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The Life You've Always Wanted #3--A Life with God

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January 21, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 3: A Life With God: the practice of prayer

Introduction: Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. 

1. Does prayer work?

A. God ______________________________________________________.

                   Genesis 18:16-33, Matthew 21:22, Luke 11:5-13, Revelation 8

B. Prayer _____________________________________________________.

C. Prayer _____________________________________________________.

2. Learning to pray.

A. We’re all __________________________________________________.

          Romans 8:26; Luke 11:1

B. Pray ______________________________________________________.

Luke 11:1-4, Matthew 6:5-15, 7:7-11, 14:30, Luke 18:35-43, Philippians 4:6-7

C. Pray ______________________________________________________.

1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2, Luke 11:5-10, 18:1-8

D. Pray ______________________________________________________.

Matthew 5:44, John 17, Acts 12:5, Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:18-20, Colossians 4:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 3:1, 1 Timothy 2:1, Hebrews 13:8, James 5:16

January 21, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 3: A Life With God: the practice of prayer

Opening:

ILL: A little guy named Ryan was 5.  He offered the following prayer: "Dear Jesus, sorry for the mess we made in the yard today." After a slight pause, he added, "Thank you for the fun we had doing it."

I love kids’ prayers, don’t you?  I love them because they are so simple and honest.  That’s the kind of prayer we’re going to learn about today.  Simple prayer.  Honest prayer.  All-through-the-day walk and talk with God prayer. 

Offering and announcements:

·        Life Groups

·        Baptisms

·        Nicaragua

2 Corinthians 8:7 But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

God wants you to excel in the grace of giving.  Our example for giving is Jesus Himself.

2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Anybody here “tight” with money?  That’s short for “tight-fisted”; it means we don’t part with our money easily.  When you’re asked to give, do you ever tighten up inside?  Sometimes I can feel myself tighten up.  But when I think of Jesus, I relax.  I become open-handed, not tight-fisted.  He is our example of the grace of giving.  Jesus became poor to make me rich; He gave everything for me…for you.  I want you to excel in the grace of giving—to do that, think of Jesus who gave everything for you, and give back.

Introduction: Prayer is talking with God about what we are doing together. 

          Since I’m talking about prayer, we’re going to move our prayer time to after the talk.  So let’s dive in.  Here’s a great prayer someone sent me:

Dear Lord, So far today, I'm doing alright.  I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent.  I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I have charged nothing


on my credit card.  But I will be getting out of bed in a minute, and then I'll really need your help!

That’s a good start-the-day prayer.  Today I want to talk with you about all-through-the-day prayer, about living and talking with God all day long.  It’s easier than you think.  And isn’t a life with God The Life You’ve Always Wanted?

This series, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is about life transformation through spiritual disciplines.  We change not by trying harder, but by training, by using some time-tested practices that help us connect with God.  We’ve talked about the practice of slowing to have an unhurried life, and the practice of Scripture to have an equipped life.  Today, the practice of prayer to have a life with God.

1. Does prayer work?

          Before we talk about how to pray, let’s address the why question.  Why pray?  Won’t God do what He wants to do whether I pray or not?  Does prayer really work?  Does it change anything?  The Bible says “Yes!”  Here are three reasons why you should pray.

A. God answers prayer.

          In the Bible, God commands us to pray, and promises that He will answer.  God answers prayer.  I think this is a mystery: Almighty God responds to our prayers and He acts.  How can this be?  How can puny human beings say anything that would move Almighty God to action?  I don’t know; it’s a mystery.  But the Bible is clear that when we pray, God works.  When we pray, God answers. 

          Now the other part of the mystery is that God doesn’t’ answer every prayer the way I want, and I can’t tell which prayer He’ll answer and which He won’t!  Honestly, I’m baffled sometimes.  I’ve prayed some perfectly good prayers that God didn’t answer—by that I mean He didn’t do what I asked.  And I had no clue why.  Why wouldn’t God answer my prayer to heal a sick friend?  Or why wouldn’t He answer my prayer to save a marriage?  Why wouldn’t He answer my prayer to win the lottery?  All perfectly good prayers!  (Ok, maybe not the last one…) 

          Can anyone else identify with this?  Why does God answer some prayers and not others?  Only God knows.  So does that mean we should throw up our hands and say, “Why bother?”  Nope. 

          God answers prayer.  Sometimes God’s answer is “no.”  Sometimes it’s “wait.”  Sometimes it’s “yes.”  Sometimes it’s “yes, but different than what you expected.”  And after praying for 42 years, I still can’t tell for sure what the answer will be.  That’s the mystery of prayer.

