known about.  "Who are you?" is a daring prayer, because it says you're willing to re-learn what you thought you knew.  Are you ready to pray a prayer that bold?

Second, when Saul calls the Light his Lord, he is submitting himself to this Power that he doesn't even know.  In one sentence, Saul asks, "Who are you?" and then follows it by acknowledging the lordship of the Light.  He doesn't wait for the Light to respond before he submits himself.  He says to himself, "Whoever this Light is, this is the One I'm going to follow."  Are you willing to be so bold as to call Jesus your Lord, even before you know Him fully?  

Then, Saul's one-sentence prayer, "Who are you, Lord?" leads to another serious consideration:  "Who am I, Lord?"  We know this because Saul changes his name.  Once named after the first king of Israel, a man of stature and pride who literally towered over all other men, Saul changes his name to Paul, which means "small."  When Jesus reveals Himself to Saul, he takes the man down a few pegs.  The new name indicates a new estimation of himself, and a new humility before God.  "Who are you, Lord?" is a bold prayer because it causes you to reevaluate everything—even your own identity.  I pray you'll be bold enough to pray this prayer today.

"Here I am, Lord."  (Ac 9.10 ESV)

This one-sentence prayer comes immediately after Saul's conversion.  On the heels of Saul's prayer, "Who are you, Lord," Ananias hears God's voice and says, "Here I am, Lord."  Apparently, Ananias is so used to hearing from Jesus that he doesn't have to ask who the voice belongs to.  He simply says, "Here I am."

Ananias' prayer is more than an acknowledgement of his current position.  Of course, Jesus knows where Ananias is.  Just as God's "Adam, where are you?" in the book of Genesis isn't a question about the first man's location, so Ananias realizes that Jesus knows exactly where he is.  Ananias isn’t saying, “I’m over here!”  Instead, it's a statement of availability.

Moses told God, "Here I am...send Aaron."  Isaiah said, "Here I am, send me!"  Like Isaiah, Ananias' brief prayer says, "I'll go wherever you send me."  He also calls Jesus "Lord," acknowledging Him as absolute authority over his life.  In other words, "Whatever you want, no matter how dangerous or preposterous I think it may be, I'll do it, because of who You are."  And Ananias does.  Even though he thinks it not such a great idea to seek out the persecutor of the church, he does it anyway--because Jesus says so.  And both he and Saul are blessed for it.

When we pray Ananias' prayer, we affirm both Jesus' authority and our availability to God.  There's a lot packed into these four little words.  I hope you can pray it with the same strength and sincerity that Ananias had, when he prayed.

When it comes to depth of meaning, don’t sell short prayer short.  Sometimes the shortest prayers can be the most meaningful, especially when they come from the depths of your heart in moments of need.  I hope that you’ll pray these two short prayers, “Who are you, Lord?” and “Here I am, Lord,” and that like the biblical characters, your life will be transformed.

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