The routine at night was endlessly repeated. “George, it is time to get into bed,” my mother would say. Once in bed, she would add, “Now it is time to say your prayers.” My small voice would repeat, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray My Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take. Amen.” This prayer came from the book, New England Primer, first published for the American Colonies between 1687. It is a memorable prayer even if it is a bit dreadful; all that dying in your sleep stuff. But it was a prayer and one repeated by millions of children from Christian homes.
What is God’s purpose in asking us to pray? Who started all this praying?
I want us to explore the answers to these questions and to explore prayer because prayer is vital to our faith journey and prayer is often misunderstood. First, we must see that prayer is a private matter between a human and God. Even that simple childhood prayer was between me and God alone. Prayer is an intimate communication between a finite mortal being and an infinite immortal God. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer closes the gap between humanity and God. Because prayer is communication between humanity and God, then prayer must be a dialogue, a conversation, in which each party speaks to and listens to the other. Prayer is conversation with God. The purpose of conversation is to develop and maintain a relationship. Therefore, prayer is not about requesting blessings from God, as much as it is about furthering a deeper relationship with God. If prayer is a conversation with God to deepen our relationship with Him, then we might learn something about prayer by looking at the example we have in the first prayer; the first conversation with God. I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis, Chapter 3, beginning at verse 1.
This passage starts strangely enough with a conversation between humanity and an evil being, Satan, represented by a serpent. Satan has a reason to converse with us. Satan’s communication with us always seeks to separate us from God. The passage begins, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He [the serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’” The serpent has initiated the conversation with the woman. This is always the case with Satan. The voice of temptation will come to us. We do not need to look for temptation, it is always looking to speak with us first. The serpent was smart and asked the woman about God’s instructions. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Temptation begins through the expressions of doubt as to what is truth about a very specific thing. “It is not really going to matter if you gamble $20 dollars, is it?” “It is not really going to matter if you have two drinks and drive home. You’ve done it before, right?” “It is not really going to matter if you skip church today, now is it?” Temptation begins with a small question that challenges just a piece of a larger truth. That is how you split wood for the fireplace. You take a small metal wedge, place it against the large and strong log, and then you hammer on that small wedge into the wood. Soon enough, the strength of that large log is divided. This is how temptation works. Something small is used to divide and reduce the strength of somethings large and strong. The serpent said, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Verse 2, “The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” The woman responded to the serpent clarifying that there is only one tree in the garden from which they must not eat. God had told the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16, 17). It seems the woman added to God’s command telling the serpent that even touching the fruit from that tree could cause death. This was not true. As we will see in a moment, adding to God’s instructions, adding to what is in the Bible, can be just as dangerous as taking away from what God said. For this reason, we Baptist hold that the Bible is the final authority for faith and practice. We do not believe in making teachings from the church of equal weight to the words of the Bible.
Having received an answer to his question, the serpent said to the woman, 4 “You will not certainly die, for 5 God knows that when you eat from it [the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Now that sounds tempting doesn’t it? All I need to do is eat this fruit and I will be like God. The woman then took a piece of fruit from the tree. She held it in her hands. She smelled it. She looked at the fruit for blemishes. One thing she noticed right away was that she did not die just because she touched it. This was a belief she held that did not come from God. This is the danger in manmade beliefs about God. When we make things up about God and we are wrong about them, then it becomes harder for us to believe the things God did say. That is why it is so important that we rely upon the Word of God and not the words of man for our faith journey.
Verse 6, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
This ends the scene in which the man and woman chose to navigate life in part without God and in part by ignoring what God had said. Because they did not involve God in their decision, life as they had known it, life as it might have been, ended. They saw things differently now. The innocence they once felt in being naked with each other had turned to shame and suspicion. They wanted to cover themselves up. This is a great illustration of what happens to us when we decide to go it alone and not have God in our life. We have shame in our life. We will be suspicious of others. We will be easily tempted, again and again and again.
But even when we have chosen to walk away from God, something both marvelous and terrifying can happen. God choses to talk to us. I find that marvelous and frankly terrifying. Look at verse 8, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” God was approaching the couple. The couple knew the sound of God and they knew He was coming to engage in conversation with them. This is God’s way. God starts the dialogue with humanity. God desires a relationship with us, and he initiates the opportunity for us to talk with Him. If communication with God is prayer, then God we see here that God is one who initiates prayer with us and not the other way around. God makes himself known and invites us to respond to him.