God answers prayer.  That’s why we’re told to pray.  From Genesis to Revelation, we find teaching and examples that indicate God answers prayer, that it’s worth it to pray.  But the clearest teaching of all is the teaching of Jesus Himself.  Jesus certainly believed that God answers prayer. 

First, there is His own example.  Jesus prayed a lot.

Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Jesus must have believed that prayer made a difference.  It’s hard to imagine Jesus praying if He believed that it made no difference, or that God didn’t answer prayer.

Then there is Jesus’ teaching on prayer.  Consider just these two passages:

Matthew 21:22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Clearly, Jesus believed that prayer works, that God answers prayer.  And He says if we believe it, it will work for us as well.  Again, I don’t this is a blank check promising us that we’ll get everything we ask for.  But it is a clear statement of what Jesus believed about prayer and what we should believe.  God answers prayer.

Luke 11:5-8 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.  (read last phrase together)

This is a parable on prayer and Jesus gives the moral of the story: Because of the man’s boldness—the boldness to ask—he got what he wanted.

ILL: Let’s imagine that you and I are neighbors.  Hi neighbor!  Laina is pregnant—we’re pretending—and late one night, her water breaks.  She’s ready, so I throw the bags in the car and turn the key…nothing.  The battery is dead.  One car, dead battery, pregnant wife in the back seat, crying,  “Hurry honey…(breathing).” 

          So I run over to your house.  The lights are out, it’s obvious everyone is in bed asleep.  But I ring the doorbell over and over until finally you come and shout through the locked door, “Who’s there.”

          “It’s me, Joe, your neighbor!”

          You open the door and ask what I need.  I tell you, “Laina’s water broke, she’s puffing, and my car won’t start.  Can you drive us to the hospital?”  What will you say?

          You’ll say yes.  Why?  Because I had the boldness to ask, the boldness to come knock on your door in the middle of the night.

Those who have the boldness to ask, receive.  That’s the moral of the parable.  Then listen to what Jesus says.

9 “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.

Ask!  Everyone who asks receives.  It’s pretty clear that Jesus believes God answers prayer.  But just in case that isn’t enough He adds this.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”

When your kids ask you for something good, what do you say?  Yes! 

·        “Mom, can I have more broccoli?”  Yes! 

·        “Dad, can you help me with this homework?”  Yes! 

·        “Can I have the keys to the car and 20 bucks for gas? … I’m going to youth group.”  Yes! 

When my kids ask for something good, I love to give it to them.  Don’t you?

Jesus is saying, “Ok, give God a little credit.  You who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children.  How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit (or Matthew says, give what is good) to those who ask Him.”  God is more willing to give to you than you are to ask!

Does prayer work?  Jesus seemed to think so, and I’m willing with go with his opinion on this one.  Prayer works in more ways that just getting what we want or need.  Here’s another:

 

B. Prayer changes me.

          I won’t spend much time here.  Let me ask, how many of you have experienced this?  You’ve prayed about something, asked God to change something, and what changed was you!

ILL: Many of you have heard me say before that Laina and I learned early in our marriage to take a time out and pray when tempers were flaring.  I can’t tell you how many times I’d go in the other room and pray, “Lord, that woman…that woman that You gave me…Lord, you need to change her.”  And I’d explain to God how wrong she was, and how right I am.  And when I was done, I’d hear this gentle voice whisper in my mind, “Let’s talk about you.”  And I’d say, “I’d rather not; I’m not the problem here!”  But that gentle voice was persistent: “Let’s talk about you.”  I’d finally give in, and the Lord would deal with me.  I went in asking Him to change my wife and He changed me.

Prayer changes me…and that may be the most important change that prayer makes. Prayer connects us to God, and when I get connected to God, I change. 

Why pray?  God answers prayer.  And prayer changes me.  But the most important reason to pray is that prayer helps me know God. 

C. Prayer helps me know God.

          Prayer is talking with God.  You can’t know someone, really know him, without talking with him regularly and deeply.  You can’t build or maintain a deep friendship, an intimate relationship, without lots of conversation.  That’s what prayer is—a conversation with God.  And without it, you’ll never really know God personally.  You may know a lot about Him, but you’ll never know Him without praying.  Prayer is relationship.  Pray to know God.

          Does prayer work?  Why pray?  Because God answers prayer.  And prayer changes me.  And prayer helps me know God.  That’s why we pray.

          So how do we do it?

2. Learning to pray.

A. We’re all beginners.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

“We don’t know what we ought to pray for.”  Other translations say, “We don’t know how to pray as we ought.”  We don’t know how to pray.  This is written by Paul the apostle who prayed all the time.  Most of us would consider him a champion prayer, and he said, “We don’t know how to pray.”  He wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Luke 11:1 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.”

