Grapes: the Simplicity of Prayer…
Fruit From the “Vine” for the Branches…
By Gary Piper
I am an expert at praying but not on prayer. “The LORD says: “My thoughts and my ways are not like yours. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, my thoughts and my ways are higher than yours.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 CEV) Because I am a user of prayer and God is also a user of prayer it is (at least for me) an unsolvable mystery and because I don’t understand all the “God prayer factors” I am an expert at praying and a student at prayer itself.
I don’t know about you but I like a variety of fruit. Strawberries, oranges, tangerines, apples, watermelon, raspberries, bananas, and grapes are among my favorites. If I were asked what my top 3 types are it would be a difficult choice but I’d have to say they would be watermelon, grapes, and strawberries (in that order). I believe if the bible had a favorite fruit it would be grapes. Grapes appears as a symbol in the Contemporary English Version of the bible grapes and are referenced 100 times in 89 verses. Among them are these:
“Jesus then told them this story: A farmer once planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it and dug a pit to crush the grapes in. He also built a lookout tower. Then he rented out his vineyard and left the country. When it was harvest time, he sent a servant to get his share of the grapes. The renters grabbed the servant. They beat him up and sent him away without a thing. The owner sent another servant, but the renters beat him on the head and insulted him terribly. Then the man sent another servant, and they killed him. He kept sending servant after servant. They beat some of them and killed others. The owner had a son he loved very much. Finally, he sent his son to the renters because he thought they would respect him. But they said to themselves, “Someday he will own this vineyard. Let’s kill him! That way we can have it all for ourselves.” So they grabbed the owner’s son and killed him. Then they threw his body out of the vineyard. Jesus asked, “What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? He will come and kill those renters and let someone else have his vineyard. You surely know that the Scriptures say, ‘The stone that the builders tossed aside is now the most important stone of all.” (Mark 12:1–10, CEV)
And this one:
“Stay joined to me, and I will stay joined to you. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.” (John 15:4–5, CEV)
And perhaps the following quote stands at the top of the list.
“Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he told the apostles, “Take this wine and share it with each other. I tell you that I will not drink any more wine until God’s kingdom comes.” Jesus took some bread in his hands and gave thanks for it. He broke the bread and handed it to his apostles. Then he said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this as a way of remembering me!” After the meal he took another cup of wine in his hands. Then he said, “This is my blood. It is poured out for you, and with it God makes his new agreement. The one who will betray me is here at the table with me! The Son of Man will die in the way that has been decided for him, but it will be terrible for the one who betrays him!”” (Luke 22:17–22, CEV)
As you can no doubt see Jesus used grape to help people go deeper in their understanding of spiritual “things” they might otherwise have a difficult time understanding. The other morning during my devotional time which was centering around praying and prayer the Holy Spirit suggested to me that a simple model of understanding the deeper elements/factors/steps of prayer could be achieved by using grapes as symbols. And with the help of the Spirit I was able to use the letters comprising grapes as an outline of the elements/process of prayer. Here’s what we come up with: Gratitude, Refocusing, Adoration, Petitioning, Expecting, Sensitivity.
G…God has everything he will ever need therefore the only thing he wants out of us is us. While it is true God does have everything he needs the following scripture brings a smile to his face not only warming his heart but opening it up to our prayer as well. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” (Colossians 3:15–16, NRSV, emphasis added)
R… While the life we live is ours and no one can live it for us life is not only about us. Even if he lived in a world of one it still would not be only about us because God will always be a part of our lives no matter where life takes us. It is easy when life becomes difficult for the focus of our lives to shift from God to ourselves and when the focus os shift life not only becomes more difficult it also becomes more complicated. One of the most powerful lessons about keeping the focus of our lives on God is taken from what happened to the disciples on a stormy night at sea.
