Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spirituality #4: Prayer

Matthew 6:5 – 15

Spirituality #4: Prayer

What is the ONLY thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them?

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” [Luke 11:1]

Prayer was such an important part of Jesus life, the disciples wanted to know how to pray. Paul directs us to: “Pray continually.” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]

In our quest for spirituality, we are attempting to connect with God. Let’s take a look this part of being “spiritual.”


I.         Prayer can be very difficult.


            A.        We have many misunderstandings. (Based on James Houston’s book “The Prayer”)


                        1.         We reduce prayer to “another activity.”


                                    a.         We study technique, develop catagorize and build a generic model.


                                    b.         While those can be helpful, it is possible to lose sight of relationship, which is the reason for prayer.


                        2.         We reduce prayer to a “custom.”


                                    a.         Prayer becomes a “feel good” habit. (We feel good, that we have done our duty, if we do it.)

(Ill.) In one MI school district (NOT Sault Ste. Marie) there was one teacher who was hostile to Christianity... so if she caught a student praying at lunch time, she would send them to the office to be disciplined or give them detention.

Many Christian social activists blame the Supreme Court’s ruling to “take prayer out of school” as the event that began the decline. (Social studies seem to correlate the decline of American society with this decision.)


                                    b.         Prayer has become a mark of who we are...


                                    c.         While this is good, it can “inoculate” us from “a vibrant relationship with God.”

What these CAN do is exchange the practice of spirituality (or religion) with authentic relationship with God.


                        3.         We reduce prayer to “an exercise in magic.”


                                    a.         We have a list of what we want God to do for us...

Jesus warned us: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. [8] Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” [Matthew 6:7 – 8]


                                    b.         We speak words, run a formula to get our own way


                                    c.         There tends to be a chain reaction that brings dangerous results.

“But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel. [14] In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. [15] So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.” [Psalm 106:13 – 15]


                                                1.)       When we forget God we will not live by the First Principle (listen carefully, do what is right, pay attention, and obey the Lord).


                                                2.)       Then we will not wait for God’s leading (counsel). Which means the plans we have are our own and done under our own power.


                                                3.)       When we are not waiting for God, then what drives us is our own cravings.

(Ill. Walking the dog... he pulls to get to where he wants to go. Sometimes, I’m willing to let him go where he wants... but this gives him the impression that his will is mine, that he controls me. So he constantly struggles against me on his walks... until I take charge. That’s what we are doing with God. We constantly struggle against God’s leading because we want what we want. When God does take charge it can be a shocking and painful experience.)


                                                4.)       Result: “So he gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them.” 

Just because you get what you want does not mean it’s good for you.

(Ill. I know a man who had a reputation for lying and cheating his way through life. It was all for his love of money. One day God decided to curse him with around $33 million. Why was it a curse? Because the money made him completely miserable and stressed him out thinking everyone was after it.)


            B.        We have obstacles that pervert prayer. (Based on Houston...)


                        1.         We are “wounded” people.


                                    a.         Sin scratches, dents, marks, and hurts us.


                                    b.         There are emotional problems, some bigger than they should be.


                                    c.         Healing is painful. We know pain, it keeps us from accepting responsibility. Ultimately we fear God will heal us if we come into authentic contact with Him.


                        2.         We are “focused on accomplishment.”


                                    a.         Our society tells us we are measured by our accomplishments.


                                    b.         We judge ourselves and others by our achievements.


                                    c.         We are compulsive in our need to do so... and become foolish.

“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” [2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV]


                        3.         We are carrying “inner darkness.”


                                    a.         Sometimes they are simple fears


                                    b.         Sometimes we are struggling with sin in the form of addictions, compulsive behavior, and guilt.


                                    c.         Symptom of this person is that prayer is often “fighting.” As in fighting the powers and principalities, fighting a continual sense of sin (and its control)... “sin in word, deed, and thought everyday.”

All these are trust issues.


II.       Prayer is necessary.


            A.        It connects us to God.


                        1.         Jesus taught us to pray: “Our Father...” (Only a child could call another person, father.)


                                    a.         We begin our conversation by acknowledging our relationship to God (and one another).


                                    b.         Relationship reality: if you are not in meaningful two way conversation then you are probably building walls.