Jesus’ followers were all Jewish men, raised in the synagogue on a diet of Scripture and prayer.  Yet when they watched Jesus pray, they realized, “We don’t know how to pray.”  So they asked, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

          Would you say that with me?  “Lord, teach us to pray.”

          You just prayed!  Good job!  And I want to suggest that you pray that prayer every day this week.  Let’s pray it again: “Lord teach us to pray.” 

When it comes to prayer, we’re all beginners.  I’m a beginner.  I don’t know how to pray as I ought.  Thomas Merton in his book Contemplative Prayer, wrote, “We do not want to be beginners.  But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners all our life!”  On the one hand, prayer is so simple that a child can do it; and on the other, so profound that we never master it.  We’ll be beginners all our lives. 

I share this because so many people are intimidated by prayer.  We feel we can’t pray, or at least can’t pray very well.  We feel we’re beginners and other people are masters.  We hear other people pray and think that we can’t pray like them, so we think we can’t pray.

ILL: I struggled with this as a brand new Christian.  My first exposure to prayer was the public prayers in our church meetings.  The pastor prayed long and eloquently—a beautiful speech to God.  Other elders prayed over the offering or before communion.  And all their prayers were beautiful, sometimes flowery, filled with religious language and holy tones.  “O great and glorious heavenly father, we bow our hearts before thee as thou wrappest thy loving arms around us and carry us in thy tender bosom.” 

They were beginners.  I just didn’t know that.  I thought I was supposed to sound like that, and I couldn’t do it.  Now I know that they were beginners learning to pray, and I’m a beginner too.  And so are you.  I still ask the Holy Spirit to help me pray—that’s the promise in Romans 8:26.

Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

I don’t know how to pray, but He does, so I ask Him to help me.  And this suggests that the best prayers might be the ones with the fewest words and the most groans.  “Oh God…help me.”  Have you ever been unable to put your prayer into words?  Maybe you just groan, or you can get out a word or two. 

ILL: When my son was struggling through his dark years, sometimes the only prayer I could pray was a groan.  “Oh God…Jeff…” just crying his name out to God.

That was a good prayer, a Spirit-led prayer.

          So don’t be afraid to pray because you’re a beginner.  You’ve got lots of company.  We’re all beginners when it comes to prayer.  Which is why Jesus taught us to:

B. Pray simply.

Luke 11:1-4 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.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  3 Give us each day our daily bread.  4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.’”

You are probably used to the slightly longer version of the Lord’s Prayer recorded in Matthew 6.  The disciples ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  And this is Jesus’ response.  He gives them a very short and simple prayer.  Prayer doesn’t have to be long to be effective.  It doesn’t have to be complex or have lots of very religious sounding words.  The best prayers are simple.  Here are two examples of very effective but simple prayer (by effective I mean they got Jesus’ attention and He answered them). 

          First, in Matthew 14, the disciples are rowing across the Lake of Galilee in the dark of night when Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  This scares the pejeebers out of them, so Jesus says, “Chill out, it’s me.”  (That’s in the original Greek.)  Peter says, “Lord if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus says, “Come on Pete.”  And so Peter flops over the edge of the boat and starts walking on the water to Jesus.  He’s doing great until he saw the wind—how do you see wind?  Well, when you’re on the lake, you see it’s effect on the water—big waves, foam and spray flying up in your face.  When Peter took his eyes off Jesus and “saw the wind” he got scared and he started to sink.  Then he prayed.  It was a simple prayer.  “Lord, save me.”  Help!  And what did Jesus do?  He let him drown.  “I didn’t like your prayer.  You didn’t use the right words.  You didn’t have a holy tone to your voice.”  Isn’t that what some of you think about your own prayers—that they’re not good enough?  Well, Peter’s simple prayer was good enough.  Jesus did what he asked: he saved him.  Simple prayer.

          Second example, in Luke 18 a blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the road outside Jericho, begging.  He hears a crowd, asks what’s going on, and is told Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.  Bart has heard about Jesus, heard that He’s healed blind men.  So Bart prays.  It was a simple prayer.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Help!  Jesus stopped.  When He heard Bart’s simple prayer, Jesus stopped.  I love that.  And I believe when Jesus hears my simple prayers, or your simple prayers, He stops.  And Jesus asks Bart, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Isn’t that a wonderful question?  I think it’s the question God asks every time we pray.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  And Bart prays again…another simple prayer.  “Lord I want to see.”  And what did Jesus do?  Jesus did what he asked: Jesus healed him and gave him his sight. 

          Simple prayer.  Here’s what I mean by simple prayer: tell God what’s on your mind.  Plain and simple.  When Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you,” Bartimaeus told him what he wanted.  He didn’t think, “Oh what should I say?  What would sound spiritual or noble or righteous?”  He just said what he wanted, what was on his mind.