Let’s watch how prayer works. Verse 9, “God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” God took the initiative to start a conversation with the man and the first prayer, conversation with God, began with the most basic and universal question we face, “Where are you?” Think about that question for a moment. Where are you on your life journey? Do you feel like you are at the beginning, the middle, or perhaps the end? In this moment, are you where you expected to be 5 years ago? Do you know where you will be 5 years from now? Are you where you can fulfill the purpose for which God created you? “Where are you?” is an important question from God. This is a deeply spiritual question and we need to remember, “The human soul is not mass produced. Each of us is unique, and each one’s purpose is unique. Faith is the assurance that there is a dream and a purpose in life that each person can fulfill.” To know our purpose and fulfill it, we must have conversation, that is prayer, with God. The really neat thing is that when we finally realize that fact and speak to God, we discover he was already been calling to us to speak to him with the question, “Where are you?”
Now, some might observe and ask, “If God is all knowing, why does He need to know where the man is? Doesn’t God know where the man is?” The answer is yes, God is all knowing and knows in this instance the man is hiding. God asked the question, “Where are you?” so that the man could unveil himself to God and express what was within the man. The same is true for us. We tell God what is going on in our life, even though he is aware, because when we tell him, we become active in the conversation and show what we know about ourselves. It is as though we have called someone for driving directions. They ask, “Where are you?” We might respond with where we are and the directions soon follow. Or, we reply, “I do not know where I am.” The other person then asks, “Tell me what you see? Are there any signs or markers suggesting where you might be?” That is a conversation in which we reveal something about ourselves. I know a great many people who do not really know where they are spiritually, and so it is important for them, for us, to express any confusion and uncertainty to God in conversation with Him so that He can give us directions we would understand. We are not mass produced we are unique and require individualized conversation with God.
Verse 10, ‘He [the man] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’” This is prayer. Conversation with God in which we listen to God’s invitation to speak, we speak, and then we listen to Him. In this conversation, the man revealed that he knew God was present but was fearful of God because the man acquired knowledge God did not want the man to possess. The man avoided speaking the simple truth; that he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The man does not say that simple truth. Instead, the man spoke of the consequence of his action, without saying what he did. The man said, “I heard you God, I was afraid, I was naked, so the right thing seemed to be to hide.” The man was unveiling himself but only a little at a time.
God was very direct in his part of this prayer. Verse 11, “11 And he [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’” The man’s attempts to avoid telling God what he did was not successful. The man rejoined the prayer. Verse 12, “12 The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’” The man struggled to get to the truth, and he began to blame others for his circumstances. “God,” the man said, “the woman you gave me started this whole thing. I was doing just fine until you put her here with me.” This mess that the man found himself in firstly God’s fault. God put the woman with man. Second, the man said, “That woman took the fruit from that tree. I did not pick any of it. She did. Then she practically pushed that fruit into my hand.” The second fault for the man’s situation, according to the man, was the woman’s fault. She was to blame for picking the fruit and putting into the man’s hand. It is not stated here but you can almost hear God said, “And?” The man finally said, “And, I ate it.” Finally, in the conversation with God, the prayer with God, the man answered God’s question, “Where are you?” with man acknowledging “I sinned, so I hid.” How often have we been part of similar conversations with other adults or children? Someone says, “What happened here?” People start to respond, “What? Something happened? Of that, I’m, yeah, that is kind of a mess, but you should talk to …because they were here when it all started.” We avoid simple truths about our role in the mess we find ourselves in. God cannot help us until we talk with him and acknowledge where we are and how we got there.
Now that the man had unveiled himself, “13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” God is starting a prayer with the woman. The woman responded to God’s invitation and said, “The serpent deceived me.” The woman was trying the blame game that the man tried. She said, “God, the serpent you created, he deceived me.” Again, from God there is an unspoken “And?” The woman responded, “And I ate.” Finally, in the conversation, woman acknowledged the simple truth, “I sinned, so I hid.”
Prayer is not complicated; it is communication between one woman or one man and God. Prayer is private and intimate. Prayer is about us unveiling ourselves to God and God revealing himself to us. Prayer should be the place where we express our deepest concerns first, not last. Prayer is where we lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us. Prayer is initiated by God, so when we do speak to God, it is because He has already spoken to us. These truths we learn from the first recorded prayer.
I want to wrap up today’s conversation at this point and encourage you to pray. Listen for God calling you to talk with him. Then talk to God, simply and truthfully. Listen to Him. Let him ask you, “Where are you?” It is OK if you do not know, because God knows. I think you and He will have a marvelous and maybe terrifying conversation. Either way, you will be better for it. So, please pray. We will talk more about our conversations with God next week. Amen and Amen.
 Wolpe, David, Making Loss Matter; Creating Meaning in Difficult Times, (Riverhead Books; New York; 1999), 71.