                        2.         Prayer will open your deepest parts to God.


                                    a.         “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. [24] See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” [Psalm 136:23 – 24]


                                    b.         Ultimately only God knows our heart.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? [10] "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” [Jeremiah 17:9 – 10]


                                    c.         Prayer will put you into contact with God’s intimate knowledge about yourself.


            B.        Prayer submits to God.


                        1.         Whom do you ask?


                                    a.         You ask someone who knows. (God’s will...)


                                    b.         You ask someone who can do it. (Daily bread, forgive debts, deliver from temptation and the evil one...)


                                    c.         When you ask, you place yourself UNDER the knowledge, ability, or authority of someone else. (Unless it is “Why?” Why can have judgmental assumptions.)


                        2.         There is a shift in attitude in authentic prayer.


                                    a.         When you are talking to God (and God is talking to you through the Bible), your focus on God and not enjoying the experience.


                                    b.         As you seek God, its not possible to seek you own.


                        3.         Think about it this way: God WANTS you.


                                    a.         The wounds, accomplishments, inner darkness do NOT define you.


                                    b.         God’s love and desire for right relationship with you DOES define you.

(Ill. There was once two brothers. The younger one went though a time when he did not want to be around his dad. So he went to his dad and demanded his share of the inheritance. Shortly after getting it, he packed everything and when off on his own. The young man was less than wise and started to squander his money in what can politely be described as wild living. It wasn’t long before he ran out of money and the local economy went bad, very bad. So he got a job feeding pigs. Trouble was, the pigs were eating better than he was... in his mind, he began to think that life with dad wasn’t such a bad thing. I guess you could say, he came to his senses. He decided to go home and ask for forgiveness and a job from his dad. As he got within sight of his home, his dad saw him and ran to meet him. Was he in trouble? Yes, big time. As he humbled himself, dad got all excited and ordered clothes and shoes for his son. Then dad ordered a huge banquet and invited everyone to celebrate. The young son knew he was not worth to be called a son, but dad gave him a king’s welcome. It was like he was coming home from some great accomplishment not some great failure. You see, it wasn’t about what the son did or did not do... this was about the love the father had for his son. – see Luke 15)

What happens in authentic prayer is that you will want God more than anything else.

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” [Psalm 63:1]


III.      God waits for you...


            A.        God, the Father, already knows what you want and need.


                        1.         So what is the point to praying?


                                    a.         When raising a child, do you prefer if they cry or use words when they need something?


                                    b.         There is value in our effort: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. [10] For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Luke 11:9 – 10]


                                    c.         To teach a child to walk, you eventually let go...


                        2.         God is pleased when we struggle in prayer.


                                    a.         Abraham dared to argue with God over the possible destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (at God’s invitation). [see Genesis 18:17 – 33]


                                    b.         Jacob wrestled with God for a blessing. [see Genesis 32:24 – 30]


                                    c.         Moses put himself between God and the destruction of Israel. [see Exodus 32:32]


                                    d.         God told Ezekiel that He was looking for someone to “stand in the gap.” [see Ezekiel 22:30]


                                    e.         Jesus struggled in prayer: “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” [Luke 22:44]


                                    f.         The early church struggled in prayer: “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” [Acts 12:5]


            B.        It is in that struggle that we are changed.


                        1.         Look what happened: Abraham became the champion for all people, Jacob was willing to hang on to God even when it hurt, Moses became the leader God chose him to be, Jesus found the strength and peace to endure the cross, and the church sees miracles.


                        2.         Jesus summed up the struggle this way: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” [Luke 11:13]

(Ill. A boy selling fruit on the streets of a big city during the depression constantly endured being cuffed, cursed, and kicked around. One day a person knocked the fruit out of his basket and a total stranger stopped to pick up all the fruit, then gave him the money for the fruit.

The boy looked at the man and asked, “Mister are you Jesus?”

The man answered, “No, I’m just one of His boys.”) [Unknown]



            1.         Who’s your God? (Do you know about God, or truly know God? Do you believe in a way that actually changes you?)


            2.         Do you spend time with God? The kind that you are honest enough with God and yourself where you ask Him for one day where you don’t let Him down? (We are not even talking about the issue of sin...)


            3.         Can you honestly say you have been changed through and through by your prayer life?

[Note, the use of outside sources and illustrations is not intended as an endorsement.]

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