You might think, “Oh Joe, you don’t know what’s on my mind.”  You’re right, I don’t…but God does.  He already knows, so stop trying to hide it and just tell Him.  You may think that what concerns you would never interest God, or that it would be inappropriate to talk about it with God.  So you force yourself to pray about “nobler things” or “spiritual things”.  Rather than telling God what’s really on our mind, we pray about the things we think we’re supposed to pray about.  And nothing kills prayer more than pretending—pretending to be more noble, more spiritual than we really are. 

C.S. Lewis said, “It is no use to ask God with false earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with B. We must lay before him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”  Simple prayer: tell God what you’re thinking.

Does your mind ever wander when you pray?  Mine too.  I used to think that was terribly unspiritual.  But if prayer is telling God what’s on my mind, then when my mind wanders, I should tell God about it.  When your mind wanders, pray about what it wanders to.  Use your wanderings as stepping stones, not obstacles to prayer.  Isn’t that how you talk with a friend?  You talk about what’s on your mind.

This is simple prayer: just telling God what’s on your mind.  Tell Him everything, the good and the bad, and let Him sort it out.  Pray simply.  If you pray simply, you can pray continually.

C. Pray continually.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 pray continually;  (great memory verse!)

The word “continually” means “constantly recurring”, rather than “continuously occurring.”  It’s not that I pray every second, but that I keep the receiver off the hook and stay in touch with God, so that we have a running conversation all day long.  And you can do that if you’re praying simply, if you’re talking with God about what’s on your mind. 

          Include God in your thoughts, in the mental conversation you have with yourself.  When you think about something, you can turn your thoughts into prayer by simply including God.  “Here’s what I’m thinking about Lord.”  Here’s a practical suggestion.  Use something simple to remind you to include God in your mental conversation.  I have a watch that can beep on the hour; I have used the beep to remind me to pause and include God in my thoughts.  “Here’s what I’m thinking about Lord.”  Or you might use the red wrist band as a reminder.  Or every time you sit down, or stand up.  If you do it enough, it becomes second nature, and prayer becomes like breathing. 

Pray continually.  Include God in your thoughts, your mental conversation.  And keep on praying.  Never stop praying. 

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

The story that follows is about a widow who was being treated unjustly, and pestered a judge until he gave her justice.  She would ask, he’d say no; she’d ask again, he’d say no again; she’d ask again, he’d say no again.  She kept asking until he finally gave in.  And Luke tells us the moral of the story: always pray and don’t give up.

ILL: Bill Hybels tells a story about meeting a woman sobbing in the stairwell after a baptism service.  He asked if she was all right.

          “No, I’m struggling.  My mother was baptized today.”

          Bill was stunned.  “This is a problem?” he thought.

          “I prayed for her every day for 20 years,” the woman said, and started crying again.

          “You’re going to have to help me understand this,” Bill said.

          “I’m crying because I came so close—so close—to giving up on her.  I mean, after 5 years I said, Who needs this?  God isn’t listening.  After 10 years I said, Why am I wasting my breath? After 15 years I said, This is absurd.  After 19 years I said, I’m just a fool.  But I just kept praying, even though my faith was weak.  I kept praying, and she gave her life to Christ, and she was baptized today.”

          She paused, and then added, “I will never doubt the power of prayer again.”

Do you have someone you love who is far from God?  Pray continually.  Each time you think of that person, make it a prayer to God.  Breathe their name to the Lord.  Keep on praying.  Don’t give up.  Pray continually.

D. Pray for others.

I mention this because it is the most commanded prayer in Scripture.  I’ve listed a few of the many references to intercessory prayer, or praying for others.  One of the simplest ways to do this is to include God in your thoughts and conversations.  I think about others all day long, and I can turn those thoughts into prayers by simply including God in my thoughts.  “Here’s what I’m thinking about Lord.”

ILL: When Laina and I are talking about someone we love, we often include God in the conversation.  “Lord, help John and Mary in their marriage.”  Or “Lord, heal Mark.”  Or “Lord strengthen Larry’s faith.”  We don’t bow our heads and close our eyes (especially if we’re driving), we just say this to Jesus as though He was the third person in our conversation…because He is. 

Praying for others is as simple as that.  You think about them all the time.  Include Jesus in your thoughts and conversations.

          We’re going to take some time to pray right now.  Tell God what’s on your mind.  You don’t have to eloquent or even spiritual…just be honest.  And when we’re done praying, please stay in your seats for something special…a very special prayer-motivator…and then I’ll come up and close us in prayer.

 

Prayer

Song: When I call on Jesus

 

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