As I’ve gone through life, I’ve realized that everyone communicates. People speak, use hand gestures, facial gestures, emotions, and even lean their bodies to communicate what’s going on inside their minds. In the secular world, I even teach a course on how to understand kinesthetic (think: non-verbal) clues from body language to interpret truth from lies. Animals communicate; dogs bark, cats meow, birds chirp. And each of those sounds means something different to them and to those that understand them, no matter whether the recipient is human or animal. It makes it possible for us Earth dwellers to let others know what we want, what we need, and how we feel.
One-half of this writing is already done. That sure was easy, wasn’t it? Well, that’s only the half of things, as the folks back home like to say. In all fairness, it’s really only about 20% of it or so. Maybe less, in some circumstances, depending on the skills and judgment of both communicator and recipient.
Is there truly a difference between communication and connection? Isn’t being a good talker what connection is all about? Isn’t the person that can talk to people the one that is the “life of the party”? Isn’t the person that makes the great speeches the one that motivates people to action? Isn’t the person with the “silver tongue” the one that makes the sales, wins the girl or guy over, and gets the great jobs?
Uh, no. How’s that for a short answer? The much deeper and spiritual answer follows.
As you surely remember, the title was Communicate with Christ to Connect with Christ. Doesn’t that mean we should do all the talking? Besides, does he ever talk back to us anyway? Are there any recent examples where Christ spoke to somebody directly, like in the days of The Bible? It sure doesn’t seem like it. In that case, we should do all of the talking, right?
Uh, no, again.
What we have to realize is that Jesus ALREADY talked to us. We just have to listen. You see, that’s the problem with doing all of the talking. When someone is talking, they’re not listening. It gets even worse; when most people are supposed to be listening, they are thinking about what they want to say when the other person stops talking. We’re more focused on talking about ourselves than listening to what others have to say. It’s a certain way to alienate others, and it won’t take long. Check out this wonderful example of great listening from Forbes.com:
“Legend has it that British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and his political rival William Gladstone had a date with the same woman on different nights. When asked her impression of the two men, she said, ‘When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.’”
Brilliant. Disraeli knew the value of being a good listener and how it would make a positive impact on others. Let’s take his example and see of it applies to Christian living and connecting with Christ.
There are four books of The Bible in which Christ spoke directly to humanity: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He told us everything we need to know about our salvation and how to achieve it through our actions on Earth. Most importantly. He told us how to get to Heaven and be with God. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “’I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him.’” This tells us that we have to communicate with Christ in order to reach God. We have to pray through Christ, to God, in order to be heard. Jesus goes on to say in verses 12-14:
“The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.”
So, what are we supposed to ask for? It kind of looks like whatever we ask for in his name we’re going to get, doesn’t it? Well, read it again with what I call forensic intensity. That’s the kind of attention that requires scrutiny of what is present. Although Jesus said “Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do” doesn’t mean he will do whatever you ask. He said he would do whatever we ask as it pertains to doing the things he left for us to do. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told us what he wants us to do: “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” We are all God’s children, and when we love each other in that way, we honor what Christ has communicated to us to do.
We’ve looked at some of what Christ has communicated to us. How do we communicate with Him? What are we supposed to say to Him? What should we ask for? What shouldn’t we ask for? What format do we use to pray? I have some things that will be of help.
First, let me tell you about the first time I ever prayed for something I wanted and didn’t get – and what I learned from it. In 1977, Star Wars was the biggest thing going in American culture. The movie, toys, books, TV, records. Posters, you name it. Star Wars was the thing. I wanted two life-sized replicas of those two lovable droids from the movie: R2D2 and C-3PO. One night, as I prayed by my bedside as a five-year-old child, I prayed for them to be there with me in the morning. Yep, you guessed it: they WERE the droids I was looking for, but they weren’t there. Although I was mildly disappointed and slightly confused, I accepted that prayer didn’t work that way and rolled on with life. It was the first time I realized that praying for materialism wasn’t going to work. Oh, at five I just thought of it as “you can’t pray and get stuff”. As I have matured, both as a person and a Christian, I have come to realize there are things you can pray for but will not likely receive. Here’s my list, based on my life experiences and study of Christianity:
- The outcome of the Army/Navy game. You’ve probably seen this scenario on TV before. The quarterback passes the deep ball to the wide receiver, who catches the pass in the end zone for the winning touchdown. After the game, the reporters crowd around the wide receiver and ask him how he’s feeling. He says, “I just want to thank my man J.C. for letting me catch that ball. All praise be to Jesus!” Have you ever seen the interviews with “The Other Guy” that failed to block the winning pass? I have. They never say, “I just want to thank my man J.C. for making me miss that block and losing the game. All praise be to Jesus!” Two lessons here. First, Heaven careth not about the outcomes of our self-created entertainment. Second, don’t waste your time praying to win them. Both teams try, but one will always be disappointed. Don’t ask Jesus to help you catch a football or for your favorite team to do it. Just take pride in knowing that the worst you can finish in the game is second. If you really want to pray for something sports-related, pray for the safety of the athletes that compete. Study after study is showing they are losing the use of their bodies and minds after their careers are over.
