Sitting with the Father: The Intimacy of Prayer
ATTN - SERMON SPICE - THE LORD’S PRAYER: HONESTLY
Ok, so you’ve probably never heard the Lord’s prayer quite like that before have you? I think most of us have probably just quoted it or rattled it off without much thought to what we were saying, but have you ever thought about what that prayer requires? It’s a pretty heavy requirement, actually. When you understand what’s really being said, you might have a few objections of your own.
It’s a rather curious story, really. One of the places you find this prayer in the New Testament occurs when Jesus’ disciples approach Him and ask Him . . . “teach us to pray.” Now, if it had been me, I’d of probably told them the typical “Pastoral” thing. I’d have said, “You don’t need to be “taught” how to pray; just focus your mind, open your mouth and talk to God. That’s what I’d have said.
But Jesus doesn’t hesitate. He answers them by saying, “When you pray, pray like this.” That’s pretty amazing to think that the Creator the Universe, robed it failing flesh would take the time to tell us how we can best talk with God. What’s even more incredible is that so many of His children, after He has taken the time to tell us how to pray, never even really comprehend the depths of the prayer that He gave us.
So our goal is to change all of that. We want, over the next few weeks, to dig into this prayer He gave us and really come to understand it. We’re going to do that phrase by phrase. Today, we begin with what you might call, “the Invocation.” Jesus tells us that, when we pray, we should begin by saying, “Our Father in Heaven.”
Now, we’ve heard that so often, that it goes right over our heads. If you’d have said that to the average Jew of Jesus day, he would have thought that you were rather irreverent. The term Jesus uses here is not in Hebrew nor in Greek. It is in Aramaic. He uses the term abba. This was the “everyday language of the family.” It was very familiar language. To the Jewish mind, it was so familiar that it would have been considered disrespectful, yet Jesus didn’t hesitate to speak like a child would to its father: simply, inwardly, confidently.
And I don’t think that Jesus just stumbled upon the term. For one thing, Jesus used that term a lot to talk to address His Father. For another, I think He intended for you and I to be familiar with the Father as well. It wasn’t that He wanted us to rob God’s respect, but to learn that, even though God was the Maker of the Universe, He was also the Father of His children and we could experience real intimacy with Him.
Now, when I use that term “intimacy,” you might wonder what I mean. In fact, you might wonder how it is possible to have a close relationship with God at all. After all, He’s a Spirit and we are flesh and blood. He is infinite and we are limited. He is sovereign and we just think we’re in control. How can mortal man relate to the immortal, invisible God at all. Well, there’s another passage of Scripture that so clearly describes the intimacy we are to have in prayer and, indeed, the means by which we can have that closeness with Father. You find that description over in the book of Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 14. There it says
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need’
We enter the presence of God and get close to Him through what the Bible calls our “great High Priest,” Jesus Christ the Son of God. You see, we really can have an intimate relationship with God Himself.
And some may be saying, “Well, that’s fine, Rusty, and maybe its important to you, but it’s really not that relevant to my life. How is intimacy with God going to help me pay my light bill this month or keep me from losing it with my mouthy teenager who is extremely confident he knows absolutely everything?”
Well, let me ask you: Don’t you seek the kind of relationship with God that gives you real hope for the future? Don’t you want to pray and feel like your prayers are getting higher than the ceiling? Don’t you want to have a deep down, genuine connection with God? Wouldn’t you like to be so vitally connected to God that, when it comes time to die, you can face it with confidence? I want you to listen today because experiencing intimacy with the Living God can bring you a genuine reality of His presence to your life.
Listen because you seek a genuine reality, but also listen too because you may be seeing the wrong reward. Apart from experiencing intimacy with the Father, prayer is reduced to a cosmic coke machine. You know, you put in a prayer wish, hit the button, and out pops what you asked for. The truth is, that kind of praying actually does more to hinder intimacy with God rather than help it. That’s why this message is so important. Only intimacy with God can break you from pursuing the wrong reward when you pray.
And when it comes to this intimacy in prayer, there are really three truths you need to know about it. In the first place, to experience intimate prayer with God you must believe that:
DIV 1: INTIMATE PRAYER IS POSSIBLE
It’s almost as if the writer of Hebrews anticipates our objection. Intimacy in prayer with a God you can’t see, who’s never suffered physical pain nor lacked for anything might be hard. You see, intimacy is based upon understanding. I have a hard time getting close to someone who doesn’t “get” me.
