By Don Meyer
ROSEMONT, IL (February 8, 2002) – Using what he considers five of the most powerful words in scripture, world-renowned author and speaker Leighton Ford challenged his listeners to seek a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.
Ford, president of Leighton Ford Ministries, addressed a capacity audience of pastors attending the 2002 Midwinter Pastors Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church in this Chicago suburb.
“If you could ask Jesus for one thing, what would it be?” Ford asked. The answer is to be found in the example provided by the band of disciples who followed Jesus. They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
“Perhaps they asked him that because they often saw him in prayer,” Ford mused in searching for the reasons behind their request. “Perhaps they wanted a simple ritual. Perhaps it came out of a sense of their own inadequacies.
“Jesus said that the most important thing is not what you do, but to whom you belong,” Ford continued. “They were still apprentices, learning from the master.”
The gospel of Luke suggests that prayer was the lifeblood of the early Christian church. “When they needed encouragement, they prayed,” Ford observed. “When they needed direction, they prayed. When they needed wisdom, they prayed.”
Ford shared three key observations taken from the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples to pray. First, Jesus gave the disciples a pattern for prayer.
“There are only 37 words in the Lord’s Prayer in the original Greek,” Ford noted. “God is not so impressed with the number of words, but rather in how simply and direct we can be. He wants us to tell him how our hearts really feel.”
Ford stressed the importance of the image of God as our father that the prayer reflects. “In Christ we have the very same relationship to God as Jesus had,” he said. “God says that you (we) are the very best son I could have – in Christ.” We have a giving, forgiving and guiding father who keeps us safe – a powerful father.”
Jesus gave the disciples the language of prayer, Ford said, stressing the importance of teaching our own children the familiar prayers at an early age, so that the practice of prayer “becomes a part of us.”
The Lord’s Prayer also provides a pattern for prayer, a word picture of the kind of prayer we are to practice – spontaneous and passionate.
“Ask, seek, knock and you will find,” Ford said in quoting the passage where a late-night visitor in scripture seeks bread from a neighbor to feed an expected guest. The visitor persistently knocks at the door late at night, refusing to give up until the sleepy owner inside lights a light, opens the door and hands the neighbor several loaves of bread.
“When is the last time you knocked at a midnight door?” Ford asked his audience. “Was it the midnight door of a son or daughter so involved in destructive behavior that you cannot change them? Was it the midnight door of a friend with cancer? Or the midnight door of kids with AIDS in Africa? What do you say at midnight?
“We all know the mystery and pain of unanswered prayers,” he continued. “Why should we go on asking, seeking and knocking? Jesus is not suggesting that (persistence) because God . . . doesn’t want to be bothered. The parable is not one of comparison, but one of contrast. Prayer can become a defining point in our lives. The disciples believed that being taught to pray was key for them, too.”
Jesus calls us to be a people of prayer, Ford believes, “to become askers, seekers, knockers. How can we become pray – ers? Ford continued. “Why not start with the Lord’s Prayer. He shared Mother Theresa’s formula for prayer – what he called the bookend prayers. At the beginning of the day, she would count on the fingers of one hand these five words: “He did this for me.” At the end of the day, she would count with the other hand: “I did what for him?”
One can engage in prayer at any time of the day – throughout each day, Ford suggested. At the start of a committee meeting. While sitting at a traffic light – “that’s a great time for prayer!” Quoting Dallas Willard, Ford argued we are too busy in our lives and need to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry.”
“Use small chunks of time for prayer,” he recommends. “Instead of trying to cram three more things during the few minutes before your next meeting, pray and prepare instead,” he advised. Before falling to sleep, ask where you have seen God today, also asking where you may have missed him and failed to join him in his work.
“The point is this: How can we become people of prayer?” Ford stressed.
Jesus not only provided the disciples a pattern for prayer and a picture of what a life of prayer is like, he also provided a promise for those faithful in prayer, Ford observed in drawing his message to a close.
“If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to children, how much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” Ford said in quoting a familiar passage. “Seek to be in the places where the Holy Spirit lives. Ask him to teach us how to pray. And may we hear him saying at the midnight doors of our lives, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”