“When they saw him, they thought he was a ghost. They were terrified and started screaming. At once, Jesus said to them, “Don’t worry! I am Jesus. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come on!” Jesus said. Peter then got out of the boat and started walking on the water toward him. But when Peter saw how strong the wind was, he was afraid and started sinking. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Right away, Jesus reached out his hand. He helped Peter up and said, “You surely don’t have much faith. Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:24–31, CEV, emphasis mine)
A…There’s a fine line dividing gratitude and adoration. As I understand each of them gratitude is expression of being thankful while adoration is a response of worshiping. Perhaps it is difficult to understand praying as a worship experience but the truth is praying is one of the most intimate of all worship experiences because even if we’re involved in praying in a public setting it is not only a corporate experience but an individual experience as well. Moses makes a point of the relationship between worship and prayer.
“I bowed down at the place of worship and prayed to the Lord, without eating or drinking for forty days and nights. You had committed a terrible sin by making that idol, and the Lord hated what you had done. He was angry enough to destroy all of you and Aaron as well. So I prayed for you and Aaron as I had done before, and this time the Lord answered my prayers.” (Deuteronomy 9:18–20, CEV)
P… When it comes to the petition part of prayer no one has more insight than the Apostle James! While this may not always be the case because most of us do not pray out of “selfish reasons” it simply reaffirms something – life is not about us and not necessarily what we want. “You want something you don’t have, and you will do anything to get it. You will even kill! But you still cannot get what you want, and you won’t get it by fighting and arguing. You should pray for it. Yet even when you do pray, your prayers are not answered, because you pray just for selfish reasons.” (James 4:2–3, CEV)
E… Expecting God to answer our prayer may sound like a “no brain-er” because who starts out praying, “God I know you’re not going to answer me but just in case you decide to I am going to ask you anyway…” But the truth is there are more subtle ways of not praying without expectation. Setting the record straight God drops this promise in chapter 29 of Jeremiah.
“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out–plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” GOD’s Decree. “I’ll turn things around for you…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14 MSG)
And then there’s this one.
“But without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him.” (Hebrews 11:6, CEV)
S…Expecting’s first cousin” is Sensitivity. Some time ago a television ad for a Wall Street Brokerage firm (if my memory serves me right) went something like this. “When ______________ speaks people listen.” That may be true of that firm (I always listened to the ad anyway) but that may not always be true with God. As powerful as God is there are times when the power to hear God may reside with us. Take for instance Elijah’s experience with God.
“…While Elijah was on Mount Sinai, the Lord asked, “Elijah, why are you here?” He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I’ve always done my best to obey you. But your people have broken their solemn promise to you. They have torn down your altars and killed all your prophets, except me. And now they are even trying to kill me!” “Go out and stand on the mountain,” the Lord replied. “I want you to see me when I pass by.” All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the Lord was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat. He went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. The Lord asked, “Elijah, why are you here?” (1 Kings 19:9–13, CEV, emphasis mine)
Before moving on…
As I stated earlier I am a expert at praying and a student at prayer. What follows over the next 6 weeks or so is a written record of the elements/factors/steps I’ve experienced at praying at least 55 years out of my 69 years of life, lessons gleaned from my study of the bible, and insight gathered from listening to others as they’ve prayed. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned (the hard way at times) has been just when you think you know all you need to know God gets out his eraser and goes to work then you find yourself not starting over from scratch but getting restarted where you left off.
One last thought before moving on. I struggle with the idea of breaking prayer down into (in this case) 6 elements/factors/steps because I understand praying not as a process of communicating with God or God communicating like climbing a set of stairs or a series start, stop, then start again. Prayer needs to be a “steady flow” from the “greeting” to the amen. I believe one of the important functions of the Holy Spirit in prayer is to ensure that communications flow freely from our life experience into God’s life experience via the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is the umbilical cord between our hearts and God’s Heart. connecting
And so with those thoughts embedded in our minds and hearts lets move more deeply in the simplicity of prayer.
“Scriptures marked MSG have been taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”
Scriptures marked CEV, “Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.”