But that’s just it. Hebrews 4 makes it clear that Jesus does “get” me. He gets me because of the reality of our shared experience. V. 15 says that “he was in all points tempted as we are . . .” Hey, Jesus can relate: He’s been hungry; he’s been sleepy; he’s angry; he’s been sad. He wept at funerals; laughed at jokes; enjoyed desserts; and celebrated at weddings. Through it all, he was tried in all the many ways we are tried. He has shared our experience.
And because He has shared our experience, He, v. 15 says, knows how to “sympathize” with our weaknesses. That verb, sympathize was the same word used of the way a mother felt for her children or one brother felt for another. But this sympathy went beyond just feeling sorry for someone else. It also included the element of “active help.” Since Jesus is called the “High Priest,” He doesn’t just feel compassion, He actually enters into our suffering and makes it His own.
You see, intimacy is possible because He shares our experience.
ILL -INTIMACY THROUGH SHARED EXPERIENCE
There’s a question mark in my mind after every Discovery Class. (By the way, if you don’t know what the Discovery class is, it’s the class that allows you to discover more about Peace Church and whether or not you want to join our church family.) That question mark is always there. Know what I’m asking myself? I’m asking, “which one of these people will really connect and be here five years from now serving God, and which will not be?”
You see, as much as I would like for everyone to “stick,” I know that some will not. Now the reason I have a question mark is not because I am mystified about how to make sure new members hang around. That answer is pretty clear. The way that new members become old members is for them to discover intimacy within this body. They have to really get connected.
And the question mark is not about how to get them connected . . . not really. You see, I know that the way that people really develop intimacy is through shared experience. So I watch. Here’s what I find: People who go through a Christmas theater or do a stint at summer camp usually stick. Know why? Because they “share an experience.” And its not just any experience. It’s often a gruelling experience, but it is always spiritually rewarding. When you’re going through hours of rehearsal or sweating through humid nights without electricity, you begin to get close to those people who are rehearsing or sweating with you. And what happens? Intimacy. There is a real connection that takes place.
It’s the same in our spiritual lives. Jesus came to this earth and shared our experience with us. He wept and laughed with us. He saw loved ones die and friends betray. He knows what it is like to hurt. And the way to intimacy with God is through Christ. He shared our experience and made it possible for us to connect with Him. When we say “Our Father in Heaven,” we are speaking through a High Priest who has felt everything we are feeling.
Please do not miss this opportunity! God the Father genuinely wants to relate to you! You must realize that and focus on it. He wants to relate to you so badly that He sent His Son to live with us and die for us. I know you’ve sinned; I know you don’t deserve it; I know you think that, if there was anyone God wanted, it certainly would not be you, but that’s not true. God wants to relate to you!
And that’s not the only amazing thing. Not only does God want to relate to you, God also truly accepts you. Just like you are. You don’t have to clean yourself up; You couldn’t do that even if you tried. You’ll never make yourself perfect enough for God. You have to accept the righteousness He has provided through Christ. But through Christ, God completely accepts you.
And that’s still not the most amazing thing. This God who wants to relate to you and Who completely accepts you, also completely understands you. Now, I’m not speaking of an understanding that happens just because God is God and knows all things. I’m speaking of an understanding that happens because God, through His Son, Jesus, also experienced all things with us. Intimate prayer is possible because Jesus has shared our experience. But there’s something else we must know about this prayer. Not only is intimate prayer possible, but
DIV 2 INTIMATE PRAYER IS (ALSO) PROFITABLE
One of the cliches we use, which has a bad reputation is this one: It’s not what you know its (what?) That’s right! It’s WHO you know. That saying just echoes, for better or worse, an unalterable fact of life: It pays to be “well-connected.” Well, when it comes to prayer, this is definitely a good thing. In prayer, its all about “who you know!” In fact, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, Who you know makes intimate prayer profitable. These verses give us 5 distinct reasons why this is so:
In the first place, knowing Christ makes infinite prayer profitable because of His Position. In the Old Testament, only the High Priest could actually come into the Presence of God to make atonement for the people. Jesus, though is the GREAT High Priest. He can, thus, offer us unique and continuous access to God the Father. His position makes intimate prayer profitable.
