The Gravity of Prayer
A few days ago, my wife Becky and I were able to squeeze out a few hours from our busy schedule to enjoy dinner and a movie. We saw the new film Gravity that stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Don’t worry. I won’t give out any “spoilers” but will only tell you what the movie trailer and reviews have already shared.
In a nutshell, Sandra Bullock is a research doctor who becomes a “newbie” astronaut in order to work on a special mission. It appears that they are repairing a satellite that she had something to do with developing. Things go wrong and now she is stranded in space, trying to find her way home to earth.
While talking out loud to herself, she reveals that she is a non-religious person. She’s not anti-religious or a rabid atheist, she’s just completely ignorant about spiritual things. So, here she finds herself in an extremely desperate situation and is forced to think about her mortality. This is what she says: “No one will mourn for me. No one will pray for my soul. I’ve never prayed. Nobody has taught me how.”
Those few words hit me harder than any of the other tense moments that filled this movie. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to pray; or that she felt it was a waste of time to pray; or that she hated God so she wouldn’t pray; or that she was so independent and self-sufficient (which she was) that she felt she didn’t need to pray. It was that, at her loneliest moment, she couldn’t pray because no one had taught her how to talk to God!
Now of course, it doesn’t matter how hard and long and well you teach someone to pray; if he doesn’t know Jesus, then his prayer is more often than not futile. The Lord God is sovereign and can listen to any prayer that He chooses to, but God’s Word tells us in a number of specific places that He is not listening to the prayer of the unbeliever. We read in John 9:31 “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does His will.” So, unless Ms. Bullock’s character sincerely wants to know how to pray because the Lord is speaking life into her, then she’s just talking to herself. Of course, what she said wasn’t in the form of a prayer. But her comment about not being taught to pray reminded me of something that we all ought to consider.
We live in an age where the “faith” of people around us cover a very wide spectrum of forms. Yes, there are many who know Christ; there are many, many more who know about Christ but haven’t come to saving faith in Him. There is another multitude of people with all sorts of strange ideas and forms of spirituality (they are the ones who check the box on forms “spiritual but not religious”). Yes, there are some known as atheists and a handful of rabid atheists, but they aren’t as many as you might think (they’re just noisy). And finally, there are the “Sandra Bullock’s characters” in this world who really know nothing about Christ, or any other faith for that matter.
These are the folks that really break my heart (all unbelievers break my heart, but this “know nothing” group strikes a deeper cord with me). Although sinful and spiritually dead (as all are), this group hasn’t been tainted by a lot of the junk that’s out there—including a lot of the crazy “Christian” stuff that’s out there too! They are the naive ones—often quiet and unassuming folks who are busy with their own lives and somehow have kept themselves from listening to, interacting with, or inquiring about spiritual things. We might see this group in some foreign non-religious countries where there is little talk about spiritual things, and in a sense, they have a clean (but still tainted with sin) slate. Do you know anyone like this? I’m sure they are out there. We just have to keep our eyes and ears open in order to see and hear them.
So, the goal isn’t to teach them to pray. We can teach parrots to “pray,” and that won’t save them. What we need to do is love them, be Jesus around them, and certainly WE can pray for them. And of course, look for opportunities—divine appointments when we can tell them the story of redemption. You may be very surprised how receptive they may be since they are basically unaware of the Christian faith or the boatload of vain options.
But just in case you come across an inquiring person who really wants to know how to pray, remind him first that prayer is an intimate act of communication between a person and God, and that it can only come through a saving relationship with the Lord. Think of it this way: a rock can’t communicate with a human being. The rock is inanimate, without life; and the human is animate, it has life. The only way a rock can communicate with a human is for it to be transformed (impossibly) into a human. Mankind is spiritually dead and incapable of communicating with the Holy God of the universe. The only way that a person can truly talk to God is for him to be transformed into a child of God by God’s grace.
Today, think about this:
1. If you are a Christian, then the Lord hears your prayers. We ought to be talking and listening to Him because He’s right there waiting to hear from us.
2. There are some in this world who know NOTHING about the Triune God of the Bible. Be sensitive to their needs and gently introduce them to the story of redemption through Christ.
3. There are plenty of other people in this world with all kinds of strange ideas. Be sensitive to where they are at and help them see the beauty of Christianity—that a sinner can have a saving and intimate relationship with the God of the universe through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Don’t water it down.
3. Don’t assume anything in your household. Teach your children (and yourself) to pray. It’s really just talking and listening to the Father through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.
Randy Evans originally hails from New Jersey, where he went to high school with his wife of 35 years, Becky. He is a former gerontologist and high school youth pastor. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from Trenton State College in Trenton, New Jersey; a master’s degree in Gerontology from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida; and a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is the Senior Pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Largo, Florida.