- Aspirations of material gain. Go ahead, give it a try. It ain’t gonna work. First of all, if you live in America, you already enjoy a standard of living unlike any other ever conceived in the history of the world. You also have more opportunities to get out there and get what you want by earning it than any other land in the world. Money is not gifted; it is earned. Stuff is not gifted; it is acquired. God put us on this Earth to work and serve, not to be served. In Genesis 2:15, it is written: “GOD took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order.” Work for what you want and need, don’t just ask for it.
- Cures from illness. I’m not talking about sinus infections and minor ailments. I’m talking about deadly diseases. We pray for salvation from deadly illnesses because we are human, we are frail, and we are afraid. I am human, I am frail, and I am afraid too. I have prayed for health for those that have suffered from terminal illnesses – and lost their battles. Please know this: if you pray for this, and don’t get it, just know it is God’s plan to bring that person home to Heaven. I once heard a police officer say he wasn’t afraid to die in the line of duty because “you can’t threaten me with Heaven!” The Bible says we have our death date decided on our birth date, so don’t lose faith when you pray for yourself or a loved one to be healed and it doesn’t happen. Life is tough. God guaranteed it when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. I believe life is much easier on us, though, when we place faith in God and his plan for each of us.
- Being saved from death. Impossible. Even the world’s best doctors, with the best education, experience, training, and compassionate care, can only extend life, not prevent death. Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. That’s something that’s worth praying for: the opportunity to live a life of selfless Christian service.
Ok, so we know what not to pray for. What should we pray for? Here are some things I’ve found in my life I’ve received when I’ve prayed for them and are backed up by Christianity:
- Genuine love and care for others. When we live a selfless live, and we put our attention and care into others, we please God. God loves selflessness; he loves when we put other people first. Praying for the needs of others, especially when we pray for them ahead of our own needs, is an important way to pray.
- Courage to face our fears. I really like what the United States Marine Corps has to say about courage. They say that courage isn’t the absence of fear; it is the will to push through that fear to meet one’s objective. We can’t pray away all of the troubles in our lives. Along with telling Adam and Eve that humanity would live a hard life, he told them men would toil and work until they were stricken with pain and women would endure pain during childbirth. He also told us we have been born into a life of sin and that we all must die one day. Scary stuff. We can’t pray those things away, but we can pray for the courage to face them. God gives courage to those that pray for it through Christ. With God on our side, we can face all of life’s challenges, no matter how daunting, with courage.
- Praying for wisdom. There’s a whole other section about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. In short here, though, knowledge is stuff you can read in a book, and wisdom is the ability to turn it into action. Knowledge is easy to acquire; wisdom is not. Pray for wisdom, though, and it is something God can provide if you will work for it.
- Forgiveness of our sins. This one is a lock. Jesus died on the cross for our sins to guarantee us redemption from our sins. We are guaranteed forgiveness of our sins, but we have to ask for it. The way we ask for it is through prayer. Once we’ve prayed for the needs of others, we can then ask for our own most basic Christian need, that of forgiveness. Please remember, though, that we must forgive others to be forgiven.
- Hope that each day will be better than the past day. Everyone needs hope. Life without hope has no purpose because it has no sense that one can become more than they are. “Is this all that there is? Is there nothing more?” Why, yes, there most certainly is. Ask God, and he will guide you by opening your eyes to the many wonders of the world, most notably his most beautiful creation – us. Saint Augustine once remarked: “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” None of Earth’s “wonders” will bring you hope for the future like relationships with people and with the Almighty will. When you pray for hope, pray that they right people will enter and stay in your life. God will guide you to them, and they will find you because you are sending out the message that you are looking for them.
Here’s my format for how to put together a prayer:
- Always approach God by praying to Him through his son, Jesus Christ
- Pray for others first before you pray for yourself
- Pray for what others NEED, not what they WANT
- Pray with gratitude for the day of life you have been given
- Pray for the things you NEED, not the things you WANT
- Pray for forgiveness of your sins
- Pray for strength to endure life’s challenges with grace and dignity
- Pray for God to guide you in a life of goodness
- Close like you started – through Jesus’s name
Please note that this is not the only way to pray. This is, however, what I believe to be a sound format for connecting with Christ through prayer. It opens by following Christ’s instructions to go to God through him, puts the needs of others first, demonstrates gratitude, asks for forgiveness of sins, asks for what we and others need, and closes through Christ’s name. If you’re having trouble formulating prayer in a way that you feel will work for you, try this one. If you have a format that works for you and connects you with Christ, stay with it. I offer this format as a way for those that need it, or want to try prayer in a new way.
Remember, communication is a two-way street. It involves more than just talking; it requires listening. Connection requires communication for the purpose of building relationships. Listen to what Christ has said to us, and communicate with him every day through prayer. Your relationship with Christ will blossom, and you will live a life enriched by the divine power of God and his Son.
May God bless you, now and always.