But, then, knowing Christ makes infinite prayer profitable because of His Authority. V. 14 says that He is the Great High Priest (note!) Who has passed through the heavens. What is spoken of here is His exaltation. Phil 2 Tells us that because of His sacrifice, God has given Christ the name that is above all names and that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. His authority makes intimate prayer profitable.
Third, knowing Christ makes infinite prayer profitable because of His Identity. v 14 goes on to say that the one Who has been exalted is none other than the Son of God, the second person of the Triune Godhead. The one we experience intimacy in prayer with is none other than God, the Son. Talking to Him and through Him to the Father is profitable because of Who He is. His identity makes intimate prayer profitable.
And that’s not all. Not only is intimate prayer profitable because of His position, His Authority, and His Identity, it is also profitable because of His Power. In v 15 we are told that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted, but there is a key phrase at the end of the verse. It says, “Yet, without sin.” That’s a powerful phrase. If Jesus had not been the sinless Son, He could not have been the great High Priest. Hebrews 2:18 says, For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. His final triumph occurred when, on the third day, He arose with all victory over death, hell, and the grave. Rom 8:3 says: For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh. His power makes intimate prayer profitable.
Which just leads me to this last one. Knowing Christ makes intimate prayer profitable because of His help. v 16 says that we are to come boldly to the thrown of grace to obtain mercy. That is to get the forgiveness we need for the sin we’ve committed and to have our judgment revoked. And then it goes on to say: and to find grace to help in time of need. That’s what our great High Priest gives us. He gives us just the right help at just the right time. Intimate prayer is profitable!
In his book The Pressure's Off, psychologist Larry Crabb uses a story from his childhood to illustrate our need to delight in God through adversity:
One Saturday afternoon, I decided I was a big boy and could use the bathroom without anyone's help. So I climbed the stairs, closed and locked the door behind me, and for the next few minutes felt very self-sufficient.
Then it was time to leave. I couldn't unlock the door. I tried with every ounce of my three-year-old strength, but I couldn't do it. I panicked. I felt again like a very little boy as the thought went through my head, "I might spend the rest of my life in this bathroom."
My parents—and likely the neighbors—heard my desperate scream.
"Are you okay?" Mother shouted through the door she couldn't open from the outside. "Did you fall? Have you hit your head?"
"I can't unlock the door!" I yelled. "Get me out of here!"
I wasn't aware of it right then, but Dad raced down the stairs, ran to the garage to find the ladder, hauled it off the hooks, and leaned it against the side of the house just beneath the bedroom window. With adult strength, he pried it open, then climbed into my prison, walked past me, and with that same strength, turned the lock and opened the door.
"Thanks, Dad," I said—and ran out to play.
That's how I thought the Christian life was supposed to work. When I get stuck in a tight place, I should do all I can to free myself. When I can't, I should pray. Then God shows up. He hears my cry—"Get me out of here! I want to play!"—and unlocks the door to the blessings I desire.
Sometimes he does. But now, no longer three years old and approaching sixty, I'm realizing the Christian life doesn't work that way. And I wonder, are any of us content with God? Do we even like him when he doesn't open the door we most want opened—when a marriage doesn't heal, when rebellious kids still rebel, when friends betray, when financial reverses threaten our comfortable way of life, when the prospect of terrorism looms, when health worsens despite much prayer, when loneliness intensifies and depression deepens, when ministries die?
God has climbed through the small window into my dark room. But he doesn't walk by me to turn the lock that I couldn't budge. Instead, he sits down on the bathroom floor and says, "Come sit with me!" He seems to think that climbing into the room to be with me matters more than letting me out to play.
I don't always see it that way. "Get me out of here!" I scream. "If you love me, unlock the door!"
Dear friend, the choice is ours. Either we can keep asking him to give us what we think will make us happy—to escape our dark room and run to the playground of blessings—or we can accept his invitation to sit with him, for now, perhaps, in darkness, and to seize the opportunity to know him better and represent him well in this difficult world.
Which just leads me to this observation: Not only is intimacy with Christ make prayer profitable, the real profit of prayer is intimacy with Christ. This is why so many Christians spend so much of life angry with God. I’m reminded of Ted Turner who said he used to be a believer until he prayed that his sister would be healed from cancer and she ended up dying. He said that it was that unanswered prayer that caused him to doubt and eventually deny God.
Well, while you may not have gone that far, it is certainly possible to have a lot of distance between you and the Lord because of anger and resentment. This is just a symptom of the fact that you have the wrong concept of prayer. Primarily prayer is not about relief but about intimacy. Have you been screaming for God to unlock the door? Maybe, instead, you should just crawl up in His lap and just forget about the door.
And if you’re here today and you really aren’t a follower of Christ yet. Maybe you’ve come to church this morning with a problem you want Christ to solve. It might be a marriage that is falling apart or a financial difficulty you’re facing. You may have some issue that has driven you to seek God like addiction or a bitterness you can’t let go of. I am glad you’re here. I really am! But don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can pray some magic prayer that will take all the pain away. I want you to know that God loves you and will accept you if you come to Him and receive His Son, but you must understand that the real profit of a relationship with Christ is not a marriage that gets salvaged or a bankruptcy that gets avoided. The real profit of a relationship with Christ is . . . a relationship with Christ. The real profit is knowing Him.
The Lord’s prayer begins by Invoking God: “Our Father in Heaven.” That title implies intimacy with God. There are some things we must know about this intimacy. First, intimacy is possible. Second, intimacy is profitable. And last of all,
DIV 3: INTIMACY IS POTENTIAL
Now, what I mean by that is that this kind of intimacy with God is not automatic. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is really pretty rare. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it is rare to make you think that it’s some big mystery, or that God just chooses a few rare people to reveal Himself to. That’s not it at all. In fact, just the opposite is true. Jesus said that He wanted all of us to “come unto Him . . . and find rest for our souls.”
No the reason intimacy is rare is not because God is hard to find. It’s because finding Him requires a couple of decisions we must make. They are right here in these verses. The first one is Salvation. v 14 says: Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. What confession are we to hold fast? It’s right there before the command. It is the confession that Jesus Christ is the (one and only) Son of God. You see, intimacy only comes to those who know Christ.
No wonder, then, that you say you don’t get anything out of prayer! No wonder you look at people who talk about praying and think they’re a little “touched.” There’s a very good reason for it: Since you do not really know God; since you’ve never believed and made that “confession” that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, at least not in any meaningful way that impacted your life, you get nothing out of prayer. You see, you’re not supposed to. If you don’t know Christ, there’s only one prayer God has promised to hear from you: “God be merciful to me a sinner and save me for Jesus sake!” That’s the first decision that makes intimacy possible.
But there are a lot of people who’ve made that confession and seem to have meant it, who are not enjoying intimate fellowship with the Father. Well, there’s a good reason for that. You see, there’s another decision which must be made. Not only must there be a decision to confess Christ in order to enjoy intimate prayer, there must also be a decision to seek Him.
Read these verses one more time: Hebrews 4:14–16 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.(Notice! Here it is! Here’s the second decision we must make. It says) 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The theme of “drawing near to God” occurs over and over again in Hebrews. For instance in 11:6 we are told that anyone who “draws near” to God must believe that He rewards those who seek Him. In 7:25 we are told that Jesus is able to save “those who come to God through Him.” In 7:19, we are told that, while the law could make nothing perfect, Jesus brought us a better hope through which we “draw near to God.
This is a decision we, as followers of Christ, must make. It is not automatic. If we are to have grace to help in time of need, we must come boldly to the throne. We must seek after God. That requires a priority in our lives. That requires a spiritual hunger in our hearts. So many of us don’t have it!
The president of Great Lakes Christian College says that when he was a kid playing Little League baseball, his coach had a picnic at the beginning of the season. After they’d pigged out on hot dogs and burgers, it was time for the pep talk. He says that the coach always asked them, "How many of you have a dream to one day play in the Major Leagues?" Almost every hand shot up. Every kid with his hand up believed he could do it. You could see it in their eyes. He then told us, "If that is to happen?that dream begins now!"
Well, Larry, some 25 years later, became a Little League Coach. He tried the same ritual: Hot dogs, Hamburgers and the big question. “How many of you have a dream to one day play in the Major Leagues?” But when he tried it, he was shocked. He said, not one hand was raised. Not one kid believed he could do it. You could see it in their eyes. It left him speechless.
He said that, at that point, anything else in his pep talk was meaningless. He just stood there and said, “Really!?? Well. . . . ok. . . . go get your gloves and let’s throw.” He says,
I thought about that day for a long time. What had happened in the 25 years since I was a kid? What had come into their lives to steal their dreams? What had convinced them they would never be more than what they were?
I’ll tell you what it was. They weren’t believing it because they probably were not seeking it. It didn’t motivate them and so they had their dreams about winning fantasy baseball or wii bowling.
That’s so much like us: We have so much potential! We could be so much for God. We could have so much joy we’re missing! We could have such an impact on this world, but we miss it because we miss the intimacy of our relationship with Christ. Why?
Well, its because we’ve never really made the decision to seek Him and that’s probably because of at least a couple of things. In the first place, we lack the time. At least, that’s the way we say it. We say we lack the time, but do we really? I want you to remember this and never forget it: Time is a function of priorities. You never lack the time to do anything: you simply lack the priority to put first things first. If intimacy with God is a “first thing,” and by the way, it is the very first thing for a Christian, then there is always time for it!
So if the problem isn’t time what is it? Well, perhaps it’s a lack of desire. I think this is probably the more likely suspect, isn’t it? Most of us just have no desire to pay the price to have intimacy with Christ. If that’s so, let me give you three quick applications about your desire, and I’ll be done: First, desire for God is a work of the Spirit. Eph. 2:1 says, “And you has He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins.” We, apart from the Spirit have no desire for God. WE must ask Him to give us the desire to know him like this.
Second, desire for God must be cultivated by our attention. We must daily refocus ourselves on God through a focused time of prayer and interaction with His Word.
Third, desire for God must be protected from worldly distraction. I don’t have to tell you that all the media and TV in this world innundates our minds, seeking to drag us away. If we are to seek Him, we must shut down the distractions.
There awaits for the seeking believer and incredible relationship with God through Christ. It can bring a lasting peace that disease can’t kill and trouble can’t stop. It can bring an awareness of God that you never thought possible. It can sustain you through the worst difficulty and give you a real passion for life. It is the intimacy that is reflected in that first phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. It comes from knowing “Our Father in Heaven.”
Matt Proctor writes:
My 5-year-old, Carl, and my 3-year-old, Conrad, love it when I dress like them. After they put on jeans and a blue T-shirt, they'll come ask me to wear jeans and a blue T-shirt. When I do, they have a saying. They will survey me, survey themselves, and say, "Look, Dad—same, same." For my birthday, Carl bought me a North Carolina blue mesh shirt … because he has a North Carolina blue mesh shirt. We could be "same, same."
When I play living room football with my boys, Conrad will not let me play standing—so big and scary and towering above him. The theological term for this is "completely Other." Instead he insists I get on my knees. When I am down at eye-level, Conrad puts his hand on my shoulder and says, "There. See, Dad—same, same." They like it when I enter their world ….
This summer, I scraped my leg working on my house. When Conrad fell down and scraped his leg, he pointed at my scab, then showed me his and said, "Hey, Dad—same, same."
Here's the point … God himself has felt what we feel. In the Incarnation, he chose not to stay "completely Other." He got down at eye-level, and in the Incarnation, God experienced what it's like to be tired and discouraged …. He knows what it's like to hurt and bleed. On the cross, Jesus himself prayed a psalm of lament: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).
In your pain, you may be tempted to say, "God, you have no idea what I'm going through. You have no idea how bad I'm hurting." But God can respond, "Yes, I do." He can point to your wounds and then to his own and say, "Look: same, same. Me too. I have entered your world, and I know how you feel. I have been there, I am with you now, I care, and I can help."
I know this is what you and I are really looking for. We’re looking for a “same, same,” God Who understands us and with whom we can have real intimacy. But knowing Him requires that we belong to Him, that we have made Him our Lord. Then it also requires that we come boldly to the throne of Grace to discover “Our Father in